This Week’s Prompt: 91. Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now dead—horror—frozen?
The Prior Research:A Deep, Cold Sleep
The buzz of cicadas near the rivershore will always be the sound of summer to me. Even if I’ve never seen one, the near constant buzzing in the trees keeps the season clear—just like up north, the drifting of fall leaves announces autumn and the dreary blanket of snow makes winter all the clearer.
“C’mon, I got a jar and everything!” Jordan says, holding up a glass jar with some very tiny holes poked in it.
There floating over the water, a little light show. With a sigh, I let myself by pulled down—against a dark sky, we chase the stars. Its a hokey little memory, I think. The kind I’ll write about when Jordan’s older. The kind that’s bleeding innocence. The kind that a Pixar movie would use for the good old days, before adult hood made everything complicated. Its nice, is what I’m saying.
“How often do you get fireflies down here?” Leslie asks, as we pace down the riverside. Jordan’s running a head, waving his jar around and trying to catch them on the sand.
“Every now and then, but we only come down to the river like once a year.” I said, a fire fly landing in my hair—and for a moment I worry Jordan’s gonna bash me on the head with a jar to catch it. It flies off before that becomes a problem.
We caught a dozen—although half figured out where the hole was and slipped out of the jar. Neither of us had done this before, and I’d been too lazy to google how.
“Think they’ll glow all night?” Jordan said, holding up the small collection. On cue, firefly number seven slipped out the top of the jar.
“Maybe—we might need to get more tomorrow.” I said as we walked back to the cabin. “But a few might. If you get up early, you could probably still see them.”
“Hmmm…” Jordan weighs the notion of waking up early—with the understanding of going to sleep now—against running around more.
“I’ll make pancakes.” I promise.
I got the batter ready in advance after Jordan went to sleep. It was my mom’s old recipe, which she said she got from her grandfather—but honestly, I’m eighty percent sure I’ve seen it on the back of a box of mix.
“You’ve got to know the fireflies will be gone by the time he gets up.” Leslie said, sitting at the counter.
“Well, sure. But that’s fine, we’ve got another night up here and he’ll catch more. Besides,” I held up a mixing spoon. “There’s no misery that pancakes can’t cure.”
“So, hows he doing in school?” Leslie asked, getting up and starting a pot of coffee behind me.
“Fine, fine really. He likes math, which is a godsend I think. Math and science and in a few years, he’ll be off to the races in college.”
“I mean, in ten years maybe.” Leslie said, rolling her eyes.
“Ten years, a few years, eh.” I waved it off as I mixed. “Point is, I think he’s got a scientests brain. Maybe biology, what with how much he loves running around in the woods. He could make some good money that way.”
“Sure, I mean…that’s pretty far away though.” Leslie said shrugging. “He might change his mind.”
“Yeah, kids do that, but I really think he’s onto something.” I said, placing the batter in the fridge. “And, I mean, I’m working on his junior high already—thats where stuff can really get out of hand. But I’ll work something out for him.”
Leslie shrugged again and looked back outside. A small flash of a shooting star went by, and she sighed. She always thought it was weird for me to talk so much about how great Jordan was going to be, but it never came to much.
“Its funny. My grandparents had a cabin like this—I mean, not exactly like this. Prescott doesn’t have a river, just some creaks. But…places like this always feel nice.” She said, watching the stars between the trees. “I blame Diseny—there’s something about cabins that makes the whole world seem to stand still.”
The coffee pot beeped to break the silence.
“Which cup?” I asked, opening the cabinet.
Leslie grabbed a blanket as we went out onto the patio.
“Oh c’mon its July! It’s nowhere near that cold.” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Speak for yourself, I’m freezing.” She grumbled as she leaned into the armrest.
“Its getting warmer every year…” I said, sipping my coffee. “It’s going to be sweltering soon. God, can you imagine the mosquitoes?”
“They’ll be the size of airplanes.” Leslie said with a laugh. “And the fireflies are gonna be bigger than Jordan.”
“Oh, God, he’d try and ride one away.” I said, laughing and nearly spilling the coffee on the floor.
“…hows he doing. In school.” Leaslie asked, looking up at the yellow’d harvest moon.
“I mean, he likes it, his grades are good, like I said he loves math–”
“Yeah, but you know. What about hobbies? What’s he do when he’s not catching fireflies?”
I stopped a bit and shrugged.
“I mean, he does puzzles and stuff.” I said, frowning. “I’m thinking he’ll do debate in a few years, he’s got the mind for data and that’s important. Or robotics and coding.”
“What about now though?” Leslie said. I shrugged.
“I think he hangs out with a kid named Jeff?” I said, frowning. “Doesn’t come over much, but they had snacks and played games once.”
We talked a bit after that, about travel and college. I went to bed, feeling a bit chilly—not that I’d say anything. A bit of a wet wind had come off the river, that was all.
I stirred a little in my sleep. Something cold and freezing went over me, and lights danced outside. An aurora rising in the window, a cool and strange light. For a moment, the woods loomed large. I was half awake, half dreaming as I saw them. Half formed shapes of fur and tusk, lumbering nameless about the house. The river was bubbling, many colored gas rising out and off of it. I sighed a bit, and lay back down, breathing slowly to sink back to sleep. I didn’t think much of it—I thought it was a strange dream, half remembered. The sun didn’t rise that early, I thought—and the woods were too thick, too thick to be real.
I jolted awake later, a drop of water hitting my head—and as I stretched, my limbs felt exhausted. I saw the sun high in the sky, and a moment of panic struck. I’d forgotten to make breakfast! I got up and—and as I stretched, I felt a sudden chill. Looking outside again, I saw…white snow. Snow running up the window, all the way down to the shore.
It had snowed before in summer. I think. I mean, we weren’t far enough north for that to be normal, but freak weather wasn’t out of the question. But still, it was—well, I guess no fireflies would be caught.
“Jordan! Jordan!” I shouted. He was going to love this. But the entire house was silent as I walked into the living room—a thin layer of frozen dew over the window. Looking out onto the patio, the wind rocked the chair back and forth.
Someone was in the chair. Leslie! She must have slept in. When I pulled the screen door, there was a horrible sound. The edges were pretty rusty—I’d have to call the maitence guy about this. I mean, he might write it off as a freak blizzard but—and then I paused again, looking out from the patio. The frost on the window had obscured it but there were more trees then before. Not many, but saplings that had crept up from the shore. Not just saplings, no. The undergrowth was thicker, rising from the snow. Bushes and rotting brown moss growing on dead wood.
How long had I slept?
I turned slowly at the chair and caught a glimpse. A glimps of skin tight on bones, a face full of terror, a blanket full of holes and worn down. I slammed the door shut and ran back inside. I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t look at that face, hair frozen where it was. How long had I slept? How…
Jordan. Oh no. Oh no.
I’m…not fond of this story. I really couldn’t get the twist ending into a cohesive narrative in my head, and when I had something I had little time to finish it. This might be one that, in a few years, I might rewrite for the patreon (linked below). Next week, we come back to a common staple of horror, and delve deep into a regional variant that started this entire blog! Come and see, when the dead walk!