Under Ice

He knocked on the apartment door. His breath made little clouds before him. The flowers in his hand suffered more from the cold than he did. An old woman opened the door. He waved to her and said, "Good afternoon." "Oh, it's you." At first, she was surprised. He noted a hint of sadness in her face before she put on a kind mask. The man offered her a bouquet of white lilies. "Here, I brought these for you." "Oh, thank you! You didn't need to do that." The old woman faked a smile. He peeked inside her apartment to see what conditions she was living in. The house was surprisingly clean from how he used to know it, and largely empty. "It's been a year. How have you been?" "Well enough. It's strange. The apartment is so much quieter now." She stayed in the doorway as if preventing him from entering. She asked, "What about you? Have your injuries fully healed?" "Yes. Good as new. Well...mostly. My left arm is still...I can't move my fingers as well as before. Doctors say it's probably permanent. But my legs are fine now and I didn't get as many scars as they thought I would." He lifted his left arm up. He was lying slightly. The most he could do with his fingers on that side was slightly make them twitch. His legs worked well enough, but the damage meant he needed to take something for the pain still. His long coat and his pants covered everything else he didn't want her to see. "You poor thing. I know you were in physical therapy for a long time." The old woman looked away from him. "It wasn't that bad. What's a couple of broken bones here and there?" She looked down the hallway. "How's your back? I heard from your mother you were badly burned on your back when it happened." "Ah, some scarring. That's where most of my scars are. I've been putting something on them to help them fade." He told her another half-truth. "Were you going out today?" "I went out there earlier. What about you?" She asked, still not looking at him. "Same. We must have missed each other." He sensed she wanted him to leave. He cleared his throat. "I have to get going soon. Work. Commute is long. Just wanted to check in on you." "Thank you for stopping by. No one really visits me these days." The old woman confessed. "I'll try visiting more often. I've been very busy with therapy and getting back to work." "I heard from your mother recently you might be going back to college." The old woman said. "I've been thinking about it. I was almost done, but with work and everything else going on...I don't know if I can realistically fit it in." He lied once more. He had no such intentions. Those dreams belonged only to his mother and anyone else it brought any comfort to. He let go of that a long time ago. "You can always go back later." "Yeah, I know." He waved at her. "Well, I'll be going now. Bye!" "Bye." The old woman quickly shut the door on him. For a few minutes, he lingered in the hallway. The way the old woman slammed the door reminded him he no longer had any right to be there. Along time ago, he used to live in the same neighborhood as the old woman. The houses there were torn down for a city-wide renovation plan that never got off the ground. He visited there a month ago. All that remained of his childhood home were some hints of where each house used to be. It was winter, and all the trees were barren and the grass dead. Where his home once was, he lay out in the dirt and stared up at the gray sky. "I'm home," He said to no one. That memory was fresh in his mind. Everyone lived in an apartment or townhouse now, or moved farther away to an even more remote neighborhood. That all happened when he was in late high school. He didn't mind the city life too much. There were no fields to play in during the summer, but he never needed anything here. Everything surrounded him. When he first moved to the city, he was determined to explore every inch of it. In time, he grew bored of all the business and looked for secret places of refuge. At the end of the first year, he found what he was looking for while riding the train. From a certain point on the route he usually took every morning, he noticed a lake at the bottom of the steep hill. It didn't take him long to figure out how to actually get there, and he did have someone helping him. Whenever he needed a break from everything, he went out there to think. That place no longer brought him peace. He took an alternate route these days. It was true that he needed to get to work, but he left the old woman's company before he really needed to. Somewhere inside, he hoped she would invite him in like she used to and they'd chat over lunch about trivial, little things. The apartment would be her house in the old neighborhood. It'd be summer and no one would have anywhere to go. The field would be just beyond the cul-de-sac, waiting for him. He wanted to touch the summer flowers. He buried that thought, and regretted the encounter. He got on the train he usually took to work and took a seat. Today, the train was oddly relatively empty. Sighing, he slouched down in the seat and stared out the window. The quiet, steady movement of the train put his mind into a lulled state. He closed his eyes for a moment to listen to the train as it moved. "You'll forget soon enough." Someone said. He opened his eyes. A young woman with short, white hair stood beside him in a white dress. She wasn't wearing a coat or shoes despite how cold and snowy it was outside. He realized he was standing out in the snow by the big lake. He wasn't sure how he got there, but he couldn't find it in him to care. She stared out at the lake, then sat down at the edge and splashed the water with her bare hands. "The stars look so beautiful reflected on the water." He noticed it was now night. The sky couldn't have been more beautiful and clear. Millions of stars lit up the darkness, and those brilliant stars in turn cast their light upon the water's surface. The night sky and the pure white snow acted as perfect contrasts of each other, with the lake and the stars showing each side within the other. The beauty of the landscape overwhelmed him. He thought he could see eternity. The young woman placed most of her arms into the water and leaned forward. He warned her. "Careful. If you fall in..." "You'll pull be back out, won't you?" She said as she splashed the water around. "It's dangerous." "What are you getting up to these days?" She asked. "Working. Be careful. It's cold. You'll..." He tried to warn her once more. "I'm fine. I've been through enough winters here to be able to handle a little cold water." She sat back and dipped her legs in. "What are you doing?" He sat down beside her. She stood up and walked out into the lake to slightly above her waist. She waved at him. "Come, swim with me." He looked down at the water and then at the snow. "But..." "Are you afraid?" She asked with a smirk. He watched her from the land. The bottom of her white dress floated upward, giving her the appearance of a flower wilting. In that starry reflection, his fears melted away. He stood up. "No. Wherever you go, I'll follow." "You always were foolish." She sighed and looked away from him. In an instant, she disappeared under the water. "Wait!" He rushed over to where she was. As soon as his feet touched the water, everything froze over. He tried to break through, but nothing happened. He collapsed onto his knees on the ice and slammed his fists down. When he looked through the ice, he saw her. She floated in the water on the other side and smiled at him. He saw a deep, pitying sadness reflected in her eyes. His hands pressed hard against the ice. She reached out for him on the other side. The thick, frigid sheet separated them by an inch and burned through his skin. Scorching through him, that icy fire burned everything. Then, he heard a cracking sound. The ice was breaking under his weight. At first, his mind told him to get away, but then he stopped himself. This was what he wanted. Like spider lightning across the sky, the cracks snaked away from him in every direction until a quick splash submerged him. Above him, the ice refroze. Under ice, he found not water but metal. A train full of shadows moved under the frozen depths. He took a seat by her. She watched the window. "Do you remember where we first met?" She asked. "You never let me forget. In third grade, on the playground. You had your hair back in a ponytail and your mom made you wear this floral dress for picture day. I had on this really embarrassing outfit because my mom forget." He said. The slight shaking of the train was making him sick. "You asked me to play with you." "It's been a long time." She said. He studied the shape of her body. Her thin frame reminded him of a delicate wild flower. He remembered playing in the ephemeral summer fields with her and picking out the flowers their parents called weeds when they grew in their own backyards. Their beautiful shape was something they admired as children, but due to their parents, they always ripped them right up out of the ground without a care. Broken stems stuffed into tiny pockets, thrown out once they entered the front door. He tried to conjure up the texture of the stem and petals on his hands, but the air inside the train was so cold it burned his skin. "You'll forget soon enough." Her gaze never left the window. "I don't want to forget." He reached out to put his hand on hers. Everything moved forward. The shadows flew towards the front of the car until they clumped together in a strange mess of red. He went in motion with them, as did she, interwoven in the big mass of people. Before he could get up, the car tipped over and fell on its side. The windows cracked open like ice and snow fell down with the tiny shards. The car kept moving along somewhere off the track, downward somewhere unknown. Another roll, and then another. Snow and red, glass and metal. Something cold, something burning. He smelled smoke. Something wet was rushing in from the side. His body wouldn't move. Several feet in front of him, he saw her. Everything burned. He wanted to scream. Something pulled at him. He shot up and opened his eyes. A woman was standing in front of him on the train wearing a uniform. "Excuse me, sir, are you alright?" He took a long look around the car. There was nothing out of the ordinary. He nodded. "Ah, I'm fine. Thank you." Shortly after his dream ended, he reached his stop. He got off the train in a hurry, forgetting where he was going as soon as his feet touched the platform. The city surrounded him, full of strange faces and blurry places he only ever half paid any attention to. Snow danced around the oblivious busybodies. In the middle of that crowded place, surrounded by everything and nothing, he lost himself in the snowflakes. With his bare hands, he reached out to catch them in his palms. One by one, they avoided his capture for long as they slipped away into a form he could not contain. The water dripped off the sides of his hands. He could feel the stare of strangers on him, but he paid them no mind. Only the wintry air captured him. Soon, his heat lost to the cold snow. He held his hands up until the air burned him. With his hands back in his pockets, he wandered to the edge of town where the lake was. He stood at its edge, lost. He contemplated the depths of it as stars greeted him before their time.
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