In my previous post I mentioned that I had written a short story, one I would hopefully share with all of you. Well here it is. It’s kinda strange, and by no means the bestest most perfect writing I’ve ever done. But honestly, I’m just proud of actually finishing something. So here you go, Too Cold For Rest, let me know what you think!
So, I’m stood, gazing out the window in the student-film lighting, trying to estimate the social standing of each area of London from the aesthetic of its tube station.
Here are grim-faced, straight-laced, fine suited and booted folks. “We’re in a posh bit here”, I think to myself with a smile I hope is wry.
Dirty wood and bare concrete, out-dated 80s decor. “Oh, a bit of a rougher patch here”
And I live for a moment in the buzz of my own insight, as for a passing minute I can pretend that I have knowledge of this strange world I have never been able to fully comprehend.
The underground is a strange place, you see it so often on TV and in films and god-knows where else that, even if you’ve never actually been on it, late at night when there’s only a handful of people in that warm yellow glow it’s like you’ve been there many times before. My headphones jammed in my ears, gentle music playing, and as my bones begin to warm for the first time in 5 hours, all I want to do is sleep. Only the over-hanging fear of missing my stop keeps me awake, so I sit, enjoying existing in this mellow setting for a brief juncture in my day.
When I step out into the street it is raining. It’s been raining all day, but I am still for some reason surprised. I pull my beanie hat further down over my ears, and wrap my arms around myself in an attempt to hold onto my rapidly depleting warmth. The sun has just set, and it brings a whole different tone to the chill that’s now starting to set back under my skin. All I can think about is having a hot shower, but tonight there is other business to attend to.
Elaine Gilmore is stood on the usual corner, her bright red hair bursting around the edges of her large fluffy hat, the ear flaps being made practically redundant by the curls. Her hands are stuffed in the pockets of her puffy coat, and her face is screwed up in discomfort. The cold isn’t her forte, it never has been. As she sees me appear from the underground, a sunshine smile stretches across her features.
“You made it!”
She grasps both my hands, and warmth floods through my finger-tips. Then she pulls me in for a hug, and I those brief seconds all thoughts of cold are forgotten, and I can smell freshly mowed grass and that un-nameable scent heat leaves in the air. But as she lets me go, the cold ruses back, and the only warmth left is Elaine’s smile.
“So why did you call me out in this awful weather?”
Elaine bites her lip and casts her eyes around.
“There’s- well it’s probably easier just to show you I guess. I’ll explain properly when we get there. Did you bring your camera?”
I pat the camera bag that’s looped over my shoulder.
“As requested. With the best mic I have.”
She nods, her thoughts seeming to be drifting ever so slightly somewhere else.
“Right. Good. Let’s go then!” her grin returns, and she takes off at her usual speed walk. I have to jog occasionally to keep up with her, as although her legs are much shorter than mine, she clearly works out more than I do- which isn’t hard if I’m honest.
We walk through the drizzle soaked streets for about 15 minutes, and the silence is almost tangible. Elaine usually fills the air with chatter, but today she is quiet, and I never speak unless I have to. Small talk is not my friend. We eventually turn down a small, rather old looking archway, which lead to an even older looking wooden door. Elaine takes a deep breath, then raps her knuckles on the worn oak with surprising force. A moment passes, then the door opens, revealing a small woman with bright green hair. She has a huge grin on her face, and drags Elaine in for a firm hug.
“Elaine! My darling it has been too long!”
“Naiyah my dear, a truer sentence has never been said!”
I just stare at them in mild confusion. The woman is wearing a short, pale pink dress that almost looks like cherry blossom, and definitely is not warm enough for this weather. But she seems unfazed, so I assume this house has really good central heating. When she turns to face me, the joy in her features falters. She turns back to Elaine with a questioning, almost fearful expression.
“Who is this?” her voice is deadly, cautious. A complete juxtaposition with the green and pink, and the sunny smile might as well have never been there.
“This is a friend of mine, I have a proposition for us all, can we come in? I promise we can trust her.” Elaine sounds much more sure than she looked 10 minutes ago. Naiyah turns back to me, and I feel as if I’m going to be blown away just by the intense stare her dark green eyes. I don’t even bother to smile at her, I feel like she would see through the social convention for its insincerity immediately. Then her expression, her whole mannerisms change so quickly I practically get whiplash. Even her eyes change colour ever so slightly, becoming much lighter. She throws her hand out towards me.
“Hello! My name is Naiyah, in case you hadn’t noticed, sorry for being prickly I don’t get much chance to meet new people these days! Of course, come in! Sorry what was your name?” she grabs my tentative hand and shakes it quite violently, a huge beam once again stretched across her features in a way that would have appeared false on pretty much anyone else.
“I’m Jane-” is all I manage to say before Naiyah is pushing me and Elaine through the doorway into a well-lit hallway. Elaine starts to strip off her many layers of coats and jumpers and hats and scarves and gloves, but I just stand awkwardly by her side, fiddling with the strap of my camera bag.
Naiyah is chatting amicably about how the others apparently are just in the other room, and this is certainly going to be the most interesting evening she’s had in years and something about the moon. I nod politely, barely paying attention as my mind races to work out what the hell I’m doing here.
I suppose a little context would be helpful here, and it really is a little because I don’t have much that is genuinely useful.
I met Elaine Gilmore about 4 years ago, at a comic book shop of all places. With bright red hair, and a slight Scottish lilt to her voice, it’s hardly surprising that I immediately fell in love. She actually spoke to me first, told me she liked my T-shirt or something, and we got talking. Eventually met up for coffee about a week later. Since then she has been my best friend, which isn’t particularly hard as I had maybe two friends-borderline-acquaintances before her. We never took it further than friendship, and I’m perfectly happy with that. (At least that’s what I tell myself whenever my daydreams get a little carried away). Having Elaine in my life is all that matters, regardless of the context.
But I’ve never met any of her family or friends. She lives alone, and never talks about her past. She has no online presence particularly. For the record, I’d never found any of these things strange. Not until I was standing in a well-lit hallway with a woman I’d never met before listing a ridiculously long list of tea varieties whilst someone I thought I knew was folding her coat over a worn wooden bannister. I agree to have whatever tea Naiyah makes for me, and she smiles at me excitedly. I worry that I will regret that decision, and hang my sodden jacket on a hook by the door. She casts a vaguely nervous smile at Elaine, then disappears into a room I’m assuming is the kitchen, yelling;
“Go on ahead I’ll be through in second.”
Before Elaine can make any kind of movement towards the next room, I turn to her.
“What the hell is going on? Who are these people?”
She’s looking at my face, and seems to be searching for something. Any other night I would have perhaps read something inappropriate and statistically unlikely into her expression, but tonight is too weird for bullshit like feelings. She speaks slowly, not quite giving me full eye contact.
“They’re my sister’s, in a way. Sisters of coincidence rather than blood.”
“For fuck’s sake Elaine, please, be more cryptic! Just tell me what is happening! Why am I here?”
I want to scream at her, but I don’t want to alarm anyone else who might be in this mystery shack, so my voice comes out as a furious whisper that’s practically comedic. A small smile creeps onto her lips, but that just makes me angrier.
“Seriously dude tell me what’s going on!”
She sighs. “I need you to do your job Jane. I need you to report. You have your popular internet blog thing? Well I have a revelation for you that’s going to throw your cryptid theories down a bloody well.” I feel my face flush slightly at the mention of cryptid theories. I run a blog online discussing conspiracy theories, most looking at the history of them and attempting to avoid making any claims of real bigfoot or moth man sightings. It’s something I don’t tell many people about, as they easily misunderstand my intentions. At least internet trolls do.
“What do you want to show me?”
She looks at me for a moment, but instead of giving any form of reply simply leads me into the next room. I grip the strap of my camera bag tightly, as if it can ground me and keep me safe. As if it’s ever kept me safe throughout all the eccentric people I’ve interviewed for my blog. I take a deep breath and tell myself this is no different. Just because their Elaine’s sisters doesn’t make them any different from any other group I have interviewed when searching for the truth.
Although this is a dining room, it’s pretty obvious from the moment you enter that no one has actually eaten in here in years. No dust is visible on any of the surfaces, but I can still feel it sting my eyes and clag my tongue, so it was clearly quite dusty until recently. The table in the centre is old, probably as old as the house. It’s roughly a square, with room for one person to sit on each side. The chairs do no match. Sat cross legged on a large armchair at the far end of the room, along the furthest edge of the table from the doorway where we are stood, is a thin, pale woman, with high cheekbones and the coldest blue eyes I have ever seen, hidden behind a thick pair of round glasses. She smiles when we enter the room, a smile that on any other person would have been warm, though it was not unfriendly. Still I shiver. Sat to her left on a regular wooden kitchen chair is another young woman. She glances up and stares at Elaine, then slowly turns to me with her concerned, dark eyes. Her skin is predominantly dark, with the exception of the symmetrical white patches that litter her face and arms. She makes no attempt to smile, but nodds her head towards me as greeting.
“Skadi, Marika, this is Jane. She’s a friend, and she’s here to hopefully do me a favour. Do the world a favour I suppose.”
Skadi waves at me, the cold, somehow friendly grin still on her face. Marika looks at me for a long time, then turns to Elaine.
“What is the meaning of this Elaine? You know we cannot welcome outsiders to this process.” Her voice is not loud, nor unsteady. But there is a sense of thunderstorms at the edge of her speech.
“Marika please, you know we cannot continue this process in secret any longer. It’s time people knew who we are, what we do. How the actions of humanity hinder us in our vital work.” A similar storm brews on Elaine’s tongue, and all I want to do is shrink into the corner and have the stone walls swallow me whole. Which is when Naiyah enters the room, humming a tune I almost recognise and carrying far too may mugs of tea.
“I made you chai if that’s okay Jane! It’s simply the best!”
Skadi smirks. “Debateable.” Naiyah places the mugs unceremoniously on the table, and pushes the biggest one of what appears to be black coffee towards Skadi. “I’m not arguing over hot beverages with you again Skadi, not tonight.” Her tone is exasperated, which makes Skadi smile more.
Naiyah pushes a mug into my hands with a warm smile, then takes her seat next to Skadi. Elaine stays by my side, though her mug is on the table with the others, so it is clear where she is supposed to be.
“So Elaine, in full, why have you brought this woman with you?” Skadi speaks without looking in my direction once. Elaine suddenly grabs my hand and my heart skips a beat. I try to steady my breathing and centre myself in the room as she begins to speak.
“This is Jane Harwood. She is a very good, um, friend, and also an excellent reporter. I have brought her here today to create a video to release onto the internet that will depict the process of us changing the season. This will hopefully establish us in the world consciousness, so we can better discuss the harm done to our world by global warming and all that bullshit. So, do I have your consent?”
Naiyah looks at Elaine, then me, that intense stare flickering back behind her eyes. Then she beams once again and exclaims; “Of course I consent! That’s a marvellous idea! And I get to be the new season in our official reveal!” She throws her arms in the air in delight, and Skadi glances at her, smiling softly.
“You have my consent also.”
Elaine smiles at them both, and seems to relax. Her grip on my hand softens slightly, as does my grip on reality.
Marika is staring at the mug of spiced tea in her hands. After a tense moment passes, she silently nods.
I set up the camera in the corner, and check that the shot has everyone in it. I mess around with lights for a bit, until everyone’s face is visible and well lit, which isn’t hard with the fire blazing and mismatching lamps dotted around the room. I place the microphone in the centre of the table, glad I brought the one you don’t have to speak directly into, as that would have been useless in this situation. Naiyah chatters in what appears to be her usual way, mostly with Elaine who seems to be returning to her usual bright self. Skadi sips her coffee and listens intently, but rarely contributes. Marika doesn’t say a word, just stares into her mug as if she was waiting for the liquid to tell her a terrible secret.
Once I’m set up I take a deep breath.
“Okay guys, so I’ll press record, and someone should probably explain who you are and what you’re about to do. Maybe say why you’re coming out now – if you ah – know what I mean…” I cough awkwardly and don’t look at Elaine. “Is there anything anyone wants to do or say before we do this?”
Elaine stands and collects up everyone’s mugs, putting them on a cabinet behind me out of shot. She tries to shoot me a smile as she walks past, but it does little to make the butterflies that must be using my stomach as a battle ground in their war with the snakes disperse.
“I think we’re good, Marika do you want to do the talking? You’re far more eloquent than the rest of us.” Marika raises an eyebrow, but nods.
“Very well Elaine, then it is time. Is everyone ready?”
They all nod now, and a heaviness enters the room. I can’t see it, but as they reach for each other hands and close their eyes, I can feel it against my skin, strange pressure pushing gently and making breathing both easier and much much harder. It takes me a moment to find my voice.
“Recording in 3,2,1…”
Marika has her piercing eyes wide open and is staring at me intently.
“Hello. What you are about to see is, literally, the changing of the seasons. You shall witness Winter, known as Skadi pass her energy to Spring, known as Naiyah. When the time comes, she will pass this energy to Summer, known as Elaine, who will eventually pass it to me, Autumn, known as Marika. This is an ancient ritual, that is performed regularly around the world by many groups, without your knowledge or awareness. But as the earth begins to be affected by the actions of mankind, the energy that fuels this process becomes erratic and in some cases too weak to fully complete the ritual. I hope that in learning of this truth, we can compel you to change your ways. I know this is a strange concept to engage with, and if you do not initially believe, you would not be viewed as foolish. But know that this is realty, for now, and it is a realty that needs saving.” She stares into the lens for a moment, then once again closes her eyes, and reaches for her sister’s hands.
The lamps begin to flicker. They dim a little at first, then flicker on and off, each time to a different level of brightness, then – a flash, so bright my eyes burn. I swear and turn away, covering my face with my arm. I think for a brief moment that I have gone blind. But a soft glow begins to fill the room. I tentatively lift my face back towards the table, and find the source of the light. Strange balls of energy are floating around the table, hovering over the heads of those sat and their linked hands, creating a chain of light connecting them all. They begin to mutter something in a language I don’t recognise, in unison and gradually getting louder. The lights start to drift towards Skadi, settling like a circlet around her head. The chanting stops, and the room is filled with the type of silence that swells a concert hall just before a musician places their hands on their instrument. Then Skadi breaks it, speaking in the same language as before. The lights were moving again now, starting to meld together and gain in intensity. A new circlet forms around Naiyah’s head, who speaks now with a tone that has a seriousness it had lacked before. Then the room begins to once again fill with light, but it’s different from before. There’s no hum of electricity or sense of an overwhelming tension that makes you want to run, or explode or just disappear. This time, it’s like the light is swelling, growing and pushing itself forward so it fills every crack and pore. My eyes don’t burn either, even though it’s now so bright objects in the room appear as shadowy, vaguely outlined shapes.
Then the light is gone. The lamps are once again lit as normal, and the room feels remarkably unchanged. Naiyah is beaming, and begins nattering excitedly to Skadi, who looks even paler than before. Marika places a gentle hand on Skadi’s arm, deep brown eyes filled with concern. Skadi briefly turns from Naiyah to flash Marika a small smile, then Marika quietly stands, collecting her satchel from the back of her chair. She nods to Elaine, who squeezes her arm as she makes her way to the door. She only raises her eyebrows at me as she passes, as if to say, ‘Good luck, you’re gonna need it.’
As Marika walks past me, I realise that I am not breathing, so I exhale deeply, and turn to my camera. I stop the recording and turn the device off, carefully placing it back in my bag. I collect the microphone from the centre of the table, and wrap up all the cables. I fold the tri-pod away last, and snap my bag shut. Skadi and Naiyah are still talking – or more Naiyah talks in a rushed, barely comprehensible tone and Skadi attempts to listen – so they pay no attention to my movements. It does not matter, I am not really paying much attention either, my hands working in auto-pilot, just doing the jobs because my brain doesn’t know what else to do. I am vaguely conscious of Elaine staring at me, probably watching to see if I pass out. My whole body feels numb, but not the absence of feeling I have felt before; it’s like every cell, every molecule, atom of my being is in a state of utter confusion, as if the very elements that construct me know that I should not have witnessed what I just saw.
I take a breath, and at last turn to look at Elaine. She is still sat in place at the table, her eyes now downcast, staring intently at her fingernails. I sling my bag over my shoulder, reaching for something to say. But my brain has gone blank. I awkwardly clear my throat, and Skadi looks at me. Naiyah keeps talking, but when Skadi’s glace doesn’t return to her, turns in my direction, and her speech drifts to an end. Elaine keeps looking at her fingernails, each painted a different shade of green. I had watched her do it while we watched a film last Friday night in my flat. She had made me pick the colours for her. I turn from her and speak directly to
Skadi and Naiyah, trying to ignore the weight building up in my stomach and the tension rising in my throat.
“Do you-er-want me to send you the final edit before I upload or…?
Skadi looks at Naiyah, who shrugs.
“Nah, if you’re as good as Elaine claims you are, then I’m not worried. How long will you be? Editing it I mean.”
“A day, maybe two. Could be longer if there’s something wrong with the footage. I can’t be sure how the camera dealt with-um-this.” I make a vague gesture with my hand. Naiyah nods, and glances back to Skadi, who now has her head on the table, buried in her arms. Naiyah bites her lip, and looks back at me.
“That’s fine, look I really need to get her to bed, so- “she glances anxiously at Elaine, who abruptly stands, collects the mugs from the cabinet and leaves the room. “-um, are you okay to see yourself out?” She attempts to smile at me, but I can almost feel the pity radiating off her. I run my hand through my hair and attempt to smile back.
“Yeah sure, I-er-guess I’ll see you around.” I laugh awkwardly, immediately hating myself for the horrifically lame joke. But Naiyah smiles warmly, and I think I hear Skadi softly chuckle.
“Good luck, Jane” She stands and begins to gently lift Skadi from her chair. “I hope our paths cross again someday.” She half carries Skadi out of the room, who grunts at me as they pass, what I assume is a farewell. They disappear upstairs, and I take my jacket from the hook in the hallway, pulling it on and wincing as the still damp collar touches my neck. I reach for the door handle, but my hand hesitates. I can hear the clatter of Elaine in the kitchen. I take a deep breath and turn away from the door.
If she notices me enter, she doesn’t react. I stand there for a moment, as she washes the mugs in the sink, her long red hair tucked behind her ears.
“Y’know this isn’t really how seasons work”
She drops the mug in her hand back into the water, and places her hands on the edge of the sink.
“Like in Australia, it’ll be Autumn now, right? If it’s Spring here? So how does that work?”
She continues to stare at the water in the sink, but exhales deeply.
“There are many groups, one for each sector.”
I laugh, but it’s a short, harsh laugh.
“Right! Of course! Well, do we have their permission to do this? I don’t want some bad ass Australian goddess-lady to come and beat me up for uploading this fucking thing for you.”
The joke is an attempt to cover my rising anger. It does not work, as my voice begins to raise. She doesn’t respond, just keeps staring at that fucking sink.
“What the fuck was this Elaine? Calling me out in the middle of the night, not telling me, ANYTHING, about where we’re going, then just dropping me in this fantasy crap like it’s nothing? Like this is just a normal thing for me to be involved in?!”
I’ve lost all pretences of not being angry now, and the rage is rising like bile, nauseating and burning my throat.
“What the fuck do you even want out of this? What do you expect to gain? You really think people are gonna see this and just sign on that it’s real?! This could ruin my career! So please, tell me, why the fuck you want me to do this?!”
She is still staring at the water in the sink. The bubbles on her hands have started to drip onto the floor, soaking her feet. But she doesn’t react, doesn’t fucking move an inch.
“LOOK AT ME FOR FUCKS SAKE!”
I practically roar, which shocks even me. I am shaking, and I can feel tears starting to pull at my eyes and throat. She runs a sodden hand through her hair, takes a shuddering breath and at last turns to face me. Tears are streaming down her face, we stare at each other for a moment, her gaze fixed on mine. Then she glances at her bare, wet feet against the linoleum floor, and says in a small voice;
“I’m sorry… I-I should have told you sooner, I just-” She cuts off and starts shaking her head. “I didn’t know how to even bring it up, or explain, and I-I thought if I SHOWED you, you wouldn’t just think I was CRAZY but I-” She sobs, and throws her hands over her face. But through her fingers I hear her mutter, in a barely audible whisper;
“I just didn’t want you to leave me.”
And before I know what I’m doing, I’m breaking every rule I made for myself as I’m walking over, and I’m wrapping my arms around her, and pressing a kiss onto the top of her head. Then I pull the hands from her face, and say;
“I am not going anywhere.”
And then I’m doing something entirely stupid. I press my lips against hers.
Lights bounce off the walls, spiralling in strange shapes created by it passing through my half-closed blinds. I’m definitely not ignoring the missed calls on my phone as I re-watch the footage for the 17th time. It all came out surprisingly clear- even the bright parts are as clear as if it were my own eyes watching the scenes back. I didn’t even know my camera could film quality this good – or any camera in fact. It was weird to watch the first few times, like my brain didn’t understand what it was watching or how. But now I seem mostly numb to the strangeness. I finished the edit and hour ago, but I haven’t uploaded anything, I’ve just sat, re-watching it, checking for any slight flaw. I don’t know what to do with myself. As once this goes live, my whole life could change. Or it won’t- which would honestly be the worst anti-climax. I take a sip of my cold coffee. Pretend not to see the new text message alert flash up in the corner of my eye. Then I take a deep breath, and open up my browser. It doesn’t take long to upload the video, and to share it as far as I can on social media, as the clip is pretty short really. Then I shut down my computer, pick up my phone, and ignore all the notifications. Now isn’t the time, now I need to sleep. So I turn that off too, and just climb under my duvet, and stare at the ceiling, and chant softly in prayer for rest.