by CJ Reddick
Some attempted unsettling work: "A Frozen World" "An Icy Monologue" "An Element of Truth"
"A Frozen World"
It was cold.
Mark awoke with a start. Where was he? Who was he? When was he?
The last mental question caught him by surprise. He didn’t remember much, but he did know that one did not usually fall asleep in one time and wake up in another.
Time period, he corrected himself. Everyone fell asleep at one time and woke in another. Usually this was a few hours’ difference, as opposed to a few or several thousand years’ difference. But it felt as though he had slept a long time. His body was sore from sleep.
Fear slowly crept in, but he pushed it back. Now was not the time for a panic attack. He needed to calm down and rationalize his way out of his current situation.
Body check first. Two hands, two feet, ten fingers. He lifted his hands to his face and felt around. A nose, a mouth, two ears. No hair. Was he bald?
Any image of himself had been erased from his memories. He didn't even know what his skin color was!
Mark pulled back the soft blue parka and thick green shirt that enfolded his arm. White, pink with the cold. The tips of his fingers, which he examined after removing his gloves, were just beginning to turn black.
Mark jerked his head around and searched the cave. That voice, it had come while he was sleeping. He thought it was just in his head. Maybe it still was. But it sounded incredibly real.
"Hello?" he called. His voice reverberated off of the frozen walls and dangling icicles. An echo. The strange word had not echoed. And yet it sounded so real.
Well, whether there was someone there or not, they weren't going to be of help. Frostbite was setting in, he knew that much, and having a companion or stalker wasn't going to change that. He needed to get somewhere warm, fast.
Obviously, the cave was not a safe place. Mark hopped up off his slab of rock, hearing his boots crunch against the half-inch deep snow that carpeted the floor of the cave. He looked around again. He appeared to be in the deepest cave of a cavern system. The mouth of his current cave opened into a bigger cave.
After one final look around, he exited his small cave. It was then he noticed the lights. If this was a real ice cave in the middle of nowhere, and he wasn't directly in front of the mouth, there should've been no light. But, when he looked up to the cavernous ceiling, he saw fluorescent lights hanging about every six feet. This was the source of light in his smaller cave.
Mark's gaze was so focused on the ceiling, he didn't notice the strange sight that was in front of him. His eyes wandered down and he stepped back in surprise. "Whoa!"
The cavern was not empty. And it looked like the foyer of a mansion. Two curving staircases hugged a room filled with ornate furniture. A balcony marched off into other caverns in either direction. A chandelier dangled. It was all ice.
There was even an ice fireplace underneath the balcony. No blaze lit it, though. Mark stepped further to investigate, past the steps and towards the fireplace. To his surprise, or perhaps not to his surprise at all, there were caves adjacent on this level as well.
All of this seemed familiar, yet obscure. Like viewing a photograph of your parent when they were young.
Mark paused. Did he have parents? A wife? Children? Friends? He couldn't remember.
Mark spun around. "Who's there?" Again the echo. Again no reply.
Perhaps some strange monster was stalking him. He looked around for a weapon.
"Ah," he stepped back to the staircase and broke off one of the railings. One end came off nice and pointed. With enough force, it could probably break through skin. Hopefully it wasn't some hairy creature. Or a robot.
The when question reemerged. He wasn't sure why, but he felt that he had slept for much longer than normal. Wherever and whenever he was, he needed to find someone to help him. But even before that, he needed to find heat.
A cold wind whipped through the cave, chilling his already cold body. Mark shivered and stepped into one of the offshoot caves. The wind died down a bit and Mark relaxed his muscles. If he remembered correctly, once his core temperature dropped enough he'd start shivering uncontrollably, and he didn't want to exhaust his muscles early. He turned to view the cave he had just stepped in.
"Oh! What the hell?"
About the most unexpected thing to find in an ice cave. A young woman, rushing about an ice kitchen. She wore a female version of his outfit, but there was something different about her. She looked as though she had been outfitted to play an ice princess in a fantasy film. Her face was freezer burned, icicles dangled from her ears, and her hair had little flakes of snow in it. Her skin was unnaturally blue and her eyes were glassy and unblinking. Mark stepped closer to examine them. They were frozen.
"Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Where are we?" Mark tried.
The woman continued running around. She couldn't seem to hear him. Was she even there? He reached out and grabbed her arm as she passed. She was solid. Then, something strange happened.
The ice melted off of her face and hair and drizzled down her body. As the water ran, her skin became tan and sun-kissed. Her parka melted away as well, revealing a bikini top and shorts. The water seemed to have an effect on the room. As soon as the first drop hit the floor, color blanketed out in the icy floor. The frozen floor melted away and became hardwood. A similar thing happened to everything else in the kitchen. A window appeared, leading to a bright and sunny yard with a pool. Everything looked like it would in a normal house on a sunny day. Except, it was still cold.
The woman stopped when he grabbed her.
"Oh, Mark! Don't scare me like that!"
"Who are you? What is this place? Why is it so cold? How do you know my name?"
The woman frowned. "Don't you remember, Mark?"
Mark shook his head. "No."
"And why are you wearing a parka? It's 101 degrees out."
"What? No it's not! It's like negative fifty!"
"No, Mark, I have a thermometer right here... see."
She pointed to a thermometer in the window. 101 degrees. Mark stepped back in shock, dropping the woman's wrist. Everything froze as quickly as it had melted. The woman's parka and burns reappeared, and her skin faded back to the frozen blue.
"Fascinating, isn't it?"
Mark spun around. An old man stood in the doorway, dressed in a white suit. And, despite the fact that it was freezing, he had no coat, no gloves, and showed no signs of being cold.
"Who are you?"
The man smiled and stepped forward, leaning on a cane that had been hidden before.
"In your world, you'd call me God. But here, my name is Silas."
"Well, not the God of course. That's entirely different concept. In fact, I'm not quite sure how your spirituality is affected by living where you do. But suffice to say that I created your universe, and I maintain it."
"You created the universe?"
Silas waved his hand. "Oh, not this one. I'm not nearly powerful enough for that. But I've said too much already. A large part of what makes this whole thing work is faith, a lack of understanding is the fourth sign, actually."
"Did you say that?"
Silas smiled at him. "I'm guessing you're referring to your internal clock system. It's helping you recognize the signs-- given your memory's impaired state."
"Signs of what?"
The man pointed his cane at the woman, who was now impatiently tapping her foot.
"Why don't you ask Kacey?"
He retreated into the big cave and was gone.
Mark turned back to the woman. Kacey. Silas had left no instructions, so he assumed he just needed to do the same thing. He reached out and grabbed Kacey's hand.
Everything melted again and he was back in the normal kitchen. Kacey, startled, turned to him.
"Mark! You haven't bathed?"
"What?" he asked, bewildered.
"I told you to bathe last night! You said you didn't want to bathe, and I didn't make you! Ugh! Stupid, stupid me!"
"What does bathing have to do with anything?"
"Not wanting to bathe is the fifth sign that you need to!"
"Wait, wait, wait! So all this... whatever the hell's happening... is happening because I didn't take a bath?"
Kacey nodded angrily. "You're in Hell aren't you?"
"Hell? You know, the icy place?"
"The cave? That's Hell? I thought Hell was supposed to be fiery."
"What would ever give you that idea?"
"I... I don't know. But if that place is Hell, why are you there too?"
"Yes, yes you are."
"No, I'm right here."
It was then that it struck Mark that she didn't know she was in the cave. Whatever was happening, her consciousness was only here. And somehow he was able to transport between the two?
"Okay, assuming I am in Hell, how do I get back?"
"Bathe. You'll have to bathe in the lake."
"Where is this lake?"
"I don't know! You'll have to find it."
Mark sighed. "Fine, I'll see you, when I see you I guess."
He dropped her hand before she had time to respond. Her face grew angry but also froze up, so he didn't have to deal with what he just said.
"Do you see now?"
Silas was back.
Mark turned. "Sort of. I still don't understand it."
"And nor should you," Silas smiled. "The seventh sign is a small faith that bathing will save you."
"And unlike the other six, this one is only received by those here. Well, consciously here," he paused for a slight chuckle. "It is also the only sign that is actually required to return to your world."
"Will it stop being cold?" Mark demanded.
"Yes, it will."
"None of this makes sense."
"It shouldn't. Do you want me to take you to the lake now?"
Mark paused. He didn't see any other option. "Yes."
Silas turned. "Follow me."
The old man walked quickly for a man with a cane. He led Mark through many caves, and they passed many frozen people. Finally, after what seemed like ten hours, or maybe ten minutes, they came to a large ledge.
Mark peered over the edge. Beneath was water. Icy chunks floated in it. A thin sheet of ice covered the top of it.
"Is this it?"
Silas nodded and smiled. "It is."
"And all I have to do is jump?"
He nodded again. "Bathe."
Mark felt the cold wind whip around him. At some point on the walk, he had realized he was dying. Or perhaps he was already dead. Or was he jumping to his death? There was no evidence that this would actually save him. But, he had a feeling it might. That would make the most sense, considering his experience. But he knew he needed to make a decision soon. And he needed to get out of the cold.
And so he jumped.
"An Icy Monologue"
Apologies for the fourth wall break (assuming there is one.) It's Silas. Now that you've read Mark's story, I hope to clear some things up for you. Or make them dirtier.
Mark awoke in a frozen cave with no memory of how he got there, and through his explorations discovered he had been taken to another universe, and he met me there. There are several ways you can take this, and I will let you choose what you believe.
Mark may have just been an unfortunate hypothermia case. He did display many symptoms of hypothermia, shivering, memory loss, and potential hallucinations. Maybe it was all in his head, and his dive into the lake was not real, but symbolized the point his brain completely stopped working. This is a plausible theory, as there is an abandoned car in the woods near my caves. I will let you decide how long it's been there.
Some of you are scoffing. "If Silas is a figment of Mark's imagination, he should not be able to exist right now." True, yes. But, I think you're forgetting something. I'm not just in Mark's head. I'm in your head. Right now. My voice is reading these words. I wonder what it sounds like to you. So, even if I do not exist outside of the realms of the mind, I am still quite safe. And now, I will always exist, because I will always be in your memory, whether you remember me or not. But that's getting a bit off topic.
Let's assume you take the more fun route. Everything that happened to Mark was real. Where does that put us?
Perhaps you noticed that Mark's question of time was never officially answered. I will explain why now.
In order to discuss this, one must assume that there are two universes and Mark is indeed travelling back and forth between them. Whether or not this is true is an entirely different matter. If this is the case, then time between the two universes has to be relative. Unless both universes were created at the same time (I assure you they were not), they are at different points in time. It makes the most sense if you think of it as two parallel lines on an xy plane. Imagine the xy plane as time, and the universes as the two lines. If one is one foot long from a point of origin, and the other starts a foot away from the origin at the same time the first line passes the one-foot line, then as they move forward the two lines would always be happening at the same time, but their lengths would be different. The lengths represent the amount of time that has passed in that particular universe, which is how that universe would measure time. So, though happening at the same time, the time at which these events happened is relative to what universe this story is being read from.
Which brings us to the question, what universe are you reading this story from?
Well, let's be honest, you don't know. Not unless you don't bathe. Now you might say "But, Silas, in the past people have gone years without bathing." True. But is that the type of bathing I mean? Perhaps in Mark's universe the word bathing has a different meaning. Or perhaps the word Kacey used wasn't even bathe, just the word Mark perceived. Perhaps it's something everyone does every day. Then you wouldn't even know.
Or perhaps you are in my universe. If so, this story happens in the future. A cataclysmic event might've forced the world into a new Ice Age. I may have been a brilliant scientist who figured out a way to make people impervious to cold (with unexpected side effects), and retreated to a cave to wait out the Ice Age and preserve the human race.
I'm not sure which option is better.
Well, regardless, if you are from Mark's universe, I hope to never see you in person. I say this because I care about you, and I want us all to survive.
For God's sake, bathe!
"An Element of Truth"
I was at a gala on the 28th, when I felt myself becoming rather ill. I bid a farewell to my fellows and left, feeling flushed and nauseas. I made my way to the ascending room. When it arrived on my floor, I entered. There was already a man in there. “Good evening,” he spoke. The man had an American accent.
“How do you do,” I said courteously.
“Rather well, sir,” the American answered.
The doors closed and we began to descend. When the ascending room was between the sixth and fifth floors, it slowed to a halt. An alarm blared for a few seconds, and then all power disappeared.
I, myself being afraid of the dark, was quite frightened and cuddled myself up into a corner.
“Good fellow! Do you have any light?” I cried to the American.
“I do indeed,” said he. “In my pocket there are seven white candles and a box of matches.
“Then light them, for heaven’s sake!” I cried.
The match was struck, and pressed to the tip of the first candle. The ascending room was bathed in a scarlet light.
“Scarlet?” I asked.
“Apologies, sir. These are the only matches I have on my person.”
“Well, some is better than none, I suppose,” I replied.
As the candle flickered, the scene reminded me of a short story I had recently read. “Sir, this scene reminds of a short story I was reading recently.”
“Oh? Do tell,” the man said. I saw his eyes twinkle in the candlelight.
“I was reading ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, by Edgar Allan Poe. It had a room very much like this.”
“I know. I should know better than anyone, I wrote it.”
“Then you, sir, are the Mr. Poe?”
“Indeed I am,” replied Poe.
“Well, Mr. Poe. I have read all of your works. They are simply marvelous!”
“Thank you, good chap. I rather like them as well. Perhaps this night you shall experience some of my stories yourself.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
Poe’s eyes looked malicious in the candlelight. “Nothing. Would you look at the amazing artwork in this ascending room?”
I glanced around myself at the walls. Each wall had a painting hung upon it. But the wall above Mr. Poe’s head was what startled me the most. Upon it hung an oval painting of a beautiful young girl.
“Mr. Poe!” I exclaimed.
“What is it?” he asked.
“The painting! Your painting! From ‘The Oval Portrait!’”
Poe did not even glance up. “Yes, I know.”
I stared at the painting. She really was beautiful. The candle burned down, and Poe struck another match and lit the second candle.
There we sat for hours. From time to time, we conversed. Other times, we just sat with our thoughts. One peculiarity struck me, though. We could still hear the banging of the grand clock from the gala room upstairs. Every time it rang, Poe would immediately stop talking and stare at the wall. When it stopped, Poe would continue talking as if nothing happened.
During the fifth candle’s time, I decided to question him about the clock. “Mr. Poe, why will you not talk during the ringing of the clock?”
Poe stared at me gravelly. “I thought you yourself had read ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’”
“Yes, sir, but…”
“Did you not think I made that up? Do you think the silence during the ringing of the clock was my imagination? Oh no, Mr. Valdemar. Each of my stories has an element of truth, and the silence at the ringing of the clock is of my own tradition.”
“And the matches?”
“The seven candles, they are from ‘The Pit and the Pendulum.’ Are they not?”
“Yes, my friend.”
My mouth suddenly burned with thirst.
“Mr. Poe, might you have anything to drink?”
“Oh, yes of course. I have with me a flask of Amontillado.”
I scooted away from him as the end result of ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ came to mind. “You know, I’m not really thirsty.”
“Suit yourself,” Poe took a swig and placed the flask back in his pocket.
Poe was really starting to scare me. But somehow, in all my terror, I fell asleep during the burning of the sixth candle. I feared that, as in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” my hope was draining as the candles burned down. I did not want to be left alone in the dark with Mr. Poe. Even with this on my mind, I fell asleep.
I dreamed I was in the ascending room with Mr. Poe. I looked up, and there on the ceiling was a portrait of Father Time. A pendulum was swinging out of his open mouth.
“Mr. Poe!” I cried as the sharp pendulum swung down towards me.
“An element of truth, Mr. Valdemar, an element of truth.”
I screamed and woke up. I was lying on the couch of the lobby of the building, out of the ascending room. The guests looked at me with minor annoyance. A woman in a business suit walked up to me.
“Sir, you must leave now.”
“Who moved me?” I asked.
“It was the fellow that was trapped in the ascending room with you. He left a message.”
“He said, ‘An element of truth.’”
I fainted dead away.