Cold Like Snow
Sita Bethel © 2018
All Rights Reserved
René stood in front of the doorway and ran his finger over the outline of the key’s metallic surface before wedging it into the lock and stepping inside his new house. The cold air puckered the skin of his arms and neck. He rubbed his shoulders to keep them warm as he looked around. The flooring throughout the house was black-and-white linoleum. A wide living area faced him—to his left was a fireplace, straight ahead stood double glass doors leading to a small garden, and to his right a half bathroom, dining area, and kitchen. Between the dining room and the glass door, a staircase with a thick cherrywood banister curved up to the three bedrooms and a full bathroom.
René walked to the staircase and stopped short of the first step. He examined the black-and-white squares. They looked clean at first glance, but since he was searching, René noticed the thin rust-colored lines between the tiles. It was why he had bought the house. He’d heard the two previous owners had died after falling down the stairs. Afterward, the old building fell victim to exaggerated ghost stories. True, it did make the building more affordable, but the real reason it appealed to René was because he loved ghost stories and all things macabre. Ever since he was a child, tales that made others grimace had made René smile. He squatted to the floor and reached out to graze his fingertips against the tiles.
A long sigh escaped from between René’s lips. He stood and headed to his moving truck. After several hours of carrying boxes in, he decided to save the larger furniture for the next day. René lit a fire; orange light crawled across the floor and walls. He unrolled his sleeping bag near the hearth and slipped inside. The old house creaked. The silence in the house amplified every other noise, which echoed like a lullaby and soothed René into a hard sleep.
At dawn, before René was fully awake, he dreamed someone dragged their fingers through his hair. He rolled on his side, muttering, “It’s too cold to get up.” The next time he opened his eyes, sunlight brightened the room through the garden doors. He sat up, rubbed his face, and remembered the odd dream of being petted. He smiled at the dream as he stretched and moaned. René slipped out of the sleeping bag and shuffled toward the kitchen to make coffee.
The day labored on as René set upon the tedious mission of dragging his furniture inside his house by himself. Most items—the bed, the office desk, his baker’s rack—he had dissembled before loading into the rental truck, but a few pieces—the washer, dryer, and sofa—he had to strap to a dolly with bungee cords, making it slow to get them inside the house. There was nothing better to do during the constant back and forth than think. He’d spent most of his thirty-four years of existence rushing past his own life. He’d sped through junior high and high school as fast as he could, desperate to get away from the small-minded town where his aunt and uncle had raised him after his parents died of heat exhaustion during a camping trip. After he graduated, René fled to the nearest city, waiting tables to scrape up enough cash for a small apartment while he earned his associate degree. He jumped into a relationship with the first guy who openly pursued him, infatuated by the bold, flirtatious attitude that René never experienced from any of the guys back home. Even after his heart broke, René hurried straight to the next boyfriend, who ended up being much worse than the first.
He learned his lesson after that one, sticking to casual hookups as he focused on work and his studies. Once he finished school, René was desperate to find a job where he could afford more than ramen noodles and dollar-store socks. Now he was at a point in his life where he wanted nothing more than to appreciate everything he obtained and accomplished over the years. He escaped the small town. He made enough money to pay his bills. He finally bought a house. René wanted a chance to breathe and enjoy it. Perhaps find a decent partner who wanted to settle down, or at least get a dog.
He went through an entire box of granola bars and a pot of coffee before he decided to go to the store for groceries.
When he returned, René made a sandwich for lunch and then continued to set everything in order. By the end of the day, each stack of boxes sat in the correct room and the furniture was more or less placed where he intended to keep it. Too exhausted to assemble the bed, René spent another night in his sleeping bag near the fireplace, feeling like a strange post-modern male Cinderella.
In the early gray dawn, he had the same dream. Fingers, barely felt, ran through his hair and gingerly touched his cheeks and collarbone. René exhaled with content at the soft, misty caresses, and he wished ghosts were real before sinking into a deeper sleep.
In the morning, he started unpacking in the kitchen until he found the toaster and a skillet. After eating breakfast and unpacking the kitchen, he assembled the bed. Two nights on the floor had his shoulders stiff. René cursed as he balanced the sideboard of his bed frame in his lap and worked the first screw in one turn at a time. For the cost of a six-pack of beer and some pizza, May would have been more than happy to help René both move his furniture and set up the bed, but René relied on his best friend too much already. The next time May visited, René wanted to go out and have fun, not unpack a mountain of boxes, so he finished tightening the first screw and wondered where his bag of extras had disappeared. René groaned when he saw them on the other side of the room. He would have sworn he’d set them beside his lap when he started, but apparently he hadn’t. By the time he pushed the box spring and mattress onto the completed frame, René was worn out. He dropped onto the bed and made snow angel motions with his arms and legs before resting.
“Forget unpacking. I should just go to sleep,” René spoke to the bed, having no one else to talk to.
His muscles ached from carrying boxes and furniture, and the bed was firm but soft enough for him to sink a little. René shut his eyes and pulled a deep, intentional breath into his lungs. Daydreams played out behind his closed eyelids. It’d been awhile since anyone else had been in his bed with him, and he imagined a mystery lover sneaking to his bedside, sitting beside him, and kissing his stomach as he unzipped René’s pants. His fantasy spun out of control. The mattress felt like it really did shift with the weight of another person sitting close. René sat up and shook his head to rid himself of the ridiculous daydream. He made the bed before going downstairs to finish unpacking the living room.
By the third night, the house resembled a home. René examined his progress in the living room and nodded his head in satisfaction. As he stood in place, René’s hair slid against his shoulders, as if someone had brushed the long strands away from his face. He froze a moment, wondering if his imagination played tricks with his mind again, but the distinct pressure of a hand lighted on his shoulder and fingers ran down his cheek. He blinked, trying to process the strange sensation of being touched by invisible hands.
“Hello.” René’s voice sounded loud in the visibly empty living room.
The touching stopped after he spoke.
“Wait, don’t leave,” René said, afraid he’d somehow startled whatever had interacted with him. René’s gaze darted across the living room, searching for any indication that he wasn’t alone. Nothing was out of place. René sighed, his shoulders slumping forward. “I didn’t imagine that,” he whispered, to convince himself he hadn’t daydreamed the experience.
An idea drifted into René’s head. He spoke to the air in a bashful tone. “If you can hear me, would you follow me. Please?”
He walked up the stairs and opened the door to his office. Stacks of boxes lined the walls and surrounded the desk like strange cardboard obelisks. René pilfered through the boxes until he found one labeled office odds and ends.
He pulled the tape from the top of the box and set aside small statues of gargoyles, skeletons, and imps. With both hands, René removed the old Ouija board from the cardboard box. He’d never used it before and only owned it for the aesthetic, but now he sat on the tiled floor with the board in his lap and the heart-shaped planchette under his fingertips.
“I know this is dumb,” he said. “I know this is a stupid toy, but why not use it? Crap, I hope I’m not talking to myself. I just want to—” A breath hitched in René’s throat as the planchette scrawled across the wooden surface of the board.
“Oh good! I was hoping you’d want to talk. Hold on. Let me get a pen.” René rummaged through another box until he found a pack of pens and a notebook. He held the paper in his lap so he could write down the letters. “What’s your name?” René asked, but to his disappointment, the planchette only swerved in between the yes and no options at the top of the board. He frowned, thinking of what he might be doing wrong. Another question came to mind. “How many of you are here?”
The pointer swerved to the number two on the board.
“What are your names?” The planchette moved without him touching it, freeing up his hands to write each letter.
“Really?” René raised an eyebrow. It was a rhetorical question, but the heart planchette spelled another sentence.
“You have a problem with our names?”
“No.” René smiled. “My name’s Rembrandt. Our mothers should be slapped. Call me René, though.” A nervous chuckle slipped past René’s lips. “Not that I can hear you say my name.”
Sita Bethel obtained a B.A. in Creative Writing at Arkansas Tech University; however, she learned how to write fiction on sites such as Archive Of Our Own and fanfiction.net. She keeps coloring books near her computer for when she’s “writing,” and owns an awful lot of dice for someone who’s never played a tabletop RPG. Sita Bethel currently lives in Arkansas, teaches Zumba Fitness and Salsaton classes at a local gym, and hopes to someday own a fortress of solitude staffed with incompetent henchmen.