All around, the land was covered in slowly melting snow. Slush clogged the roads and paths. Trees stood bare in stark contrast against the white snow. Their bare branches did little to shield the earth below from the sun’s stabbing light. Nearby homes, all six of them, stood stoic to protect their inhabitants from the cold outside winds, which whistled through the trees– a choir of clacking, whistling beasts.
The lone figure of a well-dressed young man hung from a tree on a hill by a length of thick, worn rope.
“Sir?” A voice cut through the fog. “Sir, why are you laying in the snow?” The voice was childlike and sweet. Eyes opened, and bright sun drove into his eyes.
“I suppose I became tired.” he answered. Slowly, he stood. His legs felt stiff, as though he slept too long. He stretched his arms, and his eyes widened as he heard many pops and cracks. “My goodness.” He murmured blandly as he looked around. There was a snow-covered village of more than twenty homes at the bottom of the hill he stood on. A lone, empty noose hung not far away, in a tree at the top of the snow-covered mound.
The man looked at the noose with a disturbing sense of happy familiarity for a moment as he scratched his head, then looked toward the bundled young girl who stood beside him. “Which house is yours? You look half-frozen.”
The child smiled. Her purple lips were chapped and lop-sided, and her cheeks were bitten pink with chill. “It’s the one on the end, sir. It has red chimes near the window.” She pointed down the hill. “Why were you sleeping in the cold snow, when the village is so nearby?”
“Oh, I have no idea. Perhaps I am a silly man.”
The girl giggled, and the two joined hands as they walked through the crunching snow to the little girl’s house. The walk was short, but the driving winds flew tiny flakes of cutting snow at their faces, as though warning them away.
The man’s pace slowed, and although the little one seemed to have little difficulty, he lifted the her into his arms. “You must be struggling.” He murmured softly. “I’ll carry you the rest of the way.”
In his arms, the child nodded slowly. “Walking isn’t that hard, but I do like being carried.” She yawned and nestled close against his chest, her small nose pressed against his chest, and her snot soaked into the cloth of his fine black suit. As he carried her, she clung to him desperately.
He stopped in front of the door and raised a white-gloved hand to knock. His knuckles rapped against the wooden door. Several moments passed, and the door opened. Beyond it stood a tired-looking woman. She held a baby in one arm, and a child cling to her skirt, staring up at the stranger. “Lise?” she asked in an exhausted voice.
The man placed the girl on her feet, and she took a step forward on legs that refused to support her. She fell, and the man stood. He seemed disinterested. The woman who answered the door screamed and handed the baby to her other child. The man watched as the woman frantically tried to wake her daughter.
His eyes were bored. “My. Such a scene.” He murmured as he walked away from the panicking mother and her blue-skinned daughter. He looked around the town. The scene between mother and daughter was growing awkward, and the woman’s frantic screams began to grind at his nerves. He turned and walked away. He walked into one of the old houses in the center of the tiny village. Those at the table looked up as they heard the door, but soon returned to their business. He walked to the kitchen and began to hunt for something to eat.
He felt compelled to find cold meat. He rummaged through cupboards and pantries. He looked around for an ice box. The one he found was unusual make, but did its job. He soon found frozen ham and began to take bites of the surprisingly-soft ham. He paused and looked the chunk of boned meat over. In his experience, frozen meat was harder than rocks. With an indifferent shrug, he ate the entire boneless ham, then tossed its wrappings onto the floor. A small bitch trotted in and began to lick it between growling at him.
The man’s foot found the side of the miniature dog, and it yelped. He turned and walked outside using the back door of the home. Who the hell let over-sized rats into his home?
A scream of utter loss echoed through the village. Several people dashed from their homes to investigate. At the house with the red wind chimes,they found an open door that framed the scene of a woman sobbing over her oldest child’s still, cold form. Her screams echoed through the houses. “Abby! Abby,” she cried with a hoarse voice. The child did not move.
Their neighbor, a widower picked up the child and moved her to the fireplace. “She needs warmed, Anne!” The man spoke gruffly as he set about wrapping a blanket around the girl. He rubbed her arms through the blanket, and her body flopped about for several moments. Her head rocked back and forth. The blue slowly faded, as a healthy pink began to appear. She gasped and began to cough and cry.
“Mama, I feel so cold!” she cried.
Anne ran over and began to cry as she wrapped her arms around the child.
Weeks, months, and eventually years passed. Abby never saw the strange man from the hill again, though she always climbed it to the top and looked for him. Her mother stopped her whenever she could.
While Abby thought the man a hero, her mother thought the man a dream, for when she opened her door that fateful day, she saw only her standing daughter, who stumbled in and collapsed, her throat marred by a think band of rope burn that never healed.