Cold as Snow
Very slowly, Jacob turned around from the wood he had been chopping. Weak light flickered over the Blue Lutari’s face as he regarded the short pink Xweetok in front of him. For a minute it seemed like he wasn’t going to answer her at all, but then he spoke in an icy tone. “Hello.”
The Xweetok stamped her feet in the snow, her wide smile defying Jacob’s chiselled frown. “Hi,” she repeated breathlessly. “I’m Megan. I’m your new neighbour.”
“Oh.” Jacob’s voice betrayed his complete lack of enthusiasm at this news, and after a second of silence he turned back to his wood.
The Xweetok’s smile faltered slightly, but she managed to maintain the perk in her voice. “I, uh, I bought the house just over there.” She pointed across the snow-coated field and continued loudly, trying to speak over the crack of splitting wood, “It’s the one down in the valley... It’s actually not that close to here, but, well, I can’t find any other houses around here...”
“There aren’t any,” Jacob cut in, suddenly turning back to her and frowning. “Not for miles. That’s why I live here. I like to be alone.”
“Oh,” the Xweetok said. Her smile had failed her completely now, and with a satisfied huff the Lutari made to turn back to the wood. To his annoyance, however, the Xweetok grabbed at his arm before he could. “We’re still neighbours, though,” she said quickly, aware that her welcome was well and truly over. “And I’d like to get to know you better. Come over to my place for tea one day, okay?”
Jacob stared down at her, disgust written across his face. Megan let go of him and took a step back, crunching in the snow. “The offer stands.”
Jacob snorted and turned back to his wood, leaving the disheartened Xweetok to slip away unnoticed.
Jacob prided himself on being a loner. When he’d moved to Terror Mountain, it had been with the sole purpose of escaping the frustrations and irritants he associated with having to interact with other people.
Megan, however, turned out to be not only an unstoppable extrovert, but also extremely stubborn. Over the next three weeks she attempted to ‘drop in’ as often as the Lutari would tolerate, and to send him cheerful letters every few days.
Through the one-sided correspondence, Jacob learnt that Megan had never lived in the snow before. This only heightened his irritation with the pink bundle of enthusiasm, and after the third note, he stopped bothering to read them at all, preferring to use them as kindling instead.
One particularly brisk morning, he pushed open his front door to find a basket sitting in the snow. His thin mouth immediately formed a hard line as he glared at it, already suspecting its source. He nudged it with his boot, knocking it over, and discovered to his immense disgust that it contained several bottles of home-made jam, all labelled neatly.
He didn’t even bother trying to imagine how she’d gotten berries in the middle of winter.
The irked Lutari picked up the basket and dumped it onto his kitchen table before proceeding to sulk.
Occasionally, while he was out cutting wood, he would see the pink creature amongst the trees, collecting kindling or just walking. She would wave, and he would snort and ignore her.
As the weather became colder and the wind harsher, Jacob was forced to collect more wood to keep his cottage warm. Megan, too, seemed to be facing the same problem, and one afternoon Jacob found her dragging a large bundle of wood up and over a hill to her house. The hill was steep and the bundle almost as large as she was, and the Xweetok seemed to be losing more ground than she was gaining. Jacob rolled his eyes in exasperation, and marched up to her. Without a word, he grabbed the wood from her paws and threw it onto his back.
Megan grinned at him, her broad face full of gratitude. “That’s really kind of you... uh... actually, I don’t think you ever told me your name.”
Jacob grunted. She talked enough as it was; the last thing he needed was to encourage her into what could end up as an hour-long, decidedly one-sided dialogue. Instead of answering, he concentrated on marching up the hill. The fresh snow was easy to walk on, and as Jacob topped the crest, tuning out the happy chatting of his companion, he noted the unusual shade of the clouds. A storm was coming, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.
He glanced at the Xweetok walking beside him. She’d never been in a snowstorm before, or even knew how to tell when one was coming. Someone should probably warn her.
He dumped the wood on her porch and walked away without a word.
The next day Jacob opened his door to find a huge, happy snowman standing directly outside his house. Coal had been used for eyes and a big, smiley mouth, and one of its stick arms was pointing down to its base, where a basket of jams sat.
Keeping the first batch obviously hadn’t been a smart idea.
He walked to pick up the basket, and noticed the snowman had a hat- the same hat that Megan had been wearing the previous day.
The fact that he remembered the hat she’d been wearing was disturbing, but not nearly as disturbing as the unexpected sense that he should return it.
Snatching up the hat and the basket, Jacob returned to his fire-heated kitchen and dumped the half-frozen jams on the bench. Putting the hat into the basket and finding the other basket from her first jam offering, the peeved Lutari stomped back out into the snow, making his way over the hill to Megan’s house.
He put the baskets and hat on her porch, and left without knocking.
The next day it snowed. And snowed, and snowed. Then it stopped for an hour to let the fierce wind snatch at the white flakes and throw them back into the air, and then it snowed some more.
Jacob had seen it coming, and was prepared. He’d taken a trip to town to stock up on food, and had brought large piles of wood into his house, to avoid having to go out into the frigid wind.
It snowed all night, and all of the next day. The Lutari spent the entire time in his house; sleeping, eating, reading, or simply staring into the fire as the wind rattled furiously at his windowpanes.
On the third day he was foraging through his cupboard for something to eat when he came across the jams Megan had left him. At the time, he’d been too irritated to eat them, but not in a mean enough mood to throw them out, and had therefore dumped them into the back of the cupboard to collect dust.
Jacob regarded them for a minute before shrugging and making some toast, layering the jam on thickly. It was slightly bitter, and as he sat in front of his fire, Jacob’s mind wandered to what he liked to think of as ‘that ghastly pink Xweetok’... only this time he found himself tagging the word ‘neighbour’ on the end.
For the past two months, she’d done nothing but pester him and try to talk to him and send him jams, but now that he hadn’t heard from her for three days he felt sort of empty, almost lonely. His mind wandered onto what she must be doing as she tided out the storm. She would certainly have gone to the village.
There hadn’t been such persistent snow for years. Jacob was lucky because his house was on the side of a hill, protected from most of the wind and snow. Houses that had been built in valleys would have been literally buried. Houses like Megan’s.
Suddenly the toast tasted dry in Jacob’s mouth, but he persisted in swallowing. She might be annoying, he reasoned, but she wasn’t stupid. She would have travelled to the town to stay out the storm. It was the only sensible thing to do, especially as she would have in no way been prepared for days of being trapped in her house. She wouldn’t have had enough food or wood, or any way to communicate to the outside world. Yes, she certainly would have gone to the town.
If she’d known the storm was coming.
The only noise in Jacob’s house was the sound of a plate smashing as it fell from his hand.
The wind bit and clawed at the Lutari’s thick coat, and somehow managed to find all of the little gaps and holes, and send icy chills down his spine. The temperature had dropped alarmingly, and the snow was so thick that he sunk down to his knees in it. Still he forged on, shovel hanging over his shoulder.
Jacob’s mind whirled with painful memories. Guilt and fear nagged at him as he realized Megan was the only person he could possibly classify as a friend- and look at what he’d let her walk into.
When he reached the valley where he knew Megan’s house was, there was nothing to show anything had existed here, except for a lump in the snow. Jacobs quickly assessed its size, and started digging where he assumed the front door was.
Snow fell on him in waves, and the wind beat against him with an animal ferocity. Ice leaked into his boots and down the back of his jacket, melting and chilling him. Despite his thick gloves, his hands quickly became numb.
It took him what felt like ages to hit the roof, and he was forced to alter and widen his hole. Snow was continually blown into where he’d just dug, but Jacob kept going, breathing heavily and throwing the lumps of frozen water over his shoulder, until suddenly his shovel broke through the snow and into an empty space below.
Jacob had managed to dig straight down the front of the house, next to the front door, which had been opened. Two large eyes looked up at him and Megan, who had obviously been waiting as he dug her out, pursed her lips. “What took you so long?”
Jacob let his jaw drop open in disgust. So much for the possibility that she’d be grateful. “Excuse me?”
Megan looked at him, arms wrapped around herself to keep warm, and let her peeved face melt into a mischievous smile. “Hey, thanks, by the way.” She held her gloved hands out to him, and with a sigh Jacob dropped the shovel and hauled her out of her house and onto the frozen ground.
Jacob glanced at the still-open door. “It’ll get a bit wet when the snow melts.”
“It doesn’t matter. I didn’t like the carpet colour anyway.”
Jacob fought to keep the hint of a smile from spreading across his face. “Fine. I’ll get a team to dig your house out when the storm lets up a bit. You can come back to my place to warm up, and then I’ll take you into the town to stay.” It was the longest sentence he’d spoken in months, and he paused before adding impulsively, “My name’s Jacob, by the way.”
Megan looked surprised for a second, and then, slowly, a broad smile crept over her face. She pulled her coat around herself as they began to make their way down the hill. “Nice to meet you.”
“Is the offer of tea still standing? Because my kettle should have boiled by now.”
Megan’s broad grin was back. “That sounds great. Thank you, Jacob.”
The Lutari fought to keep a smile off his face as he helped the short Xweetok wade through the snow. He’d never really been fond of friends, but maybe, perhaps, having just one would be nice.