Thursday evening the study was still, and the last lingering ashes of my cigar settled lightly in the ashtray like grey snowflakes. It was nearing winter, and it would not be long before the crimson autumnal leaves outside lost their brilliance against the dark earth to be buried beneath consuming banks of frigid white snow. Rain tapped steadily on the large window-panes to my right, and started to become progressively more persistent, as if an impatient person’s fingers were a-tapping at the window to beg entry inside from the storm and dark of the night. I had earlier drawn fast the brocade curtains, as I had the most unsettling sensation of being watched. A preposterous notion, I had assured myself, for whom would be outside my isolated country estate in a storm at nearly 1 in the morn? Even the servants were away for the time, their arrival delayed by the weather that my carriage had had the fortune of missing. I suppose part of the problem had been hiring a carriage driver that was not of my staff, and not bringing along my butler as I oft did … but there was no use in dwelling on that at present. I had made my departure in haste, and the illness of my recuperating butler could not be helped—I did not wish to drag him away from his sick bed to accompany me. The hired carriage man, Samuel I believe was his name, had been dismissed many hours ago, and for his sake had hopefully reached a town before the storm swept in further to soak the ground through.
“There is no one that could possibly be outside the window, for I am fully alone”—this thought was what I heartily attempted to console myself with. I swiftly dismissed the notion of being observed and lit another cigar, though my hands were paler than usual and held a slight tremor with the match. I then went to the side table where a crystal decanter and glass set awaited me, my ever-faithful companion and comfort. The amber brandy burned its way down and warmed my insides against the damp, thick air of the storm. I poured another glass and downed it swiftly.
Apart from the rain and occasional faint pops and crackles from the fireplace across the room, all was silent. I set back in my cushioned chair and pondered quietly, puffing lightly on the cigar to ruminate on plans for the days ahead, to better forget the dreaded night at present. The fire and fading candles on my side table threw about flickering light and shadows, casting the room in a queer, eerie lightshow that was in contrast to the pitch-colored darkness outside. Though the curtains were drawn I would swear I could still sense the oppressive blackness. When I allowed myself a furtive glance to the window, I could just detect the edge of the glass behind the curtain and the tenebrous trees beyond the glass. Before drawing the curtains earlier, my view outdoors revealed an opulent garden, a fairly green stretch of lawn, and a surrounding forest that appeared painted in shades of green and warm browns. The view now was all in tones of black and the deepest blue, further blurred and obscured by the pounding rain and roaring wind. I was used to my country home being bright and green with plant life, with light mists of rain and short summer evenings, not this savage weather … Perhaps it was due to the timing in which I had elected a trip to the country, in the autumn rather than the beloved spring or summer, but the outdoors now did not seem half so welcoming. My once cheerful blooms were barren, the trees had all shed their leaves to reveal bony branches clawing up to the deep sky, and the forest surrounding appeared to be a tossing sea of pine.
Though I was not looking upon it now, my mind held the image in its forefront, seemingly content to torture me with thoughts of the cold and dying landscape of my once warm and lively country-seat. Shadows from the firelight continued to wave and slide along the walls and floor, as if they were pagan dancers conjuring and reveling in the stormy deluge. I had a brief, absurd notion to quell the flames entirely for their mockery at my misery of the cold, wet night, but quickly contained myself as my actions would have only made it darker and colder still. I extinguished my half-smoked cigar and leaned back further into the chair and found myself sinking into the leather as if sinking into the maw of a beast or a deep water. This sensation unsettled me further, though this very was usually a comfort to me, and I twitched restlessly and fiddled with a book that I could not pay attention to. Perhaps it was the drink, though I am more than accustomed to that and am not prone to such panicked states. I do not recall the act of drifting off to a restless sleep, only the sheer panic that gripped my heart when I awoke.
My body was cold and uncomfortably curled on the chair. With a quick stretch, eyes still closed, I realized I had slept in a position like a fetus rather than on my back as was normal. My internal sense of time told me that several hours had since passed, and as there was now no detectable light or warmth from the once hearty and well-fed fire going, I felt assured that I was to wake and see the early morning sun peeking beneath the curtains. I sighed with happy relief, stretching to bring some warmth and relief to my muscles and opening my eyes to quickly check the clock face above the mantle as further confirmation of my theory. My vision was instead greeted by bleak darkness.
A nervous titter escaped my chapped lips, and I used one of my cold hands to scrub roughly at my face, eyes again closed. “Surely I must be seeing things,” I muttered. “I am clearly not as awake as I thought I was, to be seeing such darkness in what I am sure is the middle of the morning! I shall pinch myself to get my wits about me, and view the sun in the garden through my window!” And so I pinched myself roughly, grimacing at the pain that met little resistance from my white shirtsleeve, and opened my eyes to reveal once more the study cast in darkness- seemingly even darker and colder than before. My breaths were starting to fog heavily in the air, and I clutched my arms about myself as sudden shivers wracked my body, pressing myself into the leather searching for any semblance of body heat from laying there prior. I found none, and felt colder still from the contact, so I slid ungraciously off the seat to collapse miserably on the rug below. The cold was fierce and penetrating—it was unthinkable to be so damned cold indoors in the beginning of autumn! What trickery was this!?
Confused and shaking, I struggled my way toward the fireplace across from me, knees shuffling slowly against the carpet as I threw dignity to the storming winds outside and all but crawled to the hearth. The cold seemed to increase every moment, the once harsh storm outside now audibly ferocious, and I shook with a combination of cold and fear in my bones. This had to be a nightmare, for in what world would a storm such as this suddenly appear? As I approached the hearth, doubling over with a wracking shudder, I heard a sudden loud banging sound over the roar of the wind. I started and slowly forced my now aching, cold muscles to turn toward the sound, and in misery and disbelief beheld the open study window. The bronze latch was unlocked and the once-drawn curtains were loose and fluttering violently in the wind, their burgundy pattern dusted with frost and beating with louds thumps against the glass pane. Snow made its way inside and clung to the carpet, the rain of before forgotten and replaced with icy flakes.
Hardly able to move, I had struggled against my shivers and mentally vacillated between attempting to first light the fire or to make my way across the room to close the window. The natural choice was to extinguish the source of the snow and wind sweeping inside, though making my way there felt like an impossibly arduous task as my limbs stiffened. I coughed pitifully as the storm seemed to surge, and my body was surrounded in a funnel of whirling snow. Limbs seizing in the cold, I hunched over the cold carpet and futilely tried to keep my core warm. Paralyzed, I looked at the window in fear as snow continued to cascade inward. My exposed skin was alarmingly red, my fingertips turning purple, and my screams to curse the nightmare and attempt to awaken were drowned out by the howling wind biting at my cheeks and constricting my throat. Any attempt at screaming or speech was aborted by inability and I lay in utter helplessness, betrayed by my body that refused to function.
Overcome with hypothermia, I finished my collapse and lay on my side in a stiff ball, dreading what was surely my upcoming demise, feeling insane with confusion as the study around me rocked with the violent gusts. Books flew from the shelves, papers were caught in a flurry near the oak desk, snow obscured the once colorful wallpaper, and a speedy frost crept up and across the furnishings, across the floor, and over my limp body. The misty pale color that washed over the scene was encompassing, consuming, and I thought I’d never see another color before my death. But then … I saw the shadow.
Though my lashes were white with frosty crystals, vision blurred as my body slowed, I knew that what stood before me was not of this earthly realm.