-- 1 --
Never had a night felt so cold. The frigid air, violently ripping through the naked pines and snow-covered peaks of Cursed Creek sent paralyzing chills down the frail spine of this tired old man.
I was alone, but sensed a dark presence as I strode the narrow path following the icy creek. Something was wrong, something in the air: a foul odor, bitterness on the tongue, perhaps the moon--something dreadfully odd about its ghastly glow. Whatever it was it stiffened my back like a washboard, making the task of walking more grueling than ever before in all my years.
Beads of sweat streamed my forehead, forging icy shards along the length of my brow, crusting along my long pail sideburns--oh yes, I still had them; my hair may have been white and thinning with the passing breeze, but these Elvis burns just refused to die. I wiped the freezing sweat from my brow and returned my age-wrinkled hands to the shelter of my slightly warmer trench coat.
My breathing swiftly became labored. My breath, a milky grey--a thick fog, which quickly veiled my eyes making navigation arduous. My feet grew heavy; I could barely find the strength to lift them from the boot-shaped craters left behind in the hard, ice crusted snow.
Cursed Creek Manor loomed ahead, just out of sight. I should have been upon its glorious doorsteps by now, but oddly, and quite sadly, I was not.
My mind began to wander. Thoughts of family, the beautiful Mrs., even the dog--that stupid mutt! Always nipping at my feet and pissin' on the carpet. These thoughts filtered through my turbid head like... well, like a whirlwind--a raging typhoon--far beyond the control of my rein.
I must pick up my pace. It was then I realized the relentlessness of mother nature's frigid air raking about my face. The sudden chill spiked as a burst of energy to my soul; my legs hopped in their step just a bit more than they had. I mustn't freeze to death, I thought. I hardly think the family would be much pleased to find grand-papa's frozen corpse blocking their path come morning.
All of a sudden, as the mad rush of emotion one might feel after being told a loved one had passed, a crushing feeling came upon me--a feeling like I had been walking for ages. It smothered me, stealing every last bit of will and energy from my already meek existence.
How can it be? I thought, The path is but a mere mile; it connects Cursed Creek Manor with my dear niece's hometown of Danville. Oh my. I feel... Will I not survive this dreadful night? Am I to never find my beautiful homestead--
--Suddenly, a faded red rose appeared from wisp of cloud, stealing the attention of my glazed eyes. I felt a warmth in my heart, and a painful smile crack upon my bitterly cold lips.
"Did you feel that, Father?" Miss Johnson stopped unexpectedly, trepidation sweeping her petite face.
The fashionable stagecoach, which had followed close behind them on their historic tour of The Cursed Creek Valley, came to within a mere foot of striking them. This had ill effect on her however, as she took her father's hands in hers and gazed upon him with solemn eyes.
"My dear, you're freezing," he said, pulling her trembling hands to his chest.
"It has gotten dreadfully cold all of a sudden."
"That's preposterous," he declared, very matter-of-fact like, glancing about the verdant pines and recently groomed grasses surrounding them. The subtle splashes of the creek's casual waters as they passed over rocky falls were so gentle, so calming. "It's the middle of summer."
Miss Johnson gracefully crouched down, her frilly white dress bunching on the rocky ground, and with a silk-gloved hand she retrieved something from the path.
"Father, would you have a look at this?" It was more a statement than a question, the tonality was prevalent.
"What is it, my dear?"
"My rose; It has blackened, and frozen solid."