The Chill and the Window

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

On Christmas three people accompany each other to avoid the strains and cold of the Mid-West outside. The first in a line of weekly short stories for 2018.

Submitted: January 02, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 02, 2018



I spent my Christmas night in a small upstairs bedroom in Keokuk, Iowa. A tall dresser in the corner held a small lamp with a dusty cream shade that cast a calm glow across the floor. Slowly enveloping the three characters in its gaze. Shadows burning into the walls. Two windows on the front wall peered into the empty snow beaten street. Empty cars, and quiet streetlamps would help serenade a man as the biting wind carried him through his shrouded world.

That same cold chill was whispering through the small crack in the window opened to let cigarette smoke slowly waft away. Three figures sat in this room, listening as the soft plucking of the music transfixed them in their places. On the floor a girl sat with a dark blanket draped over her shoulders, flowing down her back, and finally bleeding into the grey carpet. Her black hair loosely held back. She was leaning over a mirror she had set on the floor, staring at the pale, slender reflection. She was staring back at herself. Smiling at her own smile, lost in her own stolen gaze. The contents of that mirror were another world. The warm glow in that world smashed against the green door behind her in an orgy of color. All while a grey cat bounced a strand of beads over a closet doorway in between his paws.

A slim framed man sat at a small writing desk beside the tall dresser. Lost in the music and nodding to the rhythmic tempo of the drum in the back. A synth flared over the whole ensemble, a sharp pitched callous voice with a simple medley. He wore a dark beanie, underneath it small tufts of black straight hair stuck out, snakes of it wrapped around the stretched lobes of his ears. A couple small patches gave the denim jacket he wore a scattered look, adding to the Return of the Living Dead shirt underneath. A repurposed obscenity he was clearly catering to. The same stone-eyed lost look carried from his gaze, over towards a wide nightstand that looked as if the legs had been purposely removed. Objects scattered across its surface from pens, hair-ties, and paintbrushes; I think I could even make out a blue sherlock bowl poking from underneath a tattered notebook.

I couldn’t even remember how long we had been sitting here. Maybe ten minutes but probably a few hours. I had the same unlit cigarette in my hand from twenty minutes ago when I had again noticed I had an unlit cigarette from twenty minutes before that as well. You just look across the floor and find a lighter, it’s not difficult, just distracting. My spot on the floor was a little across from the man in the corner and just diagonal across the mirror from the woman. To my right was a small red ashtray with a small pile of butts stacked inside. A couple were basically still full smokes, but the rest were burned right down to the damn filter. Beside that was a silver dinner tray that should’ve been taken straight from a southern belles’ plantation home. Some bud was still broken up in a line across one side of it. The other side held only a scattered pile of ashes. A glass bong with a cylinder as big as a softball, and a swooning curve at the neck reached past the black purse reaching for the warm glow of that same lamp.

My damn lighter wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Quite frankly I just wanted to smoke but between the British accent of the singer now droning slowly, and the wave of light gathering with the crescendo of the song I could tell the peak wasn’t going to make the lighter search any easier. Whatever the hassle, I was in love with this moment right here. A single pair of headlights drove down the street outside, and with their disappearance the last sign of life was once again extinguished from the world outside this room.

“Can I have a smoke, man?” She had broken the stare with herself and the other world ceased to be anything more than a simple reflection. A mousy high pitched voiced with the smallest hint of being nasally. My cigarette still hadn’t been lit, and dangled out of my fingers towards the floor.

“Do you have a lighter? I think mine walked its happy ass home.” The man in the corner belted a laugh that carried through the room. One laugh can echo through every person in a room if you pick your company right.

“My god I am so fucking high right now guys. What the fuck are we doing?” He was happy, and lost in his own trip. I just didn’t know if I was happy cause I was lost or lost cause I was happy.

“Corey can I please have that damn cigarette?” The sense of urgency was paramount. You would think I was holding the only light left in the world and the sun was fast approaching oblivion. A pack laid to my right side by a bulkier dresser that her tv and console were sitting on. Text broadcast across the screen that there were connection problems. I honestly forgot we tried to play music off the PS4 earlier. Memories come in flashes repeatedly of the last few hours. We weren’t even halfway over. Its overpowering, LSD is. Just a fair warning to those particularly curious. I fumbled while opening the pack a little, but managed to pull a smoke out. She was still giggling like a fucking hyena when I tossed the cigarette and watched it bounce off the bridge of her nose.

“Found my lighter by the way. Last place you look, you know?” It was literally just sitting on my pack. I would’ve found it sooner, but the chill in the room was getting to me. I felt like I needed gloves now. My back laid warm against the edge of the bed, but the entire front side of my body was constantly harassed by the breeze. Just fold your knees in, sit, and chill. Lighting my smoke was a good measure. A cigarette is the best accessory in my eyes. Inhaling the smoke just made me lost; I couldn’t feel my lungs working, at least not in any way that made sense. My mouth was dry, and my lips felt chapped. I honestly couldn’t remember when the last time I took a drink. When you begin to feel uneasy, my best advice is to ignore it. Pretend it’s not happening, and it eventually won’t be.

“What the fuck are we doing way out in the middle of the desert? We need help, call the police!” I jumped up in an excited roar. We needed to snap out of this obsessive staring into nothing. I tried my best Fear and Loathing impression on them. Anything to put some life in these mannequins I was sitting with. “Tell me about them fucking golf shoes!”

The corner couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t even know if he had seen the movie, but good humor goes unnoticed. I imagine I looked senile to him. Just roll with the punches corner man.

“Do you see what god did to us, man?!” Now the girl was getting it. God forbid nobody carry the joke away besides me.

“God didn’t do that you fucking narcotic!” Finally, some good chaos in the room. I paced around the room with that god-awful gate where it looks like he’s walking in ankle deep water. “We need some golf shoes, or we’ll never get out of this mess alive!” The corner just wouldn’t stop laughing. I’d send him to the loony bin before we were done, and I was honestly fine with following him. Maybe it would be a break from the world, or they would strap cold metal rods to my temples and send too much electricity through my skull. God forbid that happen to me, I’m only 23 after all.

“Jesus can take the wheel for a second.” Standing up felt good. You sit too long and your whole world will slump into that position. Before long the walls are leaning, pictures are falling, the curtains are crooked, and it’s all just making a damn mess for you to clean up later.

In all the commotion my cigarette had gone out, plus I had ashed on my leg earlier. A grey powdered streak went down my leg and some rat bastard apparently tried to wipe it off with just his hand.

“What kind of a Nazi can’t find an ashtray when he’s sitting right beside it? I’ll answer that for you gypsy woman. The kind of Nazi that sits here in a bedroom and stares at his neighbors Christmas lights while tripping on Acid. I didn’t even say merry Christmas to anyone today. What does that tell you, boys?” Nothing is better than feeling a tangent coming on and letting yourself be overcome.

“Holy shit dood. This is too much right now.” The gypsy woman had stood up. That damn blanket still cascading over her shoulders. She walked across the floor.

“Careful don’t fall into the mirror. It’ll be a bitch trying to get you out of that place.” She strolled to the wall behind me. Beside the bed was a table with your usual assortment of bedside table artifacts. A scale lay open, the display still glowing onto a tin cylinder with a sporadic design of colors and shapes. There was probably a phone charger somewhere in that hive of paraphernalia. A stack of books even lay on it. I judge a bit too much based on the books people own, so I wasn’t going to try and read the titles. Only once in a blue mon do you see someone with a copy of Crime and Punishment, and nobody cares enough about Dostoyevsky to even appreciate that as a simple joke.

The corner started playing a song. I definitely didn’t recognize it, but it was gorgeous. A soft hoarse voice echoed over a slow, rhythmic synth. You could barely hear the drums, you just felt them. It sounded different than the others though. I needed to get to the bottom of this interference. You can’t appreciate a song if you have no clue where the sound is coming from.

“Wait a minute.” It was coming from the tv. In my rant of movie references the corner had fixed the tv. The video had a yellow theme clearly. The singer was a skinny pale man, he had a ridiculous red bowl cut that just drew attention to his wide glasses with these awkward orange frames. He just stood in the center of the frame. Grey high-water slacks and a baggy silver shirt with olive sigils patterned across the front tucked into them. The music was great though. The synth kept getting higher, his voice still held the same coarse tone.

“What the fuck is this?” I just sat down and watched it. I was hypnotized by this.

“Gus Dapperton dood. He’s crazy, right?” The corner had great taste. The music changed the whole room. The walls felt brighter, and it wasn’t even cold.

“This is the best shit I’ve ever heard. Like no joke. People shouldn’t be allowed to be this talented.” I mean that too. How are the rest of us supposed to live when we’re just obstacles in a genius’ path?

“Have you guys seen my wax? I can’t find it anywhere.” She dragged out that last sentence like a snake stalking a branch. Did I even want to smoke wax? Why would I even turn it down when 4 hours ago I let her put 3 pieces of paper on my tongue with the hope I would lose my mind?

“No man.” A small laugh escaped my puzzled grin. Why would I know? “Why would I know?” I don’t know if I thought it or said it first. She was digging through a drawer like a fox. I could hear paper, pens, god knows what being shoved around it. For some reason it was making me feel kind of panicky. Why on earth did she want to smoke wax when there was a perfectly good pile of bud right beside the portal to that other world? And how the hell was that blanket still sitting so well on her shoulders?!

“I gotta take a piss.” I needed to get out of that room for a bit. Nothing wrong with them, I just needed a break. It felt like I was still using that deep water stroll. A quick check of my paces told me I was just tripping. Even if you found a way to somehow describe what this awful drug does to you for the eight to twelve hours after you eat those tiny pieces of paper who would want to do it after hearing that description? I loved it. Even just 6 years ago I spent every holiday the same. You woke up, sat with your family, even for a day half the time you honestly didn’t need to pretend you liked them; you just liked them. I would sneak into the alcohol they were all drinking in the kitchen, get a present every now and then. Mine weren’t even bad. Everyone knew I loved to read so they would just get me gift cards to Barnes & Nobles or Amazon. Anything. Cash I was given was quickly spent on an eighth of grass or maybe a few painkillers. Then I’d just retreat to my room and sit in the cooing silence.

These holidays are better though. Albert Camus said if you look for happiness you’ll never find it and he was right. Part of becoming an adult for me was settling into a world I didn’t imagine. We were all kids a few years ago, and quite frankly still are. What the corner man, the gypsy, and I have simply discovered is that our life isn’t what you chase, it’s what you do while you chase what you want to live for. That’s really it. Life isn’t hard; just smile as the cold night creeps in. Learn to enjoy the chill when it greets you. If you greet it with 2 friends, a Bluetooth speaker, and a few lucid minds then what can it do besides tap on the window. He will come back eventually, and you’ll hopefully be ready that time too.

The hallway immediately forked right upon leaving the bedroom. As the door closed behind me the warm light snapped away. The shadow spread across the wall in front of me snapped away too. The stairs winded down further ahead, the kitchen was down there but the last thing anybody wants to see now is a sink full of dishes. The bathroom door was down the hallway that forked away, down the path made by a dirty blue carpet. White walls watched you strolling towards the open door. A couple posters gave me odd stares, but they wouldn’t bother you too much if you just ignored them. Before the bathroom door a small closet was built into the wall. It had old sliding doors that you see in those small apartments given only to single mothers. Cracks in the paint cobwebbed over the door, even the small brass handle was tarnished. I was finally warm. That nasty discomfort from earlier was finally leaving. A toxic aura lifted its grip on me. My back was relaxing, legs no longer felt that tense gate, the world resettled. It sounded like blues was echoing from the room they were in. I wonder if they felt that same release?

The bathroom light was on. Its glow was more sterile, like a small spotlight beaming down from the ceiling. Cream colored tile bled to every corner of the small room. Towels tried to band together in the corner to fight it off, but it didn’t work. They just laid there, dead to the world while the victorious tile imposed its will on all of us.

“A damn shame, mate.” One drag of my cigarette for the fallen. “Pay your respects and leave.”

This gypsy’s tub sat cradled in a pastel shower curtain that skirted the edge and softly rubbed the air as it blew. Grime tried to climb up the edge from the floor, stopping just before getting to a spot a mop could reach. Whatever hid behind that curtain can remain a mystery, my mood was far too ambivalent to see a showerhead, or anything past that curtain, to be frank. A cupboard stood ajar beside the curtain. The door was obviously broken. Not enough to be an issue, but they’d never get that door to shut. The entire room stood in silent salute, even the small window in here held nothing beyond the same dead night and a view of her roof. Not a special bathroom. Nothing was obviously special in the Midwest. Much like the people here, you need to observe to see the real beauty in our surroundings.

The sink was smudged around the drain. Maybe someone shaved and barely cleaned it up, or a drunk person ashed in there while in here one night. Both were likely. I couldn’t remember if the gypsy had roommates downstairs. Kinda fucked since I’ve been here so many damn times. I ran some warm water, the steam let off enough heat to warm my hands as I leaned on the counter. Dipping my head down enough to let the dry skin soak up some moisture. The water rushed onto the porcelain and drained with a soft growl. The sewers awaited below. I imagine that’s the closest water has to a heaven. Then it just drained into the Mississippi, something has to keep Huck Finn company, after all.  

Her mirror was all messed up. One of the doors was slightly open, causing it to make that scattered reflection where half of it is staring at you while the other half stared at the wall. It made a small snap as I closed it fully. The man in the mirror stared at me confused. He mocked my movements in such a perfect copy. Shaggy dark brown hair, too short to warrant spending ten dollars on a cut, too long for him to get a job in video journalism. Not from any reputable company at least. The beaming light made the olive undertone stand out on his skin, a bit of a round face. His had a dark green color to them, the rest were an off white. Certainly not paper-white, but nobody expects this man to have a clean system. The pupils gaped open, threatening to engulf the whole mirror in their abyss. The ocean holds no mercy for the stranded ship.

A creak came from the faucet as it turned, begging to be left alone, if only for a little bit. They can gather their thoughts after I leave. Some water hadn’t drained yet. A quick splash on my face to keep the grease away. The hand towel on the counter edge patted my face dry then was added to the pile of his fallen comrades. All just waiting for the washing machine to bring them back to this world. Far from the cream tile and its tyrannical rule. I flicked the light off and shut this room away. My fun in here was had.

The hallway was silent, I’m not even sure if you could hear anything from the other room. A whisper would bounce off these walls for a millennium. Drop a nail and you would accidentally summon ghosts. Just walk the same path down the blue carpet. If it reaches up just don’t let it drag you down with it. The cold can always be held at bay a little longer. Let it stay outside and carry strangers to their solace.


“Fuck.” You ever get so scared a mumble is the only scream left in you? “Who that?” It was the stairs. Who the hell is here?

“Hi, how are ya?” The roommate. That’s right, she had a roommate. Long black hair that dangled even to his shoulders. A dirty Metallica t-shirt with red tattered shorts. Yeah, that’s the roommate. I couldn’t help but laugh. Too hard, obviously.

“What are you doing, man?” God, he scared me. His damn snickering wasn’t helping my laughing either.

“Coming up to see what the party is doing. Riding out the trip, you know.” He trailed the sentence off with some squeaky mock laugh as I finally got a couple deep breaths. He still stood there, holding the thin black rail and laughing at me. I still don’t know what time it was or how long I was in the bathroom.

“Dood, I’m still peaking like a bitch. What time even is it?” I didn’t have anywhere to go. I never understood why I even care about the time during a trip. Checking the time doesn’t do anything, and I’m definitely not going to use my phone to get on Facebook or anything. That’s just a downer waiting to happen.

“Like 1:30 I think.” 4 hours. That’s how long I’ve been riding this. It wasn’t over, plus it wasn’t even Christmas anymore. Another entire year has just about disappeared with a whimper. Straighten my shoulders, give my back a pop, and exhale that feeling.

“You got a smoke dood? Think I misplaced mine.” I just closed my eyes, rubbing my palm along my face.

“Here you go man. Take a big hit of that.” He finished it with the same mocking laugh. I took the smoke balanced it in my fingers. I knew I didn’t have my lighter before I patted down my pockets. That’s the official sign of needing to borrow a lighter. That, and then the half hopeful look at the guy you bummed the smoke off of. Every smoker knows this. It’s in the rules. The roommate caught on. Another chuckle and a red Bic was pulled out of his shorts pocket.

“Cheers mate.” A quick snap of the lighter and a deep breath of nicotine. Nothing better in this world honestly. A full pack of cigs looks like hope to me.

“You been down there all night by yourself?” Tripping by yourself is boring, and possibly dangerous to your psyche.

“I was over at Sinos chilling with him and his girl, but ended up feeling like I really needed to be here.” Sino is a neighbor. He’s pretty cool. There’s a shitty ghetto gas station down the block that he works at. He’s also the only cashier that doesn’t hold up a pipe for everyone to see when you buy it. That’s a good man in my book.

“You walked? Its dangerous out there right now with those monsters loose. Please tell me you brought a gun at least. Once they catch that scent…” A loud clap left my hands stinging a bit. It echoed all over the place; hectic and heavy like a drunken bat smashing into everything. The mess was awful. Even the posters were scared.

Whatever he mumbled I didn’t hear it. A new song came on in the bedroom and it had a deep rumble to it. You know that feeling when you can’t really hear a song, but you can still tell it’s a good one? That rumble ripped through me just like that. I was passed the roommate and swinging the door into the bedroom before I even thought about moving my legs. I probably just floated in there at this point.

The sight was unreal. The portal still laid open on the floor, through it I could see the corner staring at the sudden intruder in the room. The same careless grin stretched across his face. The same Return of the Living Dead shirt greeting me from under the patchy denim jacket. The writing desk in front of him had a stack of loose papers and his phone laying on it. A green blinking light on the front. God save the man who tries to respond to text messages like this. The gypsy was sitting on her bed, scrolling through deciding what songs to play. Always give props to the DJ of your friends. Music makes or breaks any high, and a lot feels to be at stake right now.

She clearly changed the room around while I was gone. The table by the bed was cleaned off. The scale still sat there though for some reason. The same display highlighting the wall now instead of the tin cylinder. The tv was turned off now, so she broke out that little Bluetooth speaker again. The vibrations were completely different from the hectic, paranoid mess I had walked out of earlier.

It all still felt off. In my trip had I completely faded away from these people? Was it even possible to stay friends with them? You learn quickly in a life filled with druggies and generally self-destructive people that sometimes cutting someone away is healthy for both of you. It’s like pulling away a fray string from a sweater. We’re all dark. The creative mind is a timebomb; you just try your best to defuse it as long as you can. Some succeed, but others don’t. Seriously, look up all the artists that died by their own hand or their own addictions. Don’t feel sad for their death though. Be proud of the ones that delayed it long enough to live and create.

“Have you ever done DMT?” The gypsy was speaking to the corner now. He arose from the world he had been sitting in for quite some time now.

“What’s that?” Not confused, just interested. The gypsy started describing it in an ecstatic, animated way. Stumbling over her words as she tries to describe one of the most powerful psychedelics in existence.

“Okay… Its like this crazy drug you smoke to get high. You know when people talk about going to other worlds when they’re tripping?” A silent nod. “Okay well that’s DMT. I did it one time and you like close your eyes when you hit it and when I did it I just felt myself like rocket out of my seat as I exhaled. It was like I was just teleporting everywhere, man!”

The corners eyes were mesmerized into her story. As she told the story she tilted her body occasionally with the words. Her hands mimicked the rocketing feelings she had. The excitement was like a magnet dragging everyone into the story.

“What the fuck?” The corner was completely unexposed to this world. Before tonight he had never experienced tripping. This is just acid, mind you. His confusion was slightly masked by humor. A grin spread across his face as he looked between me and the gypsy, just waiting for someone to add onto it. Finish the fucking story, man.

“It only lasts like ten minutes. You could do that shit on a smoke break at work.” I had to sit down as I said that. I slumped down on a small corner on the bed. It had memory foam on it, basically really slow quicksand threatening to engulf me in some disgusting shade of comfort that I wouldn’t be able to handle.

“Just a quick DMT break.” Now the corner was laughing ecstatically. His face twisted into a mix between Laughing and shock. “Just go on a break and lose your mind for ten minutes.”

“Yeah dood! Its awesome!” However the gypsy was trying to describe this was more scaring him than anything. I heard myself laughing. Curling into the bed holding my stomach as it wretched with my gasps for breath.

“That sounds fucking scary!” He had no idea. To the uninitiated all psychedelics probably sound ridiculous, but who wants to live in a normal world? Nobody’s special in the Midwest; don’t blame us for needing to make our world special for at least a small amount of time.

I don’t know how long we sat there in silence after the laughing died down. The gypsy screwed around with the portal again. She grabbed a white marker and started drawing on it. A few swirls, some hectic scribbles. An entire world at her fingertips as she scrawled over the old one to birth another. Her eyes darted from one side to the next. It was all being built as she traced the figures in her mind. I could never draw. She was a tattoo artist, in school all she ever did was art. Drawing silently in her classes as the rest of them faded into obscurity. We all moved on after high school. I went to drop out of a college, the corner worked average jobs, and she became a tattoo artist.

The fear of failure was returning to me. I worked average jobs now too. The mind of an author trapped in the life of someone else. Disappointment is an understatement. I hate this feeling, but you swallow it and change something about yourself. Once again it scratched at the window, begging to be let in. The hours slid by, as I lay in the quicksand slowly letting the window open. Everyone filtered out. The corner left to go to bed, the gypsy drew on the portal, and I knew it was my time to go. The cold was inviting me out. I creeped down the stairs out of the fear that it hid around every corner. The door opened with a whimper, and the biting wind struck me with the fury of a betrayed woman. As I let the chill carry me to my car I looked towards the windows we spent hours looking out. The warm glow of that lamp reached onto the porch roof, the shingles glowed like embers. The portal had closed in the room, and the world wasn’t special anymore.

As I drove home the dread stayed strong. It was almost the new year, but something had changed. I wasn’t the same person that had entered the room. Perhaps the portal had swallowed me, and my reflection now sat in my world. He could handle it better, I thought. Nobody is special in the Midwest. Maybe even in the world.

© Copyright 2018 Micheal McCutcheon. All rights reserved.

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