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I have a crippling fear of the cold, though few out here would consider me irrational for holding such a fear.
For miles in every direction, empty snow stretches out into infinity. Gray skies perpetually linger overhead and cast a steady snowfall down to the frigid earth beneath. Just before the horizon, the ice-filled sea lies barren and lifeless.
Here, the cold has claimed many victims with her frozen grasp. Men go out, get lost in a sudden blizzard, and collapse in the pale snow. Their movements slowly decay to a futile shivering until they succumb entirely to the inhospitable temperatures. The cold takes no quarter, and her presence hangs as a constant reminder that nature had not meant for man to inhabit this region.
I did not always fear the cold.
My wife came down with a profound sadness since the birthing of our first child and sits quietly in our shelter all day. I watch her silently with shimmering guilt. She never speaks or makes eye-contact, just stares off into the dark. We have nothing to discuss. In the dead of the night we lay apart, facing the chilled air rather than allowing ourselves to touch. The lack of intimacy takes a toll on both of us; out here you need somebody to talk to.
In crushing isolation, I stagger from the shelter to hunt. I pace out for miles onto the great white plains, driven by a faint desire to escape my circumstances. This longing tugs me along as I trudge through the dry air.
I glance down at my footprints breaking through the crisp layer of snow. With a sudden ping of concern, I notice something is wrong.
I have no shadow.
Reeling with disbelief, I spin around, looking every which way for the familiar shade. The chilled sunlight seems to run right through me as though I were nothing at all.
I look out over the frozen plains for any trace of my shadow. Snow blindness stings at my eyes until I shut them in defeat. As a bitter wind cuts across the few patches of exposed skin on my face, I feel the cold creeping up behind me. I swear I hear her inching closer.
Back in the shelter, I sob. The empty hide cradles lay untouched at the corner of the room, and my wife helplessly watches my unrestrained cries.
I fear the cold.
Days later, I follow a set of caribou tracks. At my feet, my eyes observe still the distinct lack of a shadow; I have not seen a glimpse of it since it first vanished. With a shake of my head, I try to keep my mind focused on the hunt. The tracks lead up a sharp incline, and I concentrate to keep my steps from sliding back down the slope.
At the top of the hill I notice a distant silhouette watching.
As I keep moving after the caribou, the shape stays in slow pursuit, following my tracks. I look at the thing with dread, realizing that I have at last found my shadow.
Almost a week has passed since then, and my shadow still follows my every move, always just a few paces behind.
I lay awake at night, watching the entrance to the shelter, dreading the day that it will crawl in through the opening. In the night, my eyes strain to make out any details of the darkness. Before me I can feel my wife breathing deeply. I consider moving closer to conserve heat, but I dread any contact with her, as though the shadow might follow her too.
When the morning comes at last, I walk aimlessly from the shelter out into the snow. My wife watches with detached interest.
I need to go where the fear began.
As a fresh layer of snow tumbles down from the sky, I wander out, a clear destination scarred into my mind. The familiar shadow slithers up behind me, moving where I had just tread moments before. Looking back, it shrinks down under the sunlight, practically invisible against the white plain of the earth.
Picturing my target location in mind, I follow the frozen creek past crumbling structures of stones. The shadow-thing peeks out from the rocks as I proceed past, still hanging around just behind me.
With a deep shiver, I spot the place. A simple stone marks the ground, driven down through the snow by myself to leave some trace of what occurred there. Drawing closer, I find my steps shrinking shorter with each pace.
A numb settles in my fingers and toes by the time I make it to the site. I sit down by the decorated stone where it happened.
This is where I killed our daughter.
I brought the newborn out to this spot and abandoned her in the snow. We did not have the food for her.
Why couldn’t she have been a son?
As I sit down in the snow, the thing waits patiently just behind me. At last, I turn to look into her face, my eyes wearily gazing over her frostbitten features. The shadow-being leans in closer, its chilled breath spilling out into my face.
Expressionless, the cold embraces me. I feel her wrap me completely, and I dissolve into the flesh of the shadow, fading out with one last shiver.
I fear the cold no longer.
Written by Levi Salvos