wind was a tyrant the whole world bowed down to and all the
abnormally warm days of December consolidated winter into this one
pitiful storm of a February morning. The streets were strangled by a
heavy fall of snow that left the ground one even slate of crisp white
. At the hour our story begins, the deep dark of early morning was
punctuated only by the billowing journey of millions of snowflakes
finding their way to the earth.
Down a ways from the city’s library, past an Indian restaurant on the left and a coin-laundry on the right, 52nd Street boasted a wonderfully tall, devilishly red-bricked building on the verge of being dilapidated. Fourteen stories of ramshackle apartments, and every window stood dark; every human and nonhuman occupant dreaming sweet dreams of fires. Against the black backdrop of sky and frozen buildings, this one stood out; the snow did not cover it, would not stay on the windows or even grace the little broken sidewalk up to the front door. The hands of winter could not touch her.
the top floor, in room 8B, Max Kazinski woke with a start; his body
covered in a hot sweat and his heart pounding outside his chest. His
one blanket was on the floor, his bed wet with his perspiration. He
rubbed his hands across his eyes to rid himself of the dream he had
just departed from, and sat up on the edge of his bed. His head
hanging low, he tried to slow his ragged breathing, tried to calm his
palpitating heart. It’d been the nightmare again. She’d seen him once
He raised his head, slowly, in emotional defeat, and saw the snow outside that would not linger or even stay on the window-but melted instantly. He furrowed his feverish brow and stood up, the cold air enveloping his body as he walked to the window and rested his hand against it. It was cold as ice. He looked down at his hand in wonderment and began to recall his nightmare once more when suddenly a terrific gust of cold air battered the window so hard that it rattled in its panes and sprung open. Shocked, he leapt back and tripped over a pair of boots scattered on the floor, sprawling him backwards on the hard wood and bruising his tail-bone furiously. For a moment he couldn’t breathe. Then, as soon as the air rushed back into his lungs, he heard a faint croak on the stairs in the hall.
up, eyes wild with fear, he rushed to the window and shut it with a
bang. He paused, silent, and listened for the sound on the stair once
more. Nothing. He tucked his boots in the corner, pulled the blanket
back onto his bed, and crawled under the covers, welcoming the sticky
warmth. He shut his eyes. It
was only the nightmare that’s spooked you. It was only a dream;
then CREEAK, groan, and a heavy step on the wooden stairs.
Unmistakable. Someone, something there. His eyes flung open, his
blanket pulled back, he sat up and strained his hearing for the
tiniest hint of a breath or a human inclination. He heard nothing. He
looked out the window, at the snow that would not stay but fell in
pillows down to the earth. The city was beautiful in this white
darkness. Why couldn’t he sleep silently in the beauty.
groan, and another heavy step and Max was at the door, sweat once
again on his brow as he leaned his body against the heavy wood and
kept both hands on the silver knob.
out there?” he whispered, and even his whisper seemed like a giant,
echoing roar. “Who’s on the stairs?”
There was nothing, just silence. And a bad tingle running down his spine, telling him the nightmare and the snow and the creak were not coincidences. She was out there. It was real.
then he heard it, slow and distant at first, but then louder and
nearer and more
laugh like breaking glass, disjointed and sharp. He put his hands
over his mouth in horror. He knew that laugh; it was hers.
backed slowly away from the door, horror like fresh paint on his
heart. He knew what would come next. But he didn’t think he could
a voice from inside him. There’s
always the window instead.
eyes shifted from the door to the window in one, slow turn of the
groan, and heavy steps to the top of the stairs and only a few feet
from the door. Max backed all the way to the window, cold air fresh
on his back. Heavy footsteps dragging ever closer and Max could
hear his heart beating outside of his chest. It’s her.
feeble knock at the door and a low, crackling snicker.
who’s there? Who’s out there?”
silver knob started
suddenly, slowly, turning. Max couldn’t
breathe, he couldn’t
feel the cold, he could
longer feel anything but terror, couldn’t
hear anything but his heart, couldn’t
see anything but his door start to creak open and then her. All the
nightmares did not do her justice. He turned
to open the window, sweaty but sure now. His
fast enough, his hands were
too slippery to do the job. He could
her, smell her, sense her behind him, and just as he was
pulling the window open, he was
tugged gently back by rough hands. And in this moment he was
brave, Max Kazinski of room 8B, and he pulled
himself away in one quick motion and squeezed
out of the window, turning and hanging by his fingertips. As he
up one last time into the face of the woman, she smiled
away. His fingers slipped.
The air was