The 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.
On 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 more.
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.
Getting 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; nothing more.
And 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.
And then CREEAK, 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.
“Who’s 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.
But then he heard it, slow and distant at first, but then louder and nearer and more terrifying with every moment. A laugh like breaking glass, disjointed and sharp. He put his hands over his mouth in horror. He knew that laugh; it was hers.
He 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 bear it.
The window, came a voice from inside him. There’s always the window instead.
His eyes shifted from the door to the window in one, slow turn of the head.
CREEAK, 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.
A feeble knock at the door and a low, crackling snicker.
“Who… who’s there? Who’s out there?”
The silver knob started suddenly, slowly, turning. Max couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t feel the cold, he could no 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 and fumbled to open the window, sweaty but sure now. His fingers couldn’t work fast enough, his hands were too slippery to do the job. He could feel 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 looked up one last time into the face of the woman, she smiled and turned away. His fingers slipped. The air was cold.