Snow had been piling up for days now. The streets were bleak; the blinding white contrasting against the dark, wet grey of the road. The houses fared no better, their roofs coated in sparkling white and the rows of matching house fronts caused a dizzying sense of losing one’s way. The tops of snow mounds in front of their house had been muddied by dozens of feet as they tramped from the partially cleared, soggy ground across to the garage and back again.
It was the worst time of the year to move house, when it was too cold to hold the boxes without gloves and it could start snowing at any moment. The trip up in near-constant snow had only worsened their dismay. They had travelled six hours to get here, and were at least relieved part of the ground had been cleared by their apathetic and aging neighbour Otto, who now stood by his dining room window watching the family trudging around in the biting cold.
They had moved to get away from the cold, hard people of the city and, it seemed to Mindy, wound up in worse conditions. She had been a high-class chef back in the city, while her husband Luke was part of a very powerful law firm. It was when Mindy’s teenage sister Kate set fire to the local green grocer that they decided they needed a change. It was only their 6 year old sons who were excited by the idea of moving to a sleepy little town that snowed for weeks in winter.
As Luke clumsily got the last box from the car, he noticed Otto watching from the corner of his eye. He paused for a moment, unsure, then gave a slight wave with a couple of fingers as his hands tried desperately to keep their hold on the heavy box. Otto remained still by his window, unabashedly staring as he stood in the warm of his house. Luke, unnerved by the encounter, hurried as much as he could to the interior of his own house where his family was waiting.
The entire house was empty save the boxes strewn all over the place. All their furniture had been sold to afford the move, as Kate’s actions had guaranteed the low-payout firing of both Luke and Mindy. It was time for a fresh start, Mindy assured herself as she instructed her twin boys and Kate to start moving their belongings into their chosen rooms. They had all gone to the house only once before and even then there had been a light snow cover.
While Mindy proceeded to organise her own belongings as Luke rushed out to the back of the house to see if he could find some dry firewood. What little wood was left piled up against the back of the house was soggy, and only scraps of dry wood too small to use for anything but kindling remained. Luke shrugged, and decided to get at least a bit of wood to dry it out as he went to check the basement for more firewood.
Kate stood in the cold basement, her head reeling and her whole body shivering. The small windows were broken, and the freezing air permeated the room. Frost coated many objects that the previous owners had left behind, on shelves and under tables. She had been unpacking her things comfortably on the second storey when she got a sudden urge to go downstairs, way downstairs. Now her ungloved hands and bare feet twitched as she moved lethargically around the small basement, looking for something she had no knowledge of. She just needed heat, some semblance of warmth.
Luke bounded down the stairs into the chilly room, his arms laden with damp wood he hoped to dry out quickly down there. He didn’t notice Kate staring at him, her eyes and mouth wide as if screaming noiselessly. He found an old plastic box and dumped the wood inside before he turned to close the windows.
It was then that he noticed Kate.
She had been following his movements with her gaping eyes, which stared straight into his blankly. Her mouth remained open; her short, ragged breaths creating small bursts of mist in the air. Her fingers and toes were icy blue, and white patches like snow were forming on the very tips.
Luke remained frozen in place for only a moment longer before he rushed forwards and picked up Kate to take her upstairs. She didn’t resist him, instead became unconscious in his arms from the pain or, he feared, something worse.
Mindy was more than stunned when she helped Luke load Kate into the car to take her to the hospital. She had always hoped the fire was an accident, but looking at Kate’s now evident need for warmth, she wasn’t so sure.
Otto stood in his house, a fire blazing on the other side of his bedroom. He sipped hot tea from a fancy china cup. A toolbox was open beside him, a crowbar pointing most prominently amongst the other objects. His hand was roughly bandaged, and he almost still felt the broken glass slicing his palm. He watched blankly as the neighbour drove off with the girl.
“Cold digits,” he murmured, and finished the rest of his tea.