Friday, December 30, 2016

Hell Is Frozen By Linda K. Strahl

On this the official 8th day of the Renegade Shorts Winter Holiday Showcase, we have a story about the dark side of winter. In a hard, terrifying future, two friends break into a secretive compound to discover uncover the truth about their world. Instead, they find themselves confronting the true nature of the darkest nights of the year. Thank you to today's writer, Linda K. Strahl!

Hell is frozen

By Linda K Strahl

"Fences are for climbing," she whispers.
The puff of air that escapes her lips as she mutters the words make her feel like a dragon, puffing steam in the cold air surrounding the fence. She is a girl still. Even though seventeen is closer to a woman. In the cold night darkness, her rusty brown hair looks black. Her pale skin is covered with dark paint to keep her presence hidden from any passing by.
She couldn't risk getting caught.
Strangers put the fence up last week. The fence is a challenge. What is on the other side is certainly something worth investigating. But climbing the fence is the only objective in that still night air. Puffs of breath coming from her mouth.
A Dragon.
"What are you waiting for? A parade?" It is a stinging taunt. Abel is never a ‘nice partner in crime.’ He treats her like baggage. Except, he never leaves without her.
"Hush, Abel. I'll bet I can beat you over even with a head start."
"Bet me what, Persephone?"
"What are you going to bet if you win or I win?"
Persephone didn't really think she had anything to bet. It was just a phrase she heard over and over again when her stepfather spoke to his work buddies.
"I'm... I'm... I'm..."
"Hey Pear, it's okay. We don't need to bet anything." A majority of the time he is an ass. But when he calls her Pear, it is different.
"Let's get moving," Abel holds onto her arm gently guiding her like he does to the horses when he walks them around without a bridle. The fence is in front of her face she grips the links; the metal is cold, seeping through her thin black gloves.
"Fences are for climbing," she says again. No looking back; just a purposeful crawl over the chains until they are up and over. Landing feet first on the ground on the other side. Both crouch to the ground.
"That was a pretty loud thud Abel. Have you been eating too many sweets?" His laugh is muffled in his sleeve like a cough. Persephone moves across the ground to a pile of bricks.
No footsteps.
No rushing breaths.
She is more aware of him than usual, in the prickles on the back of her neck. He’s staring at her just a little longer than he should. His breath is close to hers. The puffs intertwine, sort of.
He peers over the edge of the brick pile.
“Clear," tapping her shoulder before he moves towards the other brick piles. Persephone follows. There are sounds coming from farther away. Sounds are the best place to start looking for answers.
The earthmovers are giants on wheels. They tumble around the site without any concern for the people on foot: workers, engineers, and Persephone's Mother and Abel's father standing under a tent.  Their faces are angry lines and scowl and raised voices straining against neck muscles.
"Well, I guess we know where they went.” She feels numb. Their parent’s disappeared months ago. Her mother went missing on the way back from market. His father vanished from work.
"What are they doing here?" Abel asks.
"What do they have in common?" Persephone’s voice keeps the cut & dry tone. There are no tears of frustration or worry for them now. She’s cut off her feelings like a damaged limb. 
 "Their jobs are both with Olympus Company?" Abel sits back on his heels. He would rub his face if it weren't for the paint. "I'm not going to ask her questions when the answers are over there," Persephone points to the entrance, "Are you coming or are you going to him?"
Abel was close with his father. Persephone’s mother, on the other hand was a career woman first and a mother tenth.
Abel shakes his head, "I'm with you Pear."
It was her turn to lead. She opened her arm pocket and brought up the data she debugged after her mother's disappearance. "Easiest way is through the entrance. They might have changed passageways since the last schematics were sent." She didn't look back at her mother as she headed towards the entrance of the tunnel.

The massive hole is dented with tracks taller than either of them. No one notices their two shadows as they move with the trudging wheels. Persephone keeps pace with the vehicle until the first side passage opens up. She turns and Abel follows. The sounds were too loud to speak, so they switch to hand signals.
Two turns right, then left.
You know they could have just told us everything right?
She'd lie.
Abel doesn’t have a response. He touches her shoulder, and squeezes.
Have you been working out?
Keep moving. She smiles.
The light changes instantly when they arrive at the first segment. Fractals of blue break through the darkness around them. They can only see the grey orbs of each other’s' eyes.
Maybe an opening? Abel signs on Persephone’s shoulder.
Or a cavern? She responds. The opening is in the right place, for them to continue. There is a draft from the tunnel. Maybe another entrance.

There is no one left as they move further into the tunnel. Down was the only way to explain the angle they feel their feet are heading. A faint light illuminates their path in front of them as the darkness expands behind their bodies. Their black clothes are almost blue compared to the shadows they were emerging from.
The air is damp, as if water is inside the earth surrounding them, but there are no droplets on their sleeves or puddles under their feet.
"What is this place?" Abel says. Out loud.
"I don't know," their voices echo. Persephone and Abel both place their hands on the earth walls. "Frozen."
They look at each other in that moment, wondering if they should turn back, away from the light ahead, and return to the darkness, where eventually they would find their parents again. Persephone almost pushes Abel to return to his family, but he moves forward, knowing that she would not go back even if he did. He would not abandon her to the unknown.
At his step forward the sounds change. Before the world was filled with their breath and steps and voices. The sounds, no longer only of their own making enticed them forward. No thought to turn back returns to their minds.
Each step Abel took made a faint twinkling of bells. When Persephone followed him her steps were followed by a wind instrument. Each step adds tones to the sounds as they moved towards the opening that grows larger and brighter the closer they came to it.
Within minutes, the sounds became a cacophony. The twinkling of bells become discordant smashes and the flutes were painful screeches. Their eyes blur, as they kept moving forward. Beckoned. Controlled.
At the most unbearable moment, Abel rushes to Persephone and put his arms over her covering her with his body as he stopped them from moving any further. He knew any further, and they would die from the deafening clatter.
The silence is a weight on their ears.
Over the madness of sound they hear a voice. The voice is emotionless as if it were talking to objects rather than people. "What are you doing? Stop with the noises you fidgets!"
The sounds try to resume their rhythm.
"No. No. No!"  Says the voice.  "You've announced them. Now stop it."
The sounds stop.
"We are being announced?" Persephone says into Abel's ear.
"Come forward. They won't start again. I want to see my visitors!" The voice does not change tone. Persephone and Abel both felt their objectness as they are pulled towards the chilly entrance.
"Well. Visitors." The voice belongs to a blue hued being. Taller than either of their parents but not a giant either. The room has objects made of ice rather than fabric or wood. In the corner alcove are a band of instruments floating in the air. Held by invisible hands. The sounds of the cave.
"Forgive the intrusion Sir." Persephone curtseyed. Abel bowed.
"I was wondering if any of you would come to see me. As so many are scuttling around so close to where I live. What are you doing out there?" Its words were like gusts of cold wind off of glaciers.
"We do not know Sir," Abel bowing again with his own words.
"How do you not know?" The chill coming out of its mouth is violently annoyed with them.
"We are not a part of that." Persephone says as she looks away from the face.
"I see. Then what are you, 'a part of'?" The gust clips off. Waiting for their answers. The question was an open riddle. Any answer could be the right one, but what could happen if it was the wrong answer to the question.
"We are a part of 'the above'." Persephone says while looking at Abel. Abel looks at the creature's reaction. The face is slate and ice, grey and clear and dangerous when scowling as it is now.
"The above? The above? Did it say the above?" The creature looks around, as if trying to find someone else to confirm her answer.
"Yes Sir. The above. As this is beneath."
"I am not a part of 'the beneath!’”
"Then what are you?" Persephone changes the topic quickly to avoid a harsher breath.
"What am I? I am a who. I am a great who. Do you not know me?"
"We do not know what to call you, Sir. I am Abel, this is Persephone." The creature pauses at their names, lost in a memory.
"I've had many names. Pluto, Hades, Theos, Lucifer just to name a few. But you don't sound like those that called me those." Its fingers cradle its chin as it stares at them intensely. Deciding they were more than just objects in that moment, it asks with a wicked twinkle to its eye. "You said 'the above' where in 'the above' do you come from, Persephone and Abel?"
"Ithaca, New York, Sir." Its head nods at the place Abel mentions. Its fingers curl through the air, as if sifting through some invisible reference.
"Yes, yes, yes. You would know me as Jack Frost. Greetings and Salutations to you both." Jack Frost bows to them.
As Jack Frost bring his face to theirs, his fingers curl closed. Persephone and Abel feel themselves tugged into the ice room. Their bodies are slammed against the ice furniture. Jack Frost slips into his chilly throne, leaning his face into the palm of his hand.
Persephone hears a rumble as she turns to look at the opening they just stood in. The frozen dirt tunnel collapses. The walls surrounding them become a smooth glass against the dirt. Her breath puffs out of her mouth again, “No fences to climb. No escape. No escape. No escape.” She is no dragon. Abel moves to her and wraps her in his arms.
“Where are we Jack Frost?” Abel asks the creature as it stares at them holding each other.
“My dear Abel and Persephone,” The smile it gives them is cold, bordering on endearing, “didn’t anyone ever tell you? Hell is frozen.” 

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