Power from my backup generator kicked in not long after the outage. The town’s regulations stipulated that all buildings be equipped with one. It was a very good thing too as, for the next 4 days straight, steady freezing rain and drizzle fell over a relatively narrow swath of land in and around Herring’s Jaw. The radio declared that an ice storm of this sustained length and intensity only occurs every 500 years or so.
The roads became completely impassable so Marilyn was stuck inside with me for the duration. It was spooky lying in bed with her at night and listening to the regular, menacing sound of branches and entire trees crashing to the ground under the ever-increasing weight of the ice. One night she joked, weakly as she had become frightened, that it sounded like Godzilla was on the loose outside. For my part, the natural destruction, following so closely on the heels of the catastrophic train wreck, combined with my harrowing personal guilt and shame and filled me with a melancholy sorrow so profound I felt as though it was the apocalypse.
On the morning of the fifth day after the storm had begun, we woke to see the sun, a distorted yellow blob, shining through the ice encrusted window. “Oh, thank God,” sighed Marilyn. I too felt relief surge through me as I sprang out of bed. A few minutes later, after getting dressed, we flung open the front door and simultaneously gasped. The woods were a tangled mess of shattered branches and tree trunks split down the middle as if they had been hewn by a gigantic meat cleaver. Literally everything, from the smallest twigs to the thickest branches, was uniformly coated in a good 5 centimeters of ice.
“Oh my,” I whispered as, despite the epic devastation, it was just about the most beautiful spectacle I had ever seen in my life. The whole world had been transformed into a dazzling crystal palace of refracted light. The woods groaned as they labored under the added strain of a breeze coming up off the lake. Our cars looked like two solid ice sculptures, including the tires. It did not matter as a large maple tree had fallen behind them completely blocking off the exit from the driveway. Although the storm was over, Marilyn would not be going back home any time soon. “I’ll call the relief hotline today and see when they’re planning on clearing it out,” I said, turning to her. “Luckily, the deep freeze is well stocked and we won’t go hungry.”
A few hours later I was hiking deep into the woods, my spiked crampons crunching on the bed of ice-entombed snow. I had left Ben back at the house with Marilyn as I was worried about him getting clobbered by a falling branch. “What about you getting clobbered by a falling branch?!” Marilyn had protested. I assured her I would be careful and set out, binoculars around my neck and my father’s old hunting rifle slung across my shoulder. I never used the gun to hunt but, on rare occasions, it came in handy to scare off bears that came too close.
It was slow going, picking through all the debris and constantly looking skyward, ever watchful for falling branches as they creaked painfully like old doors on rusty hinges. I had the surreal, but not wholly unpleasant, feeling that I was walking through a ghostly, eerily-lit forest of shattered glass. Stopping for some water, I heard the whimpering of an animal not far in front of me. Following the sound, I stumbled across one of Doug Black’s foothold traps. In between the metal teeth of its two vicious jaws dangled the gnawed-off leg of a red fox. “Son of a bitch!” I swore bitterly as I followed the heavy red droplets to where the animal had collapsed, bleeding out gruesomely onto the ice. It was a young adult male and, as he looked up at me startled with piercing green-brown eyes, he tried to drag himself further away. Unslinging my rifle, I put it out of its misery. The shot reverberated loudly through the trees and, as I watched the fox’s tail twitch a few times and his eyes slowly close, I was consumed with revulsion and anger. I smashed the trap against a tree, chunks of ice showering in all directions, until it was nothing more than a twisted jumble of steel. I then carried the fox a good distance from the trap and hid the body so it would not get skinned by Doug Black, a man who I was now actively fantasizing about murdering.
An hour or so later, I reached ‘The Chattering Teeth’, a bubbling stream so named because the water spilled at such speed over the rocks, down from the hills to Ragged Lake, that it rarely froze over completely in winter. I stooped to wash the fox’s dried blood off my hands when I heard voices coming from downstream that unmistakably belonged to Claudia and Brody. What were they doing all the way out here? Abandoning my hand washing, I crept down the bank of the stream until they came into view around a bend. I took cover behind a fallen tree and listened.
“I don’t think I can do this,” said Brody, his voice thick with anxiety.
“You have to,” said Claudia curtly. “We agreed. This is your responsibility and you have to take care of it. I can’t live with this. I want to start over.”
“What about that shot we heard?”
“What about it? A hunter off in the distance. Can’t you see we’re completely alone? Now, here,” she said, pulling a moving bundle from inside her coat and shoving it into Brody’s hands. Crying sounds immediately escaped from it and I felt my throat begin to constrict, suppressing a scream. “Do it!” she demanded.
“Okay!” Brody cried, his face a mask of desperation, as he plunged the bundle up to his elbows in the frigid, roiling water of ‘The Chattering Teeth’, holding it down as Claudia turned her back. “It’s done,” he croaked moments later, dropping the bundle on the ice. “Now what?”
“Take the blankets off and leave it there. By this time tomorrow, the animals will have finished it.”
I gazed at Claudia and Brody slowly walking away, arm-in-arm. The dead infant, naked but for a diaper, lay face-down on the ice, its blue limbs splayed awkwardly. A large branch fell and shattered the ice right beside me. I did not hear it. It did not even make me jump. The sun was getting lower in the sky and the postscript to Leah’s poem floated through my numb mind: Do not go out into the woods at night, my dearest. Things weep in the dark; creatures that bite.
To be continued…
Part I is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/06/30/deep-freeze-part-i/
Part II is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/11/deep-freeze-part-ii/
Part III is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/21/deep-freeze-part-iii/
Part IV is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/23/deep-freeze-part-iv/
Part V is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/06/deep-freeze-part-v/
Part VI is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/14/deep-freeze-part-vi/
Part VII is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/26/deep-freeze-part-vii/
Part VIII is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/30/deep-freeze-part-viii/
Part IX is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/09/11/deep-freeze-part-iv-2/