Shiva's Messenger

Dire Deed In a Diamond Fog

Dire Deed in a Diamond Fog

Warning–Subject matter is rather graphic.

It is a minus 40-degree morning and it doesn’t really matter if you prefer the Celsius or the Fahrenheit scale, it is just extremely goddamned cold. Wind-chill is not a factor: the air molecules have huddled together and nature doesn’t possess a bulldozer big enough to move the contracted mass. It seems like the earth is no longer the third rock from the sun, it’s been demoted to the fifth or sixth planet away.

IMG_0325“A diamond fog.” Crystal says to the audience of her own muffled ears. Then she looks at her own words floating as distinct clouds of visible breath: they are as the syllables she uttered, as translated into Apache smoke signals – Eskimo smoke signals.

The girl watches as a 1-ton pickup turns onto her street. After completing the corner, the vehicle accelerates and twin white plumbs of exhaust curl up behind like twin fluffy squirrel’s tails. As the truck nears, she leans expectantly and invitingly forward to look into the windshield: like a wayward squirrel, maybe the man wants to unload his nuts. Then Crystal might buy a rock of dope to fuel the insatiable craving of her crack habit’s life devouring furnace.

No. The gentleman inside brakes to looks at her but then guns his engine to drive on and his diesel fumes waft over the hooker, like a downy cotton shroud.

She takes a deep breath of a glacial air cocktail comprised of frigid atmosphere mingled with the assorted byproducts of internal combustion. Her inhale sears her lungs with both a frosty nip and chemical astringency. A direly chilly thought crosses her mind: ‘maybe I should hide in an alley and remove all my clothing’. Crystal has heard that freezing to death is a relatively painless way to die and at the very end, a victim feels warmth while experiencing a strong sense of contentment. She could use some of that comfort today because the life wasn’t cooperating with her lately.

“There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven.”

Crystal spins at the words and she sees a man standing nearby. His brown hair and beard are frosted snow white on the tips.

IMG_0326“With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid,” he continued, “because of a promise given.”

“What do you mean?” Crystal asks: her usual opening question is ‘are you looking for some company?’ but his odd mention of a corpse, on the heels of her fleeting suicidal notion, has thrown her an erratic curved pitch.

“Robert Service published that line in the Cremation of Sam McGhee.”

“What are you looking for?” Crystal risks. Her need has quelled her caution. To get a fix out of the inclement weather, she is even willing to take her chances with this weirdo.

“I’m more interested in what you want.”

“I’d like you to pay me for a week’s worth of my services,” the streetwalker jokes icily, “and to take me somewhere warm.”

“Okay.” The strange man says. “Ironically, that’s what Sam McGhee wanted too.”

“Who is Samantha McGhee?” Crystal asks when the two are in the cab of a 4-wheel drive truck: it seems like all vehicles in this northern area are 4×4. She has wracked her dim distant memories for where she might know either Sam McGhee or Robert Service. All that swam to the forefront was a fuzzy image of her grandfather.

“Samuel maybe.” The man says as he keys the ignition. Then he leans over to the glove box, extracts a book of Robert Service poetry. And he sets it in her lap.

“How much money are you giving me?” Crystal flips through the book and finds a 100-dollar note marking the page where the Cremation of Sam McGhee starts starts. The money has made her wonder about her fee.

For an answer, the eccentric man extracts a large wad of currency from his wallet and hands it over uncounted. The hooker feels a pang of concern as she puts the bills into her shirt pocket. It is a small comfort to know she is being paid but that’ll be hollow if she doesn’t arrive back alive to spend it. Crystal has personally known some of the many sex trade women who never returned from their final trick.

‘There are strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold.’ The crack-addicted girl reads from the poetry book and some toasty memories come back. They are of her dearly departed grandfather reciting these poems for her: the old man knew them by heart. ‘The Arctic trails have their secret tales, that would make your blood run cold.’

As they drive on a highway, Crystal reads the Sam McGhee poem. Then she thumbs through the rest of the book. Occasionally, she looks up but as the customer has given her enough for a few days, she doesn’t ask of their destination. But then the pattern of her not questioning is established and when they turn onto a succession of smaller bush roads, she still doesn’t inquire. Instead, the girl leans against the door and soon nods off.

“We were supposed to go somewhere warmer.” Crystal awakes when the vehicle stops. The forest seems even colder than the city had been. Besides a log cabin, the clearing where they’ve stopped has detached garage.

“My place will be snug enough once I’ve stoked a fire in the stove.” The man says as they get out of the vehicle. He walks over to opens the garage door. The compacted snow in the driveway is so cold and brittle that it squeaks under his boots.

“You picked a pretty spot at any rate.” While he tucks the vehicle into the garage and plugs it in, Crystal gazes over at the nearby mountains: they are furred over with evergreen trees.

“This ideal location has another special feature that you haven’t seen yet.” The man leads the way to his house. Inside, he strips off his parka and throws it onto a peg. He kicks off his footwear, opens a pot-bellied stove located next to the entryway and puts split wood in. The glowing embers inside will soon have the fire going strong.

“Have you brought other girls here?” Crystal asks while removing her outerwear.

The client deigns to answer. He shuts the firebox door and latches it. He then sits in a large and comfy looking easy chair. His eyes lock onto the crack addict prostitute.

“What do you want to do now?”

Instead of answering, the man just continues to look at her. His left hand roams to his chin and his lips purse, as if he is mentally appraising her physical appearance.

“Okay.” The girl misreads his body language as his wanting sex right now. Under his intent gaze, she takes off the rest of her clothing. Crystal is soon standing stark naked. But he has yet to make a motion of undressing, so she feels uncomfortable in her fully exposed skin. “Uh, what is your name?”

“Nicholas.” He notes that she is slim and her limbs are lithe. Her emaciation is not a function of vanity or anorexia. Rather, her abnormally thin body is due to nutrition holding a lower priority than drugs.

“I’m Crystal.”

“I already knew that.” Says Nick. “I also know that your surname is Scott.”

“Are we going to do it now?” Crystal asks as a mild qualm rises in her breast: how would he know her last name? She hopes that ‘do it now’ will not be interpreted as killing her now. Her escaping fate is not likely, as even if she could fight him off, how would she find her way back to civilization? Yet, his face seems kindly and it’s only her mind that is expressing worry: her intuition’s alarm has not jangled at all.

“I don’t have sex with crack whores.”

“We can use double condoms for extra safety.”

“I’m not afraid of sexually transmitted diseases. I prefer having the vagina vender involved in the sexual congress with me and not just acting in automation, with her thoughts trained mostly on anticipating her next high.”

“Then why did you pay me to come with you?” Crystal sits heavily and nakedly on a sofa opposite his chair.

“I brought you out here to see if you wish to become human and I didn’t pay you for anything: I gave you money because you wanted some and I have plenty of it.”

“I am already a human female.” The girl spreads her legs to display her gender.

“Yes,” Nick smiles warmly, “you are inarguably female but humanity isn’t automatic. I suggest that you gave up the quest for betterment when you took up a crack pipe.”

“I don’t suppose you keep a ball or two out here. I could use a hoot right now.”

“Sorry.” The man says but he doesn’t sound contrite about it.

“How about cigarettes?”

“I haven’t any of those either.”

“Liquor?”

He just shakes his head.

“Will you take me back into town?”

“When you’re ready to go, I will take you wherever you want.”

“You’re a strange duck.” The street whore laughs. She also takes a better notice of his appearance. He is somewhat short but powerfully built. Nick seems in his late twenties or early thirties and is ruggedly handsome. “Maybe I’ll show you that doing it with a hooker can be much better than you imagine.”

“I wasn’t just guessing: I was speaking from personal experience. I’ve been intimate with as many Jill strumpets, as you’ve had paying Johns.”

“Were that true,” Crystal did some quick mental math: it is a talent that she is fairly good with,“You would have had about two per day since you turned 18.”

“I am significantly older than I look.” Nicholas confesses in a wry way. He doesn’t elaborate on his actual age but he does smile ironically.

“Lucky you.” She says with a mild annoyance evident. Crystal is somewhat younger than she appears too. And that disparity will only become more pronounced as the drugs and street life rack up more phantom birthdays to supplement her normal aging.

“Let’s continue our talk in my hot tub.” He stands quickly and extracts a thick pair of insulated coveralls from a closet. He tosses them onto the girl’s lap. “You’re already correctly attired for it but we’ve a ways to walk before we get there.”

Well dressed for the excessively inclement environment, they leave the cabin by a back door.

Crystal notes that this entrance does not even have a latch: Nicholas has pulled it shut and it stays in place by either friction of the weather-stripping or due to an exceptional job of setting the door’s cantilever balance, or both.

“You obviously enjoy a hot soak as often as possible.” The girl remarks as they set out on a well-groomed path. It appears to be regularly roller packed. As she had not seen a tractor in the garage, it meant Nick must pull the heavy implement by muscle power alone. The walkway is wide enough for the two to walk abreast and flat like an urban sidewalk. Nicholas has obviously expended every effort to remove stumps, brush, roots and forest floor undulations.

Nicholas doesn’t answer. Instead, he does a quick shuffle step to bring his cadence into pace with her. The girl’s height is largely from her long legs, while his is in his torso: consequently, he needs lengthen his stride to match walking tempos.

Crystal barely notices his steps being in tune with her treads and for the first time since their meeting, she feels slightly akin with him. They are sharing an adventure and as equals. His breathing is also matched with hers and a glance back shows a puffs contrail of moist breath, condensed in the cold, like twin strings of pearls.

“You should’ve installed your Jacuzzi closer to your cabin.” Crystal complains after they have hiked at least a kilometer in the massively sub-zero weather.

“It is where providence,” he rubs his chest as if scratching an itch, “decided to put it.”

After a few more minutes, they arrive at a natural hot springs. The air surrounding the warm pool is steamy and temperate. It is a misty mild bubble in a sea of cold, or a humid habitat constructed on the surface of Pluto.

Nick strips quickly and hangs his clothes on the dead branches of an old tree stump. The girl removes her thermal gear too, and they both enter the water. The bottom is muddy ooze mingled with some sandy patches and it becomes deep fairly quickly. The two swim to semi-submerged rocks that are eroded smooth and comfortable.

“So what is your definition of human?” Crystal asks when they are settled. Along the walk here, she had been thinking back over their earlier words.

“A human being defies defining because they are so much more than just a unit of breathing, breeding and laboring flesh. But I have a different topic of discussion in mind. When did you abandon your life’s aspirations?”

“Who says I didn’t grow up treasuring a goal of being a crack whore?” Crystal quips and she stares him down with an expression intended to say ‘mind your own affairs!’

“Perhaps after you lost your virginity,” Nick ignores the look and surmises, “you might’ve decided that having sex was a pleasure you could turn into a career, but why would you add the nasty drug addiction aspect to your life’s otherwise pleasant business plan?”

“Once you are hooked, then you do what you must to get the drugs.”

“Really?” Nicholas lilts the word, as either a question or a sarcastic remark. “Yet your comment about an objective of being a crack whore begs a question. Did you start whoring to get money for cocaine, or did you start smoking crack as way to socially excuse your desire for plenty of sex with many random partners?”

“I don’t want to talk about this.” Crystal ducks her head under the water to get away from his inquisition: then she kicks off the rock and shoots across the hot pool like a sleek pink torpedo. She surfaces and strokes a slow lap of the pond that is about the size of a public swimming pool. The steaming water soon saps her physical energy and her mind grows tired too, from internal wrangling with his last question.

“Well,” Nicholas asks when the girl returns to the rock seat, “did you decide the answer?”

“Did the chicken or the egg come first?”

“The egg and hen conundrum is an old chestnut with no bearing on your future, but the prostitution and addiction poser is of vital impact on your life prospects.”

“I’m just an addicted street whore.” Crystal says sharply. “What do you want from me? Answer that riddle or leave me alone.”

“This encounter is about what you want.” Nick stands up on the submerged rock: his strong physique and maleness is displayed. “Do you want sex from me or drugs? I can give you plenty of either but I utterly refuse to provide both.”

“Did you fib about not keeping a ball of crack around?”

“I don’t lie about anything: neither to others nor especially to myself.” He stands exposed for another moment, awaiting a decision from her. When the girl just sulks and soaks in the warm water, Nick sits back down.

The decision he asked for has disturbed her. She recalls the boyfriend she gave her virginity to. He dumped her after finding out that she experimented with sex with a few other guys too.

His possessive attitude mirrored a society at large, which exerts extreme pressure towards monogamy. Though she hadn’t taken payment from the other boys, she had been made to feel like a tramp.

“I’ve tried to quit the crack.” Crystal says after a few moments. “I’ve been into rehab twice but I can’t seem to give it up. In case you don’t know, cocaine is an addictive narcotic. Shall I define addictive for you?”

“Allow me to. Addictive substance means an alternate gun that an unhappy person uses to commit a slow suicide.”

“I’m not suicidal and I’m happy enough when I’m on a high.”

“And I suppose you drew these slash scars on your wrist,” he grabs her hands and turns the old wounds up for examination, “as skin decoration like a macabre tattoo.”

“That was just a teenage girl’s cry for help.” Crystal snatches her hands away and hides her arms back under the water’s surface.

“What assistance did the teen girl get? Was it sermons from professionals who wouldn’t or couldn’t address her real issues? Doubtlessly she got prescriptions for some anti-depressant medications? Isn’t that just the prep school on a career path to a master’s degree in crack whoring?”

“Let’s change the subject and talk about you. Are you so bloody perfect?”

“I’m human, by my own conscious efforts and determination. Humans do err but we are human and therefore master,” Nicholas idly taps his chest with his knuckles, “of our own destinies.”

“I’m not independently wealthy enough to shape and control my own future, as you seem to be. And if you really must know, I slashed my wrists because I’m living in a world that was not made for me and which I don’t fit into.”

“God created this world precisely with you in mind.”

“Jesus save me!” The girl shouts in mockery. “Preserve my soul from self-righteous bible-thumpers. Praise the Lord, I now see exactly what you’re all about. You want me to swap my chemical addiction for a dependency on crosses and rosary beads.”

“I am devoutly spiritual but I gave up on Christianity a long time ago. And you’re wrong: I’m not seeking to convert you to anything but your becoming human.”

His displaying himself a moment ago has stirred her desire and under the water, she slides a hand to his loins but he abruptly pushes it away. This unexpected rebuff is as disconcerting as his frank talk. Being female and nubile, she is used to being the one to dictate when sex occurs and her overtures have not often been refused. Even the boyfriend who spurned her didn’t refuse sex later: he just shunned her in public.

“Was that a non-verbal answer to my question regarding which you want from me?”

Crystal blushes then mopes for a few minutes until the quiet becomes disconcerting.

“Maybe my addiction is an outgrowth of my dissatisfaction with my place in the world, or rather my lack of a satisfying place. I’ve tried to quit the crack but like cigarettes, cocaine is addicting.”

“With both those substances you mentioned, the physical dependency is quite mild.”

“How could you possibly know?” Crystal shoots back. His looking younger than his age would suggest that he maintained a strict regimen of health.

“I don’t speak as an authority on anything I haven’t personally experienced. As an experiment, I lived for five years on the streets doing as much crack-cocaine and other drugs as I could do without overdosing. I purposefully got myself as addicted as possible. When I knew as much as I needed, I quit. My habit was castrated just as simple as that. As with nicotine, booze, and anything other habit forming stuff, there are a few nasty days worth of withdrawal symptoms and then it’s done.”

“Did you have the same amount of money then as you claim to have now?”

“More or less.”

“Then you had the resources to do whatever you wanted after. If I get clean of the drugs, then I’m still in the same situation that I used the drugs to run away from.”

“That is an excuse without any grounding.” Nick says flatly. “Cash is a commodity made from printed paper: it’s not the cause of your ruination. You have a means of making money but you use the financial gain only to feed your crack habit, instead of employing it to better your situation. Without that heinous crack monkey on your back, you could command an up-scaled clientele and a vastly improved cash flow.”

“To get that money, one needs adhere to society’s complicated rules.” Crystal says in a bubbly tone to attempt to lighten up the intense conversation: she even playfully splashes him. “The police let an addict girl do what she does for the occasional BJ on the side but in the higher priced bracket, the government and its law kicks in hard.”

“Were that true,” he wipes the water from his face, “then the establishment is guilty of condoning and in fact encouraging drug use. They would be saying that breaking a law is acceptable, as long as the proceeds are used to purchase drugs. But in actual fact,” Nick punctuates this with a return splash, “the police are extorting your sexual favours on false pretenses because here in Canada, prostitution is NOT illegal.”

“Bullshit!” The girl exclaims and she splashes him harder for effect.

“I know law exceptionally well. The closest law that applies is ‘communication for the purpose of prostitution’, but unless you’ve used explicit terminology like ‘do you want to pay to have sex with me?’ and if you and the guy didn’t immediately go at it right in the street, there is a huge open field for even a marginally competent lawyer to easily beat the charge. And if the girl has enough funds for a roof over her head, the police can’t employ the various vagrancy statutes either.”

“There are still the tax laws.”

“Until society recognizes prostitution as legitimate occupation, it has neither a right nor the ability to require reporting that income. A call girl needs only jot a notation on her internal revenue form, indicating she is employed in a non-taxable job and she has fully satisfied the tax laws.”

“I’m guessing that you earn your living as an attorney.”

“Not even close!” Nicholas laughs. His discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone gave him eternal youth and it also enabled him to transmute lead into gold. “I’ve studied law as a General gathering intelligence on his foe: I could never swallow my honour sufficiently to actually practice law. Lawyers are about as beneficial to civilization as the bubonic plague.”

“The difference between a whore and a lawyer,” Crystal recalls a joke, “is that the whore stops screwing the client when he dies.”

“That is true. But even though we all know that law practitioners are whores with pens and that law passing politicians are whores with podiums, they still feel at home in the same world that you think you don’t fit into.”

“Being a figurative whore is socially acceptable: being a literal one isn’t.”

“So what of it?” Nick counters firmly. “Why must you attempt to please a society that is unbending towards who you wish to be? I’ll give you a phrase that I live by: when you are comfortable in your own skin, then the whole world fits you like a glove.”

“I finally appreciate what you’re trying to do but it won’t work.” Crystal turns to him and sets her fingers on his knee. This time he interprets her touch as a gesture of a growing rapport and he doesn’t reject it. “I could swear to you and promise myself, that I will change my life – but as soon as I get back to civilization, something inside of me will make me fall off the wagon: it has happened time and time again. I have no reason to expect the outcome would be any different this time.”

“That is a factor of your subconscious mind sabotaging your best efforts. That’s also why we’re talking here in the frozen wilds, instead of in a street-corner coffee shop.”

“Why does the subconscious mind do that?” The girl wonders idly. “It has to live on with the nasty effects too.”

“Psychiatry calls it the subconscious mind but honestly, the supposed science of the human psyche has regressed over the last few hundred years, almost as fast as our technology has advanced. Trying to understand the mental state of humans without accepting the fact of our having souls, is like attempting to fathom how a light bulb works, while refusing to accept that electricity exists.”

“The subconscious mind is the soul?” She asks. Crystal vaguely notices that his voice has taken on a different quality. He is no longer modulating his tone and the effect makes her a bit drowsy: the steaming water isn’t helping her stay alert either.

“It’s complicated but the spirit has its own separate intellect. Understand that your body and your brain will ultimately die. Your soul will live on and your soul knows that, so it has nothing to loose with your death. And though a soul is participating in a life, to learn what it will, the spirit’s most fervent desire is to return to eternity.”

“I have an ethereal assassin inside me that wants to kill its host, as quickly as it can?”

“Yes and no. When your soul is unhappy, then it wants to murder you. If you feed it what it craves, then it is your very best friend, in fact it is your guardian angel.” The two centre fingers of his left hand drum rhythmically on his clavicle.

“That sounds a bit like a loving – but violently abusive spouse.”

“That is an apt analogy except for one critical difference, you are your own soul.”

“You are an out-of-the-box person.” Crystal chuckles. She’s not sure if she fully understands all of what he’s said but she has certainly come to like him well enough.

“In more ways than you can possibly imagine.” Nicholas briefly joins in her infectious mirth then swiftly becomes serious again. “But our afternoon is wearing away and we’ve yet to arrive at the crux. Can you surmise what it would take to get on your soul’s good side again?

“No.” Crystal says tentatively. She has a suspicion though: it’s been riding along in her mind’s passenger seat from the moment that she met him and considered her safety. Even longer, it’s been in her background since she first contemplated suicide.

“One way is offering to sacrifice your life to your spirit.” Nicolas regards the crack whore intently. “You could get out of the hot springs, to walk wet and naked to my cabin. That dire deed would call your spirit’s bluff. If your soul truly wants you to die, the minus 40-degree weather can finish off the task that a teenage girl started with her hesitant razor blade and that a young woman has continued to attempt with her drugs, cigarettes, booze and liaisons with questionable sex customers.”

“And if she didn’t die?” Crystal wonders why they are now using the third person.

“Then she might find humanity along the perilous trek.” Nick’s pitch has dropped an octave: his nearly monotone rumble sounds like a purring tiger.

“Is there no other way?” She asks but then her mind’s eye conjures a vision of her Grandfather amid furnace flames and smiling like Sam McGhee. In her daydream her grandfather recites another Robert Service line: ‘Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.’

“A deadly pilgrimage to cleanse the soul is an ages-old concept. The Islamic Haj was a sacrifice for faith, before it became just a jet ride to a five-star hotel vacation.”

“A long hike to Mecca sounds an awful lot warmer than a short walk here.” Crystal observes aloud: internally, her mind is in turmoil as to whether this sudden talk of such a grim notion is metaphorical or literal.

“I personally sailed with Christopher Columbus on the voyage when he discovered the Americas.” Nicholas Flamel, a man born in the 1300’s had actually been aboard that 1492 ship. He waits a couple of seconds to allow her conscious mind to become mired in trying to comprehend the absurd sounding statement. Then his voice adopts a commanding pitch. “Leave the water now and commence your deadly mission!”

She swims across to the other side and steps out onto the path, as spritely as if for a stroll on a tropical beach. Crystal Scott has begun her dire deed in a diamond fog.

The first hundred meters is easy and even comfortable with the warm mist off the hot spring keeping the bitter temperature at bay. There isn’t even any snow under her feet: the path here is of soft moss.

But the air becomes rapidly colder: water is still running from her body and her hair, freezing in droplets on her exposed flesh. The trail swiftly becomes pack snow. Now, it is bitter cold and Crystal has only just started her life and death ordeal.

“Why am I doing something so rash and so utterly stupid?” She wonders out loud as the cold’s teeth savagely bite into her. She had begun at a brisk walk but body heat from her feet makes her souls stick to the icy snow, like a child’s tongue on a metal swing-set pole in winter. Instead of turning back, the girl starts to run. Her speed through the frigid air adds a few degrees of wind chill to the already brutal climate.

Crystal’s running gait is prancing, dancing even, as she poises her feet to contact the least of the cold ground as possible. But for this tactic, there is a steep price to pay. She slips, has a stumble and sprawls face down into the deeper snow bordering the trail. The young woman’s body heat has not yet retreated into her centre core and her nerves have not become numb, so the snow on her skin burns like fire. She gamely struggles up again but this mishap has given her the cause for brief pause.

“I could still safely return to the hot pool. I would be shamed, but alive.” Again she gives voice to her thoughts. “But I would be right back to my same old self-effacing and self-destructive ways. At least this death is quicker and I considered it briefly when I was back in the town.”

She jogs on but taking care to watch her footing better. The remaining liquid water from the hot pond, along with the snow that stuck to her and melted, is now in solid form. Always conscious of her appearance, she tries to smooth her hair but it is of no avail. Her blond locks are stiff strings at each a wild angle: her tumble when it was still damp, has made her coif look like a mop that has dried while in a bucket.

“There are so many terms to describe the feeling of being too hot.” She occupies her mind to avoid thinking about how cold she is. “Searing, scalding, blistering, torrid, broiling, sweltering and scorching spring to mind but there isn’t a single adjective word that lends an accurate impression of what being naked in a minus 40-degree climate is like. Frosty sounds too jolly, like the Snowman and bracing seems like it is a positive word, synonymous with invigorating.

“Chilly is to cold, only what tepid is to warm. Frigid is more often used for sexually unresponsive. Bitter cold is the best I can think of. Biting doesn’t do it justice: a great white shark doesn’t have enough teeth to savage every square millimeter of flesh, as extreme sub-zero weather does. I’ll borrow a word from the antonym list and call this searing cold. And now I have to start trying to ponder some other topic!”

“He brags of being intimate with many Jill strumpets,” Crystal has a sudden thought, “but he said he didn’t have sex with crack whores. Why didn’t I spot that blatant incongruity?” Her mind wrestles one final time with the notion of turning back.

“I might be closer now to the cabin, than to the springs.” She pins her trepidation to the canvas and keeps moving forward but her speed is reduced: her shivering legs hamper her movements. Her ears feel afire. So do her breasts, fingers and cheeks: she doesn’t have enough hands to offer protection to everything that needs some.

“How many other glacier girls are there along this trail?” Crystal had not thought to keep watch for stray hands or legs poking out from the drifts.

“Nick conned me into a suicidal act with trickery: he used subliminal manipulation on me.”

Crystal knew a fair amount about NLP. It was a subject that intrigued her. “That jerk slipped in that poem about Sam McGhee actually living through freezing and flames, as a cute little neuro-linguistic programming nudge.”

“He matched my steps as an act of ‘mirroring’ and I felt closer to him.” She thinks back to identify the subversive subliminal ploys that he has used on her. “His hand gestures at his chest ‘anchored’ the words providence, master and guardian for my subconscious mind to equate them to him. Some of our talk was of death and sex. Those are the two most powerful concepts that subliminal advertising targets. He even tossed in and stressed the word castration because that is known to compel a female’s subconscious mind. Seen in retrospect, these are fairly easy to spot but he slipped them all under my conscious mind’s radar, to a devastating effect.”

“Nick used that bizarre line about his sailing with Columbus to send my conscious mind into a loop, so he could issue a direct hypnotic suggestion to my subliminal brain.” She recalls the final knot in the noose on her neck. On her one stay in the rehab, she had taken an interest in hypnosis and NLP. Crystal had used the facility’s Internet connection to study up on the subject. Her futile objective had been aimed at a possibility of using self-hypnosis to solve her many problems.

“You sick bastard!” As women of all eras and cultures do, the girl vents her rage at the nearest available male. “Like the perverted undertaker, you like to have a stiff one from time to time.”

She cups her breasts: her nipples have frozen solid.

“Nicholas is worse than any word-twisting lawyer! He said that providence put the hot spring where it is – but he could’ve damned well built his home closer to it.”

Now silhouetted in a pearly pink glow from the soon to set sun, she sees the distant cabin. It is a hopeful sight but perhaps unattainable. Up to a moment ago, her feet were a torment but now she can’t feel them. Her toes and fingers are beyond numb.

While forcing her nude and freezing body to keep going, she observes her objective. White smoke rises from the chimney but then it defuses and settles back to ground level in an ice fog haze.

“Diamond fog: my frigid ass!” Crystal wonders who ever coined such a daft term. “A diamond is a girl’s best friend because it represents love, security and warmth but a diamond fog is absolutely none of the above.”

Yet as she staggers into the ice fog’s fringe, she sees the striking visual phenomena. The sun is shining coldly into the frozen mist of water vapour and it sparkles like a million tiny gems. It is a brilliant rainbow of sunlight refracting off crystalline mist, finer than snowflakes, buoyant in the air.

“I am Crystal too.” Her voice is harsh due to the saliva moisture in her mouth and throat being now glazed. She’s been breathing through her open mouth since her nostrils became blocked up with frost. Her lungs are likely the next to go: parts of them are frozen already and her breath is shallow. Her legs and arms are as dead sticks protruding from her torso, but still she urges a stiff-kneed walking action.

The cabin is closer now too. It is as a vision of completion and promised warmth. The snow-frosted log structure with a bright green tin roof looks like Christmas bauble set in a blue spruce wreath, back-dropped by the pink and purple pastels of an Arctic sunset. The beautiful sight seems to deliver a sensation of heat: it starts in her heart and it spreads out to her limbs.

“Now that I can feel the reputed warmth of freezing to death,” her cracked lips move but no sound issues from vocal cords that are too stiffened to vibrate, “I no longer yearn for it. I’m dying and I want to live: sufficiently to overcome any addiction.”

Crystal would have cried but the tears might be in a solid form. Her focus is blurred. Only the saline solution of her tears has kept that moisture from freezing up sooner than the fresh water from the melted snow and the pool. And now on the verge of death by frostbite and hypothermia, the end is so tantalizingly near.

“I want life!” The nude crack whore silently screams. But she knows her condition ensures this will be fatal. Even were she to gain the cabin’s warmth, the damage is done. Her fingers, ears, nose and toes will certainly die and fall off. Gangrene will doubtlessly take her feet and hands. Much of her totally exposed flesh will be as a freezer-burnt steak and her lungs are beyond repair.

“I’ll dive into the snow and die with a hand of warning raised for the next girl to see.”

Crystal attempts to jump off the path but her body will not obey. Then her essence drifts weightlessly up from the girl struggling to survive. She is nearly overwhelmed by rapturous tsunami of intense peacefulness. Her pain is utterly gone, though most had already dwindled as potions of her nerve system froze up.

“You are your own soul.” The phrase that Nicholas had said, almost as an adjunct to another sentence, resounds in her mind and Crystal instantly realizes what he was implying. “I am my spirit. I have to be. It’s logically so, because I’m up here and she my body, is down there without me. I will go home to eternity and Crystal will die.”

Her life begins to scroll by her ethereal eyes. Prominent among the events are the times when she attempted suicide. The once when she had wanted to slash her own wrists, the girl who was her body had kept the razor from penetrating deep enough to kill. On another occasion, Crystal had contemplated stepping in front of a bus but like on the path just now, her body had refused to cooperate with a death wish.

“I have my eternal life to look forward to,” Crystal’s spirit realizes, “but she has only got this one chance at life and I’ve been ruining it for her – for both of us.”

“For all of my life, I’ve been my own worst demon. And the homo-sapient girl, in whose body I’ve dwelled, would rather push me to self-destruction and degradation, than allow me to disrespect or defile her. I’m ethereal and immortal: she is mortal. Together as a partnership we are human. As Nick hinted, I have found humanity.”

Crystal in her astral soul form looks down. The naked woman has nearly stopped moving, she is looking quizzically at her useless hands and the finish line door is but a few paces away.

“She doesn’t remember that the door is unlatched: maybe her brain is freezing up.”

“We have sacrificed ourselves for each other and she is still striving though all hope is long gone. For her dignity and to satisfy my obligation to her, I’ll help her finish off this deed in the diamond fog.” The spirit of Crystal wills her essence back into the familiar home that she has occupied for all of this lifetime.

Together, the mind, body and soul unit steps forwards twice. Unable to lift her arms, she strikes the door with her shoulder and it swings effortlessly open. One more halting stride. She stops. Her balance is gone, with the fluid in her ear canal turned to cold jelly. The girl’s forward momentum topples her over, as a felled tree.

“We did it!” Crystal is prone on the warm, soft carpet but she can feel neither. “If I can survive until Nick returns, I’m not sure if I should kick his groin for doing this, or passionately kiss him for the Crystal shattering epiphany it brought me to.”

And then she sleeps.

“Well done!” Nicholas Flamel has been monitoring her progress from a smaller path that runs alongside of hers. Crystal is crumpled on the floor, reminiscent of Rodin’s caryatid fallen under her stone. He scoops her up and whisks her into the bedroom.

He quickly strips and climbs under a down quilt with her. His intent is not to have a stiff one, but to lend her his body heat. The ageless man wraps his arms around the white as porcelain girl: it feels like hugging an ice sculpture of the Venus d’Milo.

“Where am I?” Crystal asks perplexedly. She has just awakened from some days of healing sleep.

Nicholas has tended her with his philosopher stone. The physiological damage done by the extreme weather would be far beyond the scope of modern medicine but for the miraculous substance that has extended Flamel’s span of years to seven hundred, the needed repairs are not daunting.

“We’re in my cabin.” Nick says as he hands her a mirror. He has anticipated her female need to immediately view her reflection.

“Was it a dream?’ Crystal quickly sees that the Philosopher’s Stone has done her the extra service of taking off a few years. She had been in her middle twenties but she was taking on some haggard extra years of crack aging. Now, she seems as a woman in the fresh bloom of about twenty-two.

“It was as real as life gets.”

“Why me?” Her fingers find her cheeks and she strokes them disbelievingly.

“I found your thread in the Akashic Records and felt you were worth saving. That man in the diesel truck would’ve been your last bad date. He drove on because he saw me standing behind you but he would’ve circled the block to come back.”

“It’s really too bad you don’t have sex with crack whores,” Crystal quips with a grin, “cause I feel exquisitely alive, remarkably human, and exceptionally horny. I also know with 100% certainty which of your offerings I’d like to accept.”

“I don’t see any crack whores here?” Nicholas says while unbuttoning his shirt.

“Another notch for your doxy bedpost!” The girl giggles at the prospect of new vistas ahead: maybe she will be a courtesan, or whatever else she wants. “You’ve got a week’s worth at the old rate. After that, the price might be going way up!”

 

The End

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