It’s that time of year again. Any day now the earth around me will be covered in snow. Children, who are not fazed by the cold, will spend hours outside playing In it. Building snowmen, having snow ball fights, and going sledding. And of course they will be looking forward to snow days where they can spend even more time outside rather than being trapped indoors in class rooms.
I envy them. As I have grown older, I have come to really dislike the cold. Maybe that’s what happens to everyone as they grow up. We begin to associate the cold with unpleasant things instead of fun things like snowmen and making snow angels. No, we associate the cold to mean illness and even pain. We become bitter, more annoyed by it. We complain about the shoveling, the runny noses, the aching joints. I have also become bitter about winter.
But it’s not for the same reasons. It’s because I made a mistake. A very terrible mistake. Last year we had a pretty bad snow storm. Schools were closed as well as local businesses. The radio and tv weather stations cautioned people to drive carefully if they have to be on the road but other wise to just stay home. In some areas they had white out conditions.
White out conditions. I remember when I was a little girl, I loved watching the snow fall. Sometimes it came down so fast it was like a blanket of white. It was beautiful to me. But now, now it’s stained in blood.
I was on the road during the snow storm. I was heading home after a ten hour shift. I remember wanting nothing more than to go home and get in bed. Ten hours of running machinery on a factory line will make anyone a bit irritated. And therefore I was in a rush to get home. Maybe I was cocky, thinking I could drive faster on the back roads. Maybe I simply didn’t care. But I should have.
I honestly didn’t see her. The old lady. I sometimes wonder why she went out during a snow storm to check her mail. Why didn’t she stay inside? What could she have possibly have been thinking? But it doesn’t matter. Those questions won’t bring her back. Maybe not the questions, but I am sure she will be back.
As a rule of mine, I kept the cell phone on the passenger seat. Just in case of an emergency. I thought I had the ringer turned off. It never ranged before while I drived. But that day it did. I tried to ignore it, I tried to picture my warm bed instead that was waiting for me. But it wouldn’t stop ringing. And the ring tone. It’s one I don’t remember having set.
Finally I couldn’t take it. I grabbed the phone and as I flipped it open, I looked back to the road. My eyes were off the road for less than a minute. Enough time for this old lady in a blue worn jacket to appear. I still remember how she seemed to be turning toward me in slow motion. The headlights lite up her face, specially her widening grey blue eyes. I still see those eyes sometimes when I sleep.
It was so quick. I saw her turn towards me then there was a thud, not a loud thud but more like the sound a large stuff toy makes when a child drops it from the top of the stairs. Just like a stuff toy, she hit the bumper, bounced up and hit my windshield then somehow bounce up again and hit the hood of my car. She fell off to the side at this point. My car swerved and I nearly ran it into the ditch. But as soon as I had managed to stop, I turned off the car.
But I didn’t go out right away after the old woman. Instead, I remained frozen behind the steering wheel. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air. My heart was racing to the point I was sure would make it burst. I rested my forehead against the cool steering wheel, trying to calm myself down. Why was I not thinking about that lady I just hit? I don’t know. I just know I wasn’t. But I should have.
A soft thud made me open my eyes. I wish I hadn’t, God, I wish I hadn’t! A hand was on the hood of my car, the fingers more like claws as the nails scratched at the paint. I watched as a head of long grey hair came into view. The wind blew the hair forward, covering her face. Slowly she pulled herself up. Her blue knitted jacket stood out in all the white swirling around her. But not nearly as much as the bloody stump from her left shoulder where her arm once was.
The wind picked up and I thought I was screaming. But then I realized it was her screaming! The wind seemed to be picking it up and carrying it to my ears. At the time her screams made no sense to me. For you see, she wasn’t screaming in pain. Nor was she screaming for help. No, what she was screaming was this. “My skin bleeds! It bleeds!”
She raised her remaining hand, holding it out as if to show me her hand. And I did see it. I shouldn’t have been able to but I did. Her skin was pale and covered in red splotches. Where these red splotches were, there was broken skin that was bleeding. Then the wind changed direction and her hair flew out of her face. Her face had similar splotches, the broken skin and tiny trails of blood made it appear as if her face was cracking.
I opened the car door and got out. Again, an action that took no longer than a minute. But that’s all it took. She vanished. I don’t know how. I rushed to the front of my car and despite the blinding snow, I searched for her. But she wasn’t there. I swear I looked all around the car. Nothing.
Finally, I couldn’t bare to be out in that cold any longer. So I got back Into my car and started it up. Maybe I had fallen asleep behind the wheel and dreamed up the old woman? After all, old ladies don’t just up and disappear. Not during a snow storm. This is what I convinced myself. So I drove home.
But I didn’t go to sleep as I had planned. No, instead as the wind again picked up, I swore I heard her screams. “My skin bleeds! It bleeds!” Over and over again, I heard these until the storm finally ended in the morning. I was so exhausted by then. My eyes seem to close and I was out.
But I woke up only a few minutes later. The first thing I became aware of is how cold I was. I was freezing. Maybe I left a window open? Maybe it got broke? When I sat up, I realized that my bed was covered in snow. Not only that but the rest of my bedroom was too. I looked to the window and saw that not only was it not broken but it was firmly shut. So where did the snow come from?
I got out of bed and took a single step. That’s when I saw it. Hand prints in the snow. They were everywhere, as if someone had been crawling around my room. I was now shaking with fear as I forced myself to walk around my bed and check to see if the source of the hand prints were hidden there. To my relief, I found nothing.
Then I opened my bedroom door. This time I did scream. Scratched into my bedroom door was this, “Your Skin Bleeds! It Bleeds!” The scratches dripped in blood.
I called the authorities. I told them about the old woman I hit and what I woke to. They told me that they would look into it and send an officer by. Strangely none ever stopped by. Later they called me back and told me that they searched the area I had described but found no sign of an old woman in a blue jacket. What they did find was signs of me nearly driving off the road. Black ice they said. There’s no old woman.
But what of the bloody words scratched into my bedroom door? As I was on the phone, I looked at my door. There were no words. I reached my hand out to touch it, to see if I was really seeing it. The door was iced cold. When I pulled my hand back,a hand impression was left behind. And slowly, it began to bleed.
The police insisted there was no old lady out in the snow, But they are wrong. I know that. At first, I believed them. I allowed myself to believe that I just fell asleep behind the wheel for a moment. That there had been no prints in the snow, no bloody words scratched into my door. Now, now I know. There was an old woman. And I killed her.
She is getting her revenge though. It’s a slow revenge. Slow and painful. Every time the weather gets cold, and the snow starts to fall, my skin becomes dry. Very dry. Lotions, oils, nothing helps. It burns, cracks and finally bleeds. Just like the old lady scratched into my door. My skin bleeds. It bleeds and bleeds and bleeds.
Credit: Desiree La Pinta