Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
The chill was the first thing I found odd. Florida was notorious for having unreasonably humid summers and this one had been no exception. More often than not, when the air conditioner wasn’t running, sun streaming in through the windows was enough to skyrocket the apartment into the eighties. I’d often stop what I was doing—shivering from the absolute frigidness of the place—and step outside. The wave of scorching, sticky air nearly took my breath away. I could only stay out there seconds at a time before I’d have to run back in for my inhaler.
I started probing the apartment for the source of the chill. I’d left my A/C off for about a day and a half now and opened all the windows to let the sun in. There seemed to be no change in the temperature. Except for in one place.
Every time I walked into the kitchen, it was as though the temperature dropped by thirty degrees. A thin layer of frost started collecting on the appliances and the counter-top. It made me think of what my mother used to do during the winter to keep us warm. We had lived destitute for most of my childhood, often moving from town to town so that she could look for work. I remembered huddling beneath my blanket when I was eight in some shack close to St. Louis (we’d gone up hoping that my grandfather could help us out. All he gave us was a slammed door to the face, the prick). She’d lower the oven door and turn it on. Within minutes, the room would be a toasty refuge amid the unrelenting Missouri winter.
I grabbed the handle of the oven but yanked my hand back. The oven’s handle was so cold it left a red mark on my hand. Maybe it would be better to turn the damn thing on first. I twisted the knob to four hundred, grabbed an oven mitt, and opened the door. A cold wind swept through the room so violently that it forced the air out of my lungs. When I finally drew another breath, it came from my lips in a thick mist.
Inside, there was nothing.
The oven racks were visible for a few inches but the rest of the oven was consumed by an impenetrable darkness.
No…that wasn’t right. The only source of light came from the kitchen window. It was the late afternoon. Shadows were probably playing tricks on my eyes. I flipped the light switch. The fluorescents flickered momentarily before they stabilized, bathing the kitchen in a sterile white hue.
The darkness had somehow gotten darker. I’m not sure how to explain it…wait…no. There were tiny dots of light. I had to stare into the void for a few minutes, but as my eyes adjusted I could just see them. They almost looked like…stars.
I kicked the door up, causing the oven to rattle as it slammed shut. The clang of metal rang in my ears and seemed to fill the tiny space of my kitchen. The chill abated, but only slightly.
Then came the voices. I barely noticed them at first. The T.V. was on and I wrapped myself tightly in a blanket. I flipped through the channels lethargically, trying to get my mind off the oven.
It had been a trick of the light, I convinced myself. Just some average, every day optical illusion. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to open the oven door again.
It wasn’t until there was a moment’s pause between programs that I heard it.
I turned the television off. They continued nonstop like static.
I knew where it was coming from.
I had to get warm.
Now, the cold was seeping through the blanket. The sun was descending into the west and the shadows lengthened outside. Hopefully, the air had cooled enough for me to get out of the house for a bit. Grab a coffee. Clear my head. Get away from those voices.
I no more than opened the door than got hit with the blinding summer sun. My chest tightened. I closed the door quickly and stepped back into the living room, feeling the apartment’s icy tendrils ensnare my body once more.
I could see the kitchen from the front door. Had it gotten darker in there? Sunlight usually poured into that room, even this late in the day.
No, I needed to get out.
I snatched my inhaler off the coffee table. Before I could think, I rushed back to the door, yanked it open, and darted out.
Saying that I felt like a fish out of water would have been an understatement. The sound of my haggard lungs forcing in stale air was the only thing I heard. I brought the inhaler to my mouth, pushing down the trigger and tasting the bitter gas. Usually, it cleared me right up. Usually, one puff was all I would need and then I’d be able to function in the Florida heat like any other person. But today was different. It felt like it was a hundred and fifty degrees out. I took a step down the sidewalk. My car was only a few feet away. If I could get inside and turn the air conditioner on…
I brought the container to my mouth once again and pushed down the plunger. Nothing. Not even the faintest dregs of Albuterol. My legs buckled and my knees struck the ground. I grimaced from the pain radiating up my thighs. I twisted back, pulling myself back toward my door. It was still cracked open from my hasty escape. The icy wind from within—from the oven—spilled over the threshold and chilled my arms feet from the door. It didn’t matter whether I ever came out again. I could live with the cold. Just let me breathe, damn it. Just let me breathe!
I pulled myself back over the entrance. The door slammed shut, though I don’t even recall moving to do so. The cold pounced upon me again like a savage beast. I laid on the floor, holding myself and gasping for breath. Was it colder than before? I had no more asked myself the question than I saw thick wisps of mist spill from my lips.
“Fu-fu,” I muttered, shaking on the coarse carpet. The blanket laid half on the couch from where I left it. Like an old friend. My last defense against this frozen wasteland. I drug myself across the room, my breath steadily returning. I clutched onto the couch, its frozen fibers digging into my hand, and slipped under the cover once again.
My phone was on the coffee table. Maybe I could call someone—anyone. So someone could see what I saw, to feel what I felt. Someone to tell me that wasn’t going crazy.
I reached out from under the blanket, my hand shaking. My numb fingers dropped the phone the first couple of times I tried to pick it up, but after the third or fourth time, I grabbed it. Then, I wrenched my hand back under the covers. It took several minutes, trying to get warm beneath the cotton, before I dared stick my hand out again. The sun reflected off the sleek face of the phone. I unlocked it, dialed a number, and pressed it against my ear. I listened for a second before I tossed it back onto the coffee table. My heart pounded against my chest, and I pressed myself farther into the couch’s back.
All I had heard through the receiver were the whispers.
I still had a good hour of daylight left. You couldn’t tell from my kitchen though. Sunlight still poured in through the windows behind my couch. Though the kitchen faced the same direction, all I could see was black—as though someone had taken heavy curtains and draped the window.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the whispers hadn’t gotten louder.
I turned on every light in the house, hoping that some light might be able to saturate the wall of darkness that had taken residence within the kitchen. Yet, no matter how many lights I turned on, it didn’t even make a dent. It was simply a thick, almost tangible wall of black at the room’s threshold. If I looked hard enough into it, I could have sworn I could have seen those specks of light…
Stop being stupid, I thought. I must have been seeing things…and hearing things…I shoved the thoughts away and reached into the kitchen to flip the switch. As soon as I reached in, I yanked my hand back out. It was like sticking my hand into a bucket of cold water. I opened and closed it several times, trying to work out the stiffness. Then, I gritted my teeth and reached over the threshold again.
My hand went instantly numb. It felt as though a thousand needles stabbed my hand as I groped within the darkness for the light switch. Finally, my hand stroked the switch. I put my finger on it to flip it upright—
Something brittle touched my hand. I yanked it back. There were no visible markings on it, but I could still feel whatever touched me.
Night had fallen. The void had spilled out of the kitchen into the dining room. Since the sun set, the darkness had gotten aggressive. I glanced through the peephole of the front door. I can’t see anything. Had this darkness extended out there too? Am I the only one left? I shivered, but it wasn’t necessarily from the cold.
The voices grew louder, nearly shouting from the dark. Still, I couldn’t understand them. It was like a dozen people shouting at one another in an echo-y room.
I hid under the blanket. This is all a dream, I thought. If I just laid there with my eyes clamped shut, I’d wake in the morning. Everything would be back to normal—no darkness spilling out of the oven, the apartment a comfortable seventy-three degrees. Yet, every time I peeked out, the darkness remained ever-looming, until it had consumed every part of the apartment except for the living room. A heavy mist escaped from my chapped lips and I hid my head beneath my blanket once again.
How long was I going to be stuck like this? It felt like hours since sunset. Morning couldn’t be that far off. Every time I felt brave enough to get off the couch to look out the window, I couldn’t see anything in the thick night. Not even the light of the nearest lamppost.
I took a step back toward the couch, an eye on the expanding void, when a new noise mixed with the whispers. The face of my cell phone lit up and it vibrated on the coffee table. I nearly tripped over my own feet as I scrambled across the living room and answered.
Please, let them be able to help me! Whoever it is! I thought. Maybe it was my mother. It had been nearly a day and I hadn’t contacted her. Or maybe my last call somehow got past the voices. However, when I pressed my ear against the phone the chill crept into my very bones. I suddenly felt numb. The strength in my legs gave out and I crashed to the floor.
It was the whispers, but this time I finally understood what they said.
“All dead things are cold.”
Credit : Steven Winters
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