Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Freya Clydesdale and I grew up together; her house being right next door to mine. Though younger than me by a few years, she is perhaps the smartest person I have ever known and will ever know. One of the clearest memories I have of our time together took place during a particularly strange winter. My dad was away on a fishing trip down in Florida, and a harsh storm hit our area without warning, though the forecast had called for clear skies. Freya’s parents had gone out for an anniversary lunch earlier in the day, so she was over at our house. Now trapped by the storm, she, my mother, and I were left to fend for ourselves.
Pretty early on, the power went out, but thankfully we had a back-up generator. A couple seconds after turning it on, electricity flowed through the house once more. This victory over the storm was short-lived, as the generator died just an hour later. The three of us huddled around my family’s fireplace, the scent of warm burning wood wafting through the room. My mother read stories to us as we ate campfire popcorn. I remember her gentle voice as she read, trying to keep our young minds from wandering to a place of fear as vicious winds crashed against the fragile walls of the house.
My mother eventually grew tired and passed out on the couch. Freya and I were left with the dying fire. We wrapped up in blankets, found a flashlight in one of the kitchen drawers, and adventured through the dark house. Soon enough, Freya took me to the backdoor. She shined the flashlight through the thin glass out towards our shed where the generator was.
“Come on,” She said to me, her voice hushed so as to not stir my mother.
“We’ll freeze out there,” I said. “And besides, what are we going to do?”
Freya smiled. She opened the door a crack, which was enough for the wind to blow it wide open and knock us to the ground. Freya giggled, grabbed my hand, and dragged me to my feet.
Wrapped In our blankets, holding each other’s hands, Freya led the way through the snow and icy winds sweeping across the yard. We hadn’t put our shoes on, but my feet did not get cold. Freya too was unfazed by the weather. It was as if the storm was in our imagination; made real to our eyes alone.
When we got to the shed, she released my hand and kicked piles of snow out from the front of the door, which then swung open freely. Inside, it was cool. The wind didn’t rush in like it had back at the house. For whatever reason, the storm chose not to enter.
The generator was mounted to the wall at the back of the shed opposite the door. A thick grey wire extended off of it and ran down into the floor, travelling underground and to the basement where it was plugged in. Freya looked it over with the flashlight, inspecting every possible angle. She popped open the cap to the gas tank. It was still nearly full. The wiring also appeared intact. Freya turned to me and smiled, her features just visible without the light directly on her.
“Want to see something?” She asked.
Freya moved back towards the door of the shed and flicked on a light switch wired to a single bulb in the center of the ceiling. Nothing happened. She moved back to the generator and switched off the flashlight. For a moment, there were no sound at all. Not even the storm outside could be heard. It was like everything around us had vanished, leaving only the shed and us within.
The light came on and the generator sprung to life. Through the shed window, I watched as the lights in my house flickered on as well. Freya stood with her hand held over the machine, her eyes closed. The air around us suddenly felt warm and cozy, as if we were back inside sitting by the fire. Her hand then dropped to her side and her eyes opened. She muffled a cough. Turning to me, she grabbed my arm, and rushed us back out into the blizzard. It was now that I could feel the snow beneath my bare feet. Freya closed the door to the shed and we raced back to the house.
My mother was waiting for us, sitting at the kitchen table. She was cloaked in a blanket, her hands clasped around a mug of hot chocolate.
“Mom, Mom,” I shouted, “Freya fixed the generator!”
My mother looked at the two of us. Something about her was off. Her eyes were red and her skin pale; the look of a living ghost.
“Freya,” My mother said calmly, “Nok-tu di vah. Bro’ok desm un ey.”
I looked to Freya, her eyes now completely black. Small twinkles, like starlight, danced in the void.
“Rhuk tan, Vevie. Don te mak tuye,” Replied Freya, in an equally calm voice.
My mother stood slowly, seeming to struggle a bit. She knelt before me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Noah,” her eyes now filled with tears, “Never forget how much I love you. And never forget that I will always love you.”
I don’t know why, but I was unable to say anything in response. I wasn’t angry, sad, or anything. No emotion. I just… was.
She stood and took Freya’s hand.
“Twun dei Veviekuu.”
Freya smiled at me, She seemed so sad and happy at the same time.
“I shall see you again when stars sing, Noah.”
The two of them walked to the front door and exited the house, out into the freezing cold. I ran to the doorway and caught one last glimpse of them before they faded into the dark of the storm.
Soon after the snow subsided, Freya’s parents pulled in next door. What followed was an utter disaster. Freya’s parents accused my mother of abducting her. My father was ferocious in defending his beloved wife. For some reason, I had stopped viewing her as my parent. I didn’t know who she was anymore, but this hadn’t made me angry, hateful, or indifferent. I just stopped thinking she was ever really my mother to begin with; firm in my belief that her and Freya were something more. I didn’t understand it at the time, but this strange event would affect the course of the rest of my life.
Years went by. Nothing ever came of my mother or my best friend, Freya. My father had turned to drinking for a long time until he finally died of heart complications. Being of legal age, I was on my own after that. I packed up my things and left my hometown. Too many soured memories. Too few answers. In my grief over my father’s death, I took it upon myself to find out what had happened on that stormy day so many years ago.
Through pure perseverance, I educated myself fiercely. I studied numerous languages and cultures and investigated every rumor I could find pertaining to similar phenomena. I was led to one dead end after the other. One night, as I sat drinking on the balcony of my new apartment, a knock came at my door. Pulling myself into a standing position, careful as to not fall over, I ventured back into my apartment to see who it was that wanted to see me so late.
Upon opening the door, I was greeted by the sight of a tall man with grey bushy eyebrows and a full, unkempt beard. His eyes were like embers plucked straight from a dying fire. He smelled of the ocean and freshly trimmed grass. His eyelids drooped a bit, as if overly tired.
“Noah Franklin Everett.”
His voice was deep and in an accent I couldn’t quite place.
“Yeah?” I managed to say, probably a little too loudly.
The stranger looked me up and down, and then peered over my shoulder into the apartment.
“You are summoned. You must come with me at once.”
He placed a large hand on my head.
“You are required sober, Noah Franklin Everett.”
As soon as he finished his statement, my drunken dizziness left me, along with the depressing thoughts of my father and failed attempts to understand the day that haunted me so.
“How did you-”
He was already making his way to the complex’s old, rickety elevator. Like a dog being lured with the promise of a treat, I followed, bewildered.
The mystery man led me down and out of the building into the cool night air. I kept his pace, making every turn he did, curious as to where we would end up. Eventually, he stopped in front of a small corner pub. Nobody was going in or coming out. The windows were fogged up; only a faint bit of light visible through them. The doors were old and blue with some paint worn off in spots. It didn’t fit in with the modern look of the rest of the strip.
The man nudged me to enter.
I knew I should have been frightened by the whole ordeal, but I wasn’t. Whatever the man did earlier had calmed me to the core. I gave the place a final once-over and then made my way in.
Suddenly, I was in an open field beneath a full moon. The sky was so clear, part of the Milky Way was visible; a swirling vortex of constellations. On the ground in front of me was a blanket, laid out on the grass. Confused, I turned around to leave, but the doors were gone. My calmness was replaced with fear, creeping through me like a snake slithering along the underbrush, preparing to attack its prey.
I spun around. A man, similar in appearance to the last one, was now standing at the other side of the blanket. Unlike the first man, this one’s eyes were white like snow, and his hair, brows, and beard were the color of fire.
“Many years ago, you knew a girl named Freya Clydesdale, did you not?”
Shaking, I nodded my head.
With the flick of his hand, the blanket leapt up from the ground and coiled around me like a boa. The snake had struck. The blanket’s grip became tighter until I fell to the ground. The man with fiery hair stood over me. It was then that I realized he didn’t have hair at all. Atop his head and upon his face were actual, burning flames. I tried to scream, but the air in my lungs was nowhere to be found.
“You will tell me where Freya Clydesdale is. Do this, and I will grant you a swift death. Refuse, and I will peel the skin from you body and feast on your meat until only the bone is left. Then, I will remake you and start again. Understand?”
A trickle of blood rolled down the side of my face from the corner of my mouth as I tried my best to nod.
The blanket constricting me loosened just enough for me to suck in a fraction of the oxygen I was used to breathing.
“Talk, Noah Franklin Everett.”
My voice was shaky and weak.
“I don’t know. I never found out,” I managed.
The man with hair of fire squinted angrily down at me.
“I swear. I don’t know.”
“That’s too bad,” Replied the man, “Maybe you’ll be more forthcoming the next time around.”
“Wait! Wait!” I screamed, but there was no stopping him now.
Four large stakes materialized in my hands and feet, spreading me out on the ground like an animal for slaughter. The fiery man pulled out a large knife and sliced into my skin. Each piece he cut off made a horrendous, wet noise as it slid from his mouth to his stomach. The night air was soon filled with the sound of my screaming. The man then dropped the knife and dug into my flesh and muscles with his bare teeth. He tore out my throat to silence my audible agony. My eyes to leave my pain in darkness. My nose to hide the scent of my flesh and blood on his breath. I felt the shattering of bone as he pulled my spine from my back. He cracked my skull open with a rock and scooped out my brain matter like it was a delicacy.
How was I not dead? Why was I not dead?
When all that was left was my bones, as promised, the man resurrected my previous form. I felt everything grow back in a matter of seconds. Bones snapping into place, fractures healing, my flesh and organs manifesting inside me.
Again, he asked, “Where is Freya Clydesdale?”
Knowing nothing I could say would please this monster, I presented him with no answer.
“Fine. We’ll try again.”
This time, he tore off a leg and an arm, devouring them as he knelt over me. He used them like fleshy goblets, pouring my blood over his tongue. My eyes rolled back as I writhed in pain. I noticed the stars perched high in the night sky. This is when she appeared.
I knew it was her. It could be no one else. High above me, descending like snow to the ground, a now grown Freya approached. Her hair danced around her, gravity seemingly unable to touch it. With her came a hum. Low at first, but gradually it grew louder and higher in pitch. The stars became brighter. It was as if they had begun to sing in harmony with one another; a tune not just heard, but seen.
The man craned his neck back, saw Freya, and stood up to meet her, dropping my half-eaten limbs to the ground. Freya landed gently beside me. She was tall now. Just as tall as the bloodthirsty man. She was also visually breathtaking. She looked so beautiful and full of life. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Neither could the man. He looked her over, his eyes crazed and longing. In a flash, he grabbed his knife, raced to her position, and held the blade to her neck, drawing a single drop of blood that rolled down her skin, vanishing beneath the bosom of her white gown. Her expression had been plain, but it now turned to anger as she opened her mouth to speak.
“For this, old friend, you must die.”
Her hand shot out and wrapped around his face. His fire was extinguished as he dropped his dagger. His skin then began to melt and drip to the ground. He let out a wail so loud, I genuinely thought my ear drums might burst. But the stars became brighter, and their tune, louder. The shrieks of a dying man yielded to the sheer force of their melody. The man then ignited in a fit of white flames. Soon after, all became white. I could hear nothing, see nothing. The universe had become a blank sheet of paper.
When my vision returned, blurry, I was in a hospital bed. Dressing covered the wounds of my missing leg and arm. Fluids were being pumped into me through tubes attached to several machines and devices. The other beds in the room were empty, and all was quiet. After a moment or two, the sound of the machines broke through the silence, and a horrible headache ruled within the confines of my skull, rattling my brain like a rollercoaster. Hours must have gone by before a nurse came in to check on me.
“Oh!” She exclaimed cheerily. “You’re awake!”
She checked the various readings from the machines I was attached to.
“Where… where am I?
My voice was shaky, and my throat felt as If I had consumed molten metal.
“You are very lucky. This hospital has the best doctors in the world!”
The nurse carried on with checking my readings.
“But this place… what is it called?”
The nurse smiled.
“You’re in the Curious Cases Ward.”
WRITTEN BY: R.L. Rogers
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