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Cold Comfort

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The window was open, and I sat across the room, cross-legged on my bed, looking out through it to the snow-covered street beyond. Night was falling and the streetlights were just beginning to flicker to life. I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt silly. I was eighteen, I should’ve been beyond this sort of childish thing. Even so, as I sat there and I looked out the window, I tentatively whispered the name. “Brother Frost.” It came out like a question, and like a plea. But a plea for what? What was it that I wanted? And what was it that I expected? An instant flurry of snow? A gust of wind? For a moment, there was no response at all, just the silent stillness of a winter night. I shook my head and dropped my gaze to my hands folded in my lap, laughing at myself. Wow, was I really so childish that I’d believed the Winter Spirit himself would come if I called?

But then there was a quiet sound, the slightest creak of wood. I looked up and there he was, perched on my windowsill, hood up, staff in hand, and looking at me as though waiting for something. “Jack Frost,” I breathed. “You came.”

“Yeah, I did,” he said with a little smile. “You called for me.” He sat on the sill, swinging one leg inside and keeping the other folded up to his chest.

“You’re real,” I said, still wide-eyed.

This made him laugh. “Don’t look so surprised,” he said, leaning forward on his staff, “you wouldn’t even be able to see me if you didn’t believe in me already.”

“Right,” I said, “but… ‘Brother Frost,’” I continued, repeating the name I had called, a name that wasn’t nearly as well known as ‘Jack Frost’. “They call you ‘Brother Frost,’” I said evenly, and he just looked at me. “They call you the Saint of Suicides.”

His face had lost any trace of a smile and he looked away. “Some do.”

“It’s true then. The stories are true?”

He laughed again, but there was a darker tone to it this time. “It depends on what stories you’ve heard,” said the Winter Spirit.

“The stories where you take some children’s lives away.” It wasn’t an accusation, far from it. It was just something I’d read about and I wanted answers.

He still didn’t look at me. “Some children, yes. Those stories are true.”

“But, why—" I began.

“Look,” he said, his expression suddenly angry as he leapt back into a crouched position on the sill with his staff clutched tightly in hand, “if I have to explain to you why sometimes it’s more merciful to help a child die than watch him keep living, then I should just go, because if you don’t already understand it then I can’t make you understand.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head and running a thumb down the inside of my wrist. “No, Jack, that part I do understand.” He was looking at me now and it was my turn to look away. I looked back at my lap and wrapped my hand around my wrist. “Trust me, I do,” I said again. “What I was going to ask though, was, why you?”

“Oh,” he said. Now he was unsure. “I… I don’t know. No one ever explained it to me, but I can hear them. When a child calls for Brother Frost, I hear them. I hear them when they cry. I hear them call out for help. I hear how much they’re hurting.” I nodded but still didn’t look at him. His voice got quieter. “I don’t like doing it, but… If you had to hear that, the sound of children in pain, you’d want to stop it too.” He paused, and then, as if realizing he’d said something wrong, “I don’t mean for my sake! I don’t mean I do it was I can’t stand to hear them, it’s not for me. It’s for them. No child should have to suffer like that.”

“Like you did,” I said, finally looking up, “for three hundred years. Alone.”

He smiled sadly and shook his head. “Loneliness is terrible. It is. But that, compared to what some of these children go through every day… It’s like comparing a snowflake to a blizzard.” He sat down on the sill again and tucked his hands in his pockets, his staff sitting in the crook of his arm. “I guess the good thing about being alone is that no one can tell you how much you’ve disappointed them.”

“Sometimes people don’t need words for that,” I said. My voice sounded sadder than I'd meant it to.

He gave me a deep, searching look, and then turned away, looking out at the street. “Why did you call me?” he asked.

“I was just curious, I guess,” I said, getting up and walking over to the window, resting my head against the cool glass of the closed half. “I mean, if I called you and said I wanted to have a snowball fight and have fun, you’d do that, right?”

Here was a genuine smile as he perked up. “Yeah!”

“And if I asked you to kill me?”

His face darkened immediately. He looked haunted and weary, expressions that seemed out of place on such a young face. But then I reminded myself that I’d made my first suicide attempt at fourteen; I’d probably worn that look a couple times. “Are you planning to?” he asked in response to my question.

I paused and looked at him, and he held my gaze firmly. Was I going to ask him for that? It was tempting, to say the least. Had I been fourteen again, I would have yes in a heartbeat. A quick, easy, and guaranteed way to die? It had been my holy grail. But now I knew that such decisions, for me at least, couldn’t be made on a whim. They took planning, took preparation. I was silent for a moment more before saying, “No.” He looked relieved, but then I continued with, “Not right now.” His relief seemed to fade a little, but not entirely. A slight breeze swept in through the window and raised goosebumps on my bare arms. They caused the appearance of dozens of thin white and dark red scars to become much more pronounced. I rubbed my arms and shivered.

Jack glanced at my arms, and then at me. “I should go,” he said with an understanding smile, “so that you can close this window and get warm.”

“Maybe I’ll see you again?” I asked.

“Hopefully if you do, you’ll be calling for Jack Frost, not Brother Frost.”

“No promises,” I said honestly.

“I know,” he said with a sincere nod. “But, hopefully.” I smiled a little and nodded. “Take care, Snowflake,” he said, and then the wind swept him away and he was gone. I closed the window behind him and returned to sitting on my bed, wondering if I would be calling on Brother Frost again.