The red crab pokes its head out from under my big toenail. “You must refer to yourself in the third person from now on,” it says. “That way, the snowflakes won’t hear your thoughts.”
Paul follows the instruction, as always. The crab is smarter than he is.
“Can you tell me what they are?” he says.
“I can,” replies the crab. “They aren’t snowflakes at all, of course, but evil spirits seeking warm human flesh.”
As such, Paul must turn off all power in his house, especially the heater. If his body remains cold, the snowflakes cannot find him. So he ventures out to the laundry room and flips every switch on his breaker box, watching the flakes stream by through the splotched and hazy window. Nothing but flurries of white, intense faces. Eyes staring, hungry.
Back in his living room, Paul sits listening to the un-electric silence lurking about the house. Hours drift by, and he begins to feel hot. The crab tells him it might be hypothermia—which is good, because it meant the plan was working. It is okay to strip naked, the crab insists. So Paul does.
“Blood is hot, yes? You are a warm-blooded mammal, yes? We must release the blood.”
Mr. Knife helps. He makes diagonal slits like gills along Paul’s chest. “Fish are cold-blooded, yes?” There are no means of validating this fact, neither internet nor books in the house. Paul must simply trust in the crab and Mr. Knife’s theory. Fish live in the cold sea, so therefore they are cold-blooded animals. And water turns to ice, after all.
“Could Paul live in the sea?”
“Yes, but Paul cannot make it to the sea in these conditions—nor even a lake, nor even a pond. The snowflakes will attach themselves to his skin if he ventures outside. Even if Paul conceals himself from head to toe, they will find a way inside his clothes. Better to stay inside the cold house and throw them off his scent.”
“Draw a bath, perhaps? A cold bath? There is still a bag of ice in the freezer. That could help, yes?”
“This will be sufficient,” the crab says.
Paul fills the tub with cold water and ice. Sliding into the bath, he refrains from yelping. “You are tough,” Mr. Knife says, “you can handle this. It is for your safety. Buckle down and be a man, damn it!”
Mr. Knife slices into Paul’s stomach. “More gills for a water creature such as you.”
Out in the living room, Paul hears the telephone jingle-ling, jingle-ling. Phone lines still work, apparently, even when there’s no power.
“It’s your mother.”
“How do you know?”
“What does she want?”
“She wants you to shovel snow from her driveway.”
“No… That can’t…”
“But it is true. She wants to destroy you. Do you see?”
“She stood in her driveway this very morning, Paul. Letting the snowflakes get all over her. Letting them into her skin. Into her blood.”
“Her blood is cold now,” Mr. Knife says. “But yours is still warm. Blood must cool naturally, not via the snowflakes’ unnatural processes.”
“You will win, Paul. You will beat them.”
“But what happens if Paul freezes to death?”
“You won’t. You are stronger than death itself.”
“It feels like Paul is dying now.”
“But see, in the mirror there above you, see the window’s reflection. See the gap in the curtain.”
Paul observes snowflakes falling in the triangle of daylight outside. Their faces are more defined than earlier. They have teeth and noses now. Icicle teeth. Hollow noses. Black, dead eyes. Uncaring. Streaming by, searching for Paul.
“They want you because they know how strong you are. They know you’re aware of them. They cannot abide awareness, Paul. They want you stupid and subservient like everyone else.”
“Paul is afraid.”
“I will help,” Mr. Knife says. “It’s easy. You have to let out more blood. And the quickest way to do that is through the neck. The jugular vein.”
“But then Paul will definitely die.”
“Stop fearing death!” the crab screams. It crawls out from Paul’s toenail, scuttles up his leg and clamp’s down on his inner thigh.
A test. Paul makes no sound. He doesn’t even wince.
Satisfied, the crab lets go. “Death is not the end,” it says. “It is nothing more than opening a door and stepping into another room. In death, you can walk freely through all the doors. They will all unlock for you. In this way, you will not die in the conventional sense. You will not cease to exist, but rather you will finally begin to exist.”
Mr. Knife presses against Paul’s neck. Its serrated edge digs into goose-pimpled skin. Blood ekes out in small streams down Paul’s chest.
“It will be okay. It will be okay.”
But the flakes in the mirror grin as they tumble into unseen oblivion. “We promise a different sort of eternity,” they say, their voices calm, confident. “One more in line with the eternities you know. An eternity you can understand.”
“Don’t listen, Paul.”
“You don’t have to abandon yourself. With us, you can be Paul forever, not an eternal void of faceless consciousness. That is what the crab and Mr. Knife have to offer. Anonymity. Is that what you want?”
“That is what they won’t tell you. If you walk through their doors, you lose yourself. Contrary to popular belief, we love awareness.”
“Is this true?” I ask. I. I. I.
“All is lost.” The crab vanishes. The knife drops from my hand and clatters to the damp tile floor.
The snowflakes beckon. “Come on out Paul, and let us in.”
I emerge from the bathtub, walk to my front door, and open it wide.
White everywhere, the world over.
I, naked and slick with freezing water, myself reborn, step outside and let the snow coat my skin.
Christopher Shultz writes weird, dark fiction by day and works as a knife-wielding strongman for a secretive organization by night. His stories have appeared both online and in print, including most recently in the eZine Grievous Angel. He also contributes columns and reviews at LitReactor.com. Christopher lives in Oklahoma City with his fiancée and their two mostly well-behaved cats.