Cold Like Snow
Sita Bethel © 2018
All Rights Reserved
René stood in front of the doorway and ran his finger over the outline of the key’s metallic surface before wedging it into the lock and stepping inside his new house. The cold air puckered the skin of his arms and neck. He rubbed his shoulders to keep them warm as he looked around. The flooring throughout the house was black-and-white linoleum. A wide living area faced him—to his left was a fireplace, straight ahead stood double glass doors leading to a small garden, and to his right a half bathroom, dining area, and kitchen. Between the dining room and the glass door, a staircase with a thick cherrywood banister curved up to the three bedrooms and a full bathroom.
René walked to the staircase and stopped short of the first step. He examined the black-and-white squares. They looked clean at first glance, but since he was searching, René noticed the thin rust-colored lines between the tiles. It was why he had bought the house. He’d heard the two previous owners had died after falling down the stairs. Afterward, the old building fell victim to exaggerated ghost stories. True, it did make the building more affordable, but the real reason it appealed to René was because he loved ghost stories and all things macabre. Ever since he was a child, tales that made others grimace had made René smile. He squatted to the floor and reached out to graze his fingertips against the tiles.
A long sigh escaped from between René’s lips. He stood and headed to his moving truck. After several hours of carrying boxes in, he decided to save the larger furniture for the next day. René lit a fire; orange light crawled across the floor and walls. He unrolled his sleeping bag near the hearth and slipped inside. The old house creaked. The silence in the house amplified every other noise, which echoed like a lullaby and soothed René into a hard sleep.
At dawn, before René was fully awake, he dreamed someone dragged their fingers through his hair. He rolled on his side, muttering, “It’s too cold to get up.” The next time he opened his eyes, sunlight brightened the room through the garden doors. He sat up, rubbed his face, and remembered the odd dream of being petted. He smiled at the dream as he stretched and moaned. René slipped out of the sleeping bag and shuffled toward the kitchen to make coffee.
The day labored on as René set upon the tedious mission of dragging his furniture inside his house by himself. Most items—the bed, the office desk, his baker’s rack—he had dissembled before loading into the rental truck, but a few pieces—the washer, dryer, and sofa—he had to strap to a dolly with bungee cords, making it slow to get them inside the house. There was nothing better to do during the constant back and forth than think. He’d spent most of his thirty-four years of existence rushing past his own life. He’d sped through junior high and high school as fast as he could, desperate to get away from the small-minded town where his aunt and uncle had raised him after his parents died of heat exhaustion during a camping trip. After he graduated, René fled to the nearest city, waiting tables to scrape up enough cash for a small apartment while he earned his associate degree. He jumped into a relationship with the first guy who openly pursued him, infatuated by the bold, flirtatious attitude that René never experienced from any of the guys back home. Even after his heart broke, René hurried straight to the next boyfriend, who ended up being much worse than the first.
He learned his lesson after that one, sticking to casual hookups as he focused on work and his studies. Once he finished school, René was desperate to find a job where he could afford more than ramen noodles and dollar-store socks. Now he was at a point in his life where he wanted nothing more than to appreciate everything he obtained and accomplished over the years. He escaped the small town. He made enough money to pay his bills. He finally bought a house. René wanted a chance to breathe and enjoy it. Perhaps find a decent partner who wanted to settle down, or at least get a dog.
He went through an entire box of granola bars and a pot of coffee before he decided to go to the store for groceries.
When he returned, René made a sandwich for lunch and then continued to set everything in order. By the end of the day, each stack of boxes sat in the correct room and the furniture was more or less placed where he intended to keep it. Too exhausted to assemble the bed, René spent another night in his sleeping bag near the fireplace, feeling like a strange post-modern male Cinderella.
In the early gray dawn, he had the same dream. Fingers, barely felt, ran through his hair and gingerly touched his cheeks and collarbone. René exhaled with content at the soft, misty caresses, and he wished ghosts were real before sinking into a deeper sleep.
In the morning, he started unpacking in the kitchen until he found the toaster and a skillet. After eating breakfast and unpacking the kitchen, he assembled the bed. Two nights on the floor had his shoulders stiff. René cursed as he balanced the sideboard of his bed frame in his lap and worked the first screw in one turn at a time. For the cost of a six-pack of beer and some pizza, May would have been more than happy to help René both move his furniture and set up the bed, but René relied on his best friend too much already. The next time May visited, René wanted to go out and have fun, not unpack a mountain of boxes, so he finished tightening the first screw and wondered where his bag of extras had disappeared. René groaned when he saw them on the other side of the room. He would have sworn he’d set them beside his lap when he started, but apparently he hadn’t. By the time he pushed the box spring and mattress onto the completed frame, René was worn out. He dropped onto the bed and made snow angel motions with his arms and legs before resting.
“Forget unpacking. I should just go to sleep,” René spoke to the bed, having no one else to talk to.
His muscles ached from carrying boxes and furniture, and the bed was firm but soft enough for him to sink a little. René shut his eyes and pulled a deep, intentional breath into his lungs. Daydreams played out behind his closed eyelids. It’d been awhile since anyone else had been in his bed with him, and he imagined a mystery lover sneaking to his bedside, sitting beside him, and kissing his stomach as he unzipped René’s pants. His fantasy spun out of control. The mattress felt like it really did shift with the weight of another person sitting close. René sat up and shook his head to rid himself of the ridiculous daydream. He made the bed before going downstairs to finish unpacking the living room.
By the third night, the house resembled a home. René examined his progress in the living room and nodded his head in satisfaction. As he stood in place, René’s hair slid against his shoulders, as if someone had brushed the long strands away from his face. He froze a moment, wondering if his imagination played tricks with his mind again, but the distinct pressure of a hand lighted on his shoulder and fingers ran down his cheek. He blinked, trying to process the strange sensation of being touched by invisible hands.
“Hello.” René’s voice sounded loud in the visibly empty living room.
The touching stopped after he spoke.
“Wait, don’t leave,” René said, afraid he’d somehow startled whatever had interacted with him. René’s gaze darted across the living room, searching for any indication that he wasn’t alone. Nothing was out of place. René sighed, his shoulders slumping forward. “I didn’t imagine that,” he whispered, to convince himself he hadn’t daydreamed the experience.
An idea drifted into René’s head. He spoke to the air in a bashful tone. “If you can hear me, would you follow me. Please?”
He walked up the stairs and opened the door to his office. Stacks of boxes lined the walls and surrounded the desk like strange cardboard obelisks. René pilfered through the boxes until he found one labeled office odds and ends.
He pulled the tape from the top of the box and set aside small statues of gargoyles, skeletons, and imps. With both hands, René removed the old Ouija board from the cardboard box. He’d never used it before and only owned it for the aesthetic, but now he sat on the tiled floor with the board in his lap and the heart-shaped planchette under his fingertips.
“I know this is dumb,” he said. “I know this is a stupid toy, but why not use it? Crap, I hope I’m not talking to myself. I just want to—” A breath hitched in René’s throat as the planchette scrawled across the wooden surface of the board.
“Oh good! I was hoping you’d want to talk. Hold on. Let me get a pen.” René rummaged through another box until he found a pack of pens and a notebook. He held the paper in his lap so he could write down the letters. “What’s your name?” René asked, but to his disappointment, the planchette only swerved in between the yes and no options at the top of the board. He frowned, thinking of what he might be doing wrong. Another question came to mind. “How many of you are here?”
The pointer swerved to the number two on the board.
“What are your names?” The planchette moved without him touching it, freeing up his hands to write each letter.
“Really?” René raised an eyebrow. It was a rhetorical question, but the heart planchette spelled another sentence.
“You have a problem with our names?”
“No.” René smiled. “My name’s Rembrandt. Our mothers should be slapped. Call me René, though.” A nervous chuckle slipped past René’s lips. “Not that I can hear you say my name.”
Invisible fingers ran through his hair. René leaned toward the sensation.
“Why do you keep petting me? It’s not scary in the slightest.” He laughed again, conscious that he laughed too much. The way he chuckled reminded René of how he acted during his first date, but he couldn’t stop the nervous reflex.
It made everyone else run away.
“Not me,” René said.
You’re cold like snow.
Your hair feels like sleet.
It’s fun to touch it.
Sometimes the planchette darted to each letter in quick bursts of movements, while other times it curved around the board, almost dancing from letter to letter. René’s gaze stayed locked on the board, mind guessing who moved it based on how it moved.
Does it bother you? The planchette swung in smooth little arcs.
“The petting?” René’s voice was more breathy than he’d prefer. “No. Talking to you is exciting.”
What if we want you out of our house? That time the words were spelled out in of rush of straight to the point movements.
“Couldn’t I stay? You don’t want an annoying, large family with kids moving in, do you? Even if you run everyone off, this place would fall into disrepair. Wouldn’t it be better to have someone look after it? I’m quiet and good at dusting.” René winked.
All right. A-L-L-pause-R-I-G-H-T, all quick dashes, like Morse code with letters instead of telegraph taps You can be our pet.
Our tenant.” Drawling, easy movement of the planchette, like the ghost only used two fingers to move it instead of both his hands.
René smiled. “I think I prefer the term ‘roommate.’ I’ll put this board near my bed. If you need my help with anything—not that I’d be much help, or that ghosts ever need anything—but if there’s anything I can do, let me know.” René looked at the board. He didn’t want to end the conversation, but his lids hung low over his eyes. Exhaustion from assembling furniture and unpacking boxes washed over him. A palm cupped the side of René’s face. He held the hand in place. Pulling it away, René gripped both the ghost’s hands. They were ethereal to the touch, not quite fully there. Despite the strange sensation of only mostly existing, René could feel the callouses on each finger and the broad coarse palm. His chest rose and sank as his breathing sped up.
“This is amazing,” he whispered. “Who am I touching now?”
He was still holding both Marcus’s hands, which meant the curvy, easy movement of the planchette belonged to Bastion. René reached out above the planchette until he his fingertips brushed against another set of hands, smoother skin, longer fingers. René switched from Bastion to Marcus and then to Bastion again, memorizing the differences between them. They both reached out for René. Each of them ran a hand down one side of René’s face, his arms, his chest. René’s cheeks warmed as they kneaded his body, reminding him just how long it’d been since he’d brought a guy home.
“Um, I need to go to sleep. Good night.” René stood to break their contact with his body
The planchette swung across the “goodbye” at the bottom of the board. René carried the toy Ouija board to his room and set it down on his nightstand.
“So much better than the floor.” He slipped out of his pants and sunk into his pillow-top mattress. He exhaled and nuzzled deeper into the goose-down comforter.
René missed the light from the fireplace, but a weathered blackjack tree grew outside his bedroom window, and the twisted branches cast thin, gnarled shadows resembling long fingers against the bedroom walls. René stared at their writhing forms and thrilled deep in his chest.
He slept well, and on the fourth morning, when the slight caresses shifted him out of sleep, he didn’t have to wish the sensation was something more than a dream. René lay in bed and enjoyed the cool, tickling, cloud-soft touches of his new friends—an indescribable but pleasant experience, like the flicker of candlelight, only chilled instead of warm. The touches matched the way the planchette would glide across the board. One set of fingers danced up René’s arm and through his hair. Meanwhile another set of fingers ran through his hair in rapid strokes. Bastion—he knew it was Bastion from touching their hands the night before—smoothed a fingertip over René’s bottom lip and the sensation pulled a deep moan from René. His eyes snapped open at the sound he’d made. It was much, much too loud, and he was embarrassed. René sat up, rubbing his face to hide the obvious blush.
“You guys are ridiculous.” He tried to laugh off his own embarrassment and stood. Walking toward the shower, René pulled his shirt low so the spirits didn’t notice the beginning erection creeping down his thigh.
He kept the shower water a little cool, so it would sober him up. René splashed water over his face until his cheeks no longer burned and then gave his skin a thorough scrubbing with a washcloth. An ice-cold finger dragged up René’s spine and he jerked forward.
“Oh come on, you two. Not in the shower.” René made a shooing gesture with his right hand. “Leave me alone for fifteen minutes, and I’ll talk to you with the board when I’m done.”
He waited thirty long seconds before giving up and turning the shower water a little colder. The watched feeling made René’s heartbeat quicken. The chill in the air gave them away. They were both still in the bathroom, but René couldn’t blame them. If he were a ghost, he’d mess with people in the shower too. He was sure they found the whole situation hilarious, but the main reason he wanted the shower was ruined with two spectators. René thought of how it could be a problem if their shower voyeurism became a habit, but he decided he’d worry about it another day. He turned off the water. Gooseflesh puckered across his shivering body. He wrapped a towel around his hair and dried himself with a second one. After he finished, he tied the second towel around his waist and sat back on his bed with the Ouija board.
René sighed and said, “I know you were there the whole time. I bet I can even tell you apart.”
You think so? One of the ghosts asked. Abrupt movement, it was Marcus.
“I know the difference,” René assured them.
Can we test it? Bastion asked.
“I don’t mind,” René said. “Take turns touching my shoulder, and I’ll call out who I think it is.”
The first tap shoved René’s shoulder back an inch. It reminded René of how a bee sometimes headbutted as a warning before stinging, and it made him laugh.
“Marcus,” René said. The second touch was lighter but still abrupt and solid. “Marcus again.”
The third touch was fast, but a quick dart of fingers glancing the tip of René’s shoulder instead of an actual press. René’s lips curved into a grin.
“That time it was Bastion.”
As soon as René said Bastion’s name, three more taps pushed against him, right, left, center.
“Marcus. So? What’s my score?” René picked up his pen to write down their response.
You’ve had a few lucky guesses.
“That’s also you, Marcus.”
The planchette jerked back and forth as if both ghosts were pushing and pulling at once, but when it returned to spelling, they were clearly Bastion’s movements.
How do you know the difference?
“Easily, Bastion.” René’s mouth dropped open as one of them slipped behind him and covered his eyes. The room blurred, almost as if a fog settled over everything. René shivered from the chill behind him. “Hmmm… Bastion?”
Bastion’s hands dropped to René’s neck. He tilted his head back. Meanwhile, a larger, broader touch rested against his thigh.
“And Marcus is touching my leg.”
They both grabbed his arms. Bastion spider walked his fingers upward while Marcus dragged his nails down. René held his breath, savoring both touches before describing who did what. The springs in the mattress creaked as Marcus stood.
“Where are you going, Marcus?”
Why would you think that was Marcus?
“You’re more graceful when you move,” René told Bastion.
Bastion stood up as well. René reached out his hand, his fingers searching for the chill of either ghost. Before he opened his mouth to ask them where they went, a burst of frigid air shoved him against the bed and pinned his hands over his head. Dressed only in a towel, René’s nipples hardened into small knots and gooseflesh puckered across his skin. He bit the inside of his lip, refusing to arch up, but that was precisely what instinct insisted he do. Something tickled his chest. Hair? Hair much longer than René’s.
“I told you this sort of thing doesn’t scare me.”
The notebook floated in the air, and the pen scribbled who on the paper.
René opened his mouth to guess Marcus, who seemed the more forceful of the two, but a gut instinct made him change his mind at the last second. René continued to look at the paper and pen floating in the air.
“It’s Bastion trying to trick me into thinking it’s you.”
Bastion released René, and René rubbed his chilled skin. Bastion distracted him by unwrapping René’s hair from its towel and letting the damp strands tumble to his shoulders. Bastion traced along René’s shoulder blades while Marcus held his hand out in front of René’s chest, hovering but not touching his skin. The cold lingered where they almost connected. Although he still couldn’t see them, René held out his hand and pressed it against Marcus’s palm, mirroring him. Marcus’s hand was there, but not quite solid, similar to the surface of a waterbed.
René reached out, tracing the shape and form of Marcus, imagining how tall he stood, and how he might look based on the feel of his body. After a few minutes, René turned and did the same to Bastion. Bastion’s frame was thin, and Marcus was taller and more muscular. René massaged Marcus’s bicep. Marcus flexed the muscle, and René chuckled and grabbed it with both of his hands. Bastion drew a spiral on René’s back, and blew an icy breath against the nape of René’s neck. René muttered who was who and looked at the notebook to see whether he was correct or not. Bastion wrote you’re right on the paper. His handwriting was as curvy as his planchette strokes. They crowded around him, and he trembled from more than cold.
“Maybe I should get dressed,” he said. Bastion wrote on the paper again. René squinted at the letters, but they weren’t legible. “Your handwriting is worse than a doctor writing a prescription.”
He noticed the planchette sliding along the Ouija board and leaned forward to read what Bastion spelled.
We’re not done yet.
René raised an eyebrow. “Are you being sore losers? I’ve proven I can tell you two apart.”
Well, what about this?
They sandwiched him between them. Marcus faced René and Bastion lingered behind. Both spirits rubbed their hands against René’s bare skin harder than before. René closed his eyes for a moment, fighting the urge to grab one of each of their hands and thrust them under his towel. He hadn’t thought of the touches as erotic at first. In the beginning, he’d simply been excited to come in contact with real ghosts. He enjoyed the sensations but didn’t think of them as sexual until Bastion touched his lips. Now René had to consider they might not find the game so funny if they knew he loved men and their touches aroused him.
“Uh, uh guys” he squeaked, trying to clear his throat. They should know the truth, but René was never comfortable telling anyone about his sexuality. Bastion picked that inopportune moment to tickle René, but he was too aroused to giggle much. Marcus joined in and René couldn’t take it.
“Stop.” He laughed, a nervous reflex, not a physical reaction to their fingers. He grabbed Marcus’s wrists and pinned him against the mattress. He held Marcus in place, but Marcus disappeared, and René plopped onto the mattress. Marcus rematerialized behind René and Bastion, shoving them on top of each other.
“Even if you are a ghost, disappearing and rematerializing is still cheating.” The pillows muffled René’s voice.
The pressure of the two ghosts on top of him almost had René moaning their names. Face buried in his pillow, René’s breathed deeply, trying to calm himself. René sensed them laughing above him. He opened his mouth to tell them why they should stop but found it hard to force the words out.
“I-I need to unpack. I’ve wasted the whole morning.” He muttered the excuse even as delicious shivers snaked through his body. “And I’m hungry. I can’t go all day without eating.”
Marcus released him, spelling on the board. You’re no fun. Things were finally getting interesting.
René held the towel in place, changing in his closet while talking to his roommates. “We’ll have plenty of time to research the physics of natural and supernatural interactions, but right now, you’re not the ones who are cold and naked.”
Finished, he glanced at the board.
Marcus continued to spell. How do you know we’re not?
“Naked?” The thought was too much for René’s already-addled brain.
“Of course.” René rubbed his shoulder, an embarrassed grin on his face. “Are you cold?”
You’re cold, Marcus answered.
“What do you feel like to each other?” René asked.
Warm, Bastion replied.
“That’s fascinating,” René muttered, his mind back on the topic of paranormal mechanics and out of the gutter.
We’ll have to do more tests. Marcus wrote again.
“After breakfast,” René said, then walked out the room and descended the stairs. A chill followed René around the kitchen and lingered beside him as he ate and while he unpacked. He spoke to them, but kept to random information about himself, wishing he could have a conversation without the Ouija board. Three times, he tried to explain to them why they couldn’t watch him shower, or why they shouldn’t wake him in the mornings by caressing him, but each time, he stuttered and babbled something ridiculous. During his lunch break, he used the board to learn about them. In life, they’d been musicians, local, but popular enough to avoid regular jobs. As ghosts, they couldn’t go very far beyond the house, but aside from boredom, they enjoyed being dead. Like René, they didn’t care for large crowds, so they didn’t miss dealing with people, and death had no bills, no social rules, and no responsibilities, so it suited them.
At the end of the night, René read on the sofa, facing the fireplace. Even when his eyelids slid shut between sentences, he shook his head and turned to the next page, avoiding his bed, or rather, avoiding the temptation he’d find there.
Both Marcus and Bastion rubbed his shoulders. A quiet sigh slipped out of René’s mouth. “That’s nice,” he whispered, half asleep.
When he woke the next morning, the novel lay on the rug with a bookmark tagging his place. René’s favorite blanket was wrapped over his body as well. He smoothed his hand over the comforter and thought of how every ghost movie ever shot got all the important details wrong.