He awoke to find that his room had an icy chill, as though he had left a window cracked in the night, or his heater had decided to give up its fight against the winter weather. He discovered, upon finally forcing himself out from beneath his sheets, that neither of these things had happened. The windows in his bedroom were all closed, and the heater chuffed along like normal.
The chill fell down on his bed straight from the window glass, piercing it as surely as it might travel through the air itself, ignoring that paltry barrier and creeping into his bedroom. He rubbed his eyes upon first viewing the window, thinking they might still be bleary from his night’s rest, but to no avail; his eyes did not deceive him.
Ice covered the window on the outside, warping and blurring his view of his yard. The window had become so cold that the water vapor within the room had begun to freeze to it as well, creating a rippling sheet from which drops had fallen onto the headboard of his bed. He wiped them off with his sleeve, still not quite believing what he saw.
He rolled out of bed, his muscles complaining at the sudden activity, and went to the guest bedroom. The view there was no more helpful. Those windows, too, had a sheet of ice obscuring his view of the outside world.
From what he could see, he wondered how pervasive the covering was. There must have been a freezing rain last night. Yet from what he could see out of the windows, everything looked bleached and colorless. Could it have rained, and then snowed on top of it?
He went downstairs, to his back door, which, because it was a glass sliding door, doubled as a sort of giant window. It, too, had frozen over, though the coating of ice was just thinner and smoother enough that he could see a bit outside. The shovel he kept next to the door had an icy glaze covering it.
He remembered, years back, when it had rained like this in the spring, and all the fresh new growth had been coated in a layer of ice like clear glass. The red berries that grew on a tree in the yard had been a sight to behold. Perhaps this day, too, brought a beauty like that.
Hastily, he donned his coat. He was hungry, and still tired, but he wanted to go outside and take in a view of the frozen yard before both his motivation and the ice melted away. He put on a pair of boots and, hoping his pyjama bottoms would keep the worst of the cold at bay, attempted to push open the door.
It did not want to open, at first. The ice had not only coated the glass, but frozen the door shut. He tugged, nearly giving up, because the night’s fatigue had yet to fade and already he felt his drive to go outside waning. Then the ice gave way with a sharp crack, and his door slid open.
The morning sun danced across the crystalline field that his yard had become. He nearly slipped making his way down the two short steps that brought him down from his door onto his patio, so enamored was he with the view. Everything, literally everything in the yard had been coated with a fine, rippling layer of ice.
The shovel looked as though it had been preserved in a case of glass. He looked back at his house, and found that not only had the windows been covered by the ice, but every inch of it seemed to be frozen over. In the yard itself, the trees all looked as if they had been blown from glass. He couldn’t even see the color of the bark beneath the shining layer of frozen water.
Even the grass, which had yet to be killed by a full snow, stood up in the yard, each individual blade transformed into a sharpened needle of diamond. He slid and stumbled his way toward the edge of his patio, where he crouch down to marvel at the frozen grass.
He frowned, because in his memories of the spring ice storm, which presented themselves vividly in his mind, he could picture the vivid brilliance of the frozen red berries and the freshly-bloomed flowers which had been caught by surprise at the weather’s sudden turn. Yet, just as he had seen with the trees, he could not see the color of the grass beneath the ice. He might as well have been looking at a field of pure spikes formed of clear, unblemished crystal.
He reached down to touch one of the blades of grass with his fingers, expecting the ice to crack and flake away, revealing the green grass beneath. But as his finger tried to bend the blade of grass, it fractured instead, revealing no grass at all at its core. He tilted his head. It was as though the ice had frozen upward, like an upside-down icicle, or a stalagmite made of ice.
He reached for another blade of grass. He tried to fold it with his fingers again, wondering if perhaps the first blade had somehow formed a tip of ice beyond where the actual grass grew. He winced, though, withdrawing his finger. The edges of the ice, aside from being painfully cold, were also quite sharp. A drop of blood leaked from a cut on his fingertip.
He frowned, but reached forth again, this time with his middle finger. He took care to grab the grass by the flat side, avoiding the sharp edges. It snapped with a light bit of pressure. He broke it closer to its base. But no, there was no evidence that the ice had formed around a blade of grass: it looked to be pure, crystalline ice, all the way through.
Confused, and feeling oddly alarmed, he stood. He nearly lost his footing on the slick surface of the patio. He shuddered at the thought of falling, face-first, onto the expanse of tiny knives that his yard had apparently become. He kicked at the edge of the grass with his boot, shattering a swath of grass into crumbling shards.
Nothing. No hint of even the muted green of winter grass came through. He looked around the yard, searching for any hint of color, but he saw none. It was all a pure, glassy white-grey, with only the sunrise giving it a touch of red-orange. He looked back at his house. He could not see the dark blue of the siding. Only through the windows did he catch a glimpse of any color at all, though it was muted, faded like a painting bleached by the sun.
Shivering, and not just from the color, he walked carefully to the right side of his patio, where a young tree, which would bear flowers at winter’s end, draped down well within his reach. It had only grown taller than him in this past year. He reached for one of its thin branches, which, like the grass and everything else in the yard, was coated with ice.
The branch was no thicker than his thinnest finger. It broke away easily, with none of the bending give that he would have expected of thin, living wood. He closed his eyes and hand, briefly, not wanting to look. With a sigh, he finally forced himself to open his hand. He felt the ice melting beneath his touch. He swallowed, then opened his eyes.
Ice. No bark. No wood. No green, supple, young-tree flesh. It was ice, through and through. Breathing faster, sending clouds of moisture up into the cold morning air, he grabbed the axe from his pile of firewood. It, too, was covered in a sheet of ice which obscured its coloration.
He swung the axe at one of the little tree’s larger branches. With a sound like two glass plates being thrust together, it broke away, leaving jagged shards jutting out from the tree’s trunk. The branch fell to the ground, where it shattered, leaving no evidence that it had ever been formed of living wood.
What bothered him most, however, was the axe, which also lost out in the exchange. Where it had struck the branch, the axe head itself had broken. An irregular chunk, looking almost as though someone had taken a bite out of it, was now missing from the arc of the blade. A crack ran through it up to the hilt.
He threw the axe away. It struck the patio, where, with a crack reminiscent of the sound he’d heard when opening the door, it broke into several large chunks. He’d wanted to be done with it, but something caught his eye.
Where it had struck the patio, the impact had bit a chunk out of the sheet of ice. But no, it wasn’t just the ice. Like the grass and the tree and the axe before it, where there should have been the cement of his patio, there was nothing. There was only more ice, darker and cloudier yet unmistakable.
He stood staring at the hole in his patio for longer than he even realized. It was like his brain shut down for a moment, unable to cope with the bizarre reality which faced it. When he finally stirred himself into motion, he looked around. His fence, too, was frozen oven, and presumably turned to ice as well. Beyond it, the huge trees in his neighbors’ yards hung icey and motionless, and their homes, too, were coated in ice.
He looked back toward his own house. His breath caught in his throat. He had closed the door behind him, so that the heat didn’t all escape. Though only minutes ago he’d seen a hint of color through the windows, now he saw only a dead nothingness: the clear but vaguely whitish-grey-blue of layer upon layer of ice.
His fingers, ungloved and quickly becoming as cold as the ice themselves, scrambled to find a grip on the door’s icy handle. The little heat he had left only made finding purchase more difficult as it melted the ice’s top layer, smoothing it out and adding a thin layer of water.
The cold air burned every breath he took, now, and his breathing was becoming faster and faster in time with the rising panic in his chest. His pajama pants were not, in fact, enough to ward off the cold. His flesh beneath them felt stiff and dry, and when he moved, he imagined that it creaked from the strain.
He left blood on the door as both hands, working in concert to try to force it open, instead slipped away. The blood came not only from the cut the grass had inflicted upon his finger, but from the now-torn pads of his fingers, which had frozen to the ice and ripped away. The blood that pushed forth from them froze into dark red crystals.
In desperation, he grabbed the shovel from where it sat next to the door. If he could not open it, he would have to break the pane. His bleeding hands and aching limbs told him he had no choice.
When reaching for it, though, he finally lost his footing on the slick surface of the patio. He went down, hard. Something cracked in his hip, something that sent a sharp shock of pain through his entire body. He gasped. Tears filled his eyes, where they immediately and inexplicably froze, turning his eyes into blurry windows which he could not close.
He whimpered, pain radiating not only from his hip, but from the bloody, raw tips of his fingers and from his eyes, through which the whole world now looked like one large block of clouded ice. He tried to move himself, but there was no grip to be found on the ice, and anyway, he could not seem to move his legs.
He tried to wiggle his toes, to no avail. He couldn’t feel them at all. He may as well have lost them. Slowly, the pain faded from his hip, and from his fingertips, and from his eyes and even his lungs, though he still fought to draw in ragged breath after ragged breath. With time that, too, ceased, and he descended into a painless realm where he knew no pain, only deep, deep cold.