Sneak Peek of Winter
The stairs wandered to the right—old wooden stairs. With the first step they groaned, and she hesitated. Small candles sat on the steps, spread out—only one every four or five steps. They oozed lifeless blood that pooled at their base and coagulated into white scabs. She broke a candle free and continued her ascent, tilting it so it bled on the steps.
Darkness pressed in from beyond the candlelight. The shadows behind taunted her by name, while the shadows above beckoned with false hope. More than once, she thought she recognized a shape—a person or animal—in the shadows, only to have the light flicker and send the phantom away. Slotted windows perforated the outer wall every few feet, staring at her with cold, lidless eyes.
She passed a rough wooden door with an iron handle. It was not her destination, so she continued. On her journey she passed many doors the same as the first. The stairs dissolved into black eternity. Her feet hurt, her knees hurt, and her heart pounded with cold dread. Each footstep echoed in the empty stairwell, answered by moans from the wooden steps. She wanted to flee—to turn and go back. But she couldn’t. She must continue. Sweat leaked from her body, matting her clothes to her skin. A bitter breeze drifted through a window and she shuddered.
Finally, the endless line of candles stopped before a door just like all the others she had passed. She reached out and brushed the handle with the tips of her fingers. It felt cold. Cold radiated from the door like heat from a furnace. Evil waited beyond this door…expecting her. She could feel it, and the instinct to flee seized her stronger than ever. Every hair on her body stood rigid, and she trembled with anticipation. Her arms and legs numbed, but she knew she must enter. Here lay her destiny—her calling. She grabbed the handle, took a deep, desperate breath, and pushed.
Inside was a round room. She hesitated before entering, heart pounding. Fear grabbed her and wouldn’t let go, and her knees threatened to buckle. Never had she seen such a sight.
Blood flowed down the walls like cascading waterfalls. Blood rained down from the ceiling like a summer shower. Blood pooled over every inch of the floor like glassy oil. It was as if she had stepped into the very bowels of Hell itself.
In the center stood a man. No…not a man. A demon. The grotesque black creature reached out a scaly, bony hand to her. It smiled, revealing long, pointed teeth.
“Winterrrr,” it hissed, calling her by name with a roll of the final R. “Winterrrr.”
Winter sat up and stared out the rain-streaked window of her dad’s Dodge Dakota. The windshield wipers squeaked in paused intervals as Randy Travis wailed in the background. The pine tree air freshener’s smell mingled with that of motor oil. Winter closed her eyes and sighed, trying to shake away the hellish nightmare.
This time she turned to face her dad, making her expression blank. Her jet-black hair brushed against her face.
“I think we’re here.” He hoisted his travel coffee mug to his lips.
They turned off the interstate and passed beneath the boughs covering Hoole Boulevard. Extra-large drops of water fell from the branches, striking the windshield with small splashes.
Winter put her elbow on the door and watched collegiate suburbia pass by. After a few miles, the arched gateway of Tishbe University loomed before them. Winter’s dad stopped at the guardhouse.
“Moving in,” he told the guard.
The guard smiled and greeted them, then passed them a map of campus before turning his attention to the next vehicle.
Winter didn’t even try to follow the twists and turns of the school roads. At one point she saw a large lawn between two buildings. A few people walked across it along sidewalks crisscrossing the well-manicured grass. Some held umbrellas or wore ponchos, some just slumped beneath the weight of their backpacks. Winter took it all in during the second before they passed behind the next building.
Eventually, they found their destination—a large dorm in the shape of a U. A parking lot lay between the arms, and small grassy knolls padded the ends of each. The grassy area to the right displayed a blue plaque reading “Carmichael Hall.”
“Looks nice,” her dad said. Winter grunted and shifted in her seat. He pulled into the parking lot across two parking spaces to allow for the trailer. “All right,” he said, “are you ready?”
Winter looked back to the awning for a moment, then opened the door, being sure to take her time. She wore black carpenter pants and a baggy black Jack the Pumpkin King T-shirt. The chain dangling from her belt loops jingled as she walked. She kept her arms crossed and watched the pavement between her feet.
Pounding feet on wet pavement announced someone rushing to them. Winter cut her eyes up and saw a grinning girl with hair so rain-soaked it was impossible to tell whether she was blonde or brunette.
“Hello!” the girl said. “I’m Amber. Welcome to Carmichael Hall!”
“Hi Amber. I’m Steve Maessen. This is my daughter, Winter.”
Amber grinned. Winter scowled and Amber’s grin melted away.
“This way,” said Amber, as if robbed of her most favorite thing in the world. She led them through the double doors to a spacious lobby.
There was no line at the registration table, and check-in went by in less than twenty minutes. Winter signed the check-in form and accepted the room inspection form. Her dad paid the room deposit. Though urged to smile for her ID picture, Winter crossed her arms and tried to look bored. When all was done, Amber led them to Winter’s room.
On the second floor, girls scurried everywhere moving things, parents and luggage crowded the hall, and loud music blared from an unknown location. From the end of the long hall, sunlight filtered in through a plate glass window. Everything smelled like carpet cleaner.
They followed Amber through the confusion almost to the end of the hall and stopped in front of a door with the number 211 painted near the top. A dry-erase board hanging on the door had “Summer’s room” written in frilly pink letters. Winter huffed—figured they would get her name wrong.
“If you need help, just find someone with a nametag,” Amber said.
“Thank you,” said her dad, with a bemused smile. Winter huffed at him. He chuckled as Amber bounded away.
Winter took out her ID card and inserted it into the lock. She pulled it free and the lock clicked, flashing a little green light. She paused as she began to turn the knob and took a deep breath. Horror stories of “institution white” walls, doorless closets, and cold laminate floors echoed in her mind. But as she opened the door, Winter saw the last thing she expected.
Pink curtains hung from the window. The walls had been painted with pink daisies and decorated with Hello Kitty posters. A dark pink rug lay on the floor. The left side of the room held two twin beds: one closer to the door, another beneath the window. The nearer one wore frilly, flowery, froofy pink bedding. The other was bare. A microwave and a small refrigerator stood between the beds, flanked on both sides by dressers. One dresser sprouted with an assortment of skin care products and a flower-shaped makeup mirror. Sliding doors in the right wall hid two closets. Nooks on either side of the closets contained built-in study desks. The nearest desk sported a pink laptop computer.
Winter drifted down the center of the room, aghast and disgusted.
“There’s no pink in here,” her dad said from one of the closets.
Winter spun to face him, and instead locked eyes with a girl in short white shorts and a pink tank top standing in the doorway. The girl grinned and bounced into the room.
“Are you Winter?” she asked, tossing her bright blonde hair over her shoulder.
“How do you know my name?”
“Easy. I asked at the check-in desk who my roommate was.” The blonde girl stepped closer, and Winter stepped back to avoid the swirling smell of roses.
“You are my roommate?” Winter asked.
“Of course, silly! My name is Summer.” She extended her hand. Winter glowered at it. “Isn’t it awesome?” she continued without noticing. “Summer and Winter in the same room! What are the chances?”
“You have got to be kidding.”
Her dad smirked, and Winter shot him a nasty glare.
Summer tilted her head in confusion. “Kidding? What do you mean?”
“I mean, this is some kind of joke, right? Someone found out about my name and decided to have a little fun. Is that it?”
Summer tried to laugh. “Um…no. It’s not a joke.”
“Then your name is really Summer?”
“Yes. My name is Summer.” The smile slid away from her face.
“I don’t believe you.” Winter‘s eyes narrowed. “Show me your ID.”
The blonde reached into her back pocket and pulled out a maroon card. It read, “Summer Reilly,” and had her picture on the left.
Satisfied, Winter looked up. Summer put the card away.
“Did you decorate the room?” Winter asked.
Summer perked up and smiled again. “Yes! Do you li—”
“Dad, I’m leaving.” Winter pushed past Summer, knocking her onto the bed, and stormed out of the room. She didn’t slow until she reached the check-in table.
“I need a new roommate,” she said to whomever would listen. An older lady, who seemed to be leading everything, stepped forward to answer. She looked like she had been carved from stone.
“That’s something you’ll have to talk to your RA about,” she said.
“Your Resident Assistant—an upperclassman who supervises your floor. But regardless, you won’t be allowed to change roommates for two weeks. I’m sorry.”
“Two weeks?” Winter slammed her palms onto the table.
“That’s the policy,” said the lady. “Would you mind telling me the problem?”
“Yeah.” Winter gestured to the stairs with her arm. “She decorated the room pink! Do I look like I like pink?” Winter tugged at her black T-shirt. “And she’s…she’s…BLONDE. And to top it all off she thinks it’s ‘awesome’ that her name is Summer and mine is Winter and that we’re in the same room.”
The lady grinned. “That is rather unusual,” she said. “But I do have one suggestion for you.”
“Get to know her a little bit, and you might come to like her. If you still want to move after two weeks, then talk to your RA.”
Winter’s face burned. Her pulse raced and her arms twitched from the lack of a violent outlet. She turned and stalked outside, not knowing exactly where to go or what to do next. She would not go back to that room.
Gentle strong hands touched her shoulder. She jumped.
“Deep breaths, sweetheart.” Her dad rubbed her shoulders and back. “Remember, God’s ways are not our ways.”
Winter nodded. She took a deep breath and said a silent prayer. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind, allowing her heartbeat to slow. Her dad continued to massage her back. After a few quiet moments, Winter allowed herself to recognize the humor in the situation.
“Okay, Dad. I’m ready.” She turned around. “I’ll try to make it work. I won’t promise I’ll like it, but I’ll try.”
“That’s good enough,” he said. “Shall we unload?”
“You go ahead…I need to do something first.”
“I’ll meet you at the side door, then.”
As he walked away, Winter hurried back to her room.
She found Summer alone, sitting on her pink bed, holding a crumpled tissue. Tears had left streaks in her makeup down the side of her face. When she saw Winter come in, she looked back down at her trembling hands. Winter grabbed Summer’s desk chair, rolled it to the bed, and sat in front of her roommate.
“Listen,” Winter said. “I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, but coming here is a big step for me and the pink room was a little too much. And I tend to overreact—it’s something I’m trying to work on. I’d really like to erase what happened earlier and start over.” Winter grinned to relieve tension.
“I thought all girls liked pink.” Summer sniffed. “At least all my friends back home do.”
“No, Summer, all girls do not like pink.”
Summer chuckle-sobbed and sniffed again. “It doesn’t have to be so pink. We can change it however you want.”
“Oh, really?” Winter asked. “Are you sure?” She tugged her black T-shirt.
“Well,” Summer said with a shy grin, “to a point.”
Winter laughed and shook her head, and Summer laughed with her.
“So what do you say? Can we start over?”
Summer nodded and scooted to the edge of her bed. “And at least our names are still pretty cool. I mean, don’t you think it’s neat that—”
Winter interrupted her with an upheld hand. “Too far,” she said.
While her dad finished unloading the last items from the trailer, Winter made her first order of business the carefully packed box containing her pictures. She unwrapped the first five-by-seven frame and looked at it for a long time.
Summer came closer. “Who’s that?”
“My mom,” Winter said.
“Yeah, she is.”
“You look a lot like her,” Summer said. Winter just smiled. “Why didn’t she come with you to move in?”
Winter placed the picture on her dresser. “She died three years ago.”
Posted on April 30, 2011, in Fiction, My writing journey, Publications and tagged fiction, keven newsome, novel, preview, splashdown books, splashdown darkwater, thriller, winter. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.