Annie listened to the wind howl and watched the fire dance to its song. She heard what had to be a pretty good sized limb snap off of a tree outside. She pulled the blanket tighter around her as her thoughts drifted to her Great Grandpa's WWII stories. Grape Pop - a name Annie had bestowed upon him when she was a toddler who thought that great and grape were the same word - had been dead for a decade now. Still, he was never far from Annie's mind. Shivering, she recalled his story about spending most of an entire winter huddled in a foxhole. When she was little and he would mention how that winter had been one "with teeth", Annie couldn't help but picture a small, vicious creature made entirely of snow and baring teeth of tiny, razor-sharp icicles. As if on cue she heard a scurrying noise in the attic and made a mental note to buy mousetraps next time she went shopping.
This winter was definitely one of those kind with teeth. Even on the mountain, four feet of snow in less than a month was a little excessive. She could count on one hand the days that she'd actually had power, and she had already burned through a quarter of a cord of wood. "I'm not complaining," she said to the scurrying noise in the attic. "I love the snow, and I love living here in the middle of nowhere." The noise stopped as if the maker of it was considering her statement, so she continued. "It's just that if I'm going to live without power, I'm going to have to find an old manual typewriter so I can finish writing my book." Scurry. "Hey! There's no need to be that way. I only hate that idea because those things don't come with auto-correct and there's no delete button."
Annie realized that not only was she talking to an unseen rodent, but that she was also imagining that it was giving her cognizant responses. She'd heard of people living alone in the mountains for so long that they went a little, as her nephew would say, "gone-zers." She wondered if Gone-zers knew they were going gone-zers, if there was a moment of clarity when they thought, "I've gotta get off this fuckin' mountain!" They'd step out of their cabins only to be held at bay by an army of rat-sized monsters made of snow, all gnashing their teeth in anticipation of a tasty morsel of human flesh.
Annie shook her head and sighed. She stood up, clutching the blanket around her, and went into the kitchen. She filled the kettle with water and set it to boil on the camp stove that she kept on top of the electric stove that was failing to be any kind of use lately. She opened the cupboard and brought out a mug, tea, sugar, and whisky. Once her concoction was properly brewed and medicated, she took it back to the living room. She curled up on the sofa in front of the fire and held the mug up to her nose. She closed her eyes and let the steam and the scent coming from the mug wrap around her head in warm fingers. She took a first tentative sip and felt the heat from the tea and the whisky burst in her chest and send hot tendrils into her arms and down her torso. "Take that snow monsters," she taunted the imaginary beasts with icicle teeth. "That's right. We're only tasty when we're freezing, aren't we." Scurry. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We don't need any opinions from the peanut gallery," she yelled up at the ceiling. Scurry. "Defiant little bastard."
Hours later Annie awoke, still wrapped in the blanket on the sofa. The fire had burned down to embers. Light that felt all wrong was filtering through the window. Annie scrubbed at her eyes with her hands and looked again. "Fuck me," she muttered. The light was all wrong because snow had drifted up to the top of the picture window frame. "That's at least a seven foot drift!" She complained to no one in particular. She stoked the remains of the fire, added some kindling, and as it caught added a couple of logs. Then she went to the kitchen and set up the old percolator on the camp stove. It had taken her one power outage to realize that neither man, nor beast, nor snow would keep her from her daily appointed grounds. "Hyuck, hyuck," she muttered at herself. "You so funny."
An hour later, fortified with hot coffee, wearing four layers of clothing, and armed with a shovel and a broom, Annie dug her way from the front porch around to the back of the house where the picture window overlooked the river. She cleared a spot on the patio to stand in, then began sweeping the snow from the window as carefully as she could. "Wouldn't do to knock a hole in the window, kid. Then the snow monsters would have an easy in," she reminded herself. It was a grueling process, complete with the occasional face full of snow depending on the humor of the wind. First she'd sweep some snow from the window, then shovel it away, throwing it up and over the bank of it that was piled against the patio railing. By the time she was done, she was sweating and shivering. It was no longer snowing, but the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees.
With teeth, Annie thought as she shouldered the broom and shovel and made her way back around the side of the house. She left the broom and shovel under the front porch overhang, took the old snow sled that she used for a wood scuttle and made her way toward the woodshed. Once there, she filled the sled as high as she dared with logs, then harnessed the rope at the front of the sled and began to trudge back to the house. It was only about 30 yards, but in four feet of snow and as many layers of clothing, 30 yards had a way of feeling like a quarter mile. Plus, she thought, I'm already whupped from digging out the window.
Annie stumbled slightly, jerking the sled as she did, causing it to ram into her and send her face first into the snow. Half flailing and trying to push herself up, sputtering snow that she had swallowed, she screamed, "Oh, you dirty bastard! You filthy fucking snow monsters!" It was easier to be pissed off at a fictitious creature than to blame herself for being a klutz. Even so, as she felt snow crystals making their way down her neck, the thought flitted briefly, with teeth. "Oh, shut the fuck up." Again to nobody in particular. She managed to get to her feet, gathered and piled the logs that had fallen off back onto the sled, then got it in motion again. She managed to get to the porch without further mishap, but was breathing heavily by the time she pulled the sled in out of the weather and under the overhang. It's so cold that it hurts to breathe, she thought. Like having cold viper teeth in my lungs. Invasive little pricks those monsters.
Annie left the wood where it was on the sled. She'd bring it in later. She needed a break. And more coffee. And dry clothes. "And I'm having popcorn for breakfast. With extra butter! I don't care what any of you have to say about that!" She again addressed the assembly of none, and none argued with her. Half an hour, a mere two layers of dry clothing, and a fresh cup of coffee later, Annie sat in front of the blazing fire, voraciously devouring an enormous bowl of buttery popcorn. With her left hand, the one currently not drenched in butter, she flipped open the magazine article she'd been reading - a fascinating piece about how bees communicate with each other. She heard the scurrying noise again. She looked down at the bowl of popcorn, then looked up at the ceiling. "Oh, you think so! Not a chance. Mine. Mine. Mine, all mine." Scurry. "Whatever. Fuck you."
Annie munched her way through the entire bowl of popcorn and the rest of the bee article. For a while she forgot about snow as she lost herself amid the sound of bees on a warm June day. She forgot about the visitor in the attic. She forgot about snow monsters and icicle teeth as she flipped to the next article, a tear-inducing piece about the healing power of dogs with people suffering from PTSD. So caught up in the piece, she hardly noticed herself setting the empty bowl aside or wiping the butter off her hand onto the old blanket. Once done with the article, she became acutely aware that after a hard workout that morning, she'd been sitting without moving for at least an hour and a half. She felt stiff and her joints popped in angry protest as she shifted. "Medic!" she whimpered, then hissed at the pain in her ankle. She twisted her leg around and looked down. There were two small scrapes. No, that's not right. Tell the truth, they look like puncture marks. But I don't remember being... Her thoughts were interrupted by the scurrying sound. With teeth. "Oh, shut up! Will you really just shut the hell up already about the teeth?!"
Annie shook off the thought and stumbled into the bathroom to get some antiseptic cream. As she passed the front window, she realized that she still needed to bring in the wood from the sled. If she didn't, she'd only have wet wood to throw on the fire and that wouldn't be good. "Nope, not good at all." She giggled a little hysterically at her own voice. Ankle forgotten, she pulled on her boots, propped open the front door, and stepped out to get the wood. It was already starting to get dark and looming snow clouds weren't helping. She started toward the sled and then stopped in her tracks. Heart palpitating, all the spit dried up in her mouth. There, on top of the logs, was what looked like a tiny snowman. Except that it was hunched over. More of a snow rodent, really, if she thought about it, and oh boy, she sure was thinking about it. She didn't want to see, but even in the relative winter gloom, she could see something else. The thing that had stopped her so suddenly and breathlessly. "No... you don't... it isn't...those are not..." But the glint was unmistakable. Teeth. Sharp teeth. Annie's feet seemed to move on their own, taking her backward toward the front door. Her hand found the latch without her telling it too. Annie's full attention was on the snow (ohgod don't say it because saying it means I'm crazy) monster. With that thought she threw the door open, jumped inside, and slammed the door shut.
She leaned against the door, breathing heavily, eyes shut, for what felt like at least ten minutes. It was long enough for the throbbing in her ankle to come back. Annie heard a strange, high-pitched noise and was nauseated to discover that she was the one making it, and that it was the sound of herself whimpering. She clamped both hands over her mouth in an effort to make it stop and thankfully it worked. I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy. I'm not. Ohfuckohshitohdear. She began crying and that was better. It was a mixture of rage and relief and those were feelings she could understand. She limped into the living room, sat down heavily on the sofa. The bottle of whisky was still sitting on the coffee table where she'd left it the night before. She grabbed the bottle and took a swig. It was just the slap in the face that she needed. "I didn't see that. I'm overly tired and my brain is a little wonky from being snowed in for so long." Scurry. "No! You do not get to weigh in on this!" Scurry "Shut UP!!" Scurry. She began to cry again.
Excerpt from Snohomish County Sheriff's Report, 13 March 2009:
Subject was found after landlord filed eviction notice for non-payment of rent. The body was well preserved due to cold temperatures. There appeared to be bite marks consistent with that of a rodent, however, no visible signs of rodent infestation, such as feces, were found anywhere in the home. Scratched into the wooden coffee table next to the sofa where the body was found, was the phrase, "With teeth."
**************************************For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: with teeth.
I gave dailyshorts this prompt: Like sugar and salt.