Cold Blooded

There was nothing else for it. I pushed myself into the pile of ice that Glen had tipped onto the sidewalk and tried to get comfortable for the night. The weather bureau was predicting sub-zero temperatures overnight and a heavy frost in the morning. There was no chance the ice would melt.

The soothing cold of the ice slowed my heart rate. My worries unwound as cool blood pulsed into my brain with each measured heartbeat.

Being a kitchen hand at a cafe in suburban Canberra wasn’t a great job. I wasn’t sorry that the arse-hat who owned it went broke. I hated schnitzel Tuesday and making fifty bowls of chips a night.

But he had invested in a proper industrial kitchen. And the second-rate chef, Glen, made sure there was a good old-fashioned hierarchy. Being the lowest of the low meant I had to stay late and clean up. When everyone was gone, and after I’d screwed up my eyes and cleaned the hot ovens with hydrochloric acid, I slid into the generous cool room, closed the door, and relaxed in the cold dark.

That apartment sized freezer made it the best job I’d ever had. But it was taken from me that night. The freezer had been turned off and the door had been propped open to slow the buildup of mildew. All the stock that could be sold had been sold. The rest was in a dumpster. Even the ice had been tipped onto the footpath.

My mother used to say that she remembered me trying to climb into the freezers at supermarkets when I was a toddler. Those were the old-style ones where frozen goods were presented to buyers in a frost lined trough filled with cardboard packs of fish filetsfillets and tubs of Neapolitan ice cream.

I complained about being too warm growing up and threw off constricting heavy woolen jumpers in winter at the first chance I got.

After child me begged my mother to let me roll in a pile of hail that had pooled on the footpath on the way to our local shops, I’d never told anyone about what made me happy. I learnt disapproval easily and early.

And as I got older, I also learnt to camouflage my needs, like my teenaged friends with un-obvious desires or frowned upon addictions. Even though I yearned for cold and dreamed of running away to the arctic, I got by in my teens by stealing time in my parents’ chest freezer, the pride of the house, when they went out to dinner.

I never wanted to know why I craved the cold. As far as I was concerned, I was just built that way, and I didn’t care to change. Even if it made a marriage, career, and children impossible.

Ice on a street wasn’t my preferred sleeping place, but the bar had shut quickly, and I couldn’t make other arrangements. I was kind of excited to be sleeping rough again, even if it was only in an inner north suburb of the nation’s Capital. I pushed myself into the ice. It felt even colder than Glen’s cool room. I drifted off into a deep sleep.

I was woken by a sharp prod on my foot, and a high-pitched scream. I felt a hot spot on my left heel. Someone had started to pull on the foot which must have slipped out of my ice bed.

“Don’t do that, we should leave it for the police.”

“But he might still be alive. Maybe we can help.”

There was another hand on my foot. It was pulling down my sock and gently feeling my ankle.

“No, he’s pretty cold. There’s not much we can do. Let’s just call the police.”

I needed to get out of there. I tensed and un-tensed my muscles. I knew from experience that a deep cool sleep could make my movements stilted when I woke up, and I didn’t want to jerk about like Frankenstein’s monster when I first emerged from the ice pile.

My graceful exit from the embrace of my ice bed was greeted by another scream.

“Umm, hi. It’s okay. I was just fooling around, hiding from my mates.” I looked down at my tatty jeans and cheap cotton windcheater. The ice hadn’t melted, so they weren’t soaked with water. No one could believe that someone would sleep out overnight in jeans and a thin top,so it was plausible that I’d only been there a couple of minutes.

A young woman in active wear, with a pink viscose headband and gloves, stared back at me, phone in one hand dog lead in the other. She looked uncertainly at an older woman dressed in a more dignified manner, who was standing just to my left. The dog, a generic brown fluff ball, just sniffed the ice.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” said the older woman. “Your foot was very cold.”

“Nah, I’m fine.”

“So I shouldn’t call the police?” The younger woman was concentrating on the older one, not me. The older woman had gray hair, a thick jumper, long red woolen scarf, and woolen pants. Who has woolen pants anymore? I thought. She took a step towards me and without asking for permission, put her hot hand on my forehead.

“I work at the hospital,” she said, as if that excused anything that she might do next. I twisted away from her hand, and she grimaced.

“You should really see a doctor,” she said, looking me over with light blue eyes. “We could call an ambulance for you.”

“You’re being very kind,” I said. “But I’m really all right. Just a bit of a practical joke. My friends will be along soon looking for me, I expect.” Of course, I had no friends, but I was hoping that the conversation wouldn’t go on long enough for the old duck to find out.

“You’re as cold as ice,” she responded. “I hate the cold. It’s the source of most illness in winter, you know.” I looked at her thick jumper, pants, scarf, and heavy leather boots. I could see that she did indeed hate the cold and was determined to defeat it by any means possible.

I turned to her companion with acrylic cold protection. “Look, I’m really grateful that you are both so concerned for me, but I’ll be alright. I promise.” I started to walk away. I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I charted a path that didn’t involve trying to barge past the two women and possibly inflaming their concern for me by brushing a cold limb against their insulated bodies.

I felt a warm and surprisingly strong hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, but I really must insist,” said the older woman. “Narelle, call an ambulance. Young man, if you’re worried about the cost, I’ll pay for the ambulance. But we really need to get you to a doctor. People who let their core temperature drop as low as you have can die, you know.”

At that point, I started to run. I knew I wouldn’t get far before my legs warmed up and cramped. But I didn’t think that I had to go very far to get away from Narelle’s bossy companion. Narelle might have been able to outpace me, but she didn’t really look like she was that interested.

It stayed cold the whole day, barely registering six degrees, with a wind that kept most people from the street. For me, it was blessed relief. I walked the streets unmolested. The cold relaxed me as I thought through my next move. Maybe I should forget about trying to find another job, I thought. I calculated that I had enough money to buy a cheap car and drive to the Australian Alps. I could sleep out most of the year, I thought, even in summer there are remnant patches of snow. It’s not like I’d need to buy expensive clothes, sleeping bags, or tents, though there would be the problem of how to get food.

A day spent wandering around the inner suburbs of Canberra didn’t clarify matters much. Soon I needed to find a place to sleep for the night. When I’d first left home, my routine had been to hang around exposed areas enjoying the wind before finding an icy concrete drain or carpark to sleep on during the night. A decade of working in kitchens had kept me off the streets and away from the casually cruel young men who wanted to see if homeless people felt pain. I could go home to my parents, I guess, I thought, but I doubted that I’d still fit into their chest freezer.

By chance, I found myself in front of the pile of ice by my old cafe. It’d been so cold that the ice had hardly melted during the day, and nobody was around to clean it up. What the hell, I thought, it’s good for one more night, I’ll deal with my future tomorrow.

The next morning, as I crawled out of my deep cold sleep, I became aware that there were people around me. No one was poking my foot yet.

I sat up so that I could see out of the ice. There were two men in green overalls with a stretcher. Paramedics, no doubt, who must have been trying to figure out how to slip the stretcher under the ice and get my stiff body onto it with minimum effort.

Just behind them was the woman from the previous morning. She had swapped her woolen garb for thick jeans, hiking boots, and an expensive looking ski jacket. She was right when she said that she didn’t like the cold.

I stood up and put on my best ‘there’s nothing to worry about here’ smile. “Don’t worry guys, I’m okay,” I said. I was in the same jeans as yesterday, of course, but I was only wearing a tee shirt because I had been worried that the old ice wouldn’t be cold enough.

“He was here yesterday morning as well,” said the woman. Narelle was nowhere to be seen. She looked at my thin windcheater that I’d put on the edge of a plant tub.

“I’ve just been fooling around,” I said. I jumped up and down and waved my hands around. “Look, nothing wrong, I’m good to go.” I hoped that they wouldn’t ask why my idea of fooling around involved lying in a pile of ice.

“So, you don’t want to go to emergency?” said one of the ambos.

“You would get a nice warm bed and a cooked lunch,” said the other.

“No,” I said.

“I think he needs help,” said the woman. “You should take him to the Mercy.” That was the local hospital.

“Are you sure that you’re okay?” said paramedic one.

“Nah, I’ll be fine.”

“But you can’t just leave him,” said the bossy well insulated gray haired woman. “It’s obvious he’s not right.”

“Sorry madam, but if he doesn’t want to go with us, we can’t force him,” said paramedic two. I nodded and smiled at the ambos as they picked up the stretcher and walked back to the ambulance.

I turned to face the old woman. She was looking at me intently with her clear blue eyes. I saw her drop her right shoulder. “I told you that I hate the cold,” she said, as her fist smashed into my nose and I fell to the ground unconscious.

I woke up in a sweat, paralysed by the blankets and central heating of the hospital. There was a nurse looking at my charts at the end of the bed.

“How did I get here?”

“Well, apparently there was a call out about a guy lying in a pile of ice. The ambos were just about to leave when you fainted. They brought you in here. You were very cold, but you’re warming up now.”

I felt myself getting warmer. I suppressed the panic that was starting to swirl around my mind.

“I didn’t faint,” I said. “Look at my nose.”

“It says here that you fainted. People usually fall forward when they faint. You must have hit your nose when you fell.”

“No. That didn’t happen. I was assaulted,” I said. “I want to leave.”

If I got any hotter, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave.

“Let’s just see what the doctor says.”

“No, I want to go now.” My body was starting to tell me that it was now or never.

“The doctor will be here any minute.” She put a hand on my shoulder. I knew that it was meant to be gentle, but in my weakened state it was strong enough to keep me pinned to the bed. She didn’t realize what she was doing. She assumed, I guessed, that my lack of movement meant that I had accepted that I should stay.

“You can leave us now nurse,” said a familiar voice. This time she was wearing a white coat, but there was no mistaking the gray bob and blue eyes. It was the woman who’d punched my lights out.

“I don’t want to be left alone with her,” I said, and made another feeble attempt to get up.

“Now, now, don’t worry,” said the nurse. “Dr Blindt is one of our most experienced doctors, she’ll find out what’s wrong with you.”

I got desperate then. The nurse threw away her gloves and started to pack up her thermometer. She was clearly going to leave me alone with the mad woman. I felt weaker each second.

“She’s the one who hit me,” I pleaded. “You can’t leave me alone with her.” I was whimpering like a child. “She’ll hurt me again.” I started to cry in my helplessness.

“Don’t worry, nurse, he’s clearly delirious. It happens when someone’s core temperature drops too low. It’s a well known symptom of hypothermia. You can go now, I’ll look after him.” Dr Blindt turned to me and smiled. “Now let’s have a talk about what we need to do to fix you.”

My voice was still high and squeaky. “Don’t you come near me, I don’t need to be fixed.”

Still smiling, she said. “I know what you are, and I can help you.”

“I don’t need help. I was happy living my life until you kidnapped me.”

“I didn’t kidnap you. I just made sure that you got the help that you need. It wasn’t much of a life though, was it?”

“How do you know what my life was like?”

“I know who you are. I’ve dealt with the cold before.” My brain was whirring from the heat. Thoughts flickered through my consciousness so fast I could barely catch hold of them long enough to understand what was happening to me. But I did grasp the fact that she had a name for people like me, and that for her we were a category, a group, a type. It wasn’t just me.

She noticed that I wasn’t protesting anymore and laughed. “I should have guessed. You thought that you were unique. Just poor little you who likes the cold when everyone else rugs up. Sorry to break it to you champ, but you are not alone. Not only are you not alone, but I know what’s wrong with you.”

“But I told you, I don’t want to be fixed. I don’t need to be.”

“So you keep saying. But let’s face it, you can’t go on like this. Hiding in ice. Really?”

“I’ve heard enough,” I said. I made another attempt to get up. To taunt me, she theatrically lifted one finger and put it on my shoulder. The room was hot. So hot. She held me down with one finger.

“What we are going to do over the next couple of days is make you snug and cozy in this comfy little bed. I’ll make sure that the room is nice and warm for you. And we’ll arrange for that nasty cold blood of yours to be replaced. After a couple of days, you’ll forget about being cold.”

The blood that was being pumped into me burnt like Thai chili soup ordered by mistake. I lost any ability to fight. I couldn’t even manage the muscle coordination to scream. Not that it would have mattered, plenty of people were screaming for various medically authorized reasons.

Dr. Blindt, or Samantha as she wanted me to call her, stayed by my side throughout the ordeal. She smiled and told me why she so very much did hate the cold.

I drifted in and out of consciousness, but I learnt that when she first graduated from med school she took a job helping rough sleepers. Normally, she was polite, reserved, and just offered them treatment for obvious conditions. One day, she reached out to touch an old woman with a red face calloused with dirt who had an open sore on her arm. The woman, like me when I was happy, was as cold as ice. Samantha screamed. The woman panicked, ran, and knocked her over.

Laughed at by her partners and the other homeless people huddled under the bridge where they were working, the young Samantha resented the woman who rejected her sympathetic touch. After that, she looked out for ‘the cold’ as she called us. It was apparently always the same. We didn’t want help and recoiled from her stifling touch. But she had found a way of fixing us. It was not something that she could document and claim a Medicare rebate for. After all, who’d believe that there were a group of people out there who functioned best when their body was below freezing?

On my third day in hospital, she came into my room bright and early. She had a cream linen suit on. No wool. I looked out the window. It was a clear sunny winter day. She obviously hadn’t felt the need to rug up.

“Good news, you’re all set. How do you feel?”

I felt like I was melting. Every breath pushed scalding steam down my throat and into my lungs. All my muscles were in a continuous cramp, and the new blood made the tips of my fingers and toes burn.

“I can’t breathe,” I said.

She leant down and put her ear close to my mouth. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say again?” She chuckled. “I guess you want to know what happens next?”

I nodded. It was a tiny movement, but it made her smile.

“Well, you’re obviously too weak to be let out of hospital. We’ll keep you in here. Don’t worry, the nurses and I will take good care of you. I’ll make sure that we keep that nice warm blood topped up, and the nurses will make sure you’re fed and tucked up snug in this lovely soft bed. Anyway, I’ve got to dash, must look in on some of my other patients.”

I tried to grab her jacket as she stood up, hoping she’d pull me into a sitting position. She grabbed my hand, hard, and looked at my face as her grip wrenched my already aching skin. She was easily able to push me down again.

“You’re a strong one, aren’t you, little cold boy? I think you’ll last a while. With some of the older ones, the bed sores or chest infections get them in a week or so. Don’t bother trying to tell the nurses, all they’ll see is a severely sick, delirious homeless guy, who probably used too many drugs and is raving now.

“And I don’t think you’ll get much help from your fellow patients,” she added. She looked around at the ninety-year-old Slovenian man who was hooked up to a morphine drip to take away the pain of a leg amputation, and a younger, but more confused, dementia patient that nobody could figure out how to feed. “Well as I said, I’ve got to fly, but I’ll look in on you when I can.”

I laid down and looked at the ceiling. I tried to cheer myself up by thinking about how happy I could have been in the alps. Just me and the mountain pygmy possums hiding in snow drifts. I was sure that I could have found food, maybe they’d show me what to eat, and I certainly wouldn’t have bothered anyone.

I wouldn’t have called it a fully worked out plan. I’d ruled out making a run for it. Maybe I could have taken five steps. But outrunning the nurse, or even Dr. Blindt, over any distance was simply impossible. However, I’d noticed that the orderlies who changed the sheets brought a big PVC wheelie bin with them to dump the old linen in. It was deep, usually pretty full, and it looked heavy. Normally, when they changed my bed sheets there were two people around, the nurse who looked after me, and the orderly. But if the sheets had to be changed because of an unexpected accident while the nurse was busy with other patients, maybe there would be a chance of escaping.

I was sorry that it had to happen on Emma’s shift. She was one of my favorites.

I waited until just after she’d cleared my breakfast. She’d spooned some cornflakes into my mouth, but had left the toast and coffee next to me to finish off myself. Obviously, I couldn’t reach the toast and coffee.

After putting my plates on a side table, she turned her back on me to tend to the one-legged man’s pain relief. He’d been calling her for half an hour.

I defecated and urinated on the bed. I didn’t need to call out for help. The sound and stench got her attention.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she said turning to me.

She was normally gentle with me, but she yanked my cloth hospital gown off then and roughly wiped some of the shit off my arse and the inside of my thighs. The old Slovenian man was calling out for pain medication in a louder and louder voice.

“Yes, yes, I’m coming,” she said to him. She lifted me up and put me on a plastic chair in the corridor next to the shower entrance, naked and still smeared with my own shit, and called an orderly over to change my sheets. “You sit here,” she said. “I’ll clean you up properly later.”

The orderly was a thin young blonde man with a neck tattoo who looked at me with open disgust. He reminded me of the cocky lads who bashed me to impress their mates when they’d come across me sleeping on the street. He headed to my bed at the end of the ward and, glory be, he left his wheelie bin next to me. It already stank of shit, piss, and other hospital discharges, so I didn’t know why he was so down on me.

It was a near run thing, but I managed to stand using the chair as a prop, and then basically toppled myself into the wheelie bin. I wriggled a bit, and sank into the shitty, pissy, pusy sheets. If I’d eaten more than a spoonful of corn flakes for breakfast, I’d have added vomit to the mélange of flavors. But I didn’t, so neck tattoo didn’t have to worry about that. After about a minute, I felt my sheets being thrown into the bin and smelt my own stink. It didn’t matter. I also felt the bin start to move away from the ward.

True to type, neck tattoo had set strict boundaries around his job. When the bin came to a stop, I heard him tell some older women, two, maybe three, I couldn’t hear properly then, that he’d got a nice little load for them to clean up, and they’d better get to it smartly. I heard him walk off. I didn’t know how much time I had before they would start to unpack the bin. It couldn’t have been an attractive job, but leaving it in the middle of their workplace wouldn’t have made for a great morning tea either.

I could feel that we were in a colder area, without the heat of the ward, so I lay for a while trying to get my energy back.

I didn’t get to make my own exit. After ten minutes, I felt the sheets being taken out of the bin. Inevitably, the last one on top of me was removed, and I saw a small, middle aged Vietnamese woman with hospital work clothes and large tortoiseshell rimmed glasses held with a neck band to stop them falling into the bins. You won’t be surprised to hear that she was looking at me with surprise.

I held up my hands in surrender to try to stop the scream that I was expecting.

“What that cunt Paul do to you?” she said.

I’m not sure she understood my weak whispers. But anyone who’d been victimized by Paul would get help from Rose and her two friends. Lying naked, weak, helpless, and covered in shit on the bottom of a plastic wheelie bin certainly made me look like a victim. They found some old scrubs in the change rooms, gave me some towels to clean myself up, and offered me a cup of coffee. I didn’t take the coffee, obviously, but there was an ice machine, and I managed to convince them to pour me a nice cup of ice.

I reckoned that the scrubs probably would have gotten me out of the goods entry and onto the street. Then I could have walked to the drains down the road from the hospital to find a place to hole up for a while. But Samantha was going to be looking for me, and I couldn’t outrun her in the condition I was in. She might also have gotten orderlies to go out looking for a patient who’d left without being properly discharged.

I looked around the laundry area. It was a wide space with the bins of used sheets and gowns along the wall opposite the hospital’s loading bay. There were a couple of trucks backed up to the dock unloading medical supplies and food. No wonder the meals made people sick.

Lo and behold, there was a small, refrigerated van unloading polystyrene boxes of frozen fish filets. ‘Mountain seafood’ said the side of the van, somewhat confusingly. That’ll do, I thought. After they’d taken the last pallet of boxes out, I managed to stagger into the back of the van. I curled up under a discarded tarpaulin and waited for the van to leave.

As soon as I was certain that the van was clear of the access roads around the hospital, I allowed the soothing cold of the refrigerator to lull me to sleep. I nodded off thinking of my mountain pygmy possum friends.

I wasn’t sure how long I slept, the hospital had taken my watch, but when I woke up, the side-to-side movement of the van told me that it was negotiating a mountain pass. My heart leapt in joy thinking of snow and small, soft marsupials until my brain told me that the side-to-side movement was tracking down a winding road, not up. We were going to the coast.

At the bottom of the hills, we traveled on a relatively straight stretch for about half an hour before the van came to a stop. I thought about getting out, but the door didn’t unlock from the inside, and I figured that it wasn’t fair to my saviors to break the door of their van. Anyway, I wanted to get as far away from Dr. Samantha as possible, so I decided to stay in the back until the doors were opened.

The first stop was only about fifteen minutes. Maybe it was a smoke break. We started to move again, and after another two hours or so, I couldn’t really tell, the van came to a stop again. I heard the front doors being locked and two male voices saying goodnight to each other. I called out ‘hello’ to try to get them to open the back of the van, but they didn’t hear me. I decided it didn’t matter. The refrigerator was still running, and a night in the cold was just what I needed to regain my strength.

I was woken the next morning by the doors being opened.

“What the fuck,” said a broad-shouldered man in a checked shirt with a reddish-brown beard as I stood up and started to get out of the van. “What do you think you’re doing?” He looked suspiciously at my hospital scrubs.

“Just hitched a ride,” I said, “thanks for the lift”. I stepped down off the tray of the van and came face to face with him. Well, face to chest, he was more than a head taller than me. His nostrils wrinkled at the smell of the shit that I hadn’t had the chance to remove properly. He looked from me to the back of the van, and then to the food safety posters stuck on its inside wall. I moved to step around him, but he moved to block my way.

I didn’t really think that Doug would ring the hospital on me, but fair’s fair. I cleaned the back of his van in exchange for the lift, an old shirt, and worn-out trousers, both ridiculously too big for me but less conspicuous than hospital scrubs in the little seaside town. After that, as far as Doug was concerned, I was free to go. And nobody needed to tell anybody that a person crusted in shit had slept the night in his seafood transport van.

The little fishing and tourist village turned out to be a comfortable home. Yes, it got too hot in the summer, but the sea here was always cold, and I could lie in the shallows if I needed to. I didn’t need a house, and I earnt enough money to buy food and changes of clothes from casual kitchen work and diving for abalone. All I really needed were shorts and tee shirts. I didn’t even need a wetsuit to work the winter rock pools. But I didn’t have a license either, so I only dove for the shellfish occasionally. Usually, I took about five, kept one for myself, and dropped the rest off to Doug in exchange for a small payment and a chat about the local news. Doug was definitely not a pygmy possum, but he was quiet and didn’t care to try to change folk’s ways. Occasionally, I sat outside the pub on winter evenings and listened to him chatting to his mates. He never mentioned me, good I supposed, but I liked the sound of their voices.

So, that should have been the end of my story. I’d found a place where I could be myself, and a sort of friend.

However, the final chapter came on a Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend, in the middle of one of the colder winters on the south coast.

There were about ten people milling around the pier, looking at the ocean after being dropped off by a bus for a seafood buffet at the pub next door.

The sea was gray, reflecting the bleak sky, and heaved slowly because of a small swell. It looked cold. I can tell you that it was cold, with beautiful Antarctic water pushed up the coast by winter storms. The wind was blowing in from the sea, and there was a touch of rain. In other words, it was a nearly perfect day. I missed the frosts of Canberra, but this was cold enough.

Standing on the edge of the pier a bit away from the group was a thin, small woman with a thick beanie, a red scarf, and a long heavy brown woolen coat. I didn’t even think of Doctor Samantha Blindt when I first saw the coat, but something made me stop and stare. Even though the others in the group were rugged up in efficient puffer jackets, her commitment to natural fibers, and the fact that she obviously had at least one thick jumper on as well as a coat, made her stand out.

She turned as I was still staring at her back. Blue eyes scanned my board shorts and tee shirt. She didn’t show any sign of recognition, but I felt an electric wave of panic course through my body as I remembered the hospital, the infusions that felt like lava going through my veins, and my frankly lucky escape. I quickly walked to the stairs beside the pier that led down to the welcoming cold sea. I descended, silently slipped into the comforting cold, and floated on my back looking up at the underside of the pier.

I stayed under the pier for about half an hour, occasionally checking to see that no one had followed me down to the water. I didn’t see anyone on the steps, so I got out and climbed back to the top of the pier.

Of course, she was waiting for me there. I looked around. There were no menacing orderlies in sight. It was just the two of us.

“So, this is where you ended up,” she said. She’d unbuttoned her coat because her back was towards the wind, even though it had started to rain. I saw that she had two thick jumpers on, a white and blue fisherman’s jumper on the outside, with a blue merino turtleneckunder it for extra warmth. She was also wearing heavy leather riding boots that came up to the middle of her calves.

“It’s a nice town,” I said. “Quiet. They let people get on with their lives.”

She smiled. It was a crooked little sneer, which reminded me of Paul the neck tattoo orderly. “How did you get out?” she asked.

“The nurse said that I was cured so I checked myself out,” I said. I didn’t know what her next move would be.

“We looked for you for ages,” she said. “I think I will have to take you back.”

“How do you propose to do that?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” she said and started to walk towards the pub.

I looked around again. There was still no one around. The only people in the area were an overdressed older woman and a thin man in wet boardshorts and a soaked tee shirt talking in the rain.

Before she got off the pier, I ran at her and half pushed, half carried, maybe full scrummed her towards the end of the pier. I’m not big, but it was cold, and I felt strong.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she said, with a note of disbelief in her voice. I didn’t think she’d ever considered that I might attack her. “Let go of me.”

When it was clear that I wasn’t going to let go of her, she opened her mouth to scream for help. But by that point we were at the edge of the pier, and we both tumbled over it and into the sea.

I held on to her tightly and started using my, admittedly puny, body to push her under the water. She was panicking then, flailing her arms about, and scratching at my hands, and then my face. The water was very cold, and the fear of drowning meant she had to concentrate on half swimming, and half fighting me. She had no time to call for help.

It was no use. Partly because I was on top of her, but mostly because of her heavy clothes that were filling up with water. She started to sink.

I held onto her and went down with her as she dipped under the surface. Just to make sure.

I didn’t know whether I could hold my breath longer than her. But I did know that I felt stronger the longer we stayed in the water. It really was very, very, cold that winter.

I looked into her blue eyes. They were filled with hatred and terror. People often talked about the sea being blue. It’s not. When you were close to the sea, it was green. Just to make sure she stayed in the green crystal coffin I’d wrought for her, I buttoned up her coat so that there was no way that she could pull it off. I felt it getting heavier and heavier as it absorbed more and more water. When I was certain that there were no pockets of air left, I let go of her, wrenched her hands off me, and watched as she sank to the bottom. I kicked towards the surface as my lungs screamed for air.

There was a crowd at the pier when I got up the stairs. “Someone call an ambulance,” I said. “I couldn’t keep her afloat.”

Nick Hartland lives and works in Canberra, where he regularly drives between the city and the coast. He has a lifelong love of speculative fiction of all genres. His fiction has been published in Cicerone Journal and Antipodean SF.

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