Cold Flowers

Cole sat cross-legged by the fire he had built out of his dead friends. Warming himself with a full belly and staring into nothing, not so much as a spark of humanity left inside him. Growing all around him were terrific blue flowers shot through with red veins. Broad petals, almost an orchid, seemed still in the frigid antarctic winds. The red streaked down the translucent stem and into the roots which disappeared into the snow below. As far as he had dug, Cole couldn’t find where they began.

He was warned, of course. Warned not to believe what some Nazi sympathizer had jotted down in a journal intended for a pyre. Warned by friends and family not to tilt at windmills in the winter, warned by his colleagues at Cornell about expeditions and snow, warned by his own muted conscience of the costs. He paid them, and then paid again. His flowers real now, not just a rumor. As real as his convictions could manage.

“Cole,” he heard. “Cole sweetheart, don’t you like how we smell? No one knows but you, Cole. No one else has ever known.” The voice was icicles falling into still water. “We taste so, so good! You know how we taste because you ate us. You remember how it was? So cold and sweet and wonderful. We filled you with soft snow and blue skies and now you don’t feel so cold, do you? Cole, sweetheart, we are so glad you came to us.”

“I remember the cold, Flowers.” His lips barely moved. “I remember dying and you wouldn’t let me,” he couldn’t move. The red roots had already moved around his ankles and into the snow.

“I remember the penguins avoiding this place. I remember my guide slipping into the crevice and screaming. I remember running when the snow came.” He tried to reach for the fire, but it had gone out hours earlier.

“I remember the fire, where did it go?” He tried to move his hands, but they didn’t work anymore. He couldn’t feel anything.

“Lovely memories, you had. Sweet and full of colours and life,” the voice said.

It took a century, but he was eaten. His memories were the last to go, mixing and fading with the sounds of penguins in agony and snow melting. The flowers blossomed one by one, each one a voice in the cold. Cole remembered the cost, and the price he paid, and paid again. It took a century alone, freezing but never frozen, to pay it one last time.

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