Low, wispy clouds crowned the crest of their dazzling heads. Ebony festoons of night thickened, dribbled aloft the tall, majestic throngs that so eerily cluttered a murky black sky. Algid thickness easily stifled the night’s spangle. Snuffed like the wicks of a million tapers all shrouded at once, the heavens showed no semblance of light.
Varnished across the foundations below, frost skimmed the crust of inlets and fields, smearing what it could in a dazzling speckle of silvery white. It glazed the
surface like enclave mist in adjunct of the sun. A frigid gust swirled raptly through the expanse in-between. Snaking rashly through taut crevices and unprotected husks, it frolicked with the frenzied innocence of kids; yet carved with the virulent edge of a blade. Slashing with ease through the defensive armor of their bodies, vagrants and matriarchs alike bore full evidence of its numbing.
Though hardly unseen, its sting reared with a stealth-like strike. Drilling deeper the longer the warring endured. Its intent seemed hardly virtuous but instinctively malign. Spelt thus with the mew of its sardonic dance, as limbs, in compliance with such operose force, bowed low in a torturous sway. Icy breath nipped harshly at shivering bones, making warmth the hunted trove for one and all. Though only a few now braved the unleashed vengeance, the ornery weather seemed so determined to bestow.
The streets of uptown Charlotte and its surroundings sat tranquil. Birthing evidence of the hour, though, in truth, it exposed, more fixedly, the arrogance of winter’s frosted embrace in the severity of its smite. With thermostats proudly displaying their ever descending figures, “fourteen degrees” their faces seemed to sneer. Yet night had barely rested its weary head.
Julia Berwick stepped from the incubated warmth of her vehicle and sighed, cringing as a seemly pugnacious chill sliced beneath the tense layers of her flesh. In retaliatory guise, a shiver promptly rattled her tautening frame. Shuddering through her core as blast of glacial air pelted the exposed walls of her garage, gluttonously imbibing the meager warmth it once held. The wintry gust swallowed the exposed space in less than the honing of a trice. With coat drawn tight against her body, Julia hurried from the drafty room. Eager to feel the warmth of her house, tired feet showed no waver in their hurry. Thus, the coil of her vapored breath plumed softly in her hustle, published fixedly like a mutinous trail around her face with the slightest weight yielded in each pant. Gingerly swinging the large portal shut, she bolted the barrier masterfully without discord or sound, though she could not say the same for what seemed the reverberated
grouse of an eruption. Yowling puckishly in its laborious plunge, each inch felt like a brazen heckle from the distinctive yawn of an ominous garage door. Calming visibly with the release of an audible breath, weary shoulders promptly fell as the raucous chorus died. In follow, night again offered no disrupting jangles to be feared, but spoke of its mysteries in the welcomed assonance of a whisper. Julia savored for a moment the essential swaddling of heat. Almost purring in acquiesce of the pleasure such luxury provided and the simplicity of the need.
With a quiet draught of the balmy air, she slowed the expulsion of her breath, alleviating with that the raised hammering in her chest. Languidly, a lazy sigh followed the slow doffing of black, leather boots, tucked firmly beneath her arm. Julia again gave what seemed a timid sigh, discomfited by the hour. She tacked a meek moil to her deed, as if she now feared the sound of her breathing would somehow alert the sleeping occupants of the house.
The mute polish of the wood floor bred startlingly cool underfoot. Cooler than the vacated warmth of her boots, mildly dampened socks declared such observation a
factual plight, chilling her toes aptly as she gingerly plotted the placement of each step.
To the casual observer, such peculiar action might be considered an enigmatic display. But to the depleted mother of two, it was a paramount right. Cognizant of her children’s uncanny ability to hear her breathe, Julia lightened the volume of each breath. Dimming the potency of her trudge, the dynamic of her passage grew stealthy, for their talent at proving the certitude of that, came frequently at the most inopportune time. A skill well-honed that, at times, had tested the frazzled boundaries of her nerves, one she preferred not to encounter in her present caste of fatigue.
Drenched in darkness, profiles of familiar shadows crouched disconcertingly low. Drifting eerily from blackened corners of the rooms, they gaped questioningly at her cautious progression through the house. A distant street lamp offered its scant light to the slumbering abode, permitting her deft maneuvering of the space with the absence of injury or damage. Julia yawned with inaudible force amidst the glut of her shuffle. Dithering of a sudden in what seemed a swift discard of her strength, now feeling rapidly drained. Warmth cloaked her tired body like a quilt to malleable clay.
With cynicism pasted to its small, rectangular face, the microwave publicized the waning hour in a glare of yellowy-green. Twelve fifty-one AM. It shrilled through the muted space. You’re too late to assume your task. Too late to tuck your children in bed and too late to kiss them good night. This, the infallible appliance maintained in an equally grating scream. And the mocking strongly echoed the cacophonous chants already active in her cognitive sense.
Dragging her fingers through the long, curly mass of her hair, Julia sighed, sheepishly appraising the inflicted reproach, though perceptive that guilt was the embedded shrine on which she now stood. Irrespective of the act, or how unavoidable the task, there was no easing the berating voice. However, with their grandmother attending affably to their every desire, she was at least certain they were seen lovingly off to bed, a fact that had lessened the whirring of her guilt a mere pinch…
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