Cabot downs the Scotch and welcomes its potency. The alcohol makes a soothing trail from his tongue, trickles like a warm river down his throat, and wraps around his innards like a searing bandage. This broken heart would take time to mend but for now, he’ll use whatever he can to numb the pain.
The bar is almost empty. There are tables littered with glasses. Every time someone walks, the crackle of empty peanut shells strewn on the floor, reminds him of the shattered pieces of his heart.
The wind outside howls a woebegone wail that fits his despondency. With red rimmed eyes, Cabot watches as the snow swirls in a mad kind of dance. The hypnotic effects of the Scotch take over. There is no other choice but to obey; he will become a snowflake. On uncoordinated feet, he twirls with the grace of an elephant and maneuvers clumsy pirouettes around the bar. It isn’t long before he crashes into a table. The bartender takes his arm and tries to position Cabot upright.
“No, I mus-s-s-t continue dan-sh-shing! Winter demands it, don’t you sh-ee?”
The bartender shakes his head. “Winter has nothing to do with this, but I’m sure the Scotch does.”
Tears pour down Cabot’s face. “If I s-s-stop dan-shing, I’ll cry….jusht like the baby.”
“The baby? What baby? Look, buddy, sit down and let me call you a cab.” The bartender strides over to the bar.
“I hear you crying.” Cabot mumbles, rises unsteadily, and stumbles to the door.
His leather boot clips against a bar stool, and then he topples over an older red haired lady. The alcoholic potion slips from her polished fingers—a wave of purple liquid splashes upon her blouse.
“Help! He’s trying to touch me!” She screams.
Cabot lifts his hand in the air, then collapses his face against her chest.
“No, I’m not! Sh-ee? Sh-ee? My hands are up here.”
The bartender grips a fist around a baseball bat and points it toward Cabot.
“Someone toss that pervert outta here, or I’ll knock his god damn head straight to Mars!”
Two beer bellied ogres rise from their seats and lift him toward the ceiling. Cabot balances upon a fat shoulder while extending his arms outward, as if he was flying.
“Sh-ee? My hands are way up here!”
They swing open the front door, then heave him outside. Cabot’s chin grinds against an icy sidewalk as he slides into a lamp post. The winter chill hugs him tight and seduces the warmth from his body. Cabot sniffs and dislodges a nose full of frozen snot.
“Wait! My jacket is on the pool table!” He says while pounding against the door.
A voice squeezes through the pane glass. “Fuck off.”
Cabot turns around as a wintry gale glides by. “Huh…”
He sticks an ear toward the wind. “…I hear you…but I can’t sh-ee you…”
The baby. Fresh tears dribble down his unshaven cheeks.
“No, oh God, Cabot!” Daphne grabbed the front of his shirt; her beautiful ebony face marred by a look of sheer panic. “The baby! It’s coming…oh, no, no, no!”
For a brief second, joy immersed over him. He was going to be a father! They’ll be—
“No!” Realization stabbed his chest. “It’s too early, Daph! No, baby, you can’t…stop….what can I do? What can I do?”
She screamed, panting heavily, and clutched her barely showing belly. Blood stained the front of her pajama gown. Cabot stared mortified as the red splotch continued to grow.
Something sharp digs into a cheek. He opens his eyes and finds himself curled up on the frigid ground with knees drawn up under the chin. A bush, heavily laden with snow, is close by. One of its branches hangs low, trembles in the wind, and finds his face an irresistible scratching post.
“Fuck you!” He slaps the obnoxious branch away; massaging a scraped cheek.
Cabot’s legs wobble to his feet, then he bumps into a nearby light post.
“Hey…watch where you’re going, pal.”
The lamp post shivers while Cabot looks toward a black cloud eating the sky. A gradient of gray dissolves away—a featureless expanse sweeps away luminescent sparks.
And then nothing.
Silence. As if a deceased blizzard released its dying breath, and all that’s left are cold remnants. The lights inside nearby apartment buildings extinguish like someone blowing out a birthday candle. The lamp post is the only candle that remains.
Cabot steps through the golden curtain shining down from a brilliant bulb. The snow crunches under his feet as he journeys further into the illuminated circle.
“Do you want to hold your baby?” A voice asks, while the silence shatters into pieces.
Cabot turns around but is greeted only by an icy breath.
“You don’t want your baby to grow up without a father.”
He spins on his heels and sees snowflakes cascading through the golden light.
“Daph? Is that you?”
A trail of footsteps extends beyond where Cabot has yet to travel. He follows the shallow depressions as the wind pushes him back. Cabot holds himself by the shoulders and steps into the cold gale. A wall of darkness stops his journey near the golden light’s border. The pressure of unseen eyes flirts with his senses.
Cabot’s heart sinks low, as a hurtful cry pulls him away from the wall of darkness.
He had been waiting for this day to come, and somehow always understood how the demons kept inside, would eventually find a way to ooze from his pores.
“A father should protect his daughter.” Daphne demands.
Cabot watches his baby crawl through the snow—its skin blue as if a coating of frost sticks to its skin.
“They grow up so fast. Don’t you want to see your daughter grow up?”
He nods. “Yes…yes, I do.”
“You would feel guilty if anything were to happen to her.” Daphne says.
He nods. “Of course.”
“You would do anything to protect her.”
He nods. “I would give my life.”
Cabot reaches down and lifts his daughter from the snow’s grasp. The cold seeps into his palms and melds the warm skin along the baby’s rib cage. Steam curls its gray serpentine back, then is dispersed by the frigid breeze. Numbness wages war inside the veins along Cabot’s arms, and he’s losing the battle. Shivers rattle his spine back and forth, while he lifts the baby into the air. The smile on his face turns blue.
Daphne steps out of the darkness.
“A father understands unconditional love.”
Cabot shivers and is whisked to a place in his past; one overrun by oppressive halls and syrupy, crimson floors. He knows this place well. It’s become engrained in the folds of his brain where sleep is impossible. Night terrors have become constant visitors, which pin him frozen, in his own bed. Limbs unable to move; yet accusatory thoughts run tirelessly in his head.
Wasn’t there something you could have done to save them? You watched them die. It was all your fault.
Daphne hovers behind Cabot and whispers in his ear, “It’s okay. You can nod.”
Cabot cannot. The feeling in his arms lose the battle against the cold. Icy crystals cling to Cabot’s hands. Black skin peels away like an avalanche—a mountainous bony ridge reveals his inner geology. The baby’s opalescent eyes gleam, while a mournful cry crawls out of its throat.
“A good father knows what to do when his daughter is hungry.” Daphne seethes.
Tremors ripple through Cabot’s body as his teeth clang and bang. The baby flails its arms through the air, while a scream pierces straight through Cabot’s chest and stabs a primal feeling. Tears glide down his face, then solidifies into purple stripes, which push back layers of flesh, like a glacier scouring the land.
ALTERNATE ENDING #1
Hunger burrows into the baby’s belly. She clenches her little fists and shrieks. Anger has turned soft skin into a mottled red. Tiny fangs rupture from pink gums, and her cries have become earsplitting. Cabot shushes the baby as he cradles the small bundle closer. He rubs cheeks with the starving infant who responds by sinking fangs into her father’s flesh. Blood drains into small, suckling lips.
“Such a good father,” Daphne purrs; throwing her raven hair back. “We’ve missed you so much.”
Daphne opens her mouth wide. Lengthy, needlelike teeth glisten in the fading, wintry light before she buries them into the side of Cabot’s neck.
ALTERNATE ENDING #2
Cabot turns his back on instinct. The baby cries.
Daphne’s warm breath banishes the frost inside Cabot’s ear.
“A father can’t take care of his daughter if he’s dead.”
A winter wind wraps around the baby and won’t let go. Daphne orbits Cabot.
“You’d be tormented if anything were to happen to your daughter.” She says.
The baby’s arms solidify into a biological cold sculpture. The limbs articulate an expression of helplessness until they stop moving.
“I thought you loved us, Cabot? I thought you would take care of us.” Daphne says.
Cabot smiles. “I am.”
Daphne’s eyes turn black as she tries pulling the baby away from Cabot’s frozen hands. Daphne snaps an icicle finger, but the rest of his hands are bound within a mound of ice. Cabot’s smile freezes as the winter wind envelopes his daughter.
She no longer cries.