The air is frigid inside the enormous mouth of the cave, offering little relief from the howling winds that toss around the flurries of snow across the freezing planet’s surface.

A figure stumbles against the darkness of the cavern, near blind as he feels his way further into the void, slicing his hands on the walls of jagged rock and ice that surrounds him. His foot slips and suddenly he is falling, tumbling, sliding until he comes to a brutal stop upon a cave ledge.

Shaken, breathless, he climbs to his feet and wipes the stinging ice particles that had attached themselves on the way down, away from the large cut across his forehead. Leaning heavily against a wall that, for the moment, appears to be blessedly smooth, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cigarette lighter. After several attempts, with his numb fingers refusing to work the instrument, he tosses it away in frustration.

His teeth are chattering so badly that he is worried they might jump out of his mouth and scamper across the floor. His legs had long lost any recognizable feeling and were starting to deny the simplest of commands, such as walking. Trying to fold his arms around himself for warmth, he succeeded only in destroying his already precarious balance against the wall and slid down to his knees.

It seemed brighter down here, or perhaps his eyes were finally adjusting to the darkness. He doesn’t know if there is actually a light or just his own desperate hope of the possibility, and that it has to be coming from somewhere. He notices the sparkle of the walls around him as they continue to form ice crystals and paused in his delirium and considered how pretty it was.

The wind outside the cave was still howling, he could hear it moaning through the caverns and vibrating off the walls, like a vengeful banshee waiting to suck away his soul. At the present moment that would be preferable to freezing to death. For the first time ever in his life he felt the sting of defeat and prayed someone would come soon, would find him before he became part of this ice prison he’d become trapped in.

Oddly, perhaps because the numbness had started to penetrate his brain, he couldn’t recall how he had ended up in this God forsaken place, only that he had no equipment, no food, no water and was wearing only his usual jeans, T-shirt and an old raglan. None of it offered him protection from the brutal cold. He was so cold, so terribly tired and he wanted to sleep, God did he want to sleep, just to get away from the cold for awhile, but he knew if he slept he would never wake up.

He sat there shivering, curled into a ball trying to extend whatever body warmth he had left to all his numbed parts, his eyes drooped and he prayed for relief. He couldn’t even remember how long he’d been stumbling around in the cave, or if anyone was even looking for him. All he knew for certain was that he was cold, horribly, horribly cold, and scared; scared he would freeze to death in this ice cavern and never be found.

Suddenly, an ominous sound vibrated through the tunnels and he struggled to sit up and open his eyes. Looking around the darkness seemed intense and he could see nothing now, not even the little flicker of light that had given him hope. Intuition warned him to rise to his feet and get the hell out of there, that something worse than the cold would soon be upon him, but his legs refused to support him.

After many desperate tries, with nothing to catch a solid, firm grip on to lever him upright, he still managed to scramble to his feet and stiffly hobble forward. He had only gone a few steps when everything grew quiet. His fear increased even as he chanced a look behind him, into the abyss of darkness and saw the wave of ice and water charging towards him.

His eyes widened in fear, his mouth opened and he screamed…

Allison finished up her painting with a final flourishing stroke and smiled with satisfaction.

“All done, hun?” Robert asked, pausing behind his wife to admire the artwork displayed. “Wow! That’s fantastic!”

Alison beamed at him as she signed her name at the bottom. “I think I outdid myself,” she agreed. “I ran out of canvas in the minute of my inspiration so I borrowed some sheets from your desk; is that okay?”

“The ones on the desk? Nah, I was just flushing out a new character for my book.” He squeezed her shoulder and tapped his head.  “I’ve got everything locked in here, no worries.”

“Your new detective novel?”

Robert smiled and nodded.

“Allison set her brushes in a bottle of cleansing solution. “You’ll have to tell me more about it over dinner.” She rose. “Which I intend to order from La Ristorante, as a reward from our hard work.”

“Sounds great,” Robert agreed and watched her leave the room, before turning back to the painting.

It was a beautiful scene on what appeared to be an arctic planet, complete with a mountain backdrop and one large cavernous opening peeking out behind a tall flowing waterfall. He leaned closer and scowled at the small run of color at the bottom of the waterfall, looked like his wife missed a stroke. Strange, he didn’t see any other red on the painting.


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