Short Story
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                         The Cold Winter Heart
                                                         By Lee A. Forman


 The blood was clearly visible in the snow, forming an unbroken line that led
into the woods behind Tommy’s house.  He had seen it through the window
from inside and immediately rushed out to investigate.  The sight of it
shocked him, started his stomach churning, and caused a wave of dizziness
to crash through his head.

 His first thought was that it came from a wounded animal but he could see
no footprints of any kind.  There was only a clean, unbroken blanket all
around the scarlet trail.  Racing with adrenaline, he thought of going back in
the house and telling his mom about it, but the curiosity of a twelve year old
boy has always been boundless, and the sense of adventure a temptation
not easily resisted.

 He pulled his gloves on tight, zipped up his coat, and began to follow the
mysterious discovery into the forest.

 It was quiet except for the crunching of his boots in the snow and the sound
of his breath as he deeply inhaled and exhaled the cold air.  He stayed to the
side of the blood, not wanting to step in it.  He wondered what his mother
would think if she came into the back yard looking for him.  She might think it
was his blood as she would recognize the prints left by the snow boots she
bought him for his birthday.

 It had been a good birthday.  It fell on a warm November day with plenty of
sunshine and not much wind.  The day was so nice mom had agreed to have
the party outside.  His friends were there and even his father had shown up
for the occasion.  Ever since mom and dad divorced he hadn’t seen much of
dad, and those rare moments when he did were always days filled with joy.

 The trail of blood weaved through the trees and seemed to go on forever.  
Tommy’s legs were starting to get tired but the excitement growing inside him
motivated him to keep going.  He wasn’t sure how long he’d been walking but
it sure felt like a long time.

 “Too bad I didn’t get a watch for my birthday”, he said to himself.

 A dark figure walked between the trees far ahead of him.  He only saw it
briefly, as if out of the corner of his eye.  It had come and gone in a quick
flash.  “Hello!” he yelled, hoping to get the attention of whoever it was.

 He stood very still, listening for a reply.

 A faint cry for help was returned.

 Fear crept up his spine and dug into his neck, sending shivers through his
entire body.  He looked at the blood, realizing someone was hurt and needed
help.  The thought that the blood had come from an animal hadn’t frightened
him, but the fact that it could be human blood terrified him.  He wanted to run
home and get his mother but he thought that whoever was hurt might need
help right away, so he quickened his pace, trudging through the deep snow
as fast as he could.

 “Hello!” he yelled again. “Are you okay?”

 “Help me,” the voice replied, sounding closer than before.

 “I’m coming!” he called out, his voice sounding very weak and frightened to
himself.

 The dark figure passed through the trees ahead of him again like the vapor
of a ghost, seeming to float with swiftness that normal feet could not match,
especially in the deep snow.  The shadowy figure was tall and thin, a twisted
caricature of a human being, its arms and legs being too long, the head
misshapen.  It frightened him more than the blood or the cries for help.

 He stood perfectly still in his fear, stuck in it like an animal in a trap.  He was
immobile, held by the maw of fear itself, its sharp teeth digging into his soul.  
He dared not take a breath for fear that it could be his last.

 There was an overwhelming silence; not even the beating of his own heart
could be heard in his ears.  The wind was still, the tension in the air too thick
for it to move.  The forest around him seemed frozen in time.

 The only things moving were the images inside his head.  They darted
around in his skull, wanting to break free with his own cry for help, but his
lungs could not carry the sound.  He wondered if that was how people felt just
before they died.

 “Please help me!” the voice called out again.  “Oh God, please, no!”

 Tommy could then tell it was the voice of a child that was calling out, a boy’s
voice, probably close to his own age.  It sounded desperate and in pain, a
helpless noise that would soon see its end.

 In spite of his fear he rushed forward, following the scarlet ribbon in the
snow as it became thicker and thicker, widening as it went through the trees,
becoming a deeper, darker shade of red.  His legs were starting to burn from
the hard work of lifting them out of the deep snow they sunk into with each
step.  Sweat was pouring down his face, stinging his eyes and salting his lips.

 The trail suddenly stopped at the foot of a tree.  A large pool of life’s fluid
had formed there, and in the center of it was a human heart.  The sight of it
nauseated him and he had the sour taste of bile on his tongue.  It was hot in
his throat and it felt raw as he breathed.

 He had seen a human heart in late night horror movies he’d watched on TV
but the real thing was different.  It was more real than anything he had ever
seen before; the sight of it had a power that could never be matched by
special effects, no matter how realistic they were.

 At that moment all he wanted was his parents.  He wanted to be in his
mother’s arms, safe from the clutches of death.  He wanted to hear his father’
s voice, telling him he would be okay, promising to protect him from harm.  He
wished they were there to face the violence and danger, to shield him from it,
preserving the innocence he was losing.

 It was then he realized that his mom didn’t know where he was.  She might
not even know he was gone.  He thought of her at home, sitting in her chair
reading a book, enjoying her Saturday afternoon, unaware that her beloved
son was in a perilous situation.

 He slowly bent down and touched the heart as a morbid curiosity took over.  
As his fingers wrapped around it he could feel that it was cold, frozen in the
snow as if it had been there for some time.  The heart was thick and felt
heavier than he had expected.

 “No!  Please don’t hurt me!” the child’s voice screamed.

 This time the voice came from only a few feet away.

 When he looked towards the sound he saw the shadowy figure that he had
seen in the woods for what it was.  It was a man wearing a long, black coat.  
He was tall and crooked and had a mostly bald head with strands of gray hair
going from the back of his skull down to his neck.  His nose was long and
pointed and the eyes above it were fierce with madness.  The man was
holding a knife, standing over the young boy who lay on the ground.

 “There’s nowhere to run now,” the monstrous man said.  “I have you.”

 “Please, mister!  Please don’t hurt me!” The boy was thrashing in the snow
beneath the menacing figure of the psychotic old man, but it was obvious that
his efforts to escape were in vain.

 The man only laughed at the boy’s pleas for mercy.

 The heart in Tommy’s hand began to beat, pulsing with uncanny life.  Faster
and faster it went, pouring blood into his hand from its ventricles.  He wanted
to let go of the cold, undead muscle but his hand would not release it.  It
clung to his flesh like it was part of him.

 Then he heard the guttural shrieking of the child as the crazy man sunk the
knife deep into the boy’s chest.  The scream pierced Tommy’s mind, causing
his nerves to shatter into trillions of pieces.  His hand gripped the heart as
every muscle in his body tightened.  It beat furiously against his palm in an
insane rhythm, the harrowing music announcing the coming of death.

 The song of death ended in a gurgle and then petered out as the boy’s
body jerked and rattled in its final attempts to stay alive.  It then settled as
blood pooled beneath it in the snow.
The heart in Tommy's hand slowed to a deathly pace.

 The murderer kneeled over the body he had taken the life from and used
his knife to carve open the chest.  He dipped his hand into the carnage and
pulled out the heart.  He smiled as he held it in his hand, steam wafting from it
as the warmth left it.

 The man stood and placed the heart where Tommy had found the one in his
hand.  He then walked off into the woods, paying no attention to him.

 The heart in Tommy’s hand stopped completely and sudden dizziness
claimed his balance.  The trees around him swirled in a spiral as he felt
gravity winning its war against him and he fell in the snow.

 When he regained his composure he stood up on weak knees.  He
struggled to stay upright, nearly falling with each labored step.  He slowly
walked over to the body lying on the ground and looked down at its
lifelessness.

 He dropped the heart.

 It was as though he were looking into a mirror, his own face staring back at
him with a lifeless expression.  The boy lying dead in the snow was himself.

 He unzipped his coat and put his hand to his chest. There was a hole
carved there, leaving an empty cavity where his heart should have been.  He
was shocked to find that he felt no pain.

 He looked up from the empty cavern of his chest to the sky which was now
darkening, the light fading into night.  He screamed in agony at the savage
trick played on him, cursing the heavens for his untimely fate.  He would
never again see his mother.  He would never again see his father.

 And worse, they would never again see him.

 He felt himself fading away as the last sliver of the golden sun sunk beneath
the horizon and the moon came out to play.  His back was as cold as ice, his
frozen heart, colder still.  The stars danced above him in a spinning motion
and he felt somehow closer to them, closer than he had ever been before.

 As his last thoughts settled in his quieting mind, the stars blinked out one by
one, leaving him alone lying in the snow on a cold winter night.
About Lee A. Forman

Lee A. Forman resides
in Orange County, New
York, where he spends
most of his time writing
short fiction and hiking
trails in the Hudson
Valley. He has been an
avid fan of horror fiction
and cinema for
decades.  Find him on
Facebook at http://
facebook.com/lee.
forman You can also
contact him by e-mail
at leeandrewforman@
gmail.com