Kylie is not even halfway home before she’s sure she will never make it.
“I hurt so bad everywhere from the cold and I can’t decide if I even feel any pain in the numbness that has replaced my feet. I can’t even feel my feet touching the ground anymore!”
The walk is pure torture in this extreme cold without her coat and boots. The road seems to stretch out longer and longer before her with every difficult step.
“Oh my gawd, is the road getting longer?” She gapes at the impossible distance ahead. “It feels like the house is getting further away instead of closer.”
“I could just lie down here,” Kylie thinks again, feeling the extreme exhaustion wearing her down, making her feel so weak. “If I stop, I’m done. I’ll die here. Maybe that would be better.”
The thought both terrifies and relieves her. “I can rest if I’m dead. I won’t feel any more pain. I won’t have to keep going.”
Desolate and wanting to just give up and lie down, Kylie pushes herself on, not knowing where she will find the determination to keep going, making her mind focus only on being warm and inside the house. She focuses on each step, one step at a time.
Finally, she makes it home.
Kylie doesn’t even realise she is home at first. She is forcing one foot before the other in blind determination, staring down at her feet as she stumbles along, unable to feel anything more than a distant sharp block of pain with each step, and looks up to get her bearings. She’s expecting to yet again see an impossibly long way to go.
She is shocked to find herself standing on the sidewalk in front of her own house. She looks up the walkway to the front door and it looks a hundred times longer than it should.
“It’s so far,” she whimpers.
Kylie stumbles up the walkway, making it to the door. But her torment isn’t over yet.
“I don’t have a key to get in because they stole my coat with the key in the pocket.” She feels again like giving up. She knows what to do, but isn’t sure she can do it right now.
“That isn’t such a big problem,” Kylie says through teeth that are clenched tight from the extreme cold. Her words are a lie meant to push away her own doubts. She feels absolutely lost.
She looks around as if afraid someone might see her, and limps around to the back of the house, huddling down near a basement window.
“It’s a good thing I figured this trick out before, or Mom would be coming home to find me frozen to death on the front steps.”
Kylie is picturing herself lying on the front steps, curled up in a little ball for warmth and frozen hard as a statue. Her mother would come up the steps, wondering first why she is there, and then noticing that she has no coat or boots. She imagines the horror on her mother’s face when she realizes her daughter is dead, frozen stiff as a Popsicle. “A kidsicle on her front step,” she thinks.
Doubt almost stops her from even trying. “What if it doesn’t work? It worked before, but it was summer then. This time it’s winter. The window could be frozen shut. My fingers are so numb I might not be able to do it.”
Kylie steels herself and pushes on the window in the middle where the two windowpanes slightly overlap, pushing on the inner pane overlapping to the inside of the house. They are the kind of windows that have two sliding pieces of glass in a window frame. She has to press hard enough to bend the one windowpane in enough so the latch does not catch while trying to slide it over with the pressure of her palms and fingers on the flat surface. There is nothing to grab and pull or push on to make sliding it easier.
She tries sliding the window, prying at it with frozen fingers that are so cold they are nubs of numbness and pain that feel nothing else.
“I can’t do it,” she thinks, panicked. She is so cold that her fingers barely work.
“No, come on,” she groans. “You have to work.”
Crying and biting her lip through the pain from the cold, Kylie frantically attacks the stubborn window, desperate to get into the house. For a moment, she is sure she’s not going to make it and won’t be able to get the window open. Kylie is about to give up when it finally moves just a tiny bit. It’s such a slight movement that she isn’t sure it really happened.
“It moved. Did it move? Of course it moved,” she mutters through clenched teeth.
Encouraged by that tiny success, Kylie attacks the window with renewed energy, pushing and trying to slide it. It is so cold out that the window is frozen stuck in its frame, just as she was worried it would be.
Kylie manages to slide the window a little more. It stops just at the edge of the latch by the width of a hair now, the latch not catching. One wrong move and it could slip back and latch again. She holds her breath and tries again. The window moves the tiniest bit and then suddenly the icy grip of winter releases it and the glass jerks open just a little.
She almost cries out with the relief and the feel of that movement and the small opening it makes. It’s just barely wide enough to get her fingers into. She shoves her fingers into the narrow opening; the touch of the icy metal feeling like a sharp knife is slicing up her fingers, and slowly works the window open.
Her whole body both numb and burning with cold, Kylie fumbles as she turns and crawls backwards in through the window. She tries to ease herself down, but her numb fingers can’t hold and she falls with all her weight. Kylie cries out in pain, her feet exploding with agony as they hit the floor. She falls to her knees, twisting and trying to roll, her hands going out instinctively to break her fall and only managing to half fall on her side and hurt herself even more.
Now that she is finally safely inside the house, Kylie has the problem of the open window. She looks up at it. The freezing cold air coming in is turning to fog as it hits the warmer air inside.
“I can’t just leave it open, but I don’t think I have the strength to close it. I am so exhausted and cold and I hurt everywhere. I just want to lie down and quit. No, Kylie, you have to close it. It will freeze open and even Mom won’t be able to close it then. She’ll be really mad.”
Digging deep inside herself for a reserve of strength she is sure will fail her; Kylie grabs a chair and drags it below the window. Luckily, her mother keeps an old kitchen chair down there to use as a step stool to reach the higher shelves.
Climbing up awkwardly with her blocks of ice for feet to stand the chair, Kylie struggles with the window, but it’s stuck open, already freezing in place. With the window stuck open and the cold air chilling her, her fingers and toes on fire with pain from the cold walk and her whole body still a numb pain without end, Kylie feels completely defeated. She lets out a sob.
“I can’t just leave the window open,” she groans, “and I can’t get it closed.”
Kylie thinks about hitting the edge with a hammer to knock it loose, but knows she will probably just break the glass. Sobbing, she attacks the window, trying to force it closed, and finally manages to budge it with a protesting squeak from the window in its cold-shrunken frame. Shrill squeak by squeak, she fights with the window, nudging it closed a tiny bit at a time. She cringes each time, instinctively dreading her mother hearing the sound from somewhere in the house and finding out what happened, even though she knows her mother isn’t home.
With the window finally closed, Kylie can go upstairs. Getting off the chair is just as awkward as getting up.
She moves cautiously through the dark basement towards the stairs. It is lit only by the weak light coming in the few small basement windows. The basement makes her feel nervous. It always has.
Every step is a distant stabbing pain in the frozen blocks that are her feet.
Kylie hears a noise, just barely, and even though she knows it’s probably just her imagination, her heart races faster and her stomach knots. She has always imagined there are things in the basement, bad things. Her imagination is fueled by her ears playing tricks on her, hearing things from down here that no one else ever seems to hear.
Swallowing her fear, she forces herself to move forward. She thinks she catches movement in the corner of her eye and turns quickly to look, but there is nothing there.
“It’s all in your imagination, dummy,” she scolds herself. “Just get to the stairs.”
When she reaches the stairs, she stops and looks up at the murky blackness above. The light switch is at the top of the stairs.
She swallows and races up them, half on her knees, the odd numbness with sharp slicing pain in her feet proving too much. She almost gives up halfway up the stairs. Her feet feel strange on the ends of her legs, dull numbness like they are asleep but with less feeling. The pain seems somehow to move through her feet to her legs above, like steel blades. The numb and painful frozen blocks that they were are now getting hot and tingling but still numb. The darkness of the stairwell swallows her.
She reaches the top and grabs at the doorknob of the closed door at the top, throwing herself against the door and almost crying out when her numb pain-filled fingers have trouble working the knob. The knob turns, releasing the door to swing open, and she spills out onto the kitchen floor.
She slams the door closed against the invisible monsters in the basement. She leans against the door, breathing heavily, imagining the unseen monsters somehow getting her through the door, and quickly scoots away with a nervous look at the door.
“You are being so stupid, scared of the dark. Are you a baby now?”
Kylie is still shaken by the attack in the park and distraught over the panic of not being able to get into the house. She is shivering and in pain from the cold walk home, and is heartsick over being stuck in this wretched position of being her.
Her whole body feels like it’s warming too fast, getting hot. Every inch of her aches with the pain and numbness of being frozen. But now she feels like she is burning up with a fever too. Exhaustion takes over and she feels like soft rubber melting into the floor.
“I’m not just thawing out, I’m melting like ice.”
“Why?” she sobs. “Why do I have to be me? Why can’t I just be someone else; someone who doesn’t get bullied or locked out of the house in winter with no coat and shoes? Why do I even have to be alive?”
The pain in her hands and feet is getting worse as they warm up. They feel like they are on fire. The pain is so bad now that Kylie is sure she is going to lose her hands and feet.
She tries again to pry the tight scarf around her neck loose, but it’s still frozen hard with ice and her fingers are burning nubs of numb pain that won’t cooperate.
“I’ll have to wait for the ice to melt.”
The scarf’s continued stranglehold on her neck only makes her feel worse. She can breathe, but the air is restricted by the tight scarf. She imagines herself slipping off, unconscious and dying, strangled on her own scarf in the safety of her own home, her mother coming home to find her cold dead body on the floor with the scarf still knotted tightly around her neck.
“It would probably be good that I’m dead,” she mumbles miserably.
Thinking again about her mother and sister finding her like that, Kylie struggles to her feet, wincing and whimpering, and limps to the bathroom. She rummages in the cabinet under the sink. She finds the hairdryer and plugs it in, turning it on and fumbling with it in her painful still-numb burning fingers. She runs it back and forth, blowing the heat of the hairdryer on the scarf until the ice melts.
Turning it off, she leaves it on the counter and tries again to loosen the scarf. The wet yarn doesn’t want to loosen. Finally, it gives and she is able to loosen it enough to get her fingers under it and then to grip her hands around it. She pulls it off with relief, dropping it on the floor.
Tears streaming and limping awkwardly, Kylie goes to her bedroom. She struggles to get out of her wet clothes. She stops and looks down at herself. She turns, looking at herself in the mirror over her dresser. The bruises are already starting to show on her stomach, back, legs, and arms from the beating in the park.
She pulls on warm sweat pants and a sweatshirt and pulls the comforter off her bed and wraps herself in it. The edge of the blanket dragging on the floor, she goes to the living room and sits curled up in the big chair, shivering. She picks up the T.V. remote off the table beside the chair and turns the T.V. on.
“I wish I was dead,” she moans miserably. “I wish I was never even born. That I could just melt into the floor and disappear. That I never even existed. I hate me and I hate this life.”
Kylie starts flipping through the channels, finds a show she doesn’t like but isn’t as bad as the rest, and stops.
She turns her head towards the large living room windows. The curtains are only half closed. Outside at the curb in front of the house is a car. Her father’s car. She sinks lower into the chair, desperately hoping he hasn’t seen her. She feels sick suddenly.
“No,” she whimpers fearfully, “not him, not now, not today.”
She can’t see anyone in the car and that makes it even worse. She hates her father.
“Please mom,” she begs, “hurry home.”
THE LATCHKEY KIDS IS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK ON AMAZON