The Imperfect Collection: The Cold Room

Perfectionism magnifies your mistakes and minimises your progress – Jon Acuff

I am the triple whammy of being not only a Virgo, but the eldest child and recipient of the “Hermione” award (think of the first book/movie) in Primary School.

As you can imagine from this combination I REALLY struggle with producing anything I don’t think is perfect and as a result I don’t share a lot of what I write. However I’m starting to realise that if I want to write I can’t keep living by this belief. My writing is not perfect and it never will be.

These works I’ve chosen to share are stories I’ve created for either competitions or for fun. They are all imperfect, they are all unedited, have grammatical errors, rushed endings, overused tropes, weird tangents… you name it!  That doesn’t stop them however,  from being something I created out of nothing. So I’m going to take a deep breath, let go and say…

Welcome to the Imperfect Collection.

The Cold room

NOTE: I wrote this short story for a writing competition. The prompts were as follows: Genre – Horror, Character – A Palaeontologist, Object – prescription drugs

The old man yelled out in exertion as he pulled the pressurized door shut behind him. Automatically he reached into his left trouser pocket to pull out a half empty blister pack, two white pills swallowed dry. He slipped the almost empty pack back in his trousers. He was running low again. 

“Can’t believe you don’t rattle when you walk, the amount of them you have,” That’s what Rowan (or should he say, Dr. Rowan) said as he and the PhD student Emma left the camp this morning, a big mischievous grin on his youthful face. 

“Yes, it was all right for him” mumbled the old man to no one. Rowan was  a young, overly enthusiastic paleontologist with a big mouth, off to find the next big discovery. The old man couldn’t let him take the glory of that after sixty years working in the field so he had to come along. He wasn’t doing it just for his own sake but for the scientific world. 

“Rowan wouldn’t know what to do with a discovery, he’d sell the bloody thing or destroy it with some new-fangled testing method.” He whispered to himself.  

And besides, he thought furiously, as he stepped out into the common room of their base in search of more pills, shooting a glance out the tiny frosted window, icy sleet was falling steadily outside, obscuring everything in sight, “his doctor had told him to take his prescription every 4 hours or as required.” “Well,” he grumbled under his breath, “being just shy of 80 and travelling to a Siberian wasteland in a search for a full mammoth carcass sure did require a lot more pills than usual, what did they expect?”

Rowan and Emma had left earlier that day to pick up some food and supplies at the township about four hours away. They were meeting up with the rest of the excavation team who had left two days earlier. The old man knew they wouldn’t be back until tomorrow at least. The discovery of an intact mammoth body the week prior, had yet to be celebrated properly and the old man insisted on staying whilst the other let off some steam. He had never been interested in that. He rummaged for one more white pill before turning back to the pressurized door of the cool room in which the baby mammoth had been painstakingly moved to five days prior. 

He had less than three days left with their discovery until it would be moved to the laboratory back in Japan and he wanted to make the most of it. He shot a quick glance out the frosted window out of habit, he knew the other wouldn’t return so soon, and without really seeing he turned back to the task of the pressurized door forcing his entire body weight against the push of the inward pressure.

 It wasn’t until he was inside the cool room, a blast of frigid air in his face did he process what he had seen as he glanced out towards the tundra. The window was always frosted, the chill from outside creating an icy layer on the outside, tiny geometric patterns of ice. But just now, he thought, it seemed as though it was clear at least in the middle anyway as though someone from the outside had wiped their hand across to look in. He shook his head to clear the thought. There was no chance someone was out there and there was an even smaller chance he was going to wrangle that door open again to prove his eyes were playing tricks on him. He’d already scheduled an optometrist appointment for when he got home. 

The mammoth carcass took up the expanse of the tiny cool room. Although they believed it to be a juvenile specimen perhaps only a few months old at death it was still the size of a large cow. It’s fur was slightly matted but entirely intact, like a teddy bear that had been left outside overnight in the rain. By appearance the beast could have died yesterday not 40 000 years ago. “It was truly a remarkable sight” the old man thought with pride, still partially frozen, the dark creature created a strong contrast to the stark white walls of its artificial lodgings. 

The pressurized room gave the old man a strange sense of calm. Compared to the constant whipping of wind against the other rooms of the hut, the silence was so deadening he could hear his blood being rushed around his body. He imagined how the pills would be working within him. Dissolving chemicals into his bloodstream and sending them to his brain. His body physically relaxed at the thought. 

And so he set to his work along one silvery wall sat a small set of drawers and a laptop. His notes (he preferred to hand write) lay next to the small computer meticulously detailed.  As he reached towards his notes his knee knocked against the drawers pushing it shut. The old man frowned, “He hadn’t left it open had he?” Impossible.” He bent to open it. Inside sat only a discarded dissection kit. Designed for undergraduate use it contained two tweezers, a stainless steel pair of scissors and a small scalpel. 

The old man stared at the scalpel, an internal war raging through his mind. There was a possibility that this mammoth’s body could still contain blood, usable blood. The scientific possibilities of such a discovery could be endless. Should he do it? He couldn’t let Rowan and the other back at the lab take all the glory. Could he? He reached for the scalpel and turned it over and over in his hand weighing up his options. The pills had cleared his head and with a resolute nod he moved towards the mammoth carcass. Solid and overwhelming in the silent ice room. 

He ran his hand over the face of the beast. It’s eye black and liquid as though half seeing under it’s thick lashes. His fingers knitted through the fur as he worked his way down to the front shoulder and then further down the left leg of the beast. It had been defrosted slightly.  Not enough to induce rotting but the flesh felt smooth under the coarse fur, as his fingers traced a path the skin undulated as though small bubbles of air were trapped beneath. “The effects of time…” he chuckled as he placed the scalpel slightly above the upper leg joint. He took a deep breath and aligned the scalpel to perform a clean slicing cut in a diagonal fashion. One more breath as he glanced back into the beast’s eye. Deep, dark and unseeing. 

The old man lent forward so he was eye level with the scalpel, his nose stopping only inches short of where he would make the cut. Excitement fizzed through him as he steadied himself and began to apply careful pressure on the scalpel. He held his breath, tongue between his teeth, as he braced himself for the breaking of the ancient delicate skin. 

BANG BANG! 

Two distinct, pounding knocks on the door radiated through the silent cold room. The scalpel slipped violently as the old man jumped in terror, his heart racing too fast for him to catch the breath he had been holding moments before.

“Knocking? The others wouldn’t be back until tomorrow, they had called earlier saying they’d arrived at the town, they couldn’t possibly be back in that time?” He could hear the blood pounding furiously in his ears as he grasped the handle of the door with one shaking hand and pulled. It wouldn’t move.

The old man pulled again, his body creaking in protest. He spun around, searching around the room for anything he could use to wedge it open. His breath was deafeningly loud as he pressed himself on the door. “Hello?” He called out desperately but he knew whatever was out there couldn’t hear him through the thick walls. A dripping sound broke the old man from his panicked frenzy. He hadn’t noticed he was still gripping the scalpel in his other hand. With a yelp of pain he released it with a clang on the floor. A deep cut ran across his palm, a perfectly straight incision. His blood like liquid ruby’s dripping onto the stark linoleum. 

He felt dizzy; bundling up his hand in his coat he reached for the last of his pills with his other hand. Fumbling with the blister pack with only one hand he managed to break the seal over his mouth. The pill bounced off his bottom lip and fell invisible onto the floor. The old man was now desperate, shaking so much he could barely stand, he launched himself onto the floor in desperate search for his pill. He ran his good hand over the cold white surface smearing his own blood as he fumbled frantically until he found it under the table of the mammoth. The old man’s eyes widened triumphantly as he snatched it up off the floor. He held it to his face, he couldn’t take it now and it had fallen into the pool of his blood, stained brown. 

BANG BANG! 

A second violent wave of knocks hammered against the cold room door. Without stopping to think the old man shoved the pill into his mouth and swallowed. The rusty taste of his own blood filled his mouth and he gagged. He lay partly underneath the wooly beast not daring to move. The pain in his cut hand pulsed at an excruciating rhythm. His stomach was churning in fear and revulsion. It was freezing on the hard floor yet a large bead of sweat dropped down his face… and then another. 

He wiped his face with his good hand and turned his palm over, fresh blood now covered that from his own wound. He stole a glance upwards and gasped in shock. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The mammoth was bleeding too. A large gash had opened up where the old man jerked the scalpel;  fresh, black blood was now oozing consistently from the wound. The old man’s mind raced but the only comprehendible thought he could muster was, “I did it!” 

BANG! 

The old man shrank further under the table; blood was now blossoming out from the stained coat he had wrapped his injured hand in. He spotted the scalpel laying where he had dropped it, beside the door. He readied himself to make a quick crawl for it. He closed his eyes and took a large breath of frigid air. 

BANG!

He heard the door fly and a rapid rush of warmth filled the room. The old man stole a glance upwards and his scream caught in his throat…

***

“It must have been wolves,” Dr. John Rowan told the investigators three days later, “I don’t understand how they got in but the way he was ripped…” His voice cracked, he couldn’t go on.”

“The mammoth specimen had been attacked too” Emma pleaded to them, “I believe it could still be viable for their research however. A blood sample could possibly still be obtained if we could just take it with us.” 

They sat at the common room table, two investigators sat imposingly opposite them, looking drawn. Rowan knew they all believed this was an animal attack; there was no other plausible explanation for the grotesque scene he and Emma had walked into on their return the evening before. He shuddered involuntarily, only half-listening as the investigators and Emma discussed the transport of the mammoth back to Japan that morning. 

The sun was starting to rise over the stark Siberian expanse and he felt its early rays slightly warm his face. Rowan raised his head to the window and gave a blood curdling cry. The small frosted opening was smeared from the outside with something no wolf could be capable of. 

One distinctly human handprint painted with blood. 

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