Ghostville Chronicles #1: This is the New Year

Ghostville is cold, frozen over with high temperatures in the single digits. After snow a few days ago, the fresh snow has turned into a crisp layer of ground, crunching under your feet. It is much too cold to be outside panhandling, but there is a man on the corner in a snow suit, held together with duct tape, holding a sign asking for work or donations. It is much too cold to be riding a bike, but another man slides down the street, balancing a case of Natural Light beer on the bar between his legs. No kids are outside building snowmen or having snowball fights. Nobody is shoveling the sidewalks but letting the snow lay where it may. Most of the Ghostville residents are hiding under blankets in their homes, binge-watching movies from the library or Netflix, and those are the fortunate. Even though there are a few people driving to and from work, many are on an extended vacation from Christmas Eve until the first of the year, so many are just hunkering down and bracing themselves against the cold.

This cold gives me anxiety. Not in the general way that something gives me anxiety, like the type of anxiety that snakes or being late or traveling gives me. The anxiety from the bitter cold runs deeper because there is genuinely something to be afraid of outside. When I am outside during the summer, in the middle of the heat, I know that all I need to do to find survive is drink water and find some shade for a minute or two. I do not worry much about dying due to the elements in the summer (though many people have died, in their flower gardens or in a houses with no electricity and no fans), but dying in the winter is all of our problems. Outside is death. Nothing is living, movement is slow, the sky is gray, and the cold could be enough to cause hypothermia in minutes if you are not prepared. If you do not have a plan, the cold will cause trouble. Nobody goes out when it is this cold just to get fresh air. All movement is done only by necessity. Even the man getting a case of beer home is motivated by a need more than by a desire. And even he did not leave the house without some preparation. He wears cold weather clothes, a hat, gloves, and facemask, anything that can keep the cold away. This cold is unforgiving. This cold has nothing but murder on it’s mind.

I am surprised that we do not hear about more deaths because of the cold. There have been a few fires because of individuals using more electric heaters and dry Christmas trees not yet thrown out of the house, and a handful of people have died this week because of it. The question I have is more concerned with deaths due to people just walking away from their houses in this kind of weather, a depression that does not end and the cold snap has turned the person around his final bend, so he walks from it all. When I consider this, I think about the sad person standing at the window, the same person that has stood at the same window weeks ago, watching the world die slowly with the falling leaves and rain, only to end in this state, the total disappearance of anything remotely alive. Whether everyone is hiding or burrowing away from the weather, the person realizes that he is mostly on his own, and it would be simple for him to slip out the door, maybe even wearing a coat and hat to look proper, and wander around the city until the cold gets him. He could just sit in the backyard so that his family and friends would know that he froze on purpose, but he could also walk around the city, stop in the park, maybe even buy a few things at the local convenience store so that his family would say that he must have had someplace to go, and they would never know the wiser of the thought process behind his frozen death. This is the scenario that I am shocked does not happen more.

The cold is a disturbing topic, something that I do not like to think about too deeply, but it is always on my mind because the cold will kill me as quickly as it will kill anyone else, without even flinching. We are all equals in the eyes of the winter, and we have to be humbled by it. Ghostville will live on into the spring and the thoughts of winter will eventually subside. This season change cannot happen soon enough.

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