A hobby turns into an obsession.
Taking pictures of the fractured ice was fun for Scott until the face appeared.
Months ago, he began icing his forearms and hands before going to work each morning. As a massage therapist, he had recurring bouts of achy joints, and submerging his arms into icy water did a lot to reduce his pain.
At first, he used ice cubes, but he felt there had to be a better way. So he would freeze a mid-sized plastic mixing bowl of water and dump it into his half-filled kitchen sink.
The circular block of ice would make a satisfying series of audible cracks and pops as its sudden immersion into the lukewarm water caused the ice to fracture internally. The patterns were glorious, and Scott would study the cool cerulean blues, neutral grays, and sharp daggers of black embedded in the icebound mosaic patterns before plunging his arms into the painfully cold water.
Day after day, this became his morning ritual. After coffee and stretching, he would soak his aching hands in the icy water; each time, the block would make the pleasing sounds as it fractured.
His imagination would run wild like the times when he was a kid, and, for hours, he’d lay flat on his back in summer fields forming pictures from the clouds. In the ice, sharp angular cracks would arrange themselves to be mountains, rivers, lakes, and trees. The longer he stared into the ice, the more variations of images his creative mind would pull from the internal fractures. There, a lamppost, here a tree or an impossibly jagged street. And mountains. They were the first thing he saw emerge when he peered into the frozen and fractured ice.
Taking pictures was an inevitable natural next progression for this new hobby. Once he started photographing the ice, he stopped trying to find the images in the ice. He would just carefully frame and record the areas that held a lot of cracks. Then he would crop, zoom, rotate until he was satisfied that he had pulled something significant from the solid.
It felt like an artistic endeavor, this practice of scanning, searching, framing, and tweaking. And it always left Scott satisfied, at least until the face appeared.
The face wasn’t hard to pick out, though the forehead and sides of the skull were somewhat fuzzy as though the face floated in a soft-focus or behind a curtain of steam. It appeared to be a bearded, dark-complected, stern man with glaring eyes and an oddly disquieting, nearly menacing expression. It was not the face of a happy man.”Hey, does this look like a face to you?” he asked his girlfriend, Stella.
She studied the image for several seconds. Scott watched as she scrutinized the picture. He saw her brow slowly crumble and furrow.
“He looks familiar, but I can’t say why,” she said, then laughed at the silliness of recognizing a face from a chaotic arrangement of ice cracks.
He snapped the picture then placed his phone down on the counter so that he might visit the bathroom.
Stella saw the phone, picked it up, saw the image, and began zooming.
“Hey, why are you still looking at yesterday’s picture?” she asked.
He walked into their tiny kitchen, drying his hands on a white towel.
“What are you talking about?”
“This picture? It’s from yesterday,” she said, holding his phone towards him.
“Sorry, you’re mistaken. I just took that picture right before I used the bathroom.”
“Oh yeah, then how do you explain this, mister Ice Man?” she said as she holds the screen up towards his face.
The stern man is back. Impossible. No, that’s ridiculous. She’s playing a prank on you.
“Ha, ha, very funny,” he said as he took his phone back.
He closed all apps and then reopened the GALLERY. He selected the camera folder and reopened the most recent image so that he may edit it.
But it’s there. The face is there. If anything, it was rendered more clearly today.
He felt her behind him. That always startled him, Thinking she was in another room and then feeling her breath on his neck.
“Oh my god,” she said. “That’s uncle Pete.”
Pete was her dad’s younger brother that abused Stella when she was eleven. He got prison time, and her parents divorced over the ensuing fallout from Pete’s trial. Her mother could never get past the doubts that her husband knew something.
Stella was right. The picture, rendered in the jagged mosaic pattern, was the spitting image of Pete.
The same idea occurred to both of them at the same time. Scott sat the phone down and began carefully studying the already melting ice block. Stella pulled the block out of the water and placed it in the other basin; she dropped it quickly as if it were cold or because she feared the face of her uncle would want to bite her. Again.
“He was a biter. Not at first, mind you, but, eventually, he bit me. That’s what allowed the DA to get his conviction because Pete was careful always to wear a condom,” she had told him this on their fourth date.
They lean against the counter as they peer into the ice, looking for the man who molested her, the man who had died last year in prison.
She spotted the smirking face first. It’s there, two days in a row. The odds against such a thing happening, randomly, must be seventeen quintillion to one.
The bastard looked smugger and sterner today.
She was so furious she turned the hot water on high and began melting the block.
It must be a trick with the water, but it appeared like Pete was trying to dodge the spray.
Not content with just the water, she grabbed a butter knife and began ineffectively stabbing at the block.
After the last of the melted ice ran into the garbage disposal, she fell into his arms crying.
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;The Raven – Edgar Allen Poe
Stella was already gone. On Wednesdays, she liked to go for a run before heading to the YMCA to teach her yoga class.
He filled the sink, careful to add some hot water just because he enjoys the sound of the cracking ice so much. He steps away to brush his teeth as the sink slowly fills. When Scott returned, he shut the water off and pulled the bowl from the freezer. He believed the image of Pete must surely, somehow be a function of the mixing bowl. So he replaced the mixing bowl with a slightly larger metal bowl. A part of him wanted to experiment with the image some more, but seeing Pete’s face rattled her. So, in deference to her, he promised he would not use the white plastic bowl anymore.
He glances at the surface of the ice, then upends the bowl dumping the ice into the sink.
The cracks and pops were extra loud today.
He refilled the metal bowl and re-inserted it into the freezer.
When he turned back, his heart leaped into his throat. There across the surface of today’s larger ice block, was the nearly life-sized face of Pete, a man Scott would surely have loved to meet in private, but Pete had already been in prison several years by the time he and Stella met and began dating.
Something was wrong with all of this. It wasn’t the white plastic bowl; there was something far more insidious at work here. Scott peeked at the wall clock; Stella would be back any minute.
He flipped the hot water on, removed the cursed ice, and drops it under the spray of hot water in the empty basin. Feeling the same hatred for the man who caused his lover so much pain and suffering, he pulls the heavy steel blade butcher knife from the drainer and raises it high overhead, but before he can plunge it into the ice, the cracking and popping start again.
With the heavy knife still raised overhead, Pete froze. He was powerless to look away as the face liberated itself from the rest of the block. He was looking at a thin slice of ice that seemed to contain the icy ghost of Stella’s dead uncle.
But there was more.
Scott focused on his eyes. He saw the ice face blink, its lips grimace, revealing Pete’s famous white teeth.
This situation was very wrong.
The layer of ice began shimmering.
From some forgotten vault, Scott hears a chemistry teacher describing sublimation. As he stared at Ice-Pete, the knife forgotten, the face sublimated from its solid phase directly into steam. But the steamy image didn’t dissipate as it should have. No, it stayed coherent and floated slowly up and out of the sink.
Finally, remembering his knife, Scott slashed at the steam, but the steel blade passed harmlessly through the steamy image without injuring it or scattering the now gaseous water molecules apart.
Slowly, the steamy, shimmering image of Pete floated gently towards the ceiling, where it rested at the apex of their cathedral ceilings. From there, it could take in the entirety of their one-room studio.
Scott’s heart sank as he heard Stella pushing her key into the front door.