Clay pounded on the door, screaming. His face frozen, his shouts sounded mostly incoherent, even to himself. Somebody here? Somebody hear me! The meaty side of his fist felt dead as it landed with cold steel thuds. He gasped for air. Ceasing his struggles for a moment, he leaned on the door, catching his breath. It is so cold. My being is cold. His thoughts felt like gel in his skull.
There is a small sign next to the door that he missed before but now, with the light, he can see it. It is written in what looks like Russian. Russian? He looks again. Really? Really. There it is. It is unmistakable. There are letters that seem to be backwards, and others that are clearly not English. Brain freeze. People suffering from hypothermia often report confusion in their thinking. That has to be it. He blinks and tries to refocus. What was he doing? Oh, yeah.
He returned to the futile pain of pounding his fists on the door. He kicked it with his boots, feeling the dead vibrations of the cold shimmer through his leg. He screamed as loud as he could and kept screaming and kicking until, from somewhere—some interminable distance away—he thought he heard a faint sound. Shussle. Click. There it was again. Shussle… Click.
The sound grew closer. It grew closer still. He could hear it through his own pounding and the kicking but the command from his brain to cease his protests had not yet reached the rest of his body. Seconds later, he saw light through the window and watched an inner door open into the small vestibule behind the window. He heard a faint, unrecognizable noise, and then a face appeared at the small, square opening, looking out at him. The face stared at him awhile, squinting its eyes and shaking its head. No voice could be heard, but he could tell from the round and exaggerated syllables the face made with its mouth that it was shouting, “Go away!”
Clay pleaded to the face. It was a man’s face, and a man should have compassion, shouldn’t he? His thoughts marched through the muck of his mind before spilling out of his mouth in his cold and frozen language. “Hypothermia,” his tongue spat out. Somewhere in his brain he thought that this should be enough, but he forced his face to form more words. “C’mon! Dying! Need Help! Nowhere… to… go. Can’t go! Need to warm up, that’s all. Don’t leave me out here, man!” He didn’t know if the words were intelligible or not. He didn’t know if they could be heard, but this is what his brain told him he was saying.
The face of the man in the window refused. It shouted back, and Clay could now hear a voice, although the sound was muffled and distant. “This is a secure facility! No one is allowed in here. You need to go away! You can be arrested or shot. Just go away!”
Clay laughed. He was hysterical. “Arrest me then! Or shoot me,” he shouted, laughing heartily through his weakened state. He hoped that the face could hear him. He had to will himself to concentrate. “Arrest me! Please.” Then his voice dropped to a whisper, and he leaned his head on the glass. “I’m dying. I’m as good as dead anyway.”
That’s it, he thought. I’ll just die right here. Yelling again, he made his closing plea. “If you don’t let me in, I’ll just die right here in the doorway. Then you’ll have to deal with my body in the morning!” Each word was exaggerated in elongated, shallow syllables. “If you don’t open up right now, I am going to lie down here and… I’ll die, man. I’ll just go to sleep…”
As he said those words he felt a bone-aching tiredness wash over him like he had never felt before. Sleep. He looked at the face in the window, and a Whitman quote streamed forth out of him before he could even think of why he remembered it: “I will show that nothing can happen more beautiful than death.” He shouted the line at the face in the window and the face looked back, as if it was considering how beautiful death might be, how lovely it would be to see it. Then the face dropped out of the window and disappeared.
Clay felt his whole body slump and suddenly recognized the tension that had gripped him while he had been pleading for his life. He strained his eyes in the mix of dark and light and shadow, looking around for the best place to lie down and die. Going painfully to one knee on the frozen concrete, he was just about to sink into the snow when there was a rattle of keys at the door. The lock turned and the door slowly opened. Clay turned to look behind him but was instantly blinded by the light as he stood to his feet. He heard the voice that had just been shouting from behind the door.
“Get in here. Quickly.”
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