By George Wilhite
Pitching a tent, ready to spend the warm May night outside near her garden, Julie held fast to her desperate hope of finally witnessing firsthand her invisible but powerful opponent, the terminal frost. Spring was far advanced, the first day of summer less than a month away, and still this malevolent affliction continued.
The days were warm and sunny, and Julie seized every opportunity to work the organic soil she had developed over the last dozen years with meticulous care, planting crops, providing just the right amount of water. She was doing everything correctly. But still, each morning she rose to find her efforts undone by this inexplicable spring frost.
Nobody else was affected by this anomaly and she stopped talking about it once everyone in town began casting their smug and derisive looks, or whispering and laughing when she passed by. She was not crazy. The frost was real and tonight she would prove it.
But hours passed without incident. Wearing only shorts and a tank top, resting on top of her sleeping bag, Julie was still quite warm. In an effort to stay awake all night, she took a long nap earlier and prepared a large thermos of coffee. Full of nervous energy and anxiety over the impending event, she left the tent many times, pacing around, yet never noticing anything out of the ordinary. When did this thing strike? Her watch read nearly three in the morning. A beautiful spring evening with a slight cooling breeze and no sign of her culprit.
But moments later, moving closer to her garden area, she saw the first signs of frost along the edges of one of her tomato plants. Rushing forward, a mysterious chill enveloped her, gooseflesh forming on her arms.
It was happening.
Whirling around, assuming some kind of sick prank was in progress, Julie found the area around her property as still and silent as ever. Her tormentor remained hidden but scornful, attacking her garden with the savage frost.
A few yards from the perimeter of her garden beds, Julie realized she was warm again. Bewitched by this sudden and incomprehensible aspect of the night’s increasing mystery, she spent nearly an hour walking around the garden area in every direction until she finally discerned the macabre truth. There was a freezing cold spot resting solely on her garden.
But why? Gardening was her life, her passion. Everyone in town agreed her vegetables and flowers were always the best around. Why didn’t this horrible affliction choose some slacker or wannabe gardener instead? It wasn’t fair!
“Go away!” Julie shouted. “Leave me alone!”
Fearing she was losing it, raving at the thin air, Julie sensed for the first time she was not alone. A sinister presence wrapped itself around her like a shroud, in wicked partnership with the oppressive frost.
“So there is someone or something behind this after all!” she cried out to the unseen perpetrator. “Okay. So, then again, I ask you—why me?”
Her only answer was a gust of wind so powerful it knocked her to the ground. Arms and legs flailing, the presence held her chest down so tightly that her struggles were in vain and soon she was gasping for air. An enormous shadow out of the darkness descended up her as the cold intensified, and then she lost consciousness.
They found her body in the same spot two days later, curled into a ball as if trying to stay warm, her mouth still gaped open in an expression of horror and anger.
Later, the several deputies, the coroner and the many curious neighbors gathered around her were not aghast by her death, but rather by the bizarre phenomenon transpiring before them. Though the sun shone brightly above, and there was not a cloud in the sky, a shadow spread outward from Julie’s garden, across the length of her neighbor Floyd Besser’s pasture, and was moving slowly but deliberately into the woods nearby. In its wake, all vegetation lay dead as though from a severe frost.
“Damndest thing,” somebody whispered.
“She tried to warn us,” breathed another.
“Somebody, go check on Floyd,” ordered one of the deputies. “It’s odd that he didn’t report this.”
But nobody moved. All they could do was stand there in awe as the terminal frost work its way across their land.
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George Wilhite has been an aficionado of the horror genre since his youth, discovering Poe and Lovecraft at an early age while also spending many summer nights at drive-in theaters watching the contemporary scene unfold. He is the author of the short fiction collection On the Verge of Madness.
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