Into the Nothingness

by R. J. Joseph

Chantale is a graduate student who has lived in the southern United States her entire life. Once she decides to attend grad school in a northern state, she is introduced to snow. Alien and somehow off, the frost proves itself to be as all encompassing as it appears.

The ice covered the lake like the film on a corpse’s eyes. I could make out swirling patterns I wanted to pretend made up the water, still alive beneath the nothingness. But I knew better. Nothing could survive the wrath of the snow and freezing temperatures. I had a friend who was a social worker who claimed to turn off her diagnosing when dealing with her friends on a personal level but really didn’t. She’d told me point blank, “It’s just snow. It happens all the time in other parts of the country. You’re simply afraid of new things and going to graduate school is the unknown you’re actually afraid of. And even though you ought to be used to it by now, you’re a little afraid of being one of the few Black bodies on that campus.”

She was wrong. The snow was wrong.

I hadn’t travelled much but I wasn’t afraid of the airplane ride. And despite what my sister friend said, I wasn’t afraid of being the only Black person on campus. I didn’t run into very many writers of color in academia so I figured that was part of the game.

I just hadn’t been prepared for the blanket of white covering everything miles below the aircraft. Even from our flying height, there were miles and miles of blank emptiness. The stark landscape was interrupted every so often by a gray, lifeless tree, or a dingy plowed road through the ice. I was amazed at how much detail I could see from the window.

I was amazed that the major details to be seen were the snow and ice.

I grabbed my cell when the plane slid into the gate at O’Hare to pick up more passengers. I turned it on and sent a text.

“The snow has taken the airport hostage. Looks like a beach of white.” That was the only thing I could liken my alien view to. The airport did have the infinity of the sea, the white blanket of snow all that existed between the airplanes on the tarmac and beyond.

Making my final landing in an area that was similarly covered did nothing to improve my outlook.

I walked outside to the shuttle bus and the shock of the cold sank into my bones. It wasn’t that the cold was uncomfortable—I actually welcomed it in opposition to the humid seventy-degree weather Houston called winter. But the frigid ache gripped my teeth and sent my wide welcoming, Southern smile into hiding.

I holed up for the night in a hotel room that was stifling hot. I turned on the air conditioning and flipped to the weather channel. Didn’t that beat all. The area was expecting the most snowfall it had seen in several years. Obviously, because I had come to the area. I settled into bed, half under the covers and half out, falling asleep to the rhythm of the flakes shadow dancing against the window.

The next morning found me staring out the same window, marveling at how the snow was still there. I couldn’t have said where I’d expected it to go. It just seemed so…permanent. Elementary school science nipped at the back of my brain. As long as the temperature stayed below thirty-two degrees, the ice would not melt.

I bummed a ride to the campus and took in more of the dead world beneath the chilling blanket. The snow was falling again, and on the walk up the hill, the tiny flakes skittered across my face and hands like chilled feet. I laughed at the fluttery, tickly dance, then painfully remembered I couldn’t walk outside with my mouth open. I smiled with tight lips and bent to touch the fallen performers. They melted as soon as I stretched out my hand to examine them, and an unexpected sadness overcame me at having caused the demise of such cheerful creatures. A classmate suggested I get gloves to further my examination, and I was thankful for the suggestion.

They lasted longer atop my gloved hands, and I squinted to try and identify the distinct crystals that made up each flake. All I saw instead was tiny clumps of ice.

I brushed the remnants from my hands and tipped across the campus yard as quickly as I dared in my cowboy boots. I’d been thinking warmth and comfort when I’d packed the Texan stereotypes, not traction. I walked on the outside of an overturned bench. The snow had piled up on both sides of the seat and was threatening to cover the side that was face up. Small blue spheres lined the sidewalk and the snow seemed to retreat from them. There were no blue circles around the bench.

I knew I was running behind for class, but I had to know what that was about. I waved to the first handyman I saw. “Hi. What is that blue stuff?”

His eyes crinkled up and his smile stayed just below an outright laugh. “The blue stuff on the ground?”

I nodded.

“That’s salt.”


“Yep. It keeps the snow off the sidewalks and the roads.”

“How does it do that? Is it a chemical reaction?”

This time he did laugh. “You’re not from around here?”

I returned his smile. “No. I’ve never seen such a thing as all this white. And this blue.”

“It’s something like a chemical reaction that keeps the ice from building up on the places we need to get around town.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Keeps roads and sidewalks clear of ice. Not magic, simple chemistry.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that explanation. Now I know how this thing goes.” I turned to leave, and his laugh followed me into the building.

I took a seat next to the window in class and remained mesmerized by the weather. The snow fell non-stop for the couple of hours I was supposed to be learning. The class was interesting, but I was spinning my own story. The snow was a creature. It created and lived in a cold, bleak world. And it took over everything in that world, eventually, because it was indestructible.

I watched out the window as the snow fell on the massive school building, covering the entire spired top and slanting down the slopes to the ground around the building. Within a couple of hours, the grounds were covered with a foot of snow. The view was pretty in its sparkly white, where the waning sun made glitter between the crystals.

During our first break, someone suggested sledding down the big hill in front of the campus on lunch trays. My heart thudded at the thought and I was ecstatic when the idea was talked down. I was hardly getting used to seeing the snow; I certainly didn’t’t want to actually get in it and engage with it. I walked outside, onto the patio. Further examination of the flakes found them to be light and airy, so the piles it made were higher than they would have been if the ice were compact.

I’d have thought I would have felt better about the light snow, but instead it felt off in a way I couldn’t explain. I leaned on the gate that surrounded the veranda and looked over into the back courtyard where I’d come in. There was a larger white expanse over the yard than there had been that morning.

I returned to class and sat at the front so I couldn’t be distracted by what was going on outside the school. I managed to concentrate during the last part of the day. The entire class time had not been wasted with me daydreaming out the window.

We all packed up to go to dinner, but I stayed behind so I could have my mentor meeting on time. There wasn’t enough of a time gap for me to leave the campus, so I would wait in the library. All I needed was a quick snack from the bookstore. Everybody jetted off quickly and the campus felt extra desolate in the cold, dark night. The moon already shone high in the clear sky, and the air smelled of frost.

I took tentative steps onto the sidewalk heading towards the bookstore. Two other benches lay on their sides, already covered in snow. Three lumps of white stood where upright benches had been. I tipped slowly along the sidewalk. The blue lines had grown closer together and I felt like a model on a catwalk, trying to get my feet within the blue lines that made up less than half the sidewalk. Behind the new salt lines were new snow lines.

The bookstore was closed and I peered out at the sidewalk that would take me around the courtyard and to the library. I could get there much faster if I cut across the yard. I took a slow step onto the snow on the sides of the sidewalk. My foot sank as if inside a newly dried marshmallow, crunchy on the outside but still squishy on the inside. The feeling was unsettling, but still I proceeded. My next step fell into a section of ice that was even softer. Steadily, I made my way to the middle of the yard, halfway to the library. I glanced at the landscaping alongside me and my next step took me sliding directly into it. For moments, I couldn’t catch my breath as I lay flat on my back. I shouldn’t have left the sidewalk.

The snowflakes began their wild dance across my face and my uncovered neck. Fluttery before, the routine was harder this time, more purposeful. I struggled to wipe the ice off my face, but more crystals covered the areas I wiped. They came down into my mouth and my eyes, until I closed them both. The heat of my body did not melt the flakes. Instead, they expanded and covered my throat and marched down into my esophagus and into my stomach.

I gagged, but I couldn’t expel the ice. I willed my arms to move so I could turn myself over, but the appendages couldn’t obey from underneath the flakes that covered them and pinned them down. As my stomach froze from the inside out, and my breath burst out of my nose in frosted spurts, I understood the mistake I’d made.

I should have stayed on the sidewalk. Although the snow was pushing its way through the markings, the salt was magical, having been used for millennia to defend against unearthly creatures. Someone else may not have realized the snow was alive, but I had. I’d known it when I’d first seen the blankness from the airplane.

How had I expected to live beside the nothingness, when everything would eventually wind up beneath it? My thoughts grew hazy, fuzzy on the edges like the frost on the window of a warm room. There was no more warmth for me. I faded into the nothingness.

R. J. Joseph is a Texas based writer and professor who must exorcise the demons of her imagination so they don’t haunt her being. A life long horror fan and writer of many things, she has recently discovered the joys of writing in the academic arena about two important aspects of of her life: horror and black femininity.

R. J. Joseph is also a nominee in the 2022 Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, for her book ‘Hell Hath No Sorrow Like a Woman Haunted’.

Learn more about R.J. Joseph in 100+ Black Women in Horror, a comprehensive guide to some of the most powerful voices on the scene. Click here for a free download of the current version, then come back in March for the newest version updated with dozens of new entries!


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