Warm Up Page 1

Author: V.E. Schwab

Series: Villains #0.5

Genres: Fantasy

It had been 297 days since David died.

294 days since Samantha left.

293 days since he locked himself in the house that had been his and then theirs and was now his again.

And he had finally made a decision.

He wasn’t quite sure when he made it, somewhere between turning on the shower and stepping in, perhaps, or pouring the milk and adding the cereal, or maybe a dozen tiny decisions had added up like letters until they finally made a word, a phrase, a sentence.

Either way, he’d made the decision, and now he stood very still at the kitchen counter, holding his choice in his hands with his coffee, afraid that if he moved, his resolve would crumble. He stood there until the coffee went cold, and he was still standing there when Jess came in, arms full of groceries.

“Jesus, David,” she said, dropping the bags on the counter, “it’s like an oven in here.”

His sister went for the thermostat. He swallowed. Three small words, a phrase, a sentence.

A decision.

“I’m going out,” he said.

Jess’s hand froze above the AC. “Don’t joke about that.”

She’d pleaded with him for weeks—months—to leave the house, before finally giving up. Now her eyes brightened with a kind of guarded hope.

“I’m not,” said David. “I’m going out.”

The words felt more solid the second time. Jess gave him a long, hard look. “What changed?”

“Nothing,” he lied. “I just think it’s time.”

Jess turned the temperature down and came to him, resting her elbows on the kitchen counter between them. “How long has it been?” she asked casually, as if they weren’t both counting.




He didn’t know how to choose the right number. The instant of impact or the aftermath?

“Two hundred ninety-seven,” he said at last, because it had all started there in the snow.

“Sure you don’t want to wait for three hundred?” Jess managed a thin smile when she said it, but the joke was too careful, too light, like she knew they were on cracking ice. The smallest misstep would send them under. David felt it, too. That’s why he’d been standing so still.

“I’m ready,” he said, looking down at the still-full cup, the coffee long since cold. He tightened his grip on the porcelain, and a moment later fresh steam rose from the dark surface. A small, conscious effort. The line between accidental and intentional meant everything. “I’m going out tonight.”

“Okay. Great,” said Jess, rousing. “This is great. I get off work at seven. I’ll swing by and we can—”

David shook his head. “I need to do this.”

Alone. The word hung in the air, unsaid but understood. Control was all about focus, and he couldn’t do that, not with Jess hovering, studying him like a puzzle she could piece back together. She hadn’t yet realized that the picture had changed.

David had thought about telling her. Hell, he’d acted out that conversation a hundred times. Maybe tonight, he would finally do it. He’d come home, and he’d call her, and he’d tell her why Samantha had left, and why he’d spent 293 days in his house, and why he kept shivering no matter how high he turned the thermostat up. It would all make sense, and she’d know he wasn’t crazy. He was just scared.

And cold. Tonight, he decided, setting aside the coffee cup and turning toward the groceries. He handled the items gingerly, maneuvering the carton of milk, the apples, the steak, like they were grips, outcrops, footholds, ones that might give way if he weren’t careful. That first week, every single piece of food had turned to ash in his hands. Now he cupped a Granny Smith in his palm, marveling at the way the green skin glistened.

He was ready.

Behind him, Jess scooped up the discarded mug.

“Fuck,” she swore, fumbling the cup. It hit the floor and shattered, spilling coffee across the tiles. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she murmured, shaking her fingers.

“You okay?” David knelt and gathered up the broken shards.

“Careful,” she said, running her hand under the tap. “It’s hot.”

David nodded absently as he piled the broken pieces in his palm before dumping them in the trash. Dulled nerves, he’d told her. From years of climbing ice.

You should really get that checked out, she’d said.

You’re probably right, he’d replied.

“Sorry,” he said now, sponging up the coffee with a towel.

“It’s not your fault,” she said. She didn’t know. “Sorry about the mess.” She glanced at her watch. “Crap, I’m going to be late.” Jess taught second grade at an elementary school. David’s son, Jack, was in kindergarten there. It had been 294 days since he’d seen him.

“Go,” said David, wringing out the towel. “I’ve got this.”

Jess didn’t move. She just stood there and stared, squinting at him like he was written in another language. “I’m proud of you, Dave,” she said, reaching out and touching his shoulder. He didn’t touch her back. “Call me when you’re home, okay?”

David nodded. “Sure thing,” he said as if the very act of leaving the house wasn’t a strange and terrifying prospect.

* * *

It had been 297 days since David died.

Aside from the constant count in his head and his new … affliction, the only reminder was a photograph. It sat in a frame on the chest of drawers by his bed, a beaming version of himself, bundled up and ready for the climb, sunlight winking off snow. The rest of the group—six climbers in all—milled in the background. David was holding up three gloved fingers. It was a milestone. His thirtieth climb.

David never bothered with photos, but one of his teammates, Jackson—a partner at David’s firm—took his camera everywhere. That’s how they’d found his body after, the lens winking in the sun.

Gotta capture the moment, Jackson had said, snapping a shot. Memories fade.

So do pictures, David had thought, but he’d smiled and posed anyways.

Now he picked up the photograph, and ran a finger over the frame, steam blossoming on the glass.

Some people forget, he thought. A bad thing happens to them and their mind sweeps in and buries the bad thing deep, and all that’s left is a stretch of white in their heads, like fresh snow. Looking at it—at them—you wouldn’t even know anything was trapped beneath.

Some people forget, but David remembered everything.

He remembered the light-headed thrill of the climb. The wind-stripped voices of the others in his wake. The crunch of the icy crust on the snow. The sound and shape of his breath in the air. And somewhere, between an exhale and an inhale, a far-off sound like a hush but heavier. He remembered looking up and seeing the wall of white, as big as the sky.

He remembered the long moment of silence before the snow hit, and the longer moment after. The horrifying cold that ate through every layer of clothing, bit into his skin, clawed at his bones. All David could think of was that cold, and how badly he wanted to warm up.

Warm up warm up warm up, he’d thought, the plea like a pulse, soft and slowing until the air ran out, and his thoughts froze, and his heart stopped.

It had been 297 days since David died. And 297 since he’d come back, gasped and sat up in a base camp hospital tent covered in warming pads, the defibrillator still buzzing in the medic’s hands, his teeth chattering with cold.

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