Many is the time you will surely have heard the whispers of its existence. Tall tales have been told by drunken sots at the local serving house. Fallen women claim to have seen it unfold before their very eyes, and it left their minds broken and splintered, incapable of returning to a “normal” life.
I speak, of course, of the Man-Cold (thunder peals, someone closes their shutters and pulls their chair closer to the fire).
Mendacious women and bought men will naturally claim there is no such beast, in a desperate attempt to suppress certain knowledge of its existence. Fools! Charlatans! Snake oil salesmen! Put not your trust in these merchants of lies and subjugation!
Trust me when I say that the Man-Cold exists (peal of thunder, an old woman pulls her stole closer and mutters a prayer to the elder gods) and I am among those who have seen it, nay felt it!
(Incredulous whispers and ritual gestures to ward off evil)
I awoke one morning in early May of the year of our Fnord 2013, knowing that my respiratory processes were summarily consigned to my mouth, my nasal passages being both sore and clogged. A deep and abiding sense of despair and existential dread began to settle. My eyes felt several sizes too large for my ocular cavities and my entire body was covered in a pungent sheen of perspiration accrued during a feverish, fretful sleep. My cerebellum felt like it had been extracted through my ears and forced to perform exotic dances for lascivious freaks, thereupon to be abused in manners most heinous by same.
I tried to speak. “Oh dear! I seem to have come down with a spot of the common cold,” I narrated hopefully to my wife. Unfortunately, this was broadcast as “Wuorghfcacksnurfle, umbit?”
I sat up and immediately regretted it. Clearly, someone had criminally removed several of my major muscle groups surgically overnight, only to lose heart and replace them haphazardly before leaving my chambers. I tried to clear my vision of the maddening apparitions that impinged upon my sanity.
“What manner of succubus are you, foul beast?” I declaimed fearfully, wondering if I had not taken my hobbies a tad too far. Alas, ’twas no fiend of the abyss before me, but only my youngest daughter, dripping with mucus and jumping energetically on my bed. Thankfully, what came out was something along the lines of “Wurghnlemumblepackswelck”.
This was an unmitigated disaster. I had an extended weekend coming up, and needed to be fit to enjoy it. However, this was not to be. I sat by the kitchen table and prepared to break my fast in a manner befitting a gentleman. With a massive tankard of near-toxic coffee and a handful of physician’s pain remedies, I set about ingesting the heady mixture with as much decorum as I could muster.
I made a bang-up job of it all, managing to consume most of my magical concoction. The rest I had to lick up off the floor. Sated, I settled in to look forlornly into the metaphysical distance. I could see my dotage. I could see the birth of my grandchildren. I could see my own funeral. Shaking myself, I realised that none of these fateful events had come to pass, and it was a desperate measure by my limbic system to rouse my conscious mind from its moribund state.
“I must live!” I pronounced defiantly, soiling my shirtfront with copious amounts of mucus and saliva. I observed this through red-rimmed eyes that wept uncontrollably.
I realised my family had abandoned me to my fate, selfishly choosing to attend work, school and day care whilst I – their paterfamilias – suffered and passed beyond the mortal ken. A terrible frost crept over me, burrowing into my very bones and summoning the metaphysical certitude that Hell is not hot, but freezing. I set out haltingly in search of blankets and duvets, anything to stall this dreadful living death.
Ensconced in my fortress of warmth, I realised my body was buffeted by forces quite outside what ordinary men and women were subjected to. I was ripped from the very firmament of existence and stole away through the universe as a gossamer thread on the solar winds. Challenged so by the sidereal forces, I screamed and cursed my wretched fate, swearing defiance against the horrible forces arrayed against me.
I have a memory of drinking despicable amounts of water and staring intently at bathroom tiles in the vain hope that they held some hidden clue, some solution to my present predicament. I suffered as men upon a medieval torturer’s rack had suffered, the pain borne solidly and stolidly by my slowly cooking flesh.
Women talk of childbirth, and men of blunt trauma to their groins, but neither of these experiences could be remotely compared to the terror that was riding my soul, in equal amounts refusing me both life and death. I was somehow cursed to wander Limbo, there to suffer both worldly pain and the uncertainty of my eventual fate.
Stretched before me was the desert of my life, chilling in its enormity and featureless landscape. Everything was hot and cold, everything unending. I swallowed broken glass blown by infernal glassblowers and stomped by sadistic imps with every breath. My very life was an act of defiance against the gods, both the elder and the younger pantheons.
And thus I slept, and awoke, and slept again. Now I have regained the mental composure to tell you, gentle reader, of my hardships and trials in the grip of that fearful affliction…