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Imagine you were a stone age agriculturalist on an isolated tropical island 1000 years ago with no appreciably high mountains.

You want to describe something (the air) in terms of how cold it was, now we would use words like 'icy' or 'frosty' but my protagonist has no idea what ice or frost is. It's outside his experience and vocab. How might he describe it to his peers?

Scenario there has been a huge invisible battle of ghosts, but with chaos happening in terms of buildings being shattered around their occupants etc,. cold descends in a smallish area for the duration of the ghosts battle (half an hour at most) before the human slaughter starts.

There is a word for 'cold', and there is a word for 'very', but he's telling a story, he needs to describe it dramatically by comparing it to things. Because this is how stories are told and because this coldness is far beyond anything his peers will have experienced and he needs to get that point across. We're talking around 5 degrees below zero but only for about half an hour. So no 'water turned to stone' descriptions. So far I have words turning to smoke as they were speaking them and a comparison disparaging the relative warmth of a mountain spring.

Not too sure if this is on topic here.

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  • $\begingroup$ They might not have experienced natural cold, but they will have vocabulary for the magical things in their world. They might draw upon that for imagary. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 30 '17 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz no such thing as magic in the western sense, I'm paraphrasing oral tradition, this is a (supposedly) true story. When they tell the story these days they use western imagery like ice and freezer, but I don't want to do that. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 8:43
  • $\begingroup$ But your world has things like ghosts in it. What phenomona and experiences happen there that we don’t have? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 30 '17 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz ghosts (not an exact translation) aren't magic, they're real enough that they can and have been blamed successfully in court for things like manslaughter and murder. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ Right— real in your world. So people have experiences with them and things related to that. They will have a term for the stuff that happens even if they don’t have any clue that others would find that identical to “cold”. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 30 '17 at 9:18
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If it's a reasonably natural (though brief) cold spell he might notice the sky darkening with clouds or some kind of mist forming. Unfortunately the time scale doesn't really allow a lot of actual change to occur, it seems unlikely frost or condensation would form on anything in a few minutes.
If nothing about the weather changes and it's only really a brief drop in the air temperature (or even in the characters perception of temperature) then there may be no noticeable environmental changes at all.

As for some more physical effects beyond what you have mentioned, what about goosebumps and raised hairs (which also fit the supernatural cause)? Or comparing it to an illness that caused cold spells and shivering (not sure what the technical term for the opposite of a fever is).

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent, shivering like a fever is great. You get fevers in the tropics. Nothing natural about the cold. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 29 '17 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Kilisi Yeah, that's what I expected. I imagine most of the effects would probably be physical rather than things they might notice in the environment then, though a semi supernatural mist or fog would probably work (but you might run into a similar problem of how to describe that...) $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 29 '17 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent, gave me what I needed, published the story years ago, but was never happy with that bit until now. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Kilisi Glad it helped :) $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Apr 30 '17 at 7:38
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Edit, just to focus on the environment. I don't expect many changes to the flora if it gets very cold for a short time. Humans and animals will probably be startled.

  • A nearby stone suddenly feels cold to touch.
  • Burrowing animals return to their holes.
  • Birds get quiet, as if they're expecting the night (does it get darker too?).

Aside from this: I've seen a partial eclipse once or twice. It does get darker, but not even so much. It really does get notably colder (one was on the beach in France in my youth) and the general sensation I got was that of the world coming to an end, or taking a pause. Maybe the people in your story could suspect the end of the world or expect the coming of a god/angel, depending on their religion?

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the physical sensations, already got the steamy breath, would like environment descriptions best though for emphasis. I have expanded my question a bit, really it needs to be third party description, and we're talking just 2 minutes. So I'm trying to think of the coldest things I can to use for comparison. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 29 '17 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ I think you have hit on something I missed which would add to the atmosphere, not burrowing animals, since this is middle of a village, but animals like pigs, I wonder what effect such a sudden cold would have on them... I'll look into it... cheers for the idea. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 29 '17 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ Eclipses do make it colder, but this is night time, and I already have a lot of other stuff setting the mood, describing the cold was the one bit I was unhappy with. Its actually a oral tradition story (supposedly true history) I translated into English and added minimally to $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 29 '17 at 12:14
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If it got cold suddenly in the tropics, there would be a huge cloud of fog as air moisture condensed. If it were really cold the droplets would freeze and fall like snow. A man might appear suddenly old, his beard and hair grayed with frost.

I have been thinking about this premise all day. Being bodily chilled and cold is one thing, but how to describe the feel of subzero air on your skin?

I think of the sting of the salt water drying on your face, or a slap from a child - the sting without the push. The protagonist could run his hand through his hair, which had frozen into little sticks of coral. I think of a dive down into the deep water, into the place where the water is always cold.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice, it's that sensation I'm trying to describe as well, like being bitten by the air perhaps 'The very air biting and stinging at any exposed skin from all directions, while their screams turned to smoke....' $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 30 '17 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ I thought about jellyfish stings, but SpongeBob has made jellyfish irrevocably silly for me. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 30 '17 at 13:50
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Tropical island, right?

They should have a concept of cold, already, that comes straight from the water. Water sucks the heat right out of us, and even shallow, sun-warmed waters will chill a person right down to dangerous levels if they're in it long enough. Water just doesn't get hot enough naturally, not in large bodies like oceans, to match our body temperature, and it conducts heat too well not to try to equalize the temperatures.

Additionally, if they send any time in deeper water, maybe for swimming or fishing, they will have noticed the difference between the sun-warmed surface, and the deeper currents running cold. Very noticeable, and can be quite startling even if, or especially if, the day is hot and sunny.

And as a bonus, when one's been in water long enough for it to feel warm(and the cold-shock of jumping in has faded), getting out of the water is terribly cold, as the body suddenly acknowledges all the heat it's lost in the water and one more chunk of warmth is lost to any breeze trying to evaporate water from the skin.

Even rain would give them a basic sense of cold - maybe not so much on sunny warm days, but cool nights with a breeze? it feels cold even if the temperature isn't that low, especially since they would be comparing it to how it normally is for them, not what's cold for us.

That said, I think the ocean-cold is a better metaphor to draw on - like I said, it can reach pretty dangerous levels, even hypothermia, if they have reasonably deep waters, or even just shadowed waters, they might come in contact with.

So, the metaphor for this cold might be something about the air swept through like the dark, freezing undercurrents of the ocean and stole their courage like a riptide. Or maybe how, in a single heartbeat, they had become as chilled and clumsy as one pulled from the ocean after hours at sea. Or the mist that wafted through the air, leaving behind such a shock as if one had been dumped into cold water. Or how the air seemed as water, for, though they were dry, the air pulled warmth out of them with every steaming breath, and they shivered as if from a fever.

Or, well, something like that.

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  • $\begingroup$ !!Nice imagery!! $\endgroup$ – Kilisi May 2 '17 at 2:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Kilisi - I'm glad you like it :) $\endgroup$ – Megha May 2 '17 at 3:09

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