01 Feb The emergency alerts on the radio don’t make sense Part 3
Shadows dropped from the trees, like raindrops falling from the sky. The car lurched forward, flying over the blanket of snow.
“They’re in the road!” I screamed.
“Everywhere! Can’t you see them?!”
“Of course I can’t see them! I can barely even see where we’re going! You took my glasses, remember?!”
The shadows came closer, flitting into the headlights’ beams. I closed my eyes tightly shut. We’re safe, I thought. We’re in a car. Protected by layers of glass and steel. Even that Excalibur guy on the internet said you’re safe in a car.
The car swerved again.
But that’s if they haven’t already seen you.
The car swerved violently. My head glanced off the window. The engine roared, as Daniel muttered under his breath – “come on, come on…”
“Why are we slowing down?!”
“I don’t know!” Daniel said, his voice starting to quaver. “Everything’s working fine. I don’t think the snow is deep enough to stop us –”
Rrrrr-rrr-rrrr! – the sound of wheels, spinning against the snow.
“I think they’re stopping us.”
Even with my eyes closed, I could feel them. Their eyes, that glittered in the headlights like the freshly-fallen snow. Their silhouettes, that were little more than shadows, or wisps of smoke. And – after they killed us – their new forms, shaped into eerie, uncanny versions of us.
Tap-tap-tap. They were at the glass, now. How long did we have until they broke through, just like they did in the cabin? Minutes? Seconds?
The wheels stopped spinning. Click – Daniel shifted into park.
“What are you doing?”
“I have an idea.”
I opened my eyes, shielding my gaze from the forest with my hand. Daniel reached into his pocket, and pulled out the book of matches.
He struck the match. The flame fizzled and glowed, and small wisps of black smoke floated towards the ceiling.
“Wait – isn’t that going to attract more of them?”
“Exactly,” he whispered.
My heart began to pound.
I trusted him. I let him pull me across the snow. Pull me into the car. Pull me to my death, trapped here as they closed in.
It wasn’t him.
It was one of them.
“What did you do to Daniel?! You killed him, didn’t you?!”
“What are you talking about?!”
“You’re leading them right to us! You said so yourself!”
“Not leading them to us! Leading them to this.” He took a piece of paper from the glove box, crumpled it, and held it to the match. The flames crawled over it, curling the edges of the paper. “I’m going to throw this out the window. Hopefully they’ll follow it.”
“…Oh.” I shook my head. “Wait, that makes no sense. Won’t the wind extinguish it?”
“You got a better idea? If we stay here and do nothing, we’ll both die.”
The metal groaned and screeched, as they worked to pull it apart. The tap-tap-taps echoed across the glass, like the ticks of a clock.
And I knew he was right.
He rolled down the window. In my peripheral vision, I saw the orange ball piercing the darkness; heard the movements of the creatures, thumping over the car, over the snow –
A shrill screech.
And, involuntarily –
I looked up.
The figures weren’t running towards the fire.
They were running away.
In seconds, the silence of the forest returned. Snow slowly drifted to the ground. The trees were still as statues. And the branches above were dark – no glittering, white eyes.
“They’re afraid of fire,” was all he could choke out.
After holding him for what felt like an eternity, I realized how little sense that made. “But wait. That Excalibur guy said that they were attracted to fire – attracted to the smoke. Why would he say that?”
“I guess he didn’t know.”
“Or –” My voice faltered, as the realization sunk in. “Maybe he had seen one of them. Maybe he was speaking for them.”
“But then why would he tell everyone to stay inside and cover their windows, too?”
“Maybe we weren’t supposed to stay inside. Maybe being trapped inside our houses, waiting out the storm, is exactly what they wanted.”
Daniel looked at me, his eyes wide in the darkness. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that maybe… the second radio message was the one we should have believed.”
We raced back to the car. I thrust the keys into ignition, and the car rumbled to life.
“We’re going to Maple Street.”
When we turned onto Maple Street, a strange sight greeted us.
A small house sat on the edge of the forest. It was surrounded by dozens of small fires, their trails of smoke merging into one large pillar that reached up towards the sky. Several people stood in the yard, and a few started pointing to us as we approached.
As we entered, a black-haired woman ran over to us. “Stand over here to the side, please. We need to test you first.” She picked up her handheld radio. “Two more just arrived.”
“We need to make sure you aren’t compromised, ma’am.”
We awkwardly stood in the yard, the fire hot against our backs. “Maybe this was a bad idea,” Daniel whispered. “Are we sure that –”
“Hey!” A burly man walked over to us. He wore tattered jeans, and an ill-fitting flannel shirt with a large slash across the chest. “Let me just test you guys, and we’ll be good to go.” He slipped a flashlight out of his pocket, shined it in our eyes, asked us a few questions, and then called over: “Hey, Nancy, they’re good!”
She motioned for us to come inside. “Please, make yourselves at home. Eat some dinner, take supplies – we have plenty. Not many have come by… we were too late in intercepting the alert, it seems.”
“What are they? In the forest?” Daniel asked.
“Are we safe here?” I added.
She didn’t reply. Instead, she led us to a table of sandwiches, and hurried away.
Daniel and I took plates, some sandwiches, and joined one of the tables. Across from us sat a teenager – chin resting on her hand, pushing the cole slaw on her plate in circles.
“Why won’t they tell us anything?” I said to Daniel, my voice low.
“And how did they set this up so fast?” Daniel said. “Firewood, an external generator for power, tons of food – it’s almost like this has happened before, and they were ready.”
“It did happen before.”
We looked up. The teenager was staring at us, her lips curled into a small smile. “My dad told me it happened back in the ‘70s, during a really big storm, and they’ve been prepared ever since.”
“So – what are they?” Daniel asked, a little too loudly. From across the hall, the burly man shot us a disapproving look.
“I’ve heard the name ‘ice shadows’ thrown around,” she replied, shrugging. “But who knows what they really are? Shape-shifters, phantoms, demons – we could really call them anything.”
“What I don’t understand,” Daniel started, after a long slurrrp of coke, “is why they wanted us to cover the windows. Don’t they want us to see them?”
“Windows covered or not, they’ll find a way to lure you out. They’re really good at that. We had one outside the bedroom window, talking in my mom’s voice, telling dad she wanted to get back together. Thankfully, I barged in before it got to him.”
“But why cover the windows?”
“Oh, well the sun burns them up, just like the fires do. That’s why they come out in the blizzard, too.” She lowered her voice further, and glanced around the room. “They want the house to be totally safe for them. Because after… they want to live in it. Breed in it. Make it their own little den.”
“But why?” I asked.
“This is just my theory, but – I think they don’t want to be confined to the forest. They want to take over this whole town, one house at a time. Spreading from house to house under the cover of night, until the whole thing’s taken over. And then –”
But at that moment, the burly man stormed over. “Kendra, that’s enough,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. He looked at us, and rolled his eyes. “She likes to tell tall tales, this one. Sorry if it caused you any trouble.”
“No trouble at all,” I said, with a smile.
Kendra sighed, and rose from the seat. Mark took his hand off her shoulder. His shirt shifted, causing the slash to open, and exposing some of his chest.
My heart began to pound.
Underneath was a tattoo.
A tattoo of a sword, stuck in stone.