01 Feb The emergency alerts on the radio don’t make sense
“The storm is getting worse. Do not go outside under any circumstances. If you need assistance, dial 911.”
I plopped down on the couch with a bottle of wine. “We certainly picked the right time for a honeymoon, huh? We’re going to be snowed in for days.”
“I don’t mind,” Daniel said, with a wink.
“No, seriously! I picked this cabin for the view. Pines for miles, with herds of deer and wild turkey. Now it’s just – this.” I gestured to the window. It was all white, save for the fuzzy gray outline of a few trees.
“Come on, it’ll be a funny story to tell our –”
A sharp crackle of static on the radio, followed by the announcer’s hurried voice –
“Close all curtains and blinds. I repeat, close all curtains and blinds.”
I shot a glance at Daniel. He shrugged back.
“If you have any windows without blinds – including cellar windows, glass insets on front doors, and mail slots – cover them with a sheet.”
“I bet it’s because of snow blindness,” Daniel said, pouring himself a glass. “You know, they don’t want anyone looking out their window, and getting blinded by the sun reflecting off the snow.” He stood up, and slowly lowered the blinds, until we were left in shadowy darkness.
“I’ll get the lights,” I said, standing up.
“The power’s out?!” I yelled. “No wonder it’s so cold in here! And how are we supposed to watch Game of Thrones? Or charge our phones? Or –”
“Rebecca, it’s okay. Here, sit, and drink the rest of your wine. I’m going to find some matches; then I’m going to chuck that stupid radio out into the snow, and we’re going to sit in front of a roaring fire. Okay?”
He disappeared into the kitchen.
The light through the blinds was fading, now, and the room was steadily getting colder. The wooden bear in the corner – that I thought was cute and rustic, when we arrived – looked ready to attack us. And the antlers hanging from the walls looked no better than sharpened spikes, ready to impale anyone who dared to walk by. “Hurry back,” I called, pulling the blanket up to my neck. “It’s cold without you here.”
“One final warning.” The announcer’s voice came over the radio, muddied with static. “Do not go outside – do not open the door – no matter what you hear. And don’t –”
I grabbed the radio, shook it, and sighed. “The reception’s gone!”
“Good!” he called back. “And I think I found some matches!”
I clicked the dial forward.
A cheery voice came on, clear as day.
“We are handing out free supplies at the edge of the forest on Maple Street – bottled water, canned food, blankets, and battery packs.”
Daniel rushed back in with the matches, looking confused. “Wait – I thought they said –”
I turned up the volume.
“Come out and get yours as soon as you can – there is limited supply.”
The firelight flickered across the cabin. The shadows jittered and jumped, as if they were alive. The chill settled in, and I pulled the blanket tightly around me.
“So every phone number goes to voicemail. Including my mom’s, and she always wants to talk to me.” I swirled the dregs of wine in my glass. “And there’s no mention of anything on the news. Where does that leave us?”
“Stranded?” Daniel said, with a dry laugh. “Dead?”
“Kidding, kidding! Here, let me see if I can’t find anything online about it.” He pulled out his phone; the blue glow contrasted sharply with the fire. “Instead of looking on news sites, I’m going to just Google with wild abandon. Let’s see… ‘Minnesota’… ‘radio broadcast’… ‘put sheets over windows’… ugh, page loading, we’re down to 3G.”
The fire crackled and hissed.
“Aha!” he said, thrusting the phone in my face. I took it and began reading.
Hey, anybody in C___, Minnesota? We just got a really weird radio broadcast. They told us to lock up and shut our blinds, but now other broadcasts are saying to come out and get supplies on Maple Street. Anyone know what this is about?
The second one’s fake. It’s been playing on repeat, on every local station in range, for the past six hours.
Guys, I did a lot of research, and a similar thing happened back in the ‘70s. YOU WILL BE OKAY, if you follow these rules:
Don’t look at them. Don’t let them see you.
Even if you’re camping in a tent, or sleeping in your car, you can survive. Just be sure to cover any windows and apertures with something opaque.
Keep all pets (and other animals, even livestock) inside. Don’t put out the garbage. Don’t light a fire. They can smell from miles away.
Daniel and I looked at each other –
And then at the roaring fire.
I jolted awake.
The blanket was tangled around my feet. My neck ached, and my hands were cold as ice. The cabin was pitch-black now, save for the dying embers in the fireplace.
He only snored in response.
“Did you hear that?”
“Probably just a branch, or something. Don’t worry about it.”
Thud! Thud, thud, thud!
The thuds echoed across the cabin, coming from every direction – even the roof. Daniel jolted awake, threw on his glasses, and sprung off the sofa.
“What in the hell –”
A sharp knock at the door.
“Don’t answer it,” Daniel whispered, standing between me and the door.
“Of course I’m not answering –”
“Hey, open up!”
A man’s voice, loud and clear through the silence of the blizzard, called through the door.
“Police! Open up!”
Daniel hesitantly stepped towards the door. “What are you doing?!” I hissed.
“It’s the police, Rebecca.”
“It’s a trap!” I leapt up and chased after him, as he slowly walked down the hall – away from the fire, away from the warmth. “They said don’t open the door for any reason, remember?!”
He stood in front of the door, frozen.
A shadow fell across the sheet we had pinned to the door. At a first glance, it looked like the silhouette of a normal person – a normal policeman. But the longer I stared at it, the stranger it looked. The neck was just a hair too short, the legs too long; and the head was cocked at an unnatural angle. “It’s the police! Open up right now!” he boomed.
“We have to let him in,” Daniel said, staring at the covered window.
At the corner of the window, where part of the sheet had come undone.
I darted in front of him. “Do not open the door, Daniel! It’s not the police! It’s them – whatever they are!”
“Rebecca, it’s the police!”
He darted his hand under my arm, past my waist –
And yanked the door open.
“No!” I screamed.
For a moment, time froze.
The silence of the blizzard filled the cabin. Wayward flakes floated in, landing softly on the wooden floor. Daniel stood still as a statue, right on the threshold, gazing into the storm.
But my mind was racing. He let them in. There’s no coming back from this, no way to save us now. We’re going to die, right here, before our marriage has even begun.
But then I realized what I had to do.
I leapt up, and in one, violent motion –
Smacked the glasses right off his face.
As the glasses fell from his face, the scales fell from his eyes. His placid expression was now cut with terror. He grabbed the edge of the door, and with all his might, pushed it shut.
Or tried to.
“Shut it! Shut it!” I screamed.
“I can’t!” he yelled back. “It’s pushing back – I’m not strong enough –”
The sound of breaking glass, from deep inside the cabin.
“It’s too late!” I screamed, tugging at his arm. “They’re inside!”
“Close your eyes!” he yelled.
“What are you doing?!”
“Just trust me!”
Creeaaak! Thump, thump, thump!
I heard the door fly open – and the sound of rapid, heavy footsteps.
Daniel grabbed my wrist and yanked me forward. I felt the wooden bear poke at me, the antlers scrape against me, and various other obstacles bump against me.
Some of them felt uncomfortably warm.
The jingle of keys.
And then I was yanked out into the cold. The flakes stung my face; my ankles burned in the snow. I stumbled through it, crying and terrified; but pushed forward, until I felt the familiar leather seats under my hands.
“I got you,” Daniel said, hoisting me into the car.
The engine rumbled underneath me. The car jerked forward, and then swerved unto the road. “Good thing we have four-wheel-drive,” he said. “Oh, and you can open your eyes now.”
“But – won’t I see them?”
“I don’t see any on the road,” he said.
I opened my eyes.
The scene wasn’t much different from the dark of my eyelids, save for the headlights. The night was pitch black, only broken by the white of the headlights. Black trees flanked the road, stretching up towards the starless sky. And a myriad of snowflakes glittered in the light, hovering in the branches, as if miraculously suspended in mid-air.
No – not snowflakes.
Hundreds of eyes, watching us from the treetops.
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.
“He’s one of them.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s the Excalibur guy! The guy who said they’re attracted to fire. He had a great big tattoo of a sword in a stone on his chest.”
“But he can’t be one of the ice shadows. We’re surrounded by fire.”
“He isn’t. He’s under the influence of one.” I stood up, and scanned the room.
Where had he gone?
Kendra was standing by the food table – arms crossed, leaning against the wall. But she was alone, and there was no trace of dear old Dad.
“Kendra! Where’s your dad?” I called, running up to her.
She shrugged. “No idea.”
“This is really important –”
“We think he may be compromised,” Daniel said, without any hesitation.
“What?!” she said. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Kendra, this is really important –”
The anger flared, and her voice grew to a shout. “I saved him. When I came in, he was going to look out the window – but I stopped him! Just in time!”
“Maybe he already looked out,” I said.
She hesitated. Fear flashed across her face. But then she shouted: “Stop making things up! My dad is fine! Absolutely fine!”
Daniel was pointing at the window.
Outside, the orange glow had faded. Where fires once stood, there were only dark shadows of ash. Over one of the remaining fires hovered a figure, holding something large and shiny.
Water splashed over the fire. It sputtered, sparked, and faded to nothing.
The shadows started to shift and swirl, racing closer to the house. One leapt forward, mouth stretching larger and larger by the second –
“They’re coming!” I shouted. “He put out the fires! They’re coming!”
In one, swooping motion, it engulfed Mark in black smoke.
As quickly as it happened, the smoke dissipated. Mark stood stiffly by the fire, his head hanging to one side. Then he began walking towards the house, his feet moving mechanically across the snow. They bounded after him, following him, their faces –
Daniel yanked the curtains shut.
The silence of the house grew to a roar of chaos. Footsteps thundered, plates crashed, people screamed.
And a strangely familiar sound joined the din –
Tap, tap, tap.
They were here.
And we were in chaos. Running, shoving, screaming. We were all going to die here, in this hut, if someone didn’t take the lead…
“Follow me!” I called out, into the pandemonium.
I raced to the basement door. The thumps of footsteps followed me, shaking the staircase.
The damp air blew over our faces, dusty and stale. Click. A lightbulb flicked on overhead, and we were all bathed in a dim, yellow glow.
“What’s the plan?” Daniel said to me.
“We’ll wait here until morning.” I took off my sweater, and hung it over the tiny window. “The storm will be gone, and the sun will be out.”
“Yeah, unless they get to us before then,” Kendra interjected. Her eyes were wet with tears; her voice shook. And why was her head tilted like that? “You saw what they did… to Dad…”
“Trust me,” I said. “This will work – I promise.”
But now others had overheard, and panic rippled across the room. “Tha’ woman is right,” someone called out, from the gray shadows of the basement. “If they get in upstairs, they’ll easily break down this ol’ door. And then, we’re trapped here, like pigs ready for slaughter.”
“They won’t break down the door. They can break through glass, sure – but not a solid wooden door.”
“Rebecca, if they can stop a car,” Daniel whispered, his face hidden in the shadows, “don’t you think they can break down a door?”
Another voice jumped in, coming from the silhouette of an old woman. Her back was strangely crooked, and her eyes glittered in the dim light. “We’re sitting ducks. We need to go back upstairs!”
“Yes! We have to go back upstairs –”
They must have seen the shadows.
All of them.
“We need to stay here! Don’t you get it?!” I screamed. “This is where we must be!”
A silence filled the room.
Then Kendra lifted her arm –
And pointed straight at me.
“She saw them, didn’t she?”
Daniel stared at me – tears welling in his eyes, glinting off the dim light. “I thought I pulled the curtain in time. But I – I must’ve been too late.”
Someone grabbed my arms. Another thrust my face under the light. Kendra bent over me, her face contorted in a frown.
“Her pupils aren’t contracting with the light. That means… I’m so sorry.”
I pulled and wriggled, trying to escape their grasp. “Let me go!” I cried. “Please, let me go!”
Click. The door opened. They hauled me upstairs. “Wait – where are you taking her?!” Daniel yelled. “You can’t do this! – There’s a way to break the trance, isn’t there? She did it with me! Took off my glasses, and –”
“Sure, if you wanna cut out her eyes so she ain’t seein’ no more,” the man holding me spat.
“Daniel! Don’t let them take me! Please –”
My eyes fluttered open.
Those men must’ve thrown me in the forest. And I’m here, in the darkness, with the ice shadows. My heart started to race. Am I one of them, now? A flitting, demonic shadow, with glittering white eyes?
No. Wait. The last thing I remember was someone talking about cutting my eyes out –
A sliver of light appeared. And the door creaked open.
“How are you feeling?”
“Daniel!” I tried to stand up –
“Sorry about that,” he said. I looked down; thick rope wrapped around my body, tying me to a chair. “They were going to throw you outside the house, but I – uh — persuaded them to lock you here instead.” He rubbed his knuckles.
“Is everyone okay?”
“Yeah. Except for Kendra’s dad.” He bent down, and began working on the knots. “The sun came up a few hours ago, and it looks like the shadows are gone.”
“But what about – everything –”
Kendra poked her head in. “The people want to talk to you,” she said to Daniel. “Oh, Rebecca! You’re okay!”
“I am,” I said, smiling at her. “Wait – what people?”
“Some official government-looking people. They drove in this morning, said they’ll be ‘cleansing’ the area. I think that black-haired woman is one of them.” The rope unraveled, and I stood. “They’re making us sign all kinds of forms, too. Saying we can’t talk to the press, and the like.”
“I don’t think I want to talk to anyone for a while.”
He laughed. “You and me both.”
Later that afternoon, we drove the six hours back home. We spent the rest of our honeymoon indoors – catching up on sleep, rest, and quality time. Life has been pretty uneventful since then, and we’ve been having a fantastic time.
Except that, sometimes –
I see two glittering eyes in the forest behind our house.
And I have the urge to open the door.