Slow clouds and tentacles of mist and monsters crept in a year before the great ice storm. And when the storm did come, the gloom was over me for a time before I realized what had happened.
A steady and hissing rattle of sleet beat on the roof. The wind’s chill gusts moaning low and bringing about a continual creaking of boughs. Wet gloom dripping like Chinese water torture on the cabin window emptied my mind in the same way that hypothermia empties the human body of energy.
Then storm gremlins started to snap things. Thousands of knuckles rapped on the walls. Branches and ice swayed against the eves and little gusts of wind gained the power of ax men. The terrifying crunch of weighted tree trunks sent down shattering avalanches of ice chunks that rocked the old place to its foundations.
I have been alone for a long time. Thank heaven for that. It's been that way since that last day, when the divorce went through and my wife Mia drove out to taunt me. She stood in the doorway wearing her fur and little black dress. Her babyface growing slanted and feral. She grinned, showing the fangs of an unreal monster. When she spoke, it was with a voice gone hollow and cruel, even her laughter seemed warped by the electricity of other dimensions. I went to the window and watched as she drove away into a reddening sunset; knowing that only an evil force could've turned easy-going Mia into that. Distorted faces of monsters were in the rolling clouds, spreading and falling with the violet dust of twilight. Some kind of alien thing had happened, like an H.G. Wells thing. Only there wasn't a war or any fighting back. Higher powers can just change your world, without asking, and that is what they did.
But so much for Mia, this is really about the storm and my struggle -- Near dawn the screech of tires carried in on a whooping gust of icy wind. A bang and the crunch of fenders and steel guardrail followed, and then trees crashed on the valley-side. An hour of yelling followed by screaming rose out of the shrill wind. I simply ignored the last screams of monsters, and soon only the music of falling ice bombs penetrated.
Hours later rays of sunlight swept out of the gloom and tinted the curtains with gold. There weren't any cars passing on the frost-locked highway, and the monster grunts and moans had faded in my ears. I began to think that perhaps the storm marked the end of them all and a divine return to earth for human beings.
I have a mask I wear - wouldn't dream of even opening the curtains without it on. It has soft rubbery skin with a crop of stiff brown hair and features that go perfectly with the sickly tint of monster green. The mask has never failed -- their partially blinded eyes can’t see the flaws and they always think I am one of them when I wear it. I used my next-door neighbour to make the lovely thing -- Jim Schiff being my only neighbour way out here. The monsters got to him before I did. They turned him into a devil. I killed him the day he poisoned my cat, Yellow Paws.
Yellow Paws had been over there throwing down Jim's garbage cans and when he returned I could smell anti-freeze on him. I used a squirt bottle to flush him and he bit my lips as I sucked the poison out of him. He lived but now he has only one good eye and a bad limp. Jim wasn't as lucky. I topped off a whiskey bottle with anti-freeze and got him that afternoon in the garage. His eyes were dark rings, his cheeks moldy green like cheese. He didn't look human at all and he wasn't Jim, or the old Jim, even though he played as though he was --- I only call him Jim for lack of a better word to describe the thing he ended up to be.
His lined face sucked into a glove of anger and fear, he kept roaring and spitting the stuff out. And I kept refilling the bottle and pouring it down his throat again. “You'll pay for this,” he bellowed. But I didn't listen and it was only after he was dead that I started believing him. Yet they never did get me - his tramp cousin found him in the dirt covered with booze and anti-freeze and instead of calling the police he buried him out in the woods and stole half the appliances from his house. I dug him back up to use his face for the mask - and the funny thing is no one ever came looking for him.
Mask patted in place, I opened the curtain and could see Jim's house sitting next door like an old haunted wreck, creaking under the grip of about a ton of ice. Sunlight gleamed on a huge column of ice rising at its side, giving the impression that without the support the place would collapse.
I glanced up at a wide split in the cloud wall, worrying that my place might be just as damaged. It appeared to be only a small break in the gloom -- across the valley golden ice showered down from even heavier clouds; falling on a valley that resembled a cornucopia of weird ice sculpture. Evergreens were bearded with frost, their boughs braided with heavy ice and snow. Sunbeams moved like spotlights, creating a deadly sparkle in this fragile world. Crusts of ice gravel coated the slopes. Spikes and stalactites hung like fangs from the abandoned Queensway rail station. Columns, elephant feet and other squat beasts of ice had formed around the highway 312 warehouses on the far side. I could see a crumpled hydro tower surrounded by spruce that glistened with ice as bright as Christmas lights.
I decided to step out and see if my roof was secure, but found the door frozen shut, so I went to the kitchen window and managed to force it open. Easing out, I slipped and slid down to my butt, crystals of snow falling in my eyes. Facing the road, I saw angels of ice melt and gasoline rainbows swirling in the pavement.
Rising I walked carefully beneath ice dripping eves and made my way out into the yard, trying to get a view of the auto wreck that had happened earlier. Beneath the snow bank, I spotted bent blue metal and a shattered windshield fused into the road like an igloo. The lone driver's last act had been to try and crawl out - now he was on his knees and immortalized in ice. His Ford had collided with a fallen pole and dragged it for a ways. Unfortunately, a power line had landed right outside the door and when he crawled out, he got stuck. After a time he'd seized the line, trying to use it like a rope to pull himself free. Only it had been live and high voltage had turned his arm black as licorice and left him a blue-faced statue on the roadside. He had a crust of snow for a cap and Cyclops glasses of ice. His teeth and jaw were wrenched into a ghastly position, like he’d bit on the charge for a long time.
Though he was a ghastly corpse, he did look human and more attractive than the monsters. It meant that it was true that many of the monsters had in fact possessed humans. In death, they faded away like a snakeskin.
The thought of a Herculean hero saving the human race passed through my mind, and faded quickly as the rumble of skidoos shook the valley. They were riding a ridge of softer snow and running up to the bay highway, meaning they would be at my joint in about four minutes. Their yellow alert jackets contrasted with their purple Arctic suits. Jackets meant they must've rode over the lake on some sort of rescue mission.
Ice powder and blue exhaust jet-trailed as they cut the valley like ice picks on the fly; I could already see green faces and goggles. It all seemed to reflect in the avalanche of silver ice. My head spinning, I slipped as I hurried back to the window. Hard ice gave my cheek a mean blow. Scrambling up, I climbed inside and closed up.
In the dark, I couldn't see anything so I stuck a candle in an empty whisky bottle and struck a match on the wood stove to light it. Embers were smoldering out inside. Damn, I said as I realized they would've spotted the smoke.
There was no way around it; they would be at the door shortly. Candle in hand I descended to the cellar and my gun rack. Pistols, a Remington shotgun and a submachine gun, I carried them all up. Placing the machinegun on a brace by the north wall, I set the angle for the door and connected the trigger mechanism. I had been working on this setup for a while, in case a last stand against the monsters came about. Lacking the skill to hold and fire a submachine gun, I had found another way to do it.
Shielded by a bookshelf, I waited in a dim corner, snuffing the candle the moment I heard their engines roar in.
“Holy shit!” one guy shouted then the engines died.
Not able to resist, I went to the window and crouched. Ice on the glass blurred the scene but I could see them there hovering over the frozen body. They were monsters but their voices were human. It spooked me enough that my hair rose.
A bottle was passed. Laughter broke out, and then shots rang out as they severed the power line with bullets. Likely the line was dead now anyway, but they weren't taking any chances. I could see one creep kicking at the corpse. His green face flashed like slime on the glass, and I realized they weren't out on a rescue mission. These guys were looters and they were beginning here by picking the dead man's pockets.
Five minutes passed. I moved back behind the bookshelf. A knock came at the door.
“Help me,” I moaned, just loud enough for them to hear.
“Hey, you alright in there?” the guy hollered.
“No. Part of my roof collapsed. I can't get free. Can you get the door open and help?”
Muffled voices came from the gloom, and then the man spoke. “Just hang on. We'll be in as soon as we pick this ice away.”
Then I heard the sounds of a pick and breaking ice. They pulled on the door but it stubbornly refused to move. I saw a crowbar splintering wood in the crack, then the door flew open and I saw the monsters.
A red bearded one with popping veined eyes had his pistol ready, but he didn't fire because they couldn't see anything in the dark interior. Then their eyes adjusted and their twisted mouths opened in disbelief.
Yanking the trigger mechanism, I fired.
The submachine gun flashed fire. Bullets mighty enough to penetrate tank armour hit the intruders. Visually it looked like a bull had charged in and nailed them full force. Their bodies showered up trinkets of blood and flesh as they tumbled back on the ice like slabs of beef thrown from a truck crash.
The third and burliest of them ducked back from the blast and fell. Scrambling, rolling, sliding, he went across the yard and down the bank. In another second, he was rolling up near the wreck, a snub nose in his hand.
Rushing to the door, I fired a blast of shot with the Remington. It missed and kicked up a spray of ice, most of the shot licking a frozen corpse and freckling it with blood spots.
Unhurt, the looter got behind the wreck and winged a shot in the door, smashing a glass cabinet behind me. I kicked the door shut and heard shots splinter into it as I ran to the window. He was crawling behind the wreck and I concluded that the way to get him was to force him to run for other cover.
Yanking a Glock pistol from my belt, I smashed the glass and fired a clip of ammunition at the wreck. Then I holstered it and grabbed the shotgun. Dashing to the door, I flung it open and fired a blast at the wreck.
Booting the door shut, I exchanged the shotgun for a hunting rifle and hurried back to the window. It looked like the ploy had worked - he thought he was under attack from two men. Bursting out he dashed across the slippery ice with the idea of hopping over the valley embankment. Sites on his back I picked him off, seeing green gas geyser through a hole in his ski jacket as he went headlong over the edge.
Euphoria swept me -- I raised the rifled and bellowed. Three of them killed easily. I massacred them - and it was a feeling that told me I wasn't really a hunter. My greatest joy was killing someone with a shot in the back and it didn't really matter if it was a monster or a human.
It is unfortunate that reality always deflates the joys of life, and my thoughts rocketed back into the gloom with the realization that I was now homeless. To escape I had to hit the road before more came to get me. My long years of survivalist training would finally be put to the test. As a predator operating from a hideout in the woods I would have to be more ruthless than even the monsters.
Down in the cellar, I learned my first genuine lesson -- little of the ton of gear I had stored could actually be taken with me. Crossing the ice-slick valley by skidoo would not be possible unless I was light. As it turned out - a good supply of ration packs, light climbing gear and light weapons, a portable medical kit and a radio added up to a only few pounds.
My thoughts came and went as I rifled through all the stuff I couldn't take with me - aneurysms of green lava erupted whenever I closed my eyes and only reopening them to the gloom prevented me from drowning in a quicksand patterned with the faces of the monsters. My former grand goal of survival seemed almost irrelevant in a world barely worth living in.
Once the skidoo was packed, I took time to drag the bodies to the embankment … tossing them and watching as they smashed through ice-brittle brush, carrying small avalanches with them to the bottom. At this stage of the game, the most dangerous thing about the ice was that it had cracked everything it covered. It had no roots and any heavy moving object would soon be surfing on a wave of chunks and breakage.
The looters had already cut a trail, so the only real option was to follow it around the valley rim. Gunning the engine, I moved ahead slowly into a biting wind, picking up speed once I got the feel of the trail. It got harder once I left the highway and went down on the valley side. Areas of pine were safe and they seemed to hold the ice. Brush and deciduous forest were the worst, broken branches and ice had heaped and it would start moving at the sound of the engine. Too slow and it would drop and hit you from above, and too much speed and you could become the leading edge of a fresh avalanche created by the treads.
Near the Breaker Hill Road, the trail climbed out of the valley. Ice around me began to slide in bergs but I made it to the rim. Looking up I saw a roof of frozen fir branches. Moving slowly I came to another embankment. This was Breaker's toboggan run and beneath it with a wave of ice swept up to its side was the Brightsville Mall.
One of the lots had been cleared and a number of vehicles were parked there. I could see green splotches moving behind the glass doors, then they opened and two children emerged and began to play in the lot.
Pulling out my field glasses, I took a closer look, seeing green fuzz forming on the cheeks of the two boys. It told me that the monster crowd had taken shelter in the mall and were also using it to incubate new flesh.
I sighed. It was short-lived. Something flashed below; a security guard had been hiding just outside of the mall and now he’d spotted me, no doubt thinking me a member of the looter gangs.
He fired; a shot that cracked the ice in the firs above me. Before I could move a tremendous body of ice and snow tumbled down on me.
It swept me under with ruthless force, the branches and chunks of ice hammering me like a hundred fists while the sharp crystalline snow stung my eyes and mouth. The mass settled slowly and I groaned in pain as it shifted to gravity in ways that pulled my torso and arms and legs in different directions.
Finally, there was no more movement, and the vision in one eye cleared. I found that I could see up through a crack to the sky above.
Pain and numbness grew simultaneously; my head was swelling … shooting pains of Arctic cold forcing me to bite my tongue. Slowly I forced myself to move, clawing uselessly at the ice. A few seconds of effort and I managed to get hold of a ridge of ice. My other arm moved slowly through the chunky snow and when I had both hands on the chunk I pulled hard.
It worked at first then the whole mass shifted and a branch swept in and tore at my face. I choked, my air being cut off, and then I screamed as the whole heap began to slide.
The force of the slide nearly ripped me apart. As I closed eyes tight to die I was suddenly thrown out beneath the trees. I kept rolling, hoping to get clear. When the ground seemed solid again I got to my knees and shook the snow off my head.
I was coming out of one nightmare into another. I could see people below spilling out of the mall -- distorted green faces, none of them human. They were shouting for the boys, but I knew they wouldn't find them because I could see that part of the avalanche was now resting where they’d been playing.
My face was bleeding so much it was hard to see. The skidoo and my supplies hadn't gone down; they were poking out of a pile of fir branches. I crawled over, in the grip of a thousand points of ice pain and the first thing I grabbed was my hunting rifle.
I got it just in time, there were more shouts and faces and they were looking in my direction. Swinging the gun out I started firing. Two guys went down with hits to the face, and the others panicked and ran back inside.
The cold had got my hands. They were feeling like heavy lumps. I knew that as soon as the bruising and pain set in my entire body would be useless. I could already feel the stab of broken ribs.
It meant they would get me. There wasn't any way out except one. I went through my packs for my sticks of dynamite. Finding them, I forced myself to walk on trembling legs, planting charges a good ways to my left and right. And with that done, I moved back to the skidoo, gunned the engine and forced it out of the ice.
The Brightsville Mall is a long building; I can see melting green faces in the windows and warped faces all around me in the ice … enough to make me want to scream. Soon I will yell, and detonate my charges, sending the masses of ice down.
Here on the clear peak I’ll be able to ride down on the tail of the avalanche. The ice will smash the rows of glass doors at the main entrance, clearing them so I can ride right inside on my skidoo.
Their world will shake, glass will burst, aluminum will crumple, ice will shatter and fly and best of all, those green faces will crack when the bullets from my automatic start to bite. The faces in the ice tomorrow will be dead faces.
But if I fail all will be lost, and the monsters and their children will live on as a man buried in ice rides crushed and dead to their doorstep.
. . . . . . . . . . .