The people mover is still broken when your flight gets in. It’s late – the plane circled for a good hour before landing, on account of the blizzard. By the time the captain finally brought the plane down, once the runway had been cleared enough for him to dock at the gate, and you’d finally disembarked, it was well past 11. You’re tired, hungry, just want to be home already. And the people mover is broken.
Good chance to stretch my legs, anyway. You sling your duffel bag over one shoulder and start walking down the bridge to the parking lot. The other passengers around have a harried look to them, like they’ve never seen a winter storm of this magnitude before. You chuckle; a foot or two of snow is nothing compared to some of the storm systems that went through Boston, back in college. And besides, it’s not going to get any better by waiting.
It’s a long walk. You’ve lost a few of the other late-night long-haul commuters – the group of fifteen has trickled down to a handful of five. Your back is starting to get sore from the weight of the bags – it’s a good feeling, after being stuck in that plane for so long. You haven’t worked out in a few days, so it’s for the best, really. About time, honestly; I always skipped out on the Farmer’s Carry. You chuckle. An older woman a few steps ahead turns and frowns.
Jeez, lady. Some of us need a little fun in our lives. Sorry yours doesn’t have any. You smile and nod her way. She turns back to the front, her heels clicking determinedly forward down the cement floor. White high heeled boots, really tall ones too. An odd choice, given the weather.
Good luck getting through the snow in those.
The windows to either side of the walkway mark the snow’s level, up above your eyes. Your car will be entirely buried, no doubt. Might have to use the alarm to find the thing. You sigh. They always say how important white paint is for the summer, but nobody ever mentions that come wintertime, it’s like having camo on the darn thing.
The walkway is ending. You speed up to pass the scowling woman and dig the parking ticket out of your wallet. A little square photo of your girlfriend smiles up at from the wallet; you smile back before sliding it away. It’s an old photo – about time for a new one, really. Something for the next visit, for sure.
A clump of people stand in front of the sliding doors to the parking lot, zipping their coats up to their necks, pulling on gloves and hats, swaddling themselves in wooly scarves and wraps. Most of them pull off their masks, but some leave them on. The blizzard rages outside. Every few moments, one of the bundling travelers shifts their weight too far forward, and the doors scrape open against the ice and snow surrounding their frames. The cold air hurries in as fast as it can, exposing the chinks in the travelers’ winter armor, and collectively, they shudder, huddling in closer to one another. Like something horrible is waiting for them, just outside. As if they might be safer, together.
You pull on your gloves and Velcro the sleeves of your coat shut over them. It won’t make much difference, but every little bit helps, right? And you can’t hide forever. That’s a fact it seems the others have yet to realize, or at least to accept.
The scowling woman’s footsteps come to a stop behind you, waiting for the sole parking meter in the place. For the briefest moment, you fill with a self-satisfied glow for having beat her there, then feel ashamed of that very pride. Just pay the ticket and get out of here – the dog’s not gonna walk herself.
You feed the ticket into the machine – $21.00, it demands. Not too bad, for three days. You slip in your credit card, crossing your fingers the machine doesn’t decide to keep it. As if sensing your fear, the machine spits the card back out. You reach for it, but before your fingers close around the solid plastic rectangle on which your daily livelihood relies so completely, the robot sucks it back in. And again, out and in, out and in. You sigh.
One of the travelers stumbles towards the exit, breaking from the pack. The sliding doors inch open; a wail rushes inside. You turn to the door, peering outside. What could have made such a horrible sound? Not the storm alone, surely? The traveler quivers, then grabs his suitcase firmly before stepping out into the cold. The doors scrape shut; the rest of the pack huddles in closer.
The scowling woman taps her foot impatiently. Her breath is warm on the back of your neck, sending a tingle down your spine. A sharp contrast to the chill of the entryway; she must be right on top of you. What’s her deal? You shudder. Should you say something? No. Better to mind my own business and just get home already. No reason to pick a fight this late.
The sliding doors to your left open as the clump begins to disperse, braving the cold air and slippery ice, staggering away with small steps to steady themselves on the long-frozen snow.
The machine spits your card out with an obnoxious BZZRRRRR! You reach for it, but just as your fingertips graze the card’s spine it’s quickly pulled away from your grasp and back into the machine’s depths.
“Come on!” you exclaim. The last few people by the door turn to look, startled expressions dotting their faces. Your cheeks flush red, and you quickly turn back to the robot.
Finally, the machine produces your card again – you wait a few seconds before pulling it out, hesitant to be embarrassed again, and the now-paid parking ticket follows. You shove both into your coat pocket, hoping the loose paper won’t crumple too much to be read at the exit, but too ambivalent to force it into your overstuffed wallet.
The scowling woman grunts affirmatively as you step away, preparing to make the trek into the cold. A final few others stand around you, anxiously glancing out into the blackness of the night, obscured behind an ever-shifting wall of snow. They murmur to one another, either unsure of what to do, or unwilling to do it. It’s just a little snow. Shouldn’t you guys be used to these conditions? You shake your head.
You give your zipper one more tug and glance back up the terminal bridge. Save for you and the gaggle gaffing at the exit, the bridge is empty. No more travelers make their way down from the terminal – the airport issued last call long ago, and you few stragglers will usher in its closure for the evening.
We’re it, then. After we go, it’s lights off, and this place will be all alone until tomorrow. An airport’s not supposed to be empty like this. How eerie. You grip tight the handles to the duffel bag and check your scuffed old Timberlands – one of them has come untied; you choose to ignore it – and shove off into the cold and black, leaving the last travelers behind, unwilling to face the chill to come.
It’s every bit as cold as it looked from inside, and somehow that fact chills you even more. You pull out your AirPods – a gift from Dad, from a warmer, less lonely time – and pop them into your ears, careful not to drop them into the snow, where they’d invariably blend in so well, they’d be gone until the spring thaw. A song begins to auto-play – Dire Wolf, by the Grateful Dead. One of Dad’s favorites. I wonder if even a mega wolf like that would be bothered by conditions like this.
It’s certainly lonely out here, though. The few travelers that rushed out before you are long lost in the swarming snow, closing around you like great white curtains. You’re glad for the music, even something less than a favorite, if it keeps you from the velvet white silence.
You’ve never liked that feeling of loneliness, that silence. You’ve gotten used to it, over the years, overcoming first a fear of zombies (through countless exposure-therapy-movie-marathons and late-night survival guide reading sessions) and then a fear of burglars (what else would a childhood’s worth of martial arts be good for, anyway?) but somehow it still sits heavily on your shoulders. The billowing curtains close in. You glance back to the terminal bridge as the last few travelers wander away into the blizzard. At the rear, walking directly away from you – is that the Scowling Woman? For some reason, you smile. Something about a middle-aged woman, irrationally angry at a Gen-Z-er minding their own business just makes you want to peal out in laughter. And yet…
There’s somebody else. Somebody standing by the doors, not walking, not even turning on their heels to find their way. Staring in your direction.
You glance around, wondering if maybe there’s someone off to your side in the confusion of the blizzard, someone you managed to miss as you trudged through the slush. But no, you are well and truly alone in your little quadrant of the lot.
Maybe they’re just lost in thought. Taking a minute to come up with a plan. I wouldn’t want to rush out into this mess either. But no, whoever it is, they’re focused, intently staring.
Right at you, through the roaring winds, the muffling snow. Unmoving, unwavering. Watching.
What’s their deal, anyway? Mind your own business for once, huh?
Your eyes strain to pick them out – is it someone from work? The office is awfully close, but… but no, not this late, not in these conditions. You wave at them, a smile sprouting from your lips. Kill them with kindness, right? Maybe it’ll work this time…
Something about how they’re staring doesn’t feel right. Your arm drops down lifelessly mid-wave. There’s something off about that figure, something you can’t quite put your finger on. But no.
Who would want to mess with a six-foot tall, two-hundred-and-thirty-pound man? Nobody, right?
They’re still looking at you, though. And why don’t they have any bags? Besides, their outline… something about it just seems a little… off. Like standing there on two legs doesn’t suit them.
Best not to think about it. It’s not my problem, anyway. You turn, trudging through the scantly-plowed street where the snow isn’t built up quite so high.
The Grateful Dead croon in your ear, “When I awoke, the Dire Wolf, six hundred pounds of sin, was grinning at my window, all I said was come on in.”
Suddenly, a too-deep and not-so-frozen puddle catches your toe and you stumble forward, the weight of the bags dragging you down. The momentum carries you further away from the Watcher at the walkway as the snow swallows them up. You look back, and they’re gone. Feet now back under control, you look down and sigh. Those untied laces caught up with you, after all.
You crouch down to one knee and lace it back up. When you rise to your feet, the Watcher is gone – disappeared off into the snow. You take a slow breath, cold air burning your throat. No use getting worked up about it. Almost home, almost home. Twenty minutes and I’ll be swaddled in flush fuzzy blankets with my plush furry puppy and this will be nothing more than another crummy airport memory.
You cross the road and head into the main parking lot. You’re close; you walked this way just a few days ago. You tap into the photos app out of reflex and freeze. There’s nothing in there.
You never took a picture of the lot marker.
You hit pause on the Grateful Dead – for some reason, that same song has been looping over and over. I just need a minute. If I can just retrace my steps, it’ll all be fine, won’t it?
Finding that car is going to be a tough start, though. Every single vehicle in the lot, thousands of them, maybe even tens of thousands, is buried under a few feet of snow. They’re all just amorphous blocks of white, rounded edges blurring from one into another.
Maybe you should call your girlfriend, see if she remembers. You open up your contacts, your index finger hovering over her name in your Favorites list.
No. It’s late – she’s probably asleep, and why bother her about something like this? It’s embarrassing, and besides, there’s no way she remembers the post number anyway. No, you need to figure this out. It’ll be easy.
The parking lot is massive, with dozens of branching roads and walkways leading off into other identical subplots, each containing their own milieu of nondescript snow piles, one of which you can only hope is covering your car. You trudge to the absolute edge of the lot and continue marching, confident you’re headed at least in the right direction. You walk, making your way from pocket to pocket of lonely light shining down from distantly spaced floodlights, reflecting off the mirror-like snow, blinding in the otherwise dark night.
I’m never going to find it at this rate. There’s too much ground to cover, and nobody in sight you could ask for help, not to mention working up the nerve to really do it. You need to get out of there. You’ve got somebody at home, waiting on you. A furry somebody who’ll be very happy to see me.
The cold is seeping in through the cracks in your coat, the breaches between glove and sleeve, the disconnect between sock boot. You need to find the car fast; it’s only so long before body parts go numb in these conditions.
You stare at your gloved hands, black leather wrapped around them from just below the wrist to a few millimeters above your fingertips where pockets of cold reside, sending stiffness into your joints.
I can’t get frostbite from conditions like this anyway. Hopefully. And then you remember that finding the car is only the beginning.
Shit. Even once I find the damn car, I’ll have to shovel it out. That’s not going to feel so great.
The snow crunches underfoot as you walk through the parking lot, jamming the lock button on the car key pressed against the underside of your jaw to amplify the signal. This helps. This’ll work. Not sure why, but this’ll work. Not that you’ve ever paid it much thought – except for googling it once, maybe… something about the fluid in your brain being a conductor for the signal? No idea.
But hope is better than nothing.
You stop, glancing around. Where are the flashing headlights that would be telltale of the car’s location? Maybe the snow is obscuring the light from the high beams, blocking it out before it can ever get so much as a foot. Hopefully it doesn’t stifle the signal from the car key, too.
Deep breaths, in and out. It’ll all be okay, just take a moment to think.
The silence of it all is what really astounds you. You almost can’t believe that, despite the winds, despite the endless meandering downpour of semi-solid rain, the world is every bit as quiet as the proverbial house in the Night Before Christmas. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
In an instant, the wind picks up again, howling at the top of its lungs from somewhere far, far away. That’s pretty high-pitched though, isn’t it? Almost like… Almost like a woman’s voice. You smirk. Maybe that scowling woman is screaming her own frustrations into the storm. A pleasant thought. Only…
What if that’s not quite it?
What if there’s another reason she’s screaming?
Suddenly, a sound that shouldn’t be there echoes. Footsteps. And yet, there’s nobody around. You come to a standstill, straining your ears at the muted sound.
The footsteps continue. Someone’s there.
The Scowling Woman? No way she could find me out here. And why would she bother anyway?
The Watcher? You slap your cheek. Don’t be an idiot. That wasn’t even a real person. Some kid might’ve made a snowman, and I just couldn’t see it clearly, that’s all. The Watcher isn’t a thing.
But you don’t believe that, exactly. Drafts of cold slip down the back of your coat. Sweat beads inside the inner layer of your flannel collar. You’re alone out there. Right?
Suddenly, ahead in the middle distance is a man walking through the aisles of cars, probably lost and confused. Closer to you than he should be, for just appearing out of the white like that. You smile, filled with relief bubbling above a thin layer of suspicion. We’re in the same leaky boat, at least.
The man is late-middle-aged, old enough that wrinkles are starting to crease his face, but not so old you can’t count them all on one hand. His hair, what hair he’s got left anyway, has little more than a hint of color, and is totally disheveled. He looks well bundled, and the snow has built up in the crevices of his coat; his boots are soaked through from the runny slush.
He must have been out here for a while. Poor guy.
“Hey!” you call. “Lost yours, too, yeah?”
The man says nothing at first, just looks up at you, staring. A vacant expression on his face. He drags something through the snow behind him, something weighty. You try to peer around behind him, but can’t make it out. His eyes bore down on you as he approaches.
Kind of like the Watcher.
“I totally forgot to take a picture of the sign for my parking section!” you explain, trying to remain cheery. Better to be friendly than to ignore him, right? He’s probably every bit as lost as you, confused and cold. You curl your toes – the sensation in them is almost entirely gone. You don’t have that much longer to be walking around out here.
As the man scrapes his way closer, you make out the faded logos and insignias on his clothing, odd markings of animals with one more tail than anything natural, and… a second set of eyes? No, no, surely not. Probably just some weird foreign brand. This IS an airport. The thing he’s towing comes into focus – a suitcase, a poor match for the deep snow drifts. You exhale, relaxing, just a hair.
“You’re stuck too, then,” he says, coming to a stop a few steps away. Just out of reach.
“Shocker, isn’t it,” you joke. “Been out here long?”
The older man smiles, the wrinkles on his face bunching up in waves. His skin is cracked and dry, bloody in spots from exposure to the cold.
“Yes,” he answers at last. “But my time’s almost up.”
“Ah.” The old timer looks defeated, in a way, almost sad. It’s hard not to feel for him. “Tell you what,” you say. “Why don’t you come with me? I’m pretty sure my car’s over here; if you help me dig it out, we can drive around looking for yours.”
The man smiles solemnly – or is he baring his teeth? – and shakes his head. “It’s a kind offer, son, but no. There’s nowhere else for me. Nobody gets out of here. Anyhow, I’ll be gone soon enough.”
Guess he really has been out here for a while, then, if he’s already checked everywhere else in this whole entire parking lot. Man. I sure hope I don’t end up like him.
You nod, turning to continue onward, when the man clears his throat.
“Listen, son, the rest of us might not make it out of here, but I hope… I hope you do, at least. Good luck. Really.”
“Uh, thanks. You too.” And you walk off into the storm, taking care not to look back too noticeably. It doesn’t seem like he’s following.
But you don’t hear his footsteps fading away into the storm, either. You refuse to turn around and check. Better not to entertain people like that. One can never know what will set them off.
You’ve given up on the lock button, now favoring the more desperate tactic of the car alarm. But still, nothing. Just a muffled, muted, almost-silence.
Somewhere behind you, the howling wind picks up a new pitch, like a cry of anguish. Yet in an instant, just as soon as it had joined in, it’s gone, frozen on the wind and replaced by the gentle patter of falling snowflakes.
Is he – no. No, no, stop it. He’s fine. It was just the wind. That’s all. Your steps quicken all the same.
The rows upon rows of cars blur past as you hurry through the slippery slush, boots sliding on the ice underneath. The snow here is almost unmarked, save for your footprints, and…
What IS that?
Two lines trail between another set of prints going the other way, carving deep, jagged paths through the snow. A suitcase, surely, but… you think back to the design on that strange man’s jacket. Tails, maybe, dragging through the snow behind. But what kind of animal could even leave tracks like that? It was almost reptilian, for a tail to drag behind something like that. Crocodilian. But two of them?
You shudder. Not something that belongs in a frozen-over airport parking lot on a lonely, cold, forgotten Sunday night. Just get to the car. Just get to the car, and everything will be alright.
But shouldn’t you have found it by now?
How do you know you haven’t passed it already?
The alarm would have gone off…
What if the snow was blocking the signal?
But that not how snow works, is it?
Look, even if I did pass it, I can’t really go back and check every car, can I? Of course not. So, you press on, hoping the car is ahead, hoping there’s nothing behind, closing in with every step you take, hoping that you really are alone in this parking lot after all.
But you know you aren’t.
You think back to the Watcher. Who was that? What did they want with you? Why were they staring so intently? And where did they go?
Where is that damn car? The white paint is definitely not helping. Not like you can see anything under all that snow, anyway. But why aren’t the horns going off? At this rate, you’ll be there all night. Damn it. If I last that long.
Ahead, two beams of light cut through the snowfall and darkness, and you rush forward. Finally! Finally, finally, it’s time to get out of this stupid parking lot, out of this stupid snow and stupid cold! And away from this stupid, freaky, lonely darkness. The car alarm isn’t going off for some reason, but that’s okay. Better not to make too much noise, anyway. Maybe someone else is listening for their own right now. It’s for the best.
You run around to the driver’s side door and reach for the handle, ready to knock away an armload of snow, only to find it’s already clear. You freeze.
The doorhandle is black.
This isn’t your car.
The engine is running, though. And whoever’s car this is, they haven’t cleared it at all. Remote start, maybe? But then, why aren’t they here? You turn, wondering if there will be some figure making its way towards you through the storm, maybe someone to ask for help?
That’s when you see it. A white high-heeled boot, just like the Scowling Woman was wearing, sitting in a disturbed pile of snow, like someone had rolled around down there trying to make a snow angel.
She was here. This was her car. And now, she was missing.
But then, what happened to her? And what was with the messed-up snow, had she gotten into a fight with someone out here? She was a nut, alright, but that would be crazy… unless it wasn’t a somebody at all…
Suddenly, lights erupt from beneath a pile of white over to the left. The alarm starts to sound, BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. You click it off, sweat dewing on your brow despite the cold. So much noise. Everyone in the parking lot will know where you are now. Everyone, or everything.
You hurry over to the trunk, knocking armfuls of snow aside, but it’s no good. Frozen shut, maybe? The brush is in there – you’ll need to clean off the car, before getting out of here. No matter what’s out there, it couldn’t be worse than crashing into a post, and getting stuck waiting for a tow. No, better to do it right, than to rush. You’ve got to be able to see, at least.
You crack open the driver’s side door and haul it open, ice splintering along the door hinges. You toss in your duffel bag and climb in after it, snow spilling onto the floor.
You grimace at the mess – that hardly matters now – stomp down on the gas pedal and jam the ignition switch. Supposedly, if it gets cold enough, car engines can fail. Starting it up could take several minutes even, or worse, it could not start at all. Gotta hope that doesn’t happen.
A moment passes, and the engine thrums to life. Relief floods over you. Almost out of here. You hit the defroster and crank the AC up to max, then climb back out and shut the door. Now for the tough part.
You start to shoveling, using your arm like a plow to knock the snow off the driver’s side window. Crunching footsteps echo all around; impossible to say where they’re coming from. You scoop another armload of snow off the car, a large chunk landing in your boot.
Not really legal to drive around with all this snow on your car, is it? You glance at the roof, a foot or more of snow piled up on there. Then again, is there really gonna be a cop on the road right now to stop me? Fat chance. Like they’ve done anything else about this place.
You get back to shoveling, clearing just enough space on the windshield to see through. There’s a layer of ice underneath; thick, too. The defroster will have to take care of that, not much else to do without the scraper, ironically frozen in the truck. Laughable. If I just felt like laughing.
The windshield is just about half-cleared now; your arms feel like logs, with barely enough sensation in them to know they’re still attached.
A shiver runs down your spine, a set of tingling pinpricks boring inside. Someone’s watching me.
The snowfall is too thick to see through; the sightlines totally obscured in all directions. The parking lot is eerily bright for the middle of the night, and yet you might as well be blind. You’re alone.
You’re not alone. You KNOW you’re not. Of course, someone is watching. They have been since back at that damned terminal walkway. The Watcher, what was that thing? And what happened to that old woman at the parking meter, or the strange guy, lost and wondering the lot, just like you? That had been a scream back then, of course it had. I’ve been fooling myself. Gotta get out of here.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
That’s when you notice. The lot isn’t so bright because of the overheads, distant and faint as they are. It’s bright because nearly every car parked there has its lights on, shining faintly, desperately through mounds of snow, scattering the faint beams in all directions. Some have patches cleared from their windows, enough to see their empty interiors; others are ominously untouched.
Something’s coming. You turn, noticing the driver’s door to the next car over is open, flapping in the storm winds. “Hey!” you shout, running over.
The words catch in your mouth. The driver is inside, frozen solid. Her skin is blue and mottled. Her arms have been gruesomely removed, torn away at the shoulders, yet no blood spills from the wounds, the fluid frozen solid.
cru-Crunch cru-Crunch cru-Crunch. It’s coming.
You fly back into the driver’s seat of your waiting car and slam the door shut. The car’s warm, the engine thrumming, ready to go. You throw the car in drive and floor it.
The car lurches forward and catches on something. The wheels spin, but you’re not moving. Shit. Should you have dug out the front? You thought a Subaru could handle anything. Come on, come on!
The windshield is getting reburied in snow with every passing second. You can’t even use the wipers to push it off; they’re still buried deep on top of the hood, frozen against the metal. Maybe the defroster will burn the snow off, once it gets the ice melted. Thin rivulets of water carve their way down the windshield. It just might work.
If it doesn’t, you’ll be driving blind.
The wheels spin, and your mind goes back to that frozen, dismembered woman, sitting still just two cars down, her door open to the storm. Shit. I never locked my door.
Suddenly, the Bluetooth comes on, blasting Dire Wolf at a deafening volume. Shit! You jab the off button with your right hand over and over, but it won’t shut off. Shit. It doesn’t matter. Whatever. Your left hand clicks down on the lock button, and the car resounds with a relief-filled CLICK.
Just under the booming music, you hear something tugging at the door-handle outside the car, trying it once to get in. The music shuts off abruptly. You hold your breath, silence filling the air from floor to ceiling. That chill tingles in your hands and legs, freezing you in place.
It tries the door handle again, more determined this time. Click-clack.
Whatever it is out there, you thank God the window on your door is still snowed over and frozen shut. You can’t see it. And it can’t see me either.
You slam the accelerator down as far as it will go and the car jolts forward, the front half clearing the snow blockade. The thing outside bashes into the rear of the car, howling like a wounded animal, screaming like what you now realize was one of its victims from back at the terminal bridge, the other travelers who would never make it home. The Subaru lurches sideways, then the thing bashes into it again, knocking you free of the blockade.
The car jumps forward and you shoot off into the storm, barely able to see a foot ahead now. Behind you, it screams. But the sound is growing fainter by the second.
You’re out of here; home-free.
You scan the narrow strip of sightline ahead for any sign of the exit, but it’s too obscure to tell. Even if you had a clear view, though, any signs would surely just be another lump of snow by now. Just have to keep going. I’ll find it eventually. I have to.
The edge of the lot comes closer and closer.
Suddenly, something slams against the back of the car and you start to skid, the wheel slipping between your fingers. The car spins, whirling through the snow. Loose powder, the ice underneath melted by the defroster, flies off your windshield and into the night. You can see!
Immediately, you wish you couldn’t.
A suitcase sits forgotten in a pile of detritus, the clothes inside torn beyond recognition into useless strips of fabric. Half a dozen feet away is a splash of red, staining the snow. And there, propped against an open car door, is the middle-aged man from earlier. A massive gash at least a foot long oozes from his side, already freezing over in the cold. Both his arms and one leg are missing; the one that remains is barely attached, held there by neglect if anything at all. His face is frozen into a rictus grin, his eyes wide with terror, even in death.
Something shrieks, close behind you. No mistaking it for the storm this time; you see exactly where it’s coming from. A figure is standing in the middle of the road, in the epicenter of the muck you kicked up while spinning out. It’s big, you can tell that much, but its outline is otherwise hidden. It’s like the snow falls heavier around it. You know it’s standing there, anyway. Watching. Its eyes burn a brilliant white, like the swirling silent snows are contained within its irises.
The car is back under power; you floor it, shooting past the thing and on towards the parking lot periphery. Dozens of cars sit to either side of the road, their doors flapping open in the storm winds, drivers frozen stiff inside in various states of decay. That… creature lurks behind you, fading into the storm. The reading on the speedometer ticks higher and higher.
The car races up to the parking meter, coming to a stop just as the hood grazes the machine’s arm. You roll down the window, patting your pockets frantically for the pre-paid ticket. Thank God I paid earlier.
But where is it? Snow rushes in through the open window as you turn each and every one of your pockets inside out, looking for the damn stub. Waistcoat pockets? No. Inside pocket? No. Pants?
The panic rushes back in, and the world tilts on its axis. Where did that ticket go?
Suddenly, there’s a figure in the side mirror. Huge, looming up out of the storm. Only a few steps away, and getting closer. Those swirling white plates of its eyes loom up close, pulling you in. The door handle clicks in answer to an unspoken question, still locked.
“Shit!” you scream, slamming down on the gas pedal. The car inches forward, groaning against the parking meter arm as its wooden frame bends and scrapes against the hood. In an instant, it gives. The arm snaps apart, splintered wood flying away into the night, and you speed off up the purgatory hill. The figure’s silhouette fades to grainy mush in the rearview mirror, those eyes fading once more into the storm. A second longer, and it would have got you.
Road signs shoot by as the car careens off into the night. Take a deep breath. Got to stay focused – we’re not home yet.
You sigh, relief creeping into your bones. The airport is in the rearview mirror. It’s okay now.
Your eyes drift over to the speedometer – 80mph. A bit fast for these conditions. You ease up on the gas, and the car starts to slow.
Another car sits abandoned in a ditch on the roadside, its tires swamped in powder. The snow isn’t quite as built-up on it yet; a recent crash, maybe.
Could’ve been me. Gotta be careful. Without the lights from the parking lot reflecting off the snow, the highway is mired in an inky black too thick to penetrate. Your headlights pick out a narrow strip ahead, spotlighting thousands of snowflakes as they flutter to the ground, little hazards that could easily send you to the ditch alongside that abandoned car.
No other headlights shine through the dark. You’re still alone, as you fly home. A familiar sign passes by, briefly picked out by the lights – 20 miles from home.
The thought reassures you, and your mind starts to wander back to those other travelers from the airport terminal. What had happened to them all? Had they met the same fate as that poor man? And the scowling woman, too, were they really all dead? What was that thing, anyway?
You glance down at the speedometer again, just to be sure. A shiver runs down your spine. You try to look away, back to the road, but that warning on the dashboard is unignorable. A flashing red gas canister. Zero bars left.
The tank is empty.
The car shuts down with a piercing beep. The engine hum dies in an instant, and you start to lose speed. You pull over to the side of the highway, off into the roadside ditch, just like that abandoned car after all. The lights shut out. You’re alone, in the dark.
You grab your phone; only got a few percent left, but it should be enough to call for a tow. Hopefully they’re still working, despite the conditions. Surely, they are. The bad storms have to be the best business for them, right? You shine the flashlight through the windshield on a nearby mile-marker; your stomach drops to the floor. It’s that same 20-mile marker. You’ve barely moved. But how is that even possible?
Your phone lights up the play button for that Grateful Dead song once more, flashes a warning and dies, its screen replaced with an empty battery icon. You’re alone. No gas, no phone, no way to get help, trapped in the blizzard. Nothing to be done but wait.
Suddenly, two bright plates of milky white blink into existence outside your door, swirling like the raging storm is trapped inside them. The old man was right, there was no escape. It found you. All I said was come on in.
The door handle clicks open.