's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Cold

Submitted by C. Lonnquist

Karinna breathed blood in through her nose, choked, and snapped awake.

The back of her hand was against the ceiling of the car. It felt different. She was still choking. She spat blood and it went the wrong direction.

Nothing was smoky, but something smelled different. The engine wasn’t making noises. The smell was gasoline? A different fluid? Karinna didn’t know much about cars. Her seatbelt was pulling her up. No, it was pushing on her? Her hand was falling up. No, down.

The car was on its roof. "Stay" by Lisa Loeb was playing, but cut up by static. Karinna was upside down. Her chin had a bad gash on it.

Karinna groaned and undid her seatbelt, trying to brace herself but falling all the same. The roof of the car was covered in broken glass, and she a couple pieces cut her hands as she shifted around. Her mouth tasted like blood and gasoline. Her head swam, and all that was outside was the cold and the snow and white. Her car made creaking noises, and beyond it, the wind slid against itself, sounding like dragged nylon against nylon.

She pulled herself out of the car. Her side hurt. Her left left ached. Both her shoulders were even more sore than usual and her chest felt kicked in. Little gashes in her coat spilled warm white stuffing on the cold, whiter snow. She spat out blood one more time as she stood, and it raced crimson across the snow, freezing as it hit, fading as the wind whipped white powder over it, erasing the wound from memory. All around her, the cold scratched at her exposed skin, stealing invisible pieces of heat.

The wind ground against itself and the ground and the sky, which was just as white as the rest of the world. She was a mile from home. She remembered the Black Dog Road exit, and the Cliff Road exit. She was close to Burnsville Parkway. The car was already turning white, already getting buried. The tears in her coat were vanishing as snow clung around them and made her entire coat resemble its own fibrous entrails.

Karinna looked back up the bank to the interstate. She could see the suggestion of a line where the flat road was, but there was no sound of traffic. No one should have been driving. Karinna shouldn’t have been driving.

She cursed with realization and crawled back into the car. The ceiling-now-ground was already white with snow. The dome light fluttered on and off, blinking as it succumbed to the trauma the car had endured. Karinna found the small paper bag and pulled it to her, stuffing it deep inside her coat. She couldn’t find her purse, but at least she had Julian’s medicine.

A minute later, she stood on the road. The suggestion of black pavement stretched north and south, but the rampage of snow faded it from view. She blinked and pushed her curls out of her eyes. The edges of her vision were cluttered with the alien, unfocused shapes of clinging snowflakes. She was glad she had been wearing her gloves. The finger was missing from one. How was the finger missing, but her own finger was unharmed? She pulled her hood up and turned south, towards home. She could follow the road. She prayed she could follow the road.

The cold breathed around her, exhaling a drawn note of frozen wind. White and empty, and yet crowding her, pushing into her eyes in flecks, clawing at her skin, at the cut along her jawline.

She turned as something thudded behind her. A red streak in the snow, about a foot wide, about seven feet long. It punctuated the bits of blacktop, striking them through momentarily before the snow slipped across it, dropping speck after speck of white until the red turned pink and then vanished.

Something huddled down below the knee-high concrete lane divider. Something red? No, white? No, it was snow. Karinna sucked in a cold breath and took a step back. Something huddled, but wasn’t there. Patterns became chaotic and dissipated in the snow. The cold hissed behind it.

Karinna stumbled. Her boots raked across the powder and sent it flying behind her. She went down on one knee, then the other, then thunked forward, then was back on her feet, then she was running. She was slipping, and her steps seemed to push her back as much as forward. The wind shoved her to the south, towards home, and she gained her footing and trotted.

Julian’s cough, despite his insistence to spend every minute playing that new Final Fantasy game he’d wanted on his Super Nintendo. Tara fighting over it despite having her new Discman and Ace of Base and All-4-One to go with it. James'face, edged with stubble and the excuse that it was too cold to shave off his 'beard’. Karinna stumbled again and slowed after gracelessly catching herself. Shattering a kneecap on frozen asphalt wouldn’t get her home.

The vague suggestions of skidmarks veering to her left prophesied other stranded passengers, but glancing down the embankment only revealed white humps without occupants. Here and there, a tire or axle had yet to be swallowed by the incessant white. She thought she heard someone yelling from one of the mounds, but something scarlet broke the patten of the driving snow for a moment and the sound stopped. She crouched and crept past, moving closer to the divider. The wind was punctuated by the crunch of glass from below and a momentary groan of bending metal. It might have been someone crawling out of the car. It didn’t seem like it was.

A hump of maroon appeared on the other side of the divider. A van idled against the concrete, and while the snow was clawing at the bruise-colored paint, it wasn’t totally successful. The windshield wipers on the van flicked back and forth, blinking the white away in exchange for a clear look into the darkened interior. The remaining headlamp on the driver’s side struggled through the snow, but was mostly covered. Only a few stubborn streams of yellow pushed outward. The front corner on the passenger side had smashed into the barrier, and the whole vehicle slumped like a wounded buffalo against it.

Karinna awkwardly hopped the divider and ran to the driver’s side. She could see the shapes of people in the darkened interior. She pounded on the snow-caked door.

The window opened a crack, heat clouding instantly in the air as it collided with the cold.

"Who are you, then?" A man’s voice asked from inside, present but invisible behind the obscured glass.

"Karinna. I’ve been in an accident," she said, "please let me in, it’s freezing."

Voices argued from within. A woman’s voice rose above the others, hysterical, frightened. "But if we open the door, they’ll get in!"

A calmer voice spoke. "We’re not leaving her out there. Hey, lady, come around the other side!"

Karinna nearly slipped running around the back of the van, but steadied herself against the bumper and rushed to passenger side. The snow covering the vehicle cracked and sloughed away as the doors opened slightly. "Get in, miss" a young voice said. It belonged to a kid who must have been in his last year of high school, but no older. "Quickly now."

Something on the edge of the road made a huffing noise. Karinna didn’t look back and slid around the barely opened door into the darkened interior. Someone slammed the door shut behind her, and a moment later, the van listed to one side as something slammed against it. Metal dented, glass cracked, but it all held. People in the van screamed. Karinna was all but blind. The endless white was replaced with swallowing darkness, and spots danced across her eyes for a moment. She realized she had screamed as well as the van settled back onto four wheels.

She felt the warmth then, slipping around her, into her coat, making the snow along her collar wetter as it melted and soaked into the sweater beneath her parka. She pulled off her black gloves and breathed into her hands, forgetting for a moment whatever had rammed the van. The warmth distracted her completely from the red streaks on the road and the blood caked to her upper lip and the cars in the ditch.

Someone pulled her onto one of the long bench seats, and as her eyes adjusted, she saw the man in the driver’s seat studying her. He had a gray wool cap and a warm coat, and he ran his hand along his chin before looking back towards the driver’s window. "Anyone see it that time?" he asked.

"We never see it!" the frightened woman moaned from the passenger seat. "We never see it."

The van’s engine murmured beneath the wind, still audible through the cracked windows. The van itself could seat twelve people; two in the front, two bench seats that could hold three, and one in the back that could hold four. All the seats were the same maroon as the van itself, though the floor was black plastic and the ceiling was a off-white with a tan, hatch-mark pattern.

Karinna pulled off the faux-fur-edged hood of her parka and ran a cold hand over her colder face. Her skin had the stiffness of a leather jacket. The whole van reeked like sweat and... she couldn’t place her finger on it.

The calm voice from the back seat was talking. It belonged to a girl who couldn’t have been older than her mid-twenties "...and whatever happens, all we can say is that we kept cool heads about it and didn’t do anything stupid." She nodded at Karinna and reached her hand out from the back seat. "Chee Vue. Nice to meet you. Karin, I heard?"


"Oh, cool, cool." Chee motioned to the man and woman in the driver’s and passenger’s seats. "That’s the Hansens, Bill and Sue respectively. The guy who pulled you in is Sam Edwards, and the two in the seat between me n'you are Mike Hoffman and Arvid Jensen, though I just call the latter Grampa Ole because he’s Scandanavian as heck."

Karinna continued blinking back the darkness as the people in the car took shape. The Hansens were both round and ruddy-cheeked, with pale skin and blonde hair, though late middle age had faded Bill’s lighter and forced Sue to dye hers. They were both big people, fitting well within the big vehicle. Sam looked very typically Minnesotan, with dirty blond hair coming out from under the bottom of his stocking cap, blue eyes, and the default expression of mildly confused sincerity on his rather squared face. Mike Hoffman was reedy. Karinna immediately imagined that he was dentist, or maybe an accountant. The caterpillar of hair on his upper lip twitched as he shook Karinna’s hand, and he lifted his ear-flapped lumberjack hat from the seat and put it over his balding head.

Arvid scowled at her. Karinna’s instincts momentarily threw up a warning flag that must have reflected on her face, causing Chee to laugh from the back seat. "Don’t worry about him, he’s not racist, he’s just really old and always looks like that."

Arvid reinforced the point by shaking Karinna’s hand. "Pleased to meet’cha, ya know." His voice was accented with a first-generation sort of bend to it. His nose was red and wrinkled in the strangest places while the rest of his face seemed to be thick, white beard. His flinty eyes watched her from beneath shrubs of eyebrows that seemed to be glued the bottom of his own thick stocking cap, on which sewn reindeer pranced in merry contrast to the hard-faced man beneath them.

Chee patted Arvid’s shoulder. "Won’t really talk much, but he’s got a lovely singing voice, don’t’cha, Grampa Ole?"

Karinna pulled her hood up and slid her gloves back on. The van was colder than she realized, and a glance at the temperature knobs at the front showed that the heater was barely running. Just enough to keep out the cold. "What’s out there?"

"Don’t know, honestly," Bill said. "Seen it in the window a few times, but it just looks like white on white for the most part."

"It’s got red eyes," Sam muttered, and Karinna realized his face wasn’t confused, just shocked.

Mike scoffed and fixed his slightly-frosted glasses in Karinna’s direction. "Don’t listen to these people. They’re all insane. There’s nothing out there, it’s just a storm and they keep thinking taillights are some monster Nothing hit the van except another car we couldn’t see through all this damn snow."

Chee rolled her eyes. Sue whimpered and Sam studied the slush on the black vinyl floor.

"It’s freezing out there," Mike continued. "All of us have been in some sort of car accident or another, and I’m the only one who seems to have any sense about it. There’s no goblins or things out in the snow, it’s just us and a freeway full of people that are trying to get home."

Home. Karinna instinctively turned south. Only a mile. Probably less, really. Highway 13, then Burnsville Parkway, get off the freeway, left turn, right turn as soon as you cross the overpass, up Harriet Avenue and home and Tara and James and Julian. "I need to get home," She muttered.

Mike swatted the comment away dismissively. "We all need to get home."

"No," Karinna insisted, "No, my son has bronchitis," she rifled through her purse—when had she grabbed her purse?—and lifted out a pill bottle. "I have to get home and give him his medicine. Please, I live like a mile from here. Off Burnsville Parkway."

Bill held up his hands in a practiced motion he probably used on his own children. "Like Mike said, we all want to get home, but the van’s not going anywhere. We’ve been here talking about what to do for, oh, on two hours now. Our boys are probably at home worried sick, y’know."

Sue whimpered again. She picked at the tassels on her green-and-red scarf. Ornaments and gingerbread men wound their way along its length. A growing pile of fuzz nestled in Sue’s left hand. She plucked pills of lint and fabric from the scarf with her right and added them to the pile subconsciously. "What if they went out to find us? Luke’s not s’posed to take the truck out in snow like this. What if they’re in a ditch somewhere? Wh-wha..." she started sobbing, spilling her pile of lint onto the black floor. Bill reached over and patted her shoulder.

Mike growled and stood up in his seat, though the low ceiling forced him to crouch. He leaned towards the front of the van, between Karinna and Sam. "Bill, get ahold of your wife before she goes completely insane."

Karinna didn’t see Arvid move, but suddenly Mike was back in his seat, the old Scandinavian’s hand clenched into the thick shoulder of his coat. "Stop the racket. You seen the cold out there. You were hollerin'to get in just like everyone else."

Chee gingerly separated the two men. "Ole, let’s not get in a fight right after church, huh? Mom’ll be mad."

"No," Sternness propped Arvid’s voice up, his accent growing as he glowered through his beard. "No, we all seen what’s out there. Nothin'like it before, the cold out th—"

The driver’s side window smashed inward, flicking glass at Sue. Bill yelled in surprised and reached up, grasping something around his neck. At first Karinna thought it was a pink scarf. Red sputtered up from between it and Bill’s skin, and he made a sick, choking noise that threw a rivulet of blood down his fat chin. The pink thing around his neck pulsed. There were white spurs of bone along it, like a tongue scattered with sharp incisors. Bill yanked at the tongue. His hands were red where the teeth cut him. Sue was screaming. Chee and Mike and Sam and Karinna screamed with her. Sue tried to push herself back against the glass behind her, kicking away from her husband while reaching for him at the same time. Her weight made her wobble in her seat like a toddler’s toy. She whined and squealed like an animal, and Bill guttered and spat more blood as the tongue tightened, wringing out his life.

Something moved outside the van, out across the freeway. Karinna turned, catching it in the corner of her eye. The snow shifted as it fell, going the wrong way. No, not snow. Something white. Something whiter than ivory and ragged around the edges. Not ragged, hairy. Something that matched the snow except when it moved. Karinna felt Bill’s hand reach around the driver’s seat and tug on her jacket. She was still screaming, but she leaned to the window because the pink thing around Bill’s neck stretched back into the snow and the cold and into the white thing that looked like snow but wasn’t snow and moved the wrong way.

Taillights appeared in the blizzard. One set. Another set directly above it. Both too high, too far above the low divider. Bill was making a wheezing noise and batting at Karinna’s shoulder. Sam was between Bill and Sue, trying to pull on the toothed tongue. His gloves were slick and red.

The tongue ended somewhere between the four taillights. The lights moved, all at once, all looking at Karinna. She screamed harder, so hard it felt like something was tearing in her throat. It felt like her tongue was vibrating. Sam fell back. Bill let out one las glugging choke and went limp, his body jerking backwards, slamming against the window frame, yanked to the side but held by the seatbelt.

Sue reached for her husband’s limp hand, but Sam had a pocket knife suddenly and was cutting the seatbelt. The toothed tongue had already frayed it, and the band snapped. Sam hit the latch for the lap belt and it zipped back with a hiss. Bill’s body slammed once against the window. His shoulder cracked and dislocated. The tongue yanked him from the van.

The taillights swiveled towards Bill as his body slithered through the snow, leaving another red streak across the frost along the pavement. One of his legs danced side to side, independent from the movements of the tongue as it jerked him back. He slapped along the ground with the crunch of lifeless meat hitting snow before his limp body in the air closer to the lights, four feet, then six feet.

Blackness yawned behind him, opening in the snow like a diamond, each corner between the four glowing points of taillight-eyes. Flurries of rotating teeth tracked along the edges of the diamond. The tongue pulled Bill inward. An orange glow spilled out of the dark diamond, lighting the inside of a mouth lined with whirling brush-heads of fangs that caught on Bill’s jacket and skin and stripped him thinner and thinner as the tongue passed what was left of him back into a pair of bony, vertical jaws that crunched and ground and pulverized.

The diamond snapped shut and Bill was gone and the taillight eyes blinked out one by one and all that was left was snow and the rasping, whining hiss of the cold as it scraped around the bloodied glass that clung to the dented and broken window frame like cracked teeth.

"Where did Bill go?" Sue muttered as she picked at the thick fabric of her festive scarf. It was far more red now. Her salmon-colored parka was far more red now. Her face, her pale skin, her dyed-blonde hair and ruddy cheeks were far more red now. There were little cuts all over her face from the window shattering. Those were red, too. Sam’s knife shook in his hand.

"Where did Bill go?" Sue chanted and rocked back and forth. Her head tapped against the door frame behind her every time she said her husband’s name. "Where did Bill go? Where did BILL go?"

"Gud i himmelen," Arvid muttered through his beard.

Sam slumped into the seat next to Karinna. "I... I couldn’t help him," he tried to explain. The knife in hand wagged back and forth as he shook. "You saw that, right?"

Karinna turned her attention back out the window. Only snow. No taillights. No spinning wheels of teeth or jaws within jaws. "What the hell was that?" she whispered. When no one in the van answered, she turned to face the passengers around her. "What, in the hell was that?"

Sue chanted softly behind her. Mike leaned to the side and puked into the step between the doors of the van and the floor. Chee reached to Arvid and grabbed his hand as he held it up, shaking like a leaf.

"It’s the cold," he said. "Cold like this, it whips up the storm, and it’s the things in the storm, or maybe that’s what every storm is."

"Fucking..." Mike wiped his hand along his mouth, "do you fucking hear yourself? Are you out of your damned mind? Monsters? No, no that was some sort of machine, right? It was some sort of accident."

"It was a tongue covered in teeth, Mr. Hoffman." Sam’s voice was surprisingly even when he spoke. A forced calm, though his hunting knife still quaked in his hand like a blade of grass in a tornado.

"There are no monsters," Mike said. "There’s no such thing. There are no monsters, and we’re on a freeway in a snowstorm and we’re going insane. We’re hungry and tired and there’s snow-blindness, right? That makes people crazy, right?"

"Where did Bill go? Where did Bill go?" Sue’s incantation filled the silence after Mike’s words, joining with the keen of the wind. The van was getting colder. Snow snapped about, following unseen currents in the air.

"I am not crazy," Arvid stated.

"I’m a little crazy," Chee tried to pull a grin across her face, but it sputtered out halfway through the effort.

"Well, we can’t stay in this car, that’s for sure," Mike said. The wiry man puffed himself up, looking comically confident despite the way his eyes flicked back and forth. His orange-mittened hand shook as it reached for the door. Arvid moved to grab him but Mike saw the man coming and shoved him back. The old Scandinavian slid against the opposite wall of the van with a thump and Chee reached over the seat to see if he was okay.

"Mr. Hoffman, someone just got pulled through the window," Sam gripped the middle-aged man’s wrist. "They’re dead. They’re gone. You go out there, you’re dead too."

"No, no you’re crazy," Mike replied. "You’re crazy and none of us know exactly what happened to the window, and I’m sure there’s a good, scientific reason for things and what am I supposed to do, stay in here with a superstitious old nut, a woman having a breakdown, two kids and..." he motioned to Karinna. His mouth opened and closed a few times but found nothing. "...and her?"

"Mr. Hoffman, please," Sam said. "You’re gonna die out there."

"I’m going to die in here, Sam!" Mike’s voice rose to the flustered whine of a man past clear thought. "There’s already two jars of pee in the back, the damn window’s all smashed to hell, and there’s no food! There’s a gas station less than a mile south, we can make it there, even in this snow."

Karinna knew that gas station. Corner of Burnsville Parkway and Harriet. A few hundred feet from her house. Outside, the snow pounded on the van, the cold and the wind scraped against each other like sharpening knives. She looked for taillights. For eyes. The snow whipped one way, then the other. Nothing moved outside the pattern. Mike could have been right, if not for the blood on the ceiling and the floor and the dashboard and Sue. If not for the fact Bill was gone, Mike could have been right.

"Where did Bill go?" Sue asked no one.

"Fuck this," Mike shoved the dented double-doors along the side of the van open and hopped down into the cold. Flecks of white raced between the doors, opportunists running to their death in the warmth of the van, though it was growing colder as the ragged hole on the driver’s side allowed nearly as much snow to intrude. Mike tugged his scarf over his nose, shifted his glasses to rest over the cloth and set out into the cold. Sam slammed the door behind him.

The occupants watched Mike walk past the back of the van, into the vortex of snow. Wisps of white crawled and rolled through the air as slithering fingers of snow snaked back and forth in blown rivers across what little exposed pavement could be seen. They writhed and twisted around Mike’s legs, and in a minute, the cold and the storm swallowed him.

Sam nodded to himself as Mike vanished. "I gotta go after him," he said.

"That’s suicide," Chee said.

Sam calmly pointed at the driver’s window with his pocket knife. "Whatever’s out there has a way in already, and I don’t think we should just leave Mr. Hoffman."

Arvid made a grunting noise and pulled his own gloves on as well. "Let’s get on, then. Miss Karinna, you said your home’s nearby?"

Chee gaped at the two of them. "Did you not see that tongue thing basically fold Bill in half? Even with a missing window, we’re safer in here than out there."

"The cold’s gonna get in anyway," Arvid insisted.

Sam was already tightening his thick brown scarf. He put a hand on the door. "I’m going."

"I’m with ya, son," Arvid agreed.

Karinna nodded as well. Her head stung. A high, sharp pain behind and above her left eye that drove backward like a long finger through her brain. She couldn’t stay in the van. Sue’s blank eyes as she wobbled back and forth, the bits of torn cloth and torn skin on the jagged edges of the driver’s window, the clawing swish and pound of the wind and snow against the side of the van; it was all too much. Home was so close. So were the things in the storm, but...

"If we can hop from car to car," she suggested, "stay low, keep out of sight. Whatever’s out there has eyes, so it must need to see through all of this as well, which means even if we have a hard time seeing it, maybe it’ll have a hard time seeing us."

"That seems really optimistic," Chee frowned.

Karinna returned the sentiment with a resolved shrug. "What choice do we have?"

Chee nodded towards Sue. "Okay, but what do we do about her?"

The van’s inhabitants watched the woman tilt forward and back in her seat, muttering to herself, scratching red-and-green painted nails against the backs of her hands as she wound them together with her scarf.

"Sue," Karinna said, "Sue, are you with us? Are you okay?"

"I’m going to guess she’s not," Chee quipped. Karinna shot her a flat stare, then turned back and reached for Sue.

The woman recoiled and screamed, her voice rattling up and up until it was something primal and porcine. She whined and shrieked, kicking out at Karinna with heavy-booted feet, pulling the scarf closer to her face. Karinna surged forward to clap a hand over the woman’s mouth, but Sue kept kicking and shrieking.

Past her, beyond the low concrete divider, two stacked sets of taillight eyes burned in the storm. Karinna stumbled back, pushing as far in the opposite direction as she could. Her shoulder hit the window behind her hard.

Sam had frozen as well, his own gaze pointed in the same direction. "We need to go," he muttered. The passenger door was the only way out, and it faced the divider.

Sue’s voice rose higher and higher, pitching upward, screeching, ringing, reverberating around the plastic and vinyl of the van interior, deafening and driving the spike of pain even further behind Karinna’s eye.

"We need to go now," Sam insisted.

Chee and Arvid were seeing what he saw as well, and the two scrambled to put on the last of their winter gear without protest.

The four eyes in the storm glided closer, almost on the other side of the divider. The lower pair vanished below the concrete edge as it got closer.

"Now!" Sam yelled, and he threw the door open as he spilled out, nearly rolling to the ground and sliding up against the divider. Arvid and Chee followed him, the younger woman helping the old man as he shuffled down the steps and out the door. Karinna tried to grab for Sue one last time, but the woman howled and keened like the storm around her and tried to kick Karinna again.

She has kids too.

The thought wormed its way through Karinna’s guilty, pain-spiked head as she clambered out of the van as well. The cold exploded around her, picking at the tiny abrasions on her chapped lips, clawing into the spaces between glove and sleeve and hood and skin. She slipped to her knees and slammed her back against the divider as she reached around to close the van doors, and the flat coldness of the concrete at her back pressed against her, working its way through the insulation of her coat.

Something clicked next to her right ear. Something long and dark as the pavement beneath her feet. Then another. And another. Claws. Long, thin claws like black icicles scratched along the divider, pulling upwards, leaving gouges in the snow and stone. Karinna bit back a scream and rolled to the side, and Sam was there pulling at her even as eyes like red lights appeared over the edge. They ignored her, focused on the inhuman howl from within the van.

"The cold," Arvid muttered from behind her.

"Run," Sam said, "run now."

The four of them tore into the storm, running south along the divider. They stumbled and slipped and the wind knocked them back and forth and the snow below their feet slid from beneath them, giving way to ice that sent them to their knees with its slickness. Behind them, something huge crunched against metal and glass. Sue’s screams spiked up and up, inhuman and desperate and hollow. Karinna stole a glance over her shoulder, and while the snow between them and the van was already beginning to block her view, she could see one of the huge white things on top of the van, bowing in the roof. It’s black claws raked along the side of the van, and Sue was halfway out the broken passenger window, her bloodied hands batting at the toothed tongue that wound its way around her bloodied neck. She was still screaming, but the sound was breaking and collapsing as the life choked out of her. A diamond mouth glowed bright in the raging storm, and wheels of teeth spun silently as it reeled in its prey.

Karinna turned away as screams abruptly stopped and the cold wind obscured everything but the sound of things tearing and then crunching.

They tore through the storm, heading south, hoping they were heading south. The wind slapped into them again and again, throwing them around on the slick roads, and all around the cold spilled across the ground, manifesting in threads of snow that snaked along the roadway. The world was almost entirely white; a bone-colored existence punctuated only by the rime-caked pavement that the snow had forgotten and the here-and-there slash of uncovered car paint.

Sam led the charge. Chee helped Arvid, who was going surprisingly fast despite his hobble. Karinna followed behind. She could have bolted past, she could have kept running. It was less than a mile. Less than a mile to the overpass and home, if the things in the cold weren’t already there.

Arvid grunted and stumbled, hitting his shoulder hard despite Chee’s best attempt to support him. Even though he was bent with age, he was still a huge Scandinavian being propped up by a tiny Hmong woman. She held him as best as she could, and they toppled together, hitting the pavement with a muffled thud.

A dark green sedan was toppled over the divider near them; a makeshift lean-to made of warped metal and plastic. There was no one inside of it, but the windows had been smashed out, and there were dark streaks on the road that weren’t just exposed pavement. Chee and Arvid huddled in the shelter of the car all the same. Karinna crawled down next to them as well. Part of her brain kept screaming at her to run, but she overrode it. These people needed to get home as well, wherever that was.

"Why are we stopping?" Sam knelt down on the other side of the car. He bent over, peering into the shadowed metal shelter. "We need to keep running. We need to find Mr. Hoffman."

"Pretty sure that Mike guy is dead," Chee said. "Besides, I can’t leave Grampa Ole."

Sam pulled down his scarf. His young face was already crusted with frost that clung to his eyelashes. "Okay, but I’m going to run ahead, alright?"

Karinna shook her head. "We need to stay together."

Sam returned the gesture. "Mr. Hoffman might be prickly, but he’s my teacher at school. I’m sorry, I don’t know you guys, but I know him, and...and I don’t know, I feel like if he makes it home okay, I’m doing...I don’t know."

"What about you?" Karinna asked. "Why don’t you want to get home for you?"

Sam shrugged. "Everything’ve seen those things. I don’t know what to do. Which way’s up. I can do this, though."

"I heard a story about this," Arvid muttered through ragged breaths.

Hearing him rasp made Karinna realize how hard she was breathing as well, how raw and cold she felt inside her own lungs. She could feel the cold there, clawing at the air inside her, sending itself into her blood, forcing its jagged edges into the fibers of her muscles.

"You’re talking stupid," Chee was saying to Sam. "You’re gonna run ahead and one of those things out there in the cold will get you."

"Doesn’t matter," Sam replied stubbornly. Something about his muted, confused face was also resolute.

The pain radiated in Karinna’s head. "Let him go," she said. "We can’t sit here arguing."

Chee frowned, but nodded. "Go ahead and get yourself killed." Sam nodded and pulled his scarf up. He stood, so only his bottom half was in sight, and then trotted away. The whirling flurries swallowed him up before Karinna could see the back of his head. She leaned back against the divider and looked up. The cover of the trunk on the sedan had been torn away somehow, and the contents of the trunk had settled against the back seat of the car. It was standard Minnesota winter gear; a snow shovel, a couple old blankets...

Karinna grinned and reached for a black plastic box with a red triangle outlined on its side.

"Oh cool, road supplies," Chee said. Karinna nodded and opened the box. Inside were five flares, one of those space-blankets that looked like foil, a flashlight and some batteries, a few candy bars, and a pair of jumper cables. Karinna handed two of the flares to Chee and crammed the rest in her purse next to Julian’s medicine.

"I heard stories about what’s out there," Arvid said as Chee and Karinna divided up the supplies. "Took me a while to remember, but my grandparents used to tell me."

Chee rolled her eyes but huddled against her grandfather all the same. "Old country stuff, huh? They trolls?" She wound the jumper cables around one shoulder.

Arvid scoffed. "Do they look like trolls, hey? No, they aren’t anything. They’re the cold itself."

Karinna bit her lip and wished she had followed Sam. Her headache throbbed, pushing her eye outward against its socket. "How long do we need to stay here?"

"The storm hides them for a while," Arvid was saying, "but then the storm stops. There’s a hollow in the middle of it, and that’s when you can get past. They can smell your heat better without the snow, but you can see 'em coming. They’re not fast when the storm stops."

"Probably at least until he stops rambling," Chee said to Karinna. "Grampa, what are you talking about?"

Arvid’s heavy eyebrows draped low as he frowned. "The storm stops, and then the snow goes away, and then it’s just you. You and the cold."

"What the heck are you talking about, Grampa?"

Arvid grabbed Chee’s shoulders with his mittened hands. "The storm stops, Chee!"

Chee looked from her grandfather to Karinna. "I...I’ve gotta stay here with him. He’s...this is probably too much."

Karinna opened her mouth to reply. She stopped. Something was moving towards them. Not one of the things that killed the Hansens. Something that was everything. The edge of the snow. A wall of blue.

The storm stopped.

Karinna spun to watch the almost-solid wall of snow recede northward along the freeway. She poked her head out from under the sedan and saw that the snow was still falling a few miles to the west, and the entire wall slowly revolved around them. To the south, though, all was clear.

The wind no longer pounded. Now it whistled and whined. It hissed across the road with a shrill lisp, still dragging threads of snow along with it, but nothing new fell. Above them, the sky was cloudless and blue. The winter sun shone down on them, low in the sky thought it must have only been just after noon. It offered no warmth, though, as the wind became even sharper without the buffer the snow had created. Karinna’s breath billowed up in front of her.

"What in the hell?" Chee muttered. "You do some crazy old person magic, Grampa Ole?"

Arvid struggled to his knees. "Hey, yeah now we gotta run, y’know," he said, standing. "They’re gonna be able to see us now. No more snow, just the cold, hey."

Karinna helped Chee pulled the man from under the Sedan. The three of them stood up and surveyed their surroundings.

Nothing moved along the roadway. Cars were flipped or had smashed against each other. A few sat with open doors on the shoulder, abandoned. Karinna didn’t see anyone as she looked north. The ruins of the Hansen’s van slumped against the concrete divider as the snow wall pushed further north and revealed it. The roadway was dotted with red streaks and puddles.

And mounds of white.

"Hey!" a voice shouted from further down the road. Karinna turned and waved at Sam, who stood in the middle of the freeway. The young man gave a confused shrug. His scarf covered his face, preventing Karinna from seeing his expression.

The freeway stretching south was the same as it was stretching north. Battered and broken cars were strewn about. A few semis were tipped on their side. One had a tanker trailer emblazoned with a Kwik Trip logo on it. From what Karinna could tell, the trailer had been torn open when the truck had crashed, and even from where she was, she could smell gas over the sharp scent of nothing borne from the cold. The truck itself wound to the right and just a little upward. It had died crawling up the on ramp to Burnsville parkway. She smiled. They were so close now.

She waved back to Sam. "Do you see Mike?"

Sam shook his head. "No, I-"

A mound to the right of him surged forward. Sam yelped, but even as he threw up his arms, red eyes like taillights flickered open and a diamond mouth filled with wheels of teeth enveloped his head and left arm. Black claws dug into his chest as the thing forced him to the road. Its eyes closed as it crunched noisily on the young man. Slowly, it dragged him further east, up over the divider, where it shuddered and make crunching noises.

"Run," Karinna yelled. "Run now!"

Chee and Arvid followed her, the three of them tearing to the south. The road was still slick, but with the storm gone, Karinna could see where the ice was and put her boots firmly on the patches of more pounded snow. There were furrows through the low drifts; places where the the things that the cold had brought out had dragged themselves through. The wind screeched in her ears, but the there was a stillness around her as well. Karinna focused on the crunch crunch crunch of her boots against the snow, trying to keep a weird sort of time with them, counting with each step.

She watched the mound of white feeding on Sam. His one arm that hadn’t been eaten straight away hung detached from the side of the white thing just above the edge of the divider, his hand clenched around his pocket knife, the blade of the knife embedded in the side of the thing.. It didn’t seem to mind, and continued to shudder and pulse against the roadway as it ate.

They kept running. Karinna tried to give it a wide berth, but she could see more of the while things past the divider, and more off the road to her right as well. Many of them were the terminus of the red streaks they kept seeing. Many of them hunkered on the hoods of cars, looking for all the world like nothing more than oddly piled drifts. Karinna realized the one in their way wasn’t the only one eating.

"They smell the engine heat," Arvid said between gulped breaths. "The stories say that’s what the cold want. They want the heat, but too much will kill them."

"That’s great, Grampa," Chee panted as they ran.

The thing eating Sam looked up at them as they passed. It didn’t roar or snarl. It opened the glowing diamond of its mouth and whined like the wind blowing the snow across the road. The sound was almost identical, but there was a dissonance in the call that spiked deeper into Karinna’s mind and made her put knuckles against her temples, grinding through the thick fabric of her hat.

"Keep running!" She yelled, though the other two hardly needed any prompting.

The edge of the storm wall seemed to revolve around them, circling like a hungry beast, like one of the white mound-things. It was already coming back towards them as the eye of the storm moved on. It hadn’t hit yet, but it made them run all the harder.

Ahead of them, something rose up over the top of a vacant car. Karinna skidded to a halt, but realized it wasn’t one of the monsters.

"Mike?" Chee asked. "Mike, you’re alive!"

Karinna smiled. She didn’t know these people, but if someone could make it, then maybe she could, too. Her head still pounded, but her feet seemed lighter as she started jogging towards mike. She could see the overpass to home behind Mike. She could see the tops of the trees in her yard, where the hill sloped up from the freeway. Home. Julian and Tara and James. Home. Warmth, away from where the air ripped at her skin and forced her breath to cloud around her. Her lungs ached as she ran forward, but it didn’t matter. Home.

Mike walked towards them stiffly. He hugged his arms around his waist, looking practically frozen. He didn’t look at Karinna or Chee and Arvid behind her. He stumbled to one knee, then got up and kept walking forward.

Karinna paused.

"Something’s not right," she said as Chee caught up to her. "He’s walking funny."

Chee squinted. "What’s he holding?"

"The cold has him," Arvid said.

"What?" Chee asked. "What do you mean, the cold? He’s freezing?"

Mike was only about fifty feet away. His jeans looked stiff and damp and darker than they should be. The arms of his coat had the slick look of wet nylon. The snow wall of the storm crept behind him, almost following him towards the others.

"Mike, are you alright?" Chee called out.

"Ghuuh...ghccchhuuu..." he choked out in response. Blood burbled over his lower jaw. His eyes were unfocused, but he kept walking. His hands fell to his sides. A pink, toothed tongue wrapped around his waist.

"Oh shit," Chee whispered. Arvid swore under his breath as well and the two stepped back.

The snow wall hit, forcing them all to crouch. Mike slumped to the side, falling onto his elbow. Weakly, he reached towards them and chocked out some more noises that should have been words. Red eyes light the tail lights of cars flicked open behind him. So close. Too close. The tongue around Mike’s waist tightened, and he chocked out something like a phlegmy scream as the thing in the storm wrenched him back and pulled him into its wheels of fangs.

Karinna looked at Chee, then at the thing in the snow. "How do we get past that?" They had seen how many there were hunkered along the sides of the highway. They couldn’t go anywhere but straight ahead.

Something cracked and hissed on Chee’s other side. A bright scarlet light guttered forward, then settled to a blinding beacon. One of the flares.

Arvid held up the flare and shoved Chee towards Karinna. "Get out of here." He said, waving the flare back and forth above his head. He wound it in a figure eight, dancing it back and forth like the end of a snake charmer’s flute. "Go on, hey, get going home."

"Grampa?" Chee asked. "I’m not leaving you."

Karinna followed Arvid’s stare. Two more pairs of eyes glowered out from beyond the thing that was eating Mike. As she watched, two more opened alongside those.

"You saw them before the snow hit," she said to Arvid.

The old Scandinavian nodded. "The cold wants the heat." His eyes were grim determination, his old body seemed to straighten like steel. "They used Mike like a lure, y’know. Now go on, get outta here n'live."

"Grampa, no!" Chee demanded, pulling on the man. He swatted at her with the flare, not seriously, but enough to make her jump back with a yelp.

"Oh, I don’t have long for this world anyhow, so you two wait until those things come at me and then ya run, hey?"

Chee opened her mouth to protest, but Karinna grabbed her shoulder. Another pair of eyes opened on the other side of the divider, straight to the east of where Arvid stood. He turned towards it momentarily, and Karinna could see the faint hint of a smile burrow its way out from his frost-edged beard.

The things behind the one that had eaten Mike started pulling themselves forward on long black claws. They weren’t fast—they reminded Karinna of a documentary she had once seen about walruses—and rather than multiple legs in the back there just seemed to be one triangular, three-toed foot. Sure enough, as they moved closer, they ignored Karinna and Chee completely.

"Run!" Arvid yelled one last time.

Karinna ran, dragging Chee by the hand like she would have done to her own children. They dashed past the creatures, and Chee pinched her eyes shut as she heard her grandpa let out a pained grunt.

Something behind them flashed so brightly that it threw their shadows onto the swirling wall of snow in front of them as they ran. They both turned to look over their shoulders. Two of the creatures flailed around in the snow, their white fur blackening as flames tore across their pelts. The fire spread almost instantaneously, and within moments, the white things were charred black, and Arvid stood before them holding the flare above his head, a candle in the raging vortex of white surrounding him.

For a moment, Karinna’s heart rose with hope, but even as she watched, she could see a toothed tongue wrapped around Arvid’s arm, and another around one of his legs. He laughed madly at the storm, at the cold and what the cold brought with it, and slapped at one of the tongues with the flare. Flames roared up the tongue, and the creature it belonged to screeched like the storm as it died. As it did, the other that had grabbed Arvid reeled him in, and as he was forced into its grinding jaws, he slammed the flare upward into the roof of its mouth. The fire blossomed in the storm, consuming Arvid and the creature at the same time.

"Grampa!" Chee screamed. Karinna turned away. Her eyes went wide, and she let out a sharp gasp as the two of them collided into the broken back of the Kwik Trip tanker. With a grunt, Karinna fell to the ground, suddenly aware of the slick gasoline beneath her. Even with the cold as powerful as it was, it hadn’t yet frozen.

Chee screamed, and Karinna turned to see that the younger woman’s foot twisted at an odd angle. She had run into the trailer even harder and had clearly fallen wrong.

"No, no," Karinna reached for Chee’s aberrant ankle. "No, you’ll be fine, we just need to get up. We just need to keep running."

The snow hurled itself around them, screaming and whistling, yanking the warmth from their bodies through the layers of protective clothing and out into the winding wind.

Chee nodded and tried to stand. As soon as she put weight on her ankle, she screamed and sank to her knees in the spilled gasoline. Chee pinched her eyes shut for a moment, letting out a few laughs that turned into sobs before doubling over. She pounded both fists into the ground, and her body shook against the wet pavement.

Karinna nervously surveyed the storm, but nothing moved. The creatures Arvid had torched were still orange flowers in the storm, somehow unfazed by the cold around them.

"His daughter adopted me," Chee said. She lifted herself up and sat back against the broken fuel tanker. "When people were fleeing Laos in the seventies. I somehow got over here. No parents, no nothing. His daughter—my mom, now—worked in immigration. She said she’d let me stay until they found where I belonged. Turns out I belonged with a salty old Norwegian dude as my grandfather."

Chee smiled. "Your kids. Do they suck?"

Karinna pulled back a little. "Excuse me?"

Chee held up her remaining flare. "I’m not gonna die for some sucky kids."

Karinna grabbed the young woman’s shoulders. "You’re not going to die at all, Chee."

Chee gently pushed Karinna’s hand off her shoulder. "Hey, the only person alive who gets to boss me around just cooked a bunch of snow monsters. You can’t tell me to do squat, lady." She grinned. "You need to get your son his medicine, right?"

Karinna opened and closed her mouth like a goldfish. No words came to the movement. Karinna reached into her purse and found the pill bottle. She rolled the translucent orange container in her hand, reading her son’s name above an unpronounceable word that meant it could fix him. The three remaining flares rested alongside the other debris in her purse. She pushed the drugs into the interior pocket of her coat, zipping it shut to keep them close to her and safe.

"We can still try to get out of her together," she said.

"Nah," Chee replied. "I’m going to blow up some monsters."

Karinna nodded and handed Chee her purse. She pulled one of the flares out, but left the other two.

"Rad," Chee said. She popped the cap off the end of one of her flares and stood up, leaning on the tanker. "Well, get out of here then. Light your flare when you’re across the bridge so I know, okay?"

Karinna nodded. "Thank you."

Chee shrugged. "Eh, y’know, I really hate winter. Minnesota’s the worst, hey?"

Karinna chuckled. "Hey."

She started running. She tore along the downed tanker trailer and past the overturned cab. Half the driver was still belted into it. The cold clawed at her, raking icy fingers along her cheeks, howling in her ears, draining her life away second by second.

But it didn’t matter. She was so close to home.

She made it onto the overpass and trotted across. None of the white mounds seemed to be up that high, but even as the thought crossed her mind, four red eyes flashed into being on the other end of the overpass. Karinna moaned and looked just a little to her right, just a little further south, just up Harriet. She couldn’t see it through the wall of snow, but that was where home was.

The thing on the other end of the bridge opened a diamond shaped mouth, and a long tongue flopped out, edged with teeth like incisors. It slithered towards her along the ground. She pulled the cap off her last flare. If she was going to die, she was taking the damn thing with her.


Chee’s voice rose through the storm, somehow cutting through the whining, screeching din around Karinna.

Karinna looked down. Chee had dragged herself past the overpass, crawling north, back the way they had come. A hundred pairs of taillight eyes lurched towards her. Though Karinna couldn’t see, she imagined the woman was smiling like a maniac as she rolled into a sitting position and struck the flare in front of her. Karinna couldn’t hear the click of the strike, but suddenly, there was fire.

She ran. She ran harder than she had ever run in her life. She ran straight towards the white thing that gawked at her with its four red eyes.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the light of lit gasoline race back under the overpass.

The explosion snapped the bridge like someone shaking out a towel. It flung her past the white thing, which had caught a bit of the fire in its fur and was already screeching like a windstorm as the bright orange flames consumed it. All around her, the cold keened in pain, mirroring the storm, screaming from the fire that consumed it. Karinna sailed for twenty feet and hit the ground hard, but managed to roll into it, then flop out of the roll, then skid along the ice and snow on her back until she came to rest at the edge of the sidewalk. The overpass behind her yawned loudly and crumbled down onto the highway. Flames bit at the snow that whistled around them. White mounds shambled towards the inferno. The cold wanted the heat.

Karinna rose to her feet and ran, back up the last little bit of hill, past the gas station at the corner of Harriet, past the scattering of pines along the road, across her neighbor’s yard and into her own, up into her driveway to the door of her house. Panic seized at her for a moment when she realized she had left her keys in her purse with Chee, but as she pounded on the door, it opened and she fell into James'arms. He pulled her in as she sobbed into his chest.

"Honey, what’s going on?" He pulled off her hat, her gloves. She clung to him, feeling Julian’s pills in her pocket as she pressed against him. "Karinna, you’re as cold as ice. You’re going to catch your death out there."

Karinna laughed and cried into her husband, clutching the flare in her hand as he reached around her and shut the door.

Outside, the storm screamed with a thousand burning voices as white winds tore across frozen black ground. Outside, the cold crawled among the broken vehicles, searching for warmth.