“Sing to me about the end of the world… There’s still hope left in it yet.” – Flyleaf, Arise
“Dad? Dad please pick up, pick up.”
Katie Fox shook her cell phone, willing her father to answer. The roar of the storm was loud, drowning out his voicemail message. The freezing rain came down in sheets of thick needles that crashed against the Plexiglas roof of the bus stop. The wind was nearly as bad as the ice, blowing straight through her parka. It was too late to get back on the warm bus. Its tail lights were barely visible through the storm now, even this late at night.
“Don’t cry,” she told herself, sniffing back tears that threatened to fall as she shoved the cell into her pocket. “Think like dad. Think.”
Around her, there was nothing but darkness. The power grid had evidently gone out, as all the street lights were off. There wasn’t a lit sign anywhere that she could see. It was over five miles from the bus stop to her father’s cottage, but he likely wasn’t there anyway. He’d be further in, where he always was. Katie had to get there, or she’d freeze to death. Digging into her backpack she pulled out the beat-up compass he’d given her a decade ago and oriented herself in the right direction. The cottage was due northeast of the bus stop. She’d go there first, it was easier to find.
Music filled her ears and she scrambled to pull her cell out of her pocket again. She nearly answered it without checking, thinking it was her father. The name Candace Dougherty filled the screen instead and Katie quickly canceled the call. Her mother could go to Hell.
She shouldered her pack and double-checked her heading once more before ducking out into the storm. Her knit cap quickly became soaked and frozen. Her lungs felt like painful blocks of ice after just a few minutes and she ducked beneath the overhang of a strip mall. Coughing and shivering, she sank to her knees and tried to get herself back under control. There was no way she was going to make it all the way to the cottage on her own but there was no one to help her. Despite being Black Friday, the storm cut the power to the area and driven everyone home.
“Shit… shit shit shit,” she said, gripping her head with her hands and willing the shivering to end. Once it did, she tried her father again. This time it went immediately to voicemail. He was in the bunker then for sure. Fuck.
Light caught her eye and when she looked up, she saw a car pulling into a gas station a few blocks up. The lights over the pumps weren’t on, but sometimes they operated anyway. The car was idling, the windows fogged with warmth. Leaping up, she ran towards the car, hoping to catch it before it left. Her lungs were on fire as she crossed the first two blocks and she paused to rest. Only then did her father’s warnings come back to her. Never enter an unknown situation in haste.
Mount Hope was a small town, the kind of town where everyone knew everyone. She was near the highway however, and this could be anyone who came off the road in search of gas. Katie hugged the wall of Getty’s Pawn Shop and tried to get a good look at the driver through the downpour.
It was a woman, small and thin in stature. She appeared to be struggling with the pump and was wearing a good, thick coat like Katie was. There didn’t appear to be anyone else in the car. Katie was beginning to feel the cold right through her coat now, her gloves and cap frozen and wet. If she was going to move, she had to do it now.
She hurried towards the car, making as much noise as she could. Her speed was slower than the all-out run she’d started with, hoping it wouldn’t be threatening. The driver still didn’t see her approach and so she called out to her.
“Hey! Excuse me!”
The girl turned and Katie could see she was young, perhaps her own age or a little younger. She was frightened, her eyes wide and startled. Katie held out her hands, palms facing the girl and her fingers spread.
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to… like… scare you… I’m just…”
The girl’s face suddenly changed, from frightened to confused and then it changed once more into something akin to wonder.
“Katie? Is that you?”
Katie stopped just beneath the pump’s overhang. She was breathing hard, the cold working its way deep into her. Her teeth were chattering and her fingers felt numb. The only smell she could make out was the car’s exhaust. The girl stepped around the car and came closer. Her auburn hair was long and tousled, as if she’d pulled a hat off. A spray of freckles crossed her nose and she had the greenest eyes that Katie could never forget.
“Holy shit!” Lindsay Volk said, clasping her hands over her mouth. Her nails were very short and had blue nail polish that was cracked and flaking off. Without another word, Lindsay ran up and hugged her, tightly.
“Jesus you’re freezing!”
“Yeah, I… ah…”
“Get in the car, right now! Pray to god this pump works or we’re both fucked.”
Katie didn’t hesitate and pulled open the passenger side door, then flopped down into it and pulled the door shut behind her. At first, Katie didn’t even feel the warmth. It came to her gradually, slowly, as if the cold had to melt from her skin first. When it came though, she welcomed it.
Shedding her wet cap, gloves and coat, Katie tossed them onto the floor mat between her legs. It took her a few moments to stop shivering and in that time Lindsay turned the car off to fuel it. Still, the heat was trapped inside and Katie soaked it in.
Her eyes were still closed when Lindsay returned and re-started the car. The heat started up right away, still hot and wonderful. Katie groaned in pleasure.
“So…” Lindsay said. Katie opened her eyes but stared straight ahead as the ice storm smashed against the gas station parking lot. Words refused to come to her. It all felt very surreal. Memories of the last few days came crashing in and she covered her face with her hands, several tears and sobs escaping before she could do a thing about it.
“Hey… hey no, Katie… it’s okay. Hey, what’s wrong?”
She felt Lindsay’s hand on her shoulder, a touch she hadn’t felt in two years. Not since the divorce. Not since she’d been remanded to her mother’s custody. Not since she was forced to move away from her whole life.
Without another word, Lindsay drew her into another tight, warm hug. She’d been Katie’s best friend since elementary school. The only girl who hadn’t called her dad crazy when everything hit the fan. The only girl who tried to keep in touch with her after the move. If her mother hadn’t erased Linday’s number from her phone, even all the ones under fake names, she would have called her instead of her dad.
“I’m sorry,” Katie said after a moment and pulled away again.
“Don’t be. What’s wrong? Why are you here? In this storm, I mean?”
“I…” Katie began but stopped, closing her eyes again. She could still hear her mother’s voice, the screaming rage through her locked door, the names she’d been called. Monster. Evil. Unnatural. You are no daughter of mine.
“It’s all right. You can talk to me. Remember? Just like always.”
“Yeah,” Katie said, sniffling. “Like always. I… I ran away. Crazy right? What am I twelve?”
Lindsay wasn’t laughing at her. She wasn’t even smiling. Her whole face simply showed concern and compassion. She’d been the same way when all the other girls painted ‘crazy’ on her locker.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m just… just cold. That’s all. Bus dropped me off and dad didn’t pick up.”
Katie felt herself flush when Linday put a hand on her cheek, but it subsided once she moved her hand to her forehead. Lindsay took her hands and rubbed at them to get circulation back.
“You’ll be okay in a few minutes. We’ll just sit here until you warm up. Do you want me to take you to your dad’s place?”
“No!” she said, her voice feeling too high pitched and too urgent. She blushed again and shook her head. “I mean, no, you don’t have to do that. This storm is crazy, you know? Could you just drop me off somewhere I can be warm while I get a hold of him?”
“Fuck that, you’re staying with me.”
“No, Lindsay, c’mon.”
“It’s already a thing,” Lindsay said and put the car in gear. “Besides, in this weather it’ll take us a year to get to your dad’s.”
“I…” Katie said, but sighed and nodded. Once Lindsay Volk got an idea into her mind, she wasn’t going to be diverted easily. It was part of her charm.
She started to drive, the car pulling slowly out onto the road. After a short silence, Katie broke the silence.
“So, what the hell are you doing out here anyway?”
“Hrm? Oh, I was hoping to get up to the Best Buy in Rounders for Black Friday, but then the storm hit. I decided a cheap TV wasn’t worth my neck.”
“Well… thanks, Lin. Really.”
“Psh.” Lindsay looked over at her and smiled. “I like to think that seeing my best friend after two years is a better deal anyway. Since, you know, you stopped returning my calls.”
Katie winced and leaned her head against the window. She shut her eyes and tried to think of a good way to explain that, to make sense of it. None of it was easy.
“I’m sorry. My mother just… well she basically… I…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I was much better, you know? With college prep coming up and— oh shit!”
Several things all happened at once. The car’s brakes squealed, the car sliding sideways. Time appeared to slow as Katie saw the world spin outside her window. In one heartbeat, she saw the woods looming very close, and in another there was a face covered in blood. She found that her voice was trapped in her throat. There was the sound of metal twisting, popping, bending and a sudden pain in her shoulder.
And that’s when she heard the screaming.