Short Fiction by Ian Page
Sorry Rachel, I should’ve been more careful. It is Rachel right? They don’t call you Ray or Shelly or anything like that, do they? You sign all of your stuff Rachel. Anyway, I’m Marc. I didn’t hurt you, did I? Once I saw the bed, I turned the light off. I wasn’t even looking for you. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’ll be more careful next time.
That’s the hardest thing to get used to, the darkness. Don’t you think? When it first started coming down it was so bright. I remember in the first week, there was a full moon and it was almost daylight outside. It’s still bright out there, but once you get a couple feet below the surface, just black. Did you ever see those pictures of ice caves all bright with that blue hue to everything? I thought they all looked like that. What a joke, not even near the surface. At least there aren’t any bugs; that’s the only good thing I guess.
I’ll tell you what though, it sure is an exercise in patience. It used to drive me crazy; scavenging around afraid of what I might be leaving behind. But I think it trains you to be more resourceful and appreciate things more. Now, no matter what I find, I truly savor it. Like all of your artwork and drawings, that’s really beautiful. I’m going to take a quick look around the rest of the house, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. I promise.
Hopefully I wasn’t gone too long. Here, I found a wig for you. I know it’s the one your sister used for Halloween, but it’s decent. Let’s get you cleaned up, you’ll feel better. I’ll wash your hair and we can cover that. I can imagine how self-conscious you must be.
I saw what happened here, I’m sorry about that. I’m sure it was terrifying, but don’t worry, it won’t happen again. I put them downstairs so you won’t have to listen to them anymore. You need to know that it wasn’t your fault. Despite what they may have told you, you had no control over what they did. You know, your mom, what she did. It took me a long time to figure that out.
Look, I understand it’s been a long time since you talked to anyone else and there is nothing I’d like to do more than stay awake all night and get to know each other, but I really need to get some sleep. I was just about to turn in before I found your window. Digging through all that ice and snow with just an ice axe and a folding shovel takes its toll. I don’t want you to feel like I’m ignoring you, we’re going to have lots of time. In fact I really doubt I’ll be even leaving the house for the next few days. But I need to get my strength back before I start checking other places. If you’re not sick of me by then, I’ll bring you with me so you don’t get lonely. Yeah, who am I kidding? So we don’t get lonely. It’s not that dangerous out there if you know what you’re doing, not now anyway. Forget what anyone else has told you. Nothing will happen to you, I promise.
Oh, my God, I still can’t believe how good it feels to go barefoot. Go ahead and get ready for bed and then I’ll wash up and sleep in the next room. I can’t wait to feel those sheets and get under the blankets. Fair warning, I won’t be putting on a stitch until I wake up. I would never do this under normal circumstances, but if you’ve been sleeping in your clothes for three months, you’d understand. I’m not telling you this to be creepy and I don’t mean to be improper, but I don’t want to surprise you if you get scared in the middle of the night. I’m right next door if you need me, just holler. Goodnight.
Oh man, that was great. I haven’t slept like that in a long time. You look better too. Jeeze, I slept for eleven hours. Amazing what a bath and a soft bed does to rejuvenate you, even if it is ice cold water. I don’t know about you, but I always preferred having someone around too. When I’m alone, I just can’t relax. It’s like I wake up tense.
I saw you have a nice fireplace. I’ll dig out the chimney first thing. Even when I set up for a while in one place, I get out and see the light otherwise it really screws me up fast. That’s the other thing about the dark, it’ll mess up your clock. You can come up with me. I can’t believe how long it’s been since you were able to feel the fresh air on your skin. You’re going to have to protect your eyes though. I have some sunglasses, that should be enough, but we need to keep an eye out for a set of goggles. Once the chimney clears, we can warm up and I can make a better search, maybe find some batteries. I doesn’t matter what kind, I have a flashlight for every size. I have some extra C’s too. If you can hold that little hand mirror and bounce the light where I need to see, we can really work fast as a team. It’ll be nice to look at each other while we talk, don’t you think?
At least you had a nice shovel and a sledge. What I’d really like is a pick. I had one up until a couple of days ago, but it just got too heavy. When I find one, I guess I’ll have to just cowboy up and carry it like an old miner. The hammer will work, but man, talk about a backache. There’s the top of the chimney. Stay up here and I’ll go down and start a fire, try and melt the ice from below. Once it’s clear, we can go back down. I don’t know how many people I’ve seen asphyxiate from having fires without ventilation. I’ll use candles when I’m under the surface, they’re okay, but I don’t even like small paper fires. I’ll be right back.
Sorry, I didn’t know it would be that long. Once I got the fire going, I cooked a little snack and got a roast in the pot. That way we have a nice meal when we’re able to go back down. Look at this. I put one of your chisels on this broom handle. I can’t believe how good it came out. I’ll just chip away and break this up, clear as much as I can from the top. Amazing, before I just thought snow was a pain in the ass, I never imagined all of this. I wonder if this would be considered a glacier. I don’t remember much geology. I wonder how thick the ice has to be to be classified as a glacier, or how long it has to be here. I always think of them on mountains and tumbling down into the sea. But the Midwest was supposedly flattened during the ice age from them. Maybe this is a glacier. I don’t know. Someone will figure it out someday, I guess.
There, the fire feels good. You know, you look at everything I’ve done: got accepted to the college I wanted to go to, graduated number seven in my class, landed a great job. Now it’s fire, baths, meals. But sharing that gives me more satisfaction than anything. Amazing how everything turns around.
So you stayed home. I don’t know if there was a right thing to do. See, I tried to go south to warmer weather. But you were taking your life in your hands by doing that. You can imagine; people robbing each other, killing each other. People started to get weird so I started hanging back. I turned around and started heading back to Pennsylvania. That was when I met Diana.
Actually she found me, stumbled out of the woods asking for food. Something had happened to her, but she would never talk about it. At first, she expressed the same wariness of other people that I had. But after a while, she was saying that we should try to make contact, that they couldn’t all be bad. I have to admit, she was pretty convincing. She made a lot of sense. Problem was that I had no idea how to tell who was trustworthy and who wasn’t. We were running low on food and I was she was getting nervous about that. I tried to reassure her but she said she wanted to go where there wasn’t any snow. I was really worried. There were all kinds of bandits out there. She would’ve gotten, at the very least, raped. So we fought and fought and she agreed to stay. But when I woke up and she was gone with a bunch of my gear.
I went after her but they killed her. I didn’t know it then, but when they saw her in my clothes, they thought it was me. See, if I would have gone with her, she’d have led me right to them. But she was wearing my stuff so they thought I was alone and killed her by mistake. They left her nude in the snow and, I don’t even know if I saw the wings at that time. But even if I did, I had no idea what they were. They had taken all of my stuff, but they left her there as a trap. It almost worked too. I took her back so I could bury her, but I didn’t have the strength or the will to dig through the ice. And honestly, I just missed her. I was so lonely and she was there. Frozen, but at least she was there.
I dragged her around with me and would talk to like she was still alive. I would imagine what her responses were and then I realized, she really was talking back. I should have known then but I was so distraught, I couldn’t tell which end was up let alone figure out something that complex. She said she was sorry for leaving me alone and eventually she said she wanted to make it up to me. See, when we first met, she was really scared so I told her that I would never touch or hurt her. And I never did. Didn’t even hit on her, I didn’t want her to feel threatened in the least. Now she was going to make it up to me. She was telling me what I wanted hear. I can’t believe how stupid I was.
That’s what they were counting on. See, if you’re not attracted to them, they’re demons. They just come out and get you, but if they can appeal to you, they’re a succubus and it continues after they die. When you get physical with them, it makes you crazy. You’ll do anything to keep them close, but it really takes a lot out of you. My efforts to look for food became secondary. I dragged her wherever I went, all the while getting weaker and weaker. She was consuming me, draining my energy, my essence. Then she started talking about going south where there were more people and resources. She actually had me convinced. I was going to head south again but she had left me so tired, I didn’t have the strength to move.
That first time, that first time I ate a little of her, I almost killed myself. I cried so hard I passed out. But when I woke up, I was stronger and smarter. The more I ate, the more I was able to piece it all together. It all just came to me and started to make sense. Not only that, I became more patient, more intuitive. I was able recognize places to live, learned how to conserve resources. I didn’t so much learn how to survive it was more like, it was in me. I don’t know why, but it’s okay to eat them. If I knew what they were, I’d have been afraid it would poison me. But it made me stronger. I really doubt I could’ve survived without it. Well, from a nutritional standpoint, no way, but I mean, intellectually. I think their behavior is somehow programmed into them. Like a spider will automatically know what kind of web to spin. They don’t have to even speak to each other in order to know what they’re supposed to do. There’s no way I would’ve figured out all of this on my own. That’s how they’re able to survive, it’s in their flesh. When you ingest it, it becomes a part of you. Those instincts circulate in your blood and become second nature.
Let me give you an example. One of the first places I found after I started eating her was this mountain climber’s house. Man, it was like walking into an outfitter. He had big, framed backpacks, that ice axe, heavy coats, sleeping bags, folding shovel, multi-tools, ropes, crampons, the gun, first aid kits and a ton of dried food. I still haven’t found a better stash all in one place. I thought it was just luck at first. But really, what are the chances? Think about it. She takes off with my gear and it gets stolen then and I walk right into that place. Better stuff than I had before, that’s not chance. I was drawn there.
Now I’m able to recognize patterns. I just all of a sudden noticed when trees are spaced wide apart, not quite dense enough to be a forest. The drifts form vague rows. I can tell where the houses are, almost like I can see through the ice. Just by seeing the way the snow is layered, I knew this was a small town. I can show you where the stores used to be, where the schools were, where the good and bad parts of town used to be. Before I started eating them, I’d have never figured that out, would’ve died of exposure just out of sheer ignorance.
Take us, a year ago if I came here, I would’ve missed your house by twenty feet. But last night, came down to the edge of the roof and right to your window. I was drawn to you. Did you notice that? I didn’t go to your mom’s room.
I’m not sure what happened here. Well, I know your mom turned on you and your sister. But, did you see it coming? I mean, were there any warning signs? Then again, they can be master manipulators. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want. I saw it, I know. What I don’t understand is why they kill each other. I don’t know how it is that they don’t recognize their own kind. I can’t always tell when they’re alive, but how is it that they don’t know? I’m sure she was happy when she saw the halo around you, but I wonder if she was disappointed when she saw your sister’s wings.
I’ll stay and set up here tomorrow. After that, we’ll start scavenging. It’s fun, kinda like a treasure hunt. I’ll warn you though, it can get really cold. We can take our time and do a house every three or four days. When we find somewhere that’s nice, we’ll make that our new home as we move across town. Don’t worry, I won’t make you stay any place you don’t like. We just have to make sure we get back before dark, before it gets too cold.
That Marilyn wig looks cute on you. We’ll look for another one that’s more appropriate, but it doesn’t look bad. You’re the first person I’ve ever talked to about this. The first person that I absolutely knew wasn’t one of them. Thank you for not judging me. Wow, you’re really warming up. You know, you don’t have to do this. I don’t want you to think you have to earn my companionship and protection. But I’m not going to refuse if you insist.
Hey, you want to stay in bed or get up? I told you, it wears you out. Maybe I have a little more them in me than I thought. What do you want to do, go topside or help me look around here? Why don’t you go up? I can manage down here. I’ll be up in a couple hours and spend some time in the sun. You don’t have to feel bad about wanting to get out of this place. You can always come back down if you get cold or bored. Let’s get you dressed.
I don’t think they saw us. I’ll set a trap and dig another tunnel from your sister’s window. We’ll be alright. It’s already getting dark and they haven’t bothered us yet. We can build a fire in couple hours but I don’t want to take the chance of them seeing the smoke right now.
I’m going to be honest with you. Your sister would be a real temptation if you weren’t here. I’m not comparing you two. You are every bit as beautiful she is, but if she were alone, she’d fool me. That’s why I’m eating her first. I don’t want to go crazy again.
The first time I saw the wings, I paid no attention. I didn’t even notice them. Then one day, I remembered. I was thinking about her, and I saw her laying there and the red wings had melted the snow. See, right after they die, they can’t hide them anymore and the wings are still hot when they become visible. Two red imprints melted in the snow underneath her as she looked up at the sky. Your sister had them too. Hers were still visible, stuck to her back. They actually stuck her to the floor. Your mom had huge wings. They went from the base of her skull all the way underneath her legs. It was almost like she was welded to the chair.
I hate to say this but, it was probably a good thing your mom did what she did. You didn’t have hardly any food.
Oh shit, did you hear that? Someone’s trying to get in. Be quiet, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.
Some of the ice just fell through the broken window in your room. Still, I’m a little weirded out. I’d feel better if we stayed in your sister’s room, just in case we have to leave. We can stay down here a little longer. You know, warm up before bed. But think about it, before me, how long was it before you saw anyone? I come by and two days later, someone else is just passing by. These things, it’s like they’re either a step ahead of you or nipping at your heels. I’m going to look for something to keep the ice from falling in. That really scared the bejesus out of me. How about you? I don’t want to get woken up in the middle of the night like that.
There, that should do it, you want to turn in? I double checked the tunnel from your sister’s room. It’s open. If we absolutely have to leave, I should be able to punch through the last few inches of ice before they can get out of your bedroom. I haven’t been that scared in a long time. You know what they say, “the only fearless person is the person with nothing to lose.” We can stay up a little longer, soak up the fire, I can make a little more jerky to take with us, just in case. Man I hope he passes by. I really was looking forward to staying put. Oh, well, I guess all we can do is be thankful for what we have. Dammit, let me fix that window again. Stay here.
Rachel, are you in here? It’s okay, I won’t hurt you. Marc told me I would find you here. He’s was worried about you. Come here honey, I have some bad news. I shot him by accident. Shh, shhh, he’s in a better place now, full of trees and sunshine, and green grass. He came out of nowhere, I got scared. As women, we have to be very careful around men. It’s a shame. He was a good one wasn’t he? I know. I know it hurts. Come on, I want to show you something. This may be hard but I think it’s something you have to see. I want to show you what a good guy you had. If you look at the halo, it’s only around his head, nothing behind him. Just like on your pillow there. That’s how you know their good, if it’s makes a halo. But if it forms wings, you need to stay away. He told me he loved you. I’m so sorry for what happened. But I promised him, I promised him I would take care of you. I understand if you don’t want my help. But I want to make it up to you? My name is Diana.
By Ian Page
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