Note: This is the seventh installment of a ghost story. It’s not meant to be read by itself. If you’d care to start at the beginning, click here and follow the links.
She’d started the fire with the flashlight battery and a foil gum wrapper, something she said she’d seen on YouTube. Jake was amazed, but more he was grateful for the yellow light that came, driving away the fog and a chill he hadn’t known he’d felt until now. Carefully they fed birch bark, then twigs and splinters into the tiny flame, followed by scraps of tarred paper that sizzled and smoked before blazing up. In moments, several larger chunks of wood were well alight and the flames leapt high into the night.
Sue sat back, carefully reassembling the flashlight as Jake pawed through the wreckage of the old house looking for more to burn.
“That’s enough,” she said as he came back, hands full. She passed him the flashlight. “You’re going to have to go look for Clarice.”
Jake wanted nothing more than to sit there by the fire. He looked at Sue, saw the look in her eye, swallowed his objections. “Which way did she–” he began, and the flashlight bulb exploded. Then the wind came down on them, frigid and howling.
He was furious, maddened, in pain, such pain!
He had fought others before, and been wounded, yes, but not for years. He had grown old, and he had not fought in ages, staying to the side or far back. But then these had come into his ground, and they were so puny. And they brought with them that scent, the blood-scent, that was life! And with it had come the old madness, and he had challenged, had followed the scent, and they had fled before him, and he was mighty once more! But now he had come to the source, and the life he sought wasn’t here, and now he had been hurt at the last, when he should be victorious, triumphant! He trumpeted again, and at that moment the wind came.
An unfamiliar sensation penetrated his maddened brain, then another. Despite his madness he was too old, too experienced in the art of survival to ignore them, and he paused, casting out his senses. It smelled… smelled wrong, of ice and death and terror. Almost he challenged, but then fear overmastered his other instincts and he fled trumpeting and blowing into the shelter of the wood.
Clarice heard it pound away as the wind rose, howling. She realized she could see, if dimly, as she watched the thick fog gusting past outside. The car rocked gently in the roar, and she could see treetops ahead glowing yellow, massive straight trunks whipping in the sudden gale. Then the path was clear of fog and she could see the fire, see Jake and Sue standing, facing into the blast. And then it came, sheeting down out of the sky, a vast something that glowed dully, blue and purple and then green as it neared the fire, recoiling from the flame and boiling out wide around it.
She watched aghast as Jake snatched up a burning brand from the fire, swinging it wildly. Then the flames went blue as the– the whatever swept around them, cutting off her vision. She was terrified, wanted to dive under her blanket and hide, but she couldn’t pull her eyes away from the swirling cloudy thing.
The fire was blue — against all reason, it was blue! Its heat faded as he waved the burning post in front of him; he huddled back closer. He could hear Sue calling his name, turned, saw her pulling ineffectually at Mike’s legs, trying to get him closer to the warmth. He dove, grabbed, was startled to see ice on the denim, a ring of frost surrounding them on the ground. His hands burned with the cold.
Somehow, they pulled him close to the fire, heavy though he was, and together they huddled against the icy terror that encircled them. It wailed then, seemingly frustrated, yet continued whipping around and around. Trees cracked and split; limbs fell all around, yet none into the clear circle near the flame.
It went on and on, seeming like it would never stop, and Clarice stared, helpless.
Then she did something that was at once the bravest and most stupid act of her young and self-centered life. She leaned the seat forward and reached for the door. What she intended she honestly couldn’t say– but it didn’t matter, for in an instant it was there, evil and bitter, bitter cold. She recoiled, jumping back into the seat, scrabbling at the vinyl.
She held the screwdriver ahead of her, useless though it was, and watched, horrified, as gore on its blade unnoticed until now boiled and spat in the frozen air, chunks splitting off and falling, frozen solid. Frost crept down the tool toward her hand and she dropped it, raising the blanket a thin shield between herself and that horrible glowing cloud.
The cold was intense in her face as she stared at it, opaque and pulsing. Yet somehow, it was unable to come closer than the front half of the car, and she sensed its furious, thwarted hunger. Yet the frost inside the car crept back inexorably, and she huddled back as far away as she could.
Whether it was the cold or the terror or simply her sanity finally surrendering she never knew, but the world began to fade around her. Even as she passed into unconsciousness, she heard a faint voice saying, There there, my little Claire. I’m here; everything will be all right.
She was still smiling when they found her.
The eve of All Hallows is upon us! The conclusion of our tale will be posted in the morning… we hope. Oh, wait; here it is after all.
Image credit: Junior Libby, by way of PublicDomainPictures.net