This piece was written for the Kopoint Halloween Special of 2012. I performed the audio of the story during that show. That episode is embedded below at the end of the story.
“What His Sister Told Him” by Daniel Andrlik
Eddie Cohallan hated winter, and that was only thing that was keeping him warm this night.
The harsh wind of the Midwestern countryside blew the snow off of the great drifts on either side of the highway as he drove. The constant bellow created thin white rivers that flowed across the pavement at the crest of each rise, and had begun to form dangerous and irregular piles of the stuff wherever the road dipped too low. The wind seemed to be traveling as fast his small sedan, even as it was currently batting the car around the road like his mother’s house cat toying with a captive mouse. Had it been any faster, he would have been able to hear the full howl as it buffeted the vehicle.
Eddie’s fingers ached with the effort of keeping the car steady. He gripped the wheel tightly with his left hand, and held an ice scraper pressed against the wheel in his thick-gloved right hand. The heater in the small car had gone out 50 miles back, and his breath had begin to form frost on the interior of the windshield. Every few miles, he would lean forward in his seat, and scrape a small hole to see through. His thick gloves were covered in flakes of frost that clung to the fabric and refused to melt.
This did him little good, as the blowing snow left all but a small patch of pavement in front him hidden from view. He drove forward into the white, his eyes searching for the reflective posts that would signal an upcoming curve in the road. A billboard appeared from the depths of the white wind, advertising the Sweet Corn Diner. There was a large photo of a pot roast sandwich above the name. His mouth watered at the thought of food, and his legs began to ache from the cold. He could feel a chill draft from an unseen hole rusted out in the floor of the car.
Only a fool would keep driving on a night like this, with his breath steaming up the windshield in front of him.
Deeper than the chill though, was the tingle of his spine, and the weight of eyes upon him. He could see those eyes in the rear view mirror, staring at him from the back seat. They were ice blue, and their gaze was just as merciless as it had been for the last month. He risked a glance behind him at the empty seats before turning back to look at her reflection yet again. Molly Cohallan’s thin face was framed by her shoulder-length black hair. Her lips were pressed together in the quiet grimace that she had so often worn in life. Her purple sweater, now faded, was still torn at the elbow where it had caught on the banister as she fell down the stairs. For a moment, he wondered stupidly if she felt the cold.
“You again,” he said with exaggerated sarcasm.
Molly had been following him for the better part of a month, but she came and went according to her own schedule. She never spoke to him and never seemed to move. She just stared. Had it not been for the tightness of her jaw, the flexing of muscles beneath her cheeks, he might have thought she was incapable of doing anything else. In some ways, this was better. In her life, Molly had been argumentative to a fault, and when push had come to shove, she had never truly understood her brother’s needs. It had been a relief to let her sink into the black, though it had failed to earn him the amnesty he so craved.
“What, you need something? Need me to pull over for a bathroom break?”
As usual, there was no response from the reflection. For a moment, Eddie imagined that there might have been an amused flicker within her eyes, but he knew that to be unlikely. Her face was a stone, and her harsh gaze had been constant enough that it had almost become a comforting part of his routine on the long drive across state lines. Initially, it had been unnerving to see her again, but he no longer feared her.
What he feared was that which followed her.
There was something else always a few steps behind her. It had found them two weeks ago, and from that point forward, whenever she appeared, he could feel the other presence just out of sight. Sometimes he would hear the snuffling of some large animal just around the corner, other times it was just the non-specific dread of childhood that used to drive him to run up the steps from his parents basement, convinced that if he looked back or slowed some unnamed monster would get him. A child’s fear, but not an unjustified one.
Because there had been something else in the house that night two months ago when she fell.
It had been circling his home for weeks, terrifying him each night from where it hid below the windows, the air from an unseen snout misting against the glass. Eddie had never been able to bring himself to look out at it; like all prey animals, he knew his only hope was to hide. That night, Molly had left the back door unlatched as she came home from a Christmas party, and it had found its way inside. He had heard it scraping across the wood of the floor below, like some great clawed beast dragging a leg behind it. Animals mostly break into houses looking for food, his parents had always said, and when he tried to explain to Molly the danger they were in, she had rolled her eyes at him.
“You’re like a little kid,” she had said, as she always had when he tried to share his fears. He could smell the peppermint on her breath from the candy cane she had been sucking. “There’s nothing down there.”
He had shaken his head, like a child then, despite his twenty years, and had hated himself for it.
“Come on,” she said, taking his arm, “I’ll show you.”
And so, Molly had fallen, her eyes wide in surprise as he had pulled his hand back from her retreating form. There was only a moment of visible anger before she began to roll down the staircase. When she reached the bottom, there had been an audible growl from below. As she began to sink into the shadows, Eddie retreated to the hallway closet. The rest of the night had been tears and silence, as he clutched at his knees in the confined space, praying that his offering had been enough.
When Eddie had emerged the next morning, there had been no sign of Molly. There had not even been a stain on the stairs or the landing below, as if they had been licked clean. Swallowed by the world, as the police detective had told his family. The prevailing theory was that she had run away, and Eddie, finally free of the stalking beast, had done nothing to dissuade them. If he had felt any guilt for his crime, Eddie had not shown it, and taken by the detective’s turn of phrase, he repeated it often. Sometimes, he almost believed it.
But then she had come back, and as if the aftertaste of her corpse was a beacon, so had the creature. This time, Eddie had run.
Eddie leaned forward and scraped the windshield again. As he pulled back, he could already see the pre-frost fog begin to reform on the glass.
“Look at this, Molly,” he began, “it’s a lost cause…”
He glanced again into the rear view mirror and saw that Molly had leaned forward, her face even with the headrest of his seat. He would have cried out had the sudden intake of cold air not sent him into a fit of coughing. Struggling to stifle the spasming of his chest, he turned his head and confirmed that the rear of the car was empty, but in the mirror, her face filled the center of his view. Twisting in her seat, she slowly turned her head, and he could feel the tingle of gooseflesh up and down his arms as she looked backwards into the wall of flying snow behind them. She stared for several minutes, and he flicked his eyes between the mirror and the road, the quick puffs of his breath fogging his view of both of them. When she finally turned back to him, her thin lips were stretched backwards with a smile as warm as razor-wire.
For the first time since her return, she spoke, with a voice as cruel as the wind outside. “You’re like a little kid,” she said. “There’s nothing back there.”
Only a fool would stop driving now. Eddie drove faster.
Fool or no, Eddie was forced to pull over an hour later at the prompting of the car’s fuel warning light. The fuel and food promised by the highway placard turned out to be a gas station at the center of an otherwise hollowed out small town. There was a lone drive-thru burger joint across the parking lot, but despite the advertisements for twenty-four hour service, the lights of the restaurant were dark.
He huddled into his coat as he fueled the car and watched the snow swirl around the lights above the pumps. He glared at the slow rolling of the pump display, mentally counting down the gallons left to fill the tank. Stomping his feet in a vain effort to warm his legs, he risked a glance back at the car.
Molly was still there, in the back seat, reflected in the glass of the window. She had moved closer to door, and had tilted her cruel face up to stare up at him through the glass. When he met her eyes, she smiled again, and he stepped backwards until he was pressed against the pump behind him. The handle rattled in the fuel door, and edging back to the rear of the vehicle, he removed the nozzle and replaced it on the pump. The pump display flashed: SEE CASHIER. As he turned to walk towards the store, he stole a glance back at the car.
She was gone again.
Eddie exhaled slowly into the cold air, watching the steam of his breath roll towards the sky. Stomping his feet again, he trudged through the cold into the station. The bright store was empty but for the single cashier reading a magazine at the desk. The boy wore a thick hooded sweatshirt over his company t-shirt, and he looked startled to see another human.
Eddie nodded to him and went straight to the coffee display. It had clearly been sitting for hours, but it was hot so he poured a rancid cup of the stuff and took a great gulp from the styrofoam cup, wincing as it burned his mouth. He also grabbed several packs of chemical hand and feet warmers from the shelves and deposited them on the counter by the register. He handed the cashier a credit card and raised an eyebrow when the boy pulled out an old fashioned card imprinter.
“Sorry,” the boy said with a yawn, “storm knocked the phone lines out.”
As the cashier processed his card, Eddie began opening the chemical warmers and placing them into his gloves and boots. Then he moved on to placing them strategically beneath his clothes. They warmed slowly, and his thighs began to ache where he had pressed one into his tight jeans.
The cashier handed him back his card and he sipped the terrible coffee again as he turned to leave. He barely had a chance to begin a step when he froze.
She was back.
Standing inside the station in her torn sweater, no longer a reflection, Molly stared out the huge windows at the front of the store, focused on something far beyond the white barrier at the edge of his visibility.
“You OK?” asked the boy behind him.
“Fine,” he said, not very convincingly.
From the front of the store, Molly looked over her shoulder and smiled at him. Slowly, she extended an arm and pointed out into the distance beyond the car. Even with the pumps to break the wind, he could only just make out the shadow of the sedan through the blowing snow. The storm was like a hungry thing, and its white teeth slowly devoured the vehicle before his eyes until there was just a wall of white and a solitary pump across the lot.
Eddie took an involuntary step back from the window.
“Heck of a storm, huh?” said the boy.
“Yeah.” Eddie could barely get the word out of his mouth.
“The storm has hunger,” the boy said, with an odd cadence to his voice. “But you know all about that, don’t you Eddie?”
He turned in surprise and found the cashier leaning stiffly against the register, his skin pale white and blue with the unmistakable signs of frostbite. Molly stood behind the counter as well, her smile so wide he thought it might split her face. The boy’s eyes were ice cold, and Molly tousled his hair like a proud sibling.
“The world has hunger,” Molly corrected the dead boy behind the counter, “and sometimes the world just swallows people whole. Right, Eddie?”
It was growing cold again, and he could feel the wind strike his back, as the doors opened behind him. Molly walked around the edge of the counter and began to step towards Eddie. He retreated backwards, halting before the parted doors, snow blowing in around him.
His teeth began chattering, and he blinked in confusion. There had been no storm the night Molly was taken.
“The w-w-wind? There wasn’t any wind, when it came for you.”
“Oh, Eddie,” Molly said, tilting her head, still disappointed in her little brother. There were snowflakes in her hair, and her cold eyes softened for a moment with pity. “I was already dead when it took me. You’re a hot meal. Don’t you ever blow on your spoon before eating?”
There was a snuffling behind him, but Eddie now knew this was just a comforting lie. There was no beast, no monster in the store with him; there was only the store itself, the storm, and Molly. There was only the world.
“There’s nothing behind me?” he said.
She shook her head slowly. “Sometimes, Eddie. The world just swallows people whole.”
And then she pushed him.
Tumbling out the door, he felt the first strong tug on his boots, followed by the steady pull from below. There was a rumbling growl from all around him, and as he began to sink into the ground he tried to imagine a great mouth in the earth, with a crushing tongue and rock teeth. It wasn’t long before his head sank beneath the pavement into the frozen dirt below, and the earth formed tightly around him. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the grinding molars of the world, but they did not come, and he kept sinking.
When Eddie finally came to a stop deep in the black, he tried to move his arms and met a solid, but not painful, resistance. He tried to breathe in, so that he might call for help, but the pressure on his chest allowed him only a shallow inhalation. He tried to form a fist, that he might try pull himself free, but the earth held even his fingers in place. He was immobile in the dark, and he could hear nothing from the world above.
Had he been able, he would have screamed then, but like the night Molly fell, there were only tears and silence.
The audio version of this story was recorded as part of the episode embedded below.
I also posted some commentary on this piece as well. If you would like to see me break down what I like (and don’t like) about this piece, you can find it there.
Of course, if you enjoyed the story, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to let me know in the comments below, or you can always contact me.