Friday, February 5, 2016

Long Night

Dec. 26, 2015

"It's almost over," said Anna to no one in particular, because there was no one to talk to. There hadn't been anyone to talk to for weeks now.

Not since the monsters.

Everyone hears about the midnight sun and quickly forget the polar night. Not that "night" meant what people thought it did. Yes, the sun didn't breach the horizon, but it wasn't steeped in inky darkness twenty-four hours a day, either. Much of what would have been day became a hazy-blue twilight that faded to black. It just didn't last long, and let's be honest, it didn't make any difference. 

The monsters had the run of things so long as the sun couldn't scorch them. But it was almost over. Anna wasn't sure, but weeks had past, and soon the night would end. She just didn't know exactly when. It wasn't that she couldn't keep time or tell dates, she had been in the third grade before her world had effectively ended. She'd just never had to before. Mom would remind her, or Ms. Hanson at school. But the her phone had died more than a week ago, and she wasn't even sure what day it was.

Anna looked at the odd blue sky that held no sun like peering up through an ice cube. She glanced at her watch - it was actually her mother's old watch. She remembered making fun of her for wearing it - Why don't you just use your phone? she had said. The memory made her want to cry. The tiny arms pointed out that it was just after noon and soon what light there was in the sky would drip into darkness. 

Anna didn't look like a nine-year-old. She looked older than that, despite her size and pink sneakers and shirt with the cute hearts and kittens. It was her eyes. They looked tired and slightly feral. Her pale brown hair was greasy and matted, and her hands had a rime of grime on the palms of her hands and pads of her fingers, but she didn't hesitate as she scooped the tuna fish straight from the can into her mouth.

Weak flames flickered in the hearth. She knew she had enough wood because the monster kept leaving her wood. The generator had lasted a week after they cut the power. Her mother had finally been forced to search for food and propane in an effort to keep her warm. Temperatures outside were 50 below.

She'd watched her go, promising to lock the door. Promising to stay inside. She went out once a day to empty the bucket and bring in the supplies the monster left. She was late doing it, because going outside meant seeing the faces. But it was time.

She licked the oily fish from her fingers, and upended the juice from the can into her open mouth. Being mindful of the ragged edges, she licked some errant bits that clung to the bottom.

"Waste nothing," she whispered. Then pulled on the snowpants and boots and shoved her arms into the thick parka. And her hands into the thermal mittens. The hat covered her ears and was lined with fur.

She managed to pick up the bucket in one hand and looking out into the yard made sure it was as clear - or seemed clear and stepped out. Even with all the layers, the cold hit her hard, like hammers that pulled at her inside, sucked her breath out of her lungs and burned her skin where it could touch.

The faces stared at her as she went, and she did her best not to look. She used to love some of those faces. Jenny from school. Mrs. Briggs and John Jenkins from the store. They were mostly eaten, but their faces were still there. Why couldn't they eat the faces? The skulls were nothing. Just bone. But faces could be loved.

She quickly upended the bucket and tossed it in behind her, not minding the spatter. Because what really mattered was the supplies. She picked up the gallon of water, that was frozen and pushed it through the open door. Then the box - she could see inside that there was a variety of food. And saw a green bag that meant vegetables, and felt tears spring to her eyes - she remembered vividly a time when she hated vegetables.

A noise shifted all the hairs on her body. It was a low hiss, guttural and animalistic and she saw the thing moving towards her on all fours, and she scrambled backwards. The ice, her hands being full, something made her fall as she crossed the threshold and banged her knee. Despite the thick pants, pain exploded, and Anna gasped and tried to regain her feet, but felt the claws tearing at her down parka.

The thing that tore into her, used to be human. Its limbs were frozen, but still able to move, just better able to tear through things like clothing and flesh. Its eyes were white like the snow - frozen and frosted over, but they could see. They could see enough. The teeth were the worst - nothing like human teeth, thin like needles or those fish from deep under the dark waters - Anna was sure they were made of ice, but it didn't matter, because the blood didn't melt them.

"Mama! Mama!!" she screamed, not even hearing her words.

Another form exploded into the house, hands, pale and blackened with frost gripped the thing that was savaging Anna, wrapping around the things neck it raised it up and slammed it into the floor. 

Once. Twice. Three times. It had stopped moving by the second.
The second creature picked up the first and threw it out of the house without looking at the sobbing girl on the floor.

Anna, still whimpering, managed to heave the door shut, and pulling a mitten off in her teeth threw the bolt. She could see the monster tearing apart the body of the one that attacked her. Still shivering and sobbing she made herself watch the thing - it had shanks of long, brown hair - parts had been ripped out. It's fingers, blackened by the cold were scraped to raw bone talons.

In the right light it still looked like her mother, even as it slowly took bites of the other creature. The monster's pale eyes were fixed on the door, and Anna knew it could see her. She knew it could get in if it wanted to. Knew it was bringing her food. The food!

The box had spilled its contents all over the floor. Boxes of pasta, some cereal and a box of toaster pastries. And a note, the monster always left a note.

Sun rises tomorrow. Run, baby. Run.

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