Snowflakes swirled down in gusts from the night sky, pale locusts swarming around the lights bordering the long private road that wound up the hill to the house. Kris looked outside, shivered, and closed the drapes against the cold. She sat in her father's favorite chair, the big recliner, absently running her fingers through her auburn hair. It was a nervous habit.
Grabbing the remote control from the coffee table, she clicked through the channels, one after another. Nothing interesting.
While she was at the dance with Willie everything had been heaven. If only he had come home with her! Her parents were gone for the weekend; it would have been perfect. He could have left Sunday afternoon, well before they returned. She pictured the black Fiero winding its way up Deepwater Mountain in the falling snow, Willie's strong hands on the wheel, coaxing the machine across the treacherous narrow roads. He was an expert driver, but she was still worried.
"He'd better call when he gets home," she said to herself, going to the window again. Willie had his own place, a trailer, sure, but it was his. One day soon it would be hers too. Sooner than her parents thought, if she could do anything about it.
The snow was still falling in great white sheets. With a plaintive mew, Murphy entered the room, rubbed against her legs affectionately. The old yellow cat had been Kris' companion for almost fifteen years, nearly as long as she could remember. She had already made up her mind to take him with her when she left, even if her parents protested.
Murph answered with a tiny yowl, showing his missing teeth.
"Let's get you some food."
She walked into the kitchen, Murphy at her heels, making little noises of anticipation. As she retrieved the Cat Chow from the cabinet, the telephone rang. Kris ran to get it. Murphy was left to fend for himself.
Static, then a voice, " Kris? I can barely hear you, honey ..." Her father.
Unconsciously, Kris tightened her grip on the receiver; her other hand clenched into a fist. It had been a long time since she could honestly say she loved her father. Now, with her eighteenth birthday only three days away, he was all the hard and binding rules she could hardly wait to leave behind.
"It's me, Dad."
"Everything all right? It's snowing hard here." They were at the lodge in Canaan Valley, taking a brief vacation from the rat race. She had been there once, with Doug Mitchell, before she met Willie. Doug hadn't been her sort of guy and Canaan Valley wasn't her sort of place.
"Fine, Dad. Fine." Everything is o.k, she thought. I'm not doing anything you wouldn't want your daughter doing. At least not right now. For one mad moment she saw herself telling him all the things she and Willie had done the weekend before, in that little motel room outside Rand. She imagined his face turning red all those miles away, his loud, angry voice reduced to tiny, impotent threatenings by distance and the phone. She let the thought pass by.
"We're going to stay here a couple more days. Be back Tuesday evening. Have you heard from your brother?" Stephen Johnson Jr., computer whiz-kid, first year in college. He was following in their father's footsteps. Kris disliked her brother with a passion.
"No, Dad. Nobody's called. I went to the dance with Willie tonight and forgot to turn the answering machine on when I left."
Silence on the phone, broken by the crackling static. "Your mother wants to talk to you."
Kris wished she could get this over with; Willie might be trying to call her.
"I'll see you when we get back, Kris. Don't forget, I want the house kept clean. You'll have to take out the trash Sunday evening. And don't have any of your friends over when I'm not there."
"What does Mom want?"
A clatter, and her mother's voice, Rhode Island showing through in every word. Though they had lived in West Virginia all Kris' life, her mother had never lost the lilting accent of her home state.
"Krissy? Did you have a good time at the dance?"
"Yes." Short and to the point was best with Mother.
"Are the roads bad there? The snow is just awful, but you know your father, he loves it. He's talking about skiing tomorrow. Can you imagine me and your father on skis?"
"Mom, Willie's going to call when he gets home. I need to get off the line."
"Oh, of course. Harold, you have anything to tell Krissy?" A pause. "Your father says remember to keep that answering machine on if you leave the house. He expects some important phone calls. You won't forget?"
"No, Mom. Goodbye, then."
"Goodbye, hon." Click. And then, for just a moment, Kris heard something else on the phone: a strange, faraway sound of voices murmuring something she couldn't understand. A foreign language, angry and somehow frightening. A shiver ran down Kris' back as she listened to the distant buzzing: "Ya vulgtum ithakwa! Ya fitagun haster yinaxal vortolus ... cootulhoo! Ithakwa vulgtummmn ..."
Chinese? Egyptian? She had never heard anything like it.
Outside something big cracked, loud and long, and then crashed to the ground, breaking the silence of the winter night. Kris ran to the kitchen window, but could see nothing but the snow. Probably a tree somewhere on the hill. Too much weight gathered in its bare branches. In school they taught you that not one snowflake was the same as another. How did they know that? Looking out the window into the face of the blizzard, they all looked identical. Thousands of little flakes falling, falling, piling up on the trees and the roof, soon melted, soon gone.
She wished the snow would stop.
A sudden, earsplitting electronic screech startled her out of her reverie. Something was wrong with the television in the next room. The screen was full of colors, the speaker sputtering, squawking out gibberish.
Just like the noises on the phone. What was going on? Kris angrily punched the off switch on the remote, but the noise continued. Now the remote wouldn't work, either. Wildly she thought of the snow. The blizzard was screwing everything up.
An image appeared, shadowy and indistinct. Something neither animal nor human, nebulous in the flashing static, heralded with a gabbling fanfare of nonsense from the speaker. "Ithakwa relnash, Ithakwa korleptulonos."
She stalked to the television and struck the power button. When that did nothing, she grabbed the cord and yanked it viciously from the wall. Sparks flew from the outlet. And then she felt real fear seize her.
Unplugged, unpowered, the television still shrieked its meaningless sermon, chaotic colors rippling across its screen, fusing into a brilliant snow white, flecked with crimson sparkles.
"That's impossible," said Kris, to no one in particular.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she had an answer for this; someone told her long ago that TVs hold power in them for hours after they're unplugged. Her dad told her that. When she was a little girl, playing around the set. "Stay away from that, honey, that's dangerous." Something like that must be happening here, she thought, punching the volume control wildly.
Unaffected by her efforts, the television screamed on: "Eee-ya! Ithakwa nafagetal fuhtagun! Ithakwa! Ithakwa!" The repeated word sped up, ran together, became a hissing blizzard of noise.
She pulled the insane set away from the wall, laid it on its side, threw the couch cushions over it to deaden the sound. It helped a bit. Outside the wind howled loud and long, a mournful cry in strange harmony with the muffled sizzle and wail of the TV beneath the cushions. Suddenly Kris realized the lights were also dimming and brightening, slightly but visibly, to the song of the wind and the howl of the broken set.
Upset, frightened, the girl sat down on the couch, ran her fingers through her hair, shaking. This was crazy, this couldn't be happening. It was like something in a movie.
Somewhere out on the hill another tree cracked and fell. Kris jumped up at the sound. Why did they have to live up on Jefferson Drive, so far away from everyone? Outside the snow kept falling, cutting her off from the town below.
She knew what she would do. She would call Willie. He was bound to be home by now. He would come after her, despite the snow. He loved her. And they would leave this house, Willie and Kris and Murphy the cat, all in the black Fiero, and never come back. Not even Daddy could ever bring them back.
She ran to the kitchen and grabbed the phone. The hiss and crackle of the television's message assaulted her ears, pouring from both ends of the receiver. Kris stared at it, punched the number, waited, punched it again. Threw it to the floor with a sob.
It bounced and came to rest beside the limp form of her old cat, huddled against the base of the sink, dead eyes staring, mouth open in a silent yowl of terror.
There was no time for tears, no room for anything but fear. Murphy was gone, and she realized she would be, too, if she stayed here any longer. Something was assaulting the house, something she couldn't understand. She had to get to town. She would follow the dim, flickering street lights down the hill and onto the highway. Surely someone would find her there. Someone would explain this to her. Someone who could calm her thoughts with a logical, rational, simple explanation for the electronic voices that echoed the howling, power-leeching wind and the malevolent, implacable snow. She would have to defy the storm to get away, but anything was better than waiting here another moment. As if goading her, the crack and crash of another tree falling reverberated through the house. A close one this time. The still-screaming television answered with a muffled string of angry nonsense.
Kris threw on her parka and boots, opened the door, and fell back with a scream. Someone was coming up the steps, veiled in the sheets of snow. She thought of the strange image she faintly saw on the television, before whiteness swept away any ghost of a picture. She grabbed a vase, the first thing she could find. If only Daddy wasn't so adamantly antigun. He thought hunting was beneath him. She could use a gun right now.
"Stay back or I'll ..."
The figure walked up on the porch, under the flickering light, out of the snow. Willie. He had come back for her.
"Oh, God!" she cried, and ran out on the porch, embracing him.
"Willie, we have to get out of here. Where's the car? We have to take the car."
"I wrecked the car," answered her boyfriend, slowly.
She looked at his face for the first time, saw the strangely bloodless gash in his cheek and forehead, saw the frost in his hair and eyebrows. The strange look in his eyes as his strong arms moved and his strong hands took hold of her shoulders.
"I wrecked the car. My wind blew against it, my ice moved beneath its tires. He was the first. I came here because you were so clear in his mind. You will be the second. Then there will be others. All of you."
"Willie? What's wrong with you? We have to go!"
"Yes. Out in the snow. I have been trapped so long, so long in the snow, falling with the wind, melting with the sun. Over and over. Down through the years."
"Let go of me."
Another tree fell in the distance.
"I learned your language from him. I left the snow, filled his dead brain with myself. Not imprisoned any more. The stars are right. I am free. No more the cycle of frost and fire, winter and summer, existence and nonexistence."
"Willie, let go!"
She kicked and struggled, but Willie held her fast. The house creaked and shuddered with the weight of the snow on the roof, with the force of the wind that howled and whispered in strange synchronization with Willie's cold, emotionless words.
"Soon Cootolhoo will rise from the ocean, and I will consume him. Chognar will come down from the mountains, and I will be ready. I will shred the Pallid Mask, quench the fire of Kathogha. All my brothers will fall. My brothers I despise."
Kris wrenched herself from the hard grasp, slipped on the icy porch, fell back into the house, sprawled in the floor. The thing followed, bringing the snow and the wind in with it.
"Only Ithakwa will remain. Ithakwa, no longer locked in snow. The prison time is over. I have waited centuries, Kris. Kristina Nicole Johnson. William Goode loved you. I see that in his memories, frozen in this brain."
Desperately she crawled away from the thing, the thing that spoke in Willie's voice and wore Willie's form. She scattered the couch cushions as she scrabbled backward. The image on the TV screen was clear. She saw herself, saw the inside of the house, saw Willie's pale, cold hands reach down to seize her. And when the thing spoke, she heard the electronic crackle echo its words, and she screamed and screamed with the screaming wind outside.
"William Goode is dead, Kris. I am Ithakwa. Now you will be Ithakwa, too. Everyone will. Everything. And this world will be one with the snow and ice. The stars are right again. Now I have new cells for my body, longer lived than snowflakes. More versatile than the wind. All similar, but not one the same."
It dragged her, shrieking, into the snow, away from houses and televisions and thoughts of the ephemeral things of men. Away from the ephemeral life of men, who rise and fall like snowflakes melting on a sunny day. Now the snow would never melt, the wind would never cease. She felt the cold entering her limbs, chilling her heart; felt the horror of nonexistence as the alien thoughts of Ithakwa poured from the snow and crowded her from her mind. Dying, she heard her own voice dimly, chanting with the storm, with the dead yet living thing that had come to receive her: "Ia! Ithaqua nafl'thagn ..."
Presently two figures came down the hill, unimpeded by the snow, almost walking on the triumphantly crying wind.
Created: January 31, 1998; Current Update: August 9, 2004