Snowbound, p.1JA Ellis / Horror
Copyright © 2014 by JA Ellis
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination, or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
“So, you’re not going to make it back?”
“They've canceled all flights into Detroit Metro, Chicago. Can't even get into Kalamazoo.” Across two thousand miles Sam's voice was deflated and travel weary. “They shut everything down.”
Charlotte could hear the faint din of the busy airport where she imagined Sam sitting in one of the pleather chairs there, staring at the cancellation board. It all sounded so noisy and chaotic. But here on the deck of their house in Michigan, she could only hear the soft hiss of the wind through the bare trees. It was cold, and the first few flakes of the coming storm were lazily floating from the gray sky.
“Are you all right there?” Sam asked.
“I'm fine. I went into town, stopped at Kroger and stocked up. Then to Walmart for batteries. We're expected to lose power.” The trip into town, only five miles away, had been a nightmare. People had flocked to the stores, clearing the shelves of batteries, flashlights, kerosene, lamps, milk, eggs, bread and canned goods. She'd stood in line for forty-five minutes at Walmart and witnessed a knock down, drag out fight between two women over the last gallon of whole milk. It was ugly and by the time she fought her way out of the parking lot, grinding her teeth and gripping the steering wheel so hard her wrists ached, she was hoping that the blizzard would just kill them all.
“Fuel for the generator?” Sam's voice was nearly drowned out by an announcement from the airport system.
“Got that the other day.” Charlotte shivered. She wasn't wearing her coat, just a heavy sweater, and she knew she should go back inside, but she needed the fresh air just now.
“Good, good. Remember how to start it?”
Charlotte rolled her eyes, even though her fiance wasn't there to see. “Yes, dear,” she said in the same exasperated tone her mother used with her father, the tone she knew Sam hated. “I've got it. Quit worrying about me. I'm fine. Worse comes to worse, I'll just be holed up here for a couple of days. Jumper will take care of me.”
“Still wish you would go to your parents.”
“No. I can't be there. Mom will drive me crazy. Besides, Dad's allergic to dogs, remember?”
“All right,” Sam said. “I'll let you go. I gotta go see if I can get a hotel comped.”
“Love you,” Charlotte said, smiling.
“Love you too, Char. Stay safe.”
“I will. 'Bye.”
Sam muttered something into the phone that she didn't quite catch, and then the line disconnected. Charlotte pressed the end button on the cordless phone, and tapped the it against her cheek as she stared out at the trees that crowded close to the house. Even with the sound of the wind through the trees, it was eerily silent. The calm before the storm. She spent a moment trying to catch a fat snowflake on her fingertip before a gust of wind sent her back into the house.
Jumper was waiting for her on the other side of the sliding glass door. The red doberman stood and wagged his stub of a tail vigorously when she entered the warm house. It had originally been a small two room cabin built in the nineteenth century. Previous owners had added indoor plumbing and electricity, but not much else. Sam had spent years, and more money than she wanted to think about, restoring the house, updating it, making it compatible with twenty-first century life. He had created an open space on the main floor so that the living room flowed into the small kitchen. On the far wall of the living room stood a wood stove. If the electricity went out and something happened to the generator, it would be her sole source of heat. The single bedroom was in a loft over the kitchen, and below the stairs was Sam's office, a space not much bigger than a walk in closet. A wrap around porch encircled the entire house.
She was surrounded by ten acres of trees and marsh. The house was five hundred feet from the road, and during the summer the trees obscured the view, but in winter she could catch a glimpse of it through the bare branches. The nearest neighbors were half a mile away. Sam loved it here. Charlotte wasn't so sure about it. The isolation was nice most of the time, but they didn't even have cable out here. And though she could get reception on her cell phone on the road, if she stood on one foot and wiggled her ears, the house was a complete dead zone.
Charlotte went to the kitchen with Jumper trailing behind. She poured a mug of milk and placed it in the microwave, then searched for a packet of Swiss Miss, wishing she was in Texas with Sam instead of here in Michigan, facing what the Weather Channel was billing as the “Storm of the Century”. Sam had offered to take her to the conference, but she had declined. He was a writer, a relatively successful one at that. He'd made enough money off from his third novel to quit his job at the insurance office in town, although things remained tight as he struggled through is fourth book. If he hadn't been in Austin this very moment, he would have been locked in his cubbyhole, tap-tapping away at his laptop, while she doddered about, prepping for the snow, and feeding the dog.
The microwave beeped, and she gingerly removed the hot cup of milk. Sitting at the pub table in the middle of the kitchen area, she stirred the powdered cocoa and dehydrated bits of packing foam Swiss Miss passed off as marshmallows into the milk and sipped carefully. Jumper laid down at her feet, and Charlotte kicked off her shoe to rub his belly with her stockinged foot. The dog groaned deep in his throat with pleasure. The wind was beginning to blow harder. She could hear it whooping around the corners of the house, and a glance out the window over the kitchen sink showed that the light flurries of just ten minutes ago had morphed into a steady snow fall.
She finished her hot cocoa, put her shoe back on, and went into the living room to check the weather. The satellite signal was already spotty from the snow, and the images on the screen wavered in and out of existence, but she got the gist of the story. Originally, the storm was supposed to pass far to the north leaving the lower peninsula mostly unscathed, but a sudden change in direction had pushed it south until the entire state of Michigan, into northern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were covered. Gale force winds, sub-zero temperatures, snow falling for twenty-four hours straight – or longer. The storm of the century.
She turned off the TV and went about tidying up the place. Sam was far more organized than she was, and without him there to temper her natural tendencies, the house had quickly fallen into disarray. She didn't want to trip on anything or knock anything over in the dark if the lights went out.
She ate her dinner, a Lean Cuisine that looked nothing like the picture on the box, at the pub table with Jumper at her feet again. A gust of wind rattled the window over the kitchen sink. It was getting dark outside, but Charlotte could see that the snow was now coming down in a thick, white curtain. When she was done eating she went back to the living room and turned the TV on again. The image was hazy and jumped, but she left the TV on all the same. She pulled the crochet afghan her grandmother had made for her off the back of the sofa and curled up to a marathon of Law & Order episodes. She didn't plan on it, but in the middle of the third episode, her head dipped, and her eyelids grew heavy. She fell asleep with Jumper lying on the floor at her side.
It was dark when she awoke. Charlotte blinked, trying to make out the ceiling above her, but saw nothing but blackness. The wind was blowing in sustained gusts now, she could hear it whistling and howling around the house, and rattling the windows, like some hungry thing trying to get in. And it was cold. She shivered, despite her thick sweater and socks. It took her a moment, but she slowly realized that the power had gone out.
“Shit,” she muttered into the black room. Jumper whimpered somewhere to her left, then she heard the click of the dog's claws on the hardwood floor as he came near. In a moment, she felt his cold, wet nose nuzzling her cheek and neck. She pushed him away and sat up, swinging her legs off the sofa. She couldn’t see anything, and silently berated herself for not keeping a flashlight close. She knew the lights were likely to go out, but as usual she had failed to think ahead. Jumper whimpered again, and licked her hand. His warm tongue only accentuated how cold it was in the house. How long ago had the power gone out?
“I'm going,” Charlotte said as she stood up and awkwardly wrapped the afghan around her shoulders. She tried to orient herself, disturbed by how disorienting the absolute darkness was. It didn’t help matters much that when she made her decision, Jumper was in her way. Cursing, she nudged the dog away with her legs and slowly made her