The Thing About
wind bit at his face like burning knives, threatening to flay the skin from his
nose. His gloves, the fur lining of his parka, every bit of his clothes supposed
to keep him warm was heavy and stiff, crusted over with ice. But he didn’t stop
running. He couldn’t. Even though part of him knew it was suicide, he pushed on
into the night, into the howling and the cold.
Because it was better than the alternative.
At the very thought of what “the alternative” might entail, sheer panic
threatened to overwhelm him, clouding his mind like noxious fumes. The horror,
the absolute insanity of it all made him want to sink to his knees in the deep
snow and scream up at the dark, uncaring sky until his vocal cords snapped and
his lungs burst. And then…
Then it would find him. Overtake him, kneeling helpless in the snow, and–
He closed off that part of his mind before he could imagine those events
in any more detail. Instead he devoted all his attention to his legs, forcing
them to trudge through the snow. It was up to his calves, any movement like
walking through semi-hard cement. To call it running was a feeble joke; he could
only lumber forward. It was frustrating: the fear and adrenaline building inside
him, reaching the breaking point– and he couldn’t release it, was held back by
the elements. It was like beating one’s head against a brick wall to reach
safety on the other side.
Of course, there was no safety here. Or anywhere for several thousand
miles. Everywhere he looked, had it been day, he would have seen endless fields
of white stretching into oblivion, ominous crags and peaks standing on the
horizon like sentinels ensuring no escape. The closest human outpost was behind
As soon as the thought entered his mind, he turned, against his own
will, to look. Through the raging blizzard he could see a warm, flickering
orange smudge a quarter of a mile away, sitting at the bottom of the slight
slope he was climbing. It was all that remained of the place he and his
colleagues had called home for seven months, a flaming wreck standing against
the pitch-black night. Smaller pricks of flame on the outskirts marked where
debris had been cast, and the whiteout lights glowed an eerie blue.
Then he saw a shape, a dark silhouette moving against the backlit scene.
Ask anyone and they would have said it was a man, or at the very least a person
of some gender: a bit bulky from the heavy coat, struggling against the wind,
arms flailing slightly as they tried to push through the deep snowdrifts. They
might have been in a hurry, eager to escape the cold, except there was nowhere
to go. Instead the person seemed to be moving away from the warm fires, up the
slope, perhaps following a set of tracks in the snow.
The sight of this second survivor filled the man with even more terror,
if at all possible, and he turned to flee. His boots stuck deep beneath the snow
and he lost balance, falling on his face into the cold crust. It burned like
fire; he half expected his skin to start blistering. Instead his right cheek
began to grow numb. Pushing himself up on all fours and shaking the snow from
his dark hair, he looked back over his shoulder. The shape, although still a
ways away, was noticeably closer, pressing on towards the crouching man.
He struggled to his feet and began an awkward half-run, arms pin
wheeling, breath coming in short high gasps. He knew that sooner or later he
would collapse, and maybe pass out. Part of him hoped it would happen; to fall
asleep in the soft snow and escape this nightmare would be a welcome relief.
Nightmare. The word barely began to describe what had happened over the
past few days. It was still a blur to him, an incoherent memory like a smear of
blood across his mind. Brief flashes of clarity came to him: dark shapes inside
blocks of ice, pale forms lying on cold metal tables, a puddle of carnage that
had once been a friend of his. And things. Horrible, distorted, indescribable
things that he knew only a handful of people on this earth had ever seen before.
Some of them bore familiar faces, twisted in agony and rage. He had tried to
kill them, to destroy them all in fire, burning down the outpost even though he
knew it meant his own death. He had thought he was the only survivor. But
apparently it hadn’t been enough.
He reached the top of the slope, standing precariously on an unstable
spine of snow and ice. Looking back he saw the burning wreckage a mile away and
his pursuer no more than a hundred yards down the slope. It had caught up with
him impossibly fast. It must have changed, taking advantage of its many forms,
while his back was turned. In desperation he turned and flung himself over the
edge. He let his limbs go limp, rolling and tumbling down the opposite side,
down and away. Maybe, if he was lucky, there would be a cliff edge, a sheer drop
to hard ice.
Because he wanted to die. He knew that, had known it for hours, but his
own drive would not allow him to give up. He couldn’t pull the trigger on
himself, or blow himself up. And he certainly couldn’t just sit and wait for it
to find him. Death was the only way out, but that would be worse than death.
Watching it happen was horrible enough.
His roll came to an end on a hard level surface. He slid across it on
his stomach, the ice chilling him through his shirt. For a moment he lay there,
cheek pressed against the smooth ground, eyes closed, willing himself to slip
A crunch sounded to his right, of boots on ice. He looked and saw a dark
shape standing over him, features indistinguishable in the night. It shrugged
its shoulders uncomfortably, and he saw two lumpy, folded shapes retracting
beneath the coat and into its back. Wings?
Cheating bastard. His own bravado surprised him, considering how
he was petrified with fear. He sat on the ice, legs sprawled before him, arms
propping him up to face it. His legs grew warm as his bladder released, and he
was a bit confused to still feel a twinge of shame, even now at the end.
The standing figure took a step forward, standing directly over him now.
Its entire frame began to tremble, arms shaking spasmodically at its sides. A
low gurgling sound could be heard from somewhere inside its chest cavity. It
leaned slowly down towards him, arms stiff, bending at the waist. He knew what
was coming and wanted to scream, to run. But he could do neither.
Then he saw something dangling from its coat: a long, thin cylinder,
hanging by a strap. He knew what it was and, breaking his own paralysis, reached
for it, pulling it away from the thing. His frozen thumb found a cap at the top
and he snapped it off. The flare exploded to life in a burst of crimson flame,
roaring in the night, a plume of thick, hot smoke spewing into the thing’s face.
It reared back, making a sound somewhere between a human yell and an animalistic
Life flooded back into his limbs and he kicked at the ice, propelling
himself backwards, away from the writhing figure. The harsh red light threw its
features into sharp relief: a pair of pants and a heavy coat, ripped and sticky
with frozen blood; the shoulders were now uneven, one drastically higher and
sharper than the other, the back hunched; its arms covered the face from the
sputtering flare, the hands elongated and twisted, the skin thick and pierced
with large black spines. He leapt to his feet and waved the flare at it like a
sword, forcing it back. It began to emit a high keening sound, muffled through
its raised arms.
Then the flare began to die. The roar gradually dropped to a dull
murmur, the high flame shrinking down to nearly nothing. It spat a few sparks
that fell hissing to the ice and died completely.
As the dead flare fell from his numb fingers, the clouds shifted and the
moon bathed the icescape in pale corpse-light. The thing lowered its twisted
arms and he saw his own face staring out from beneath the hood, one side twisted
and deformed, with long uneven fangs growing though the skin and one bulging eye
that threatened to explode from its socket. Then it did, plopping to the ice. A
large bubble of blood bloomed in the empty hole and popped as a mass of writhing
tendrils pushed out. The chest swelled beneath the coat and the head was pulled
back, exposing the neck. The throat rippled and split open, and a long, thick
tongue lashed out, whipping lazily in the air. The thing made a huffing,
gurgling sound as its chest exploded and something like a dog pushed out through
a mass of intestines and the bloody coat, swiping blindly with deformed paws.
He blissfully lost consciousness as the slobbering tongue wrapped around
his own throat and began to reel him in, towards the outstretched arms and the
squirming dog-thing. An amalgamation of countless cries, screams, and squeals
echoed across the ice as it engulfed him…
* * * *
He sat on the ridge of
ice and snow, watching the sun rise over the distant peaks. A cold breeze
ruffled his dark hair and tugged at his coat, immaculate except for snow and a
small dark stain near the collar. The sun breached the horizon and exploded in a
spectacle of pink and purple, setting the clouds aflame. It also revealed the
silhouette of a distant helicopter, heading towards his location. He smiled and
let out a content sigh.
he was the only survivor.