The Thing That Came
with the Storm

by Aeryn Rudel

I’ve burned all the furniture and every scrap of paper in the house. I even ripped up the hardwood floors and pulled the studs out of the walls. I might have a few more days, maybe a week before there’s nothing left for the fire. After that, the cold comes in, and it comes too.

I saw it the first day after the storm. The power went down, and the streets became rivers of snow and ice. It floated down Sinclair Street in the bright winter sun, dragging the remains of Mrs. Gilliam. It had eaten parts of her, and as I watched, frozen with horror, from my front window, it tore a chunk from her thigh and pushed the gobbet of flesh into its mouth.

It saw or sensed me and turned in my direction, an emaciated skeleton clad in bone white flesh, its face all eyes and teeth, its tattered lips wrenched up in a graveyard smile. It rushed my house and then stopped, as if held at bay by some invisible barrier. It lingered a few moments at the edge of my sidewalk, then returned to Mrs. Gilliam’s corpse. I watched as it ate her, a small, shy woman who had loved crosswords and coffee on her porch. I have never been so terrified, but I needed to see it leave, and it did, eventually.

It appeared again the next day. I was thinking about going for help, despite temperatures hovering at negative seventy degrees. I was about to walk out my door, when it floated down the street. It held the top half of Mr. Fiddler in one icy claw, and his legs dangled from its mouth. It was so much bigger, a towering specter of madness and hunger, fifteen feet tall. Its body was still wasted, though, its bones poking tents in its ashen skin.

It came up to the house, closer this time, within ten feet of my front door before it turned back and floated away. The warmth had stopped it. I know that now. My pitiful fire is a ward or totem against it.

Now I keep the fire high and huddle next to the fireplace in my front room. The thermal underwear, two sweaters, and my parka barely hold the cold at bay. I sit close enough to the fire it should be uncomfortable, but its heat is diminished, sucked away by the unnatural chill. I have a bottle of lighter fluid, but I’m saving it for a last kiss of warmth before it takes me.

I don’t know what it is, but you don’t live in Mackinaw City without hearing a few legends and myths about the cold. This land belongs to the Chippewa, and they have a casino across the bridge in St. Ignace. I gamble there sometimes, and whenever we have a bad winter, the folks at the casino get a little edgy, a little different. It’s like they’re afraid of the cold. Now I know why.

I haven’t seen it in a few days, and that worries me. Am I alone or are there others huddled in their homes around a fire, waiting for the cold to end? Have they gone out like I tried to do, away from the protection of their hearths? I remember how much bigger it was last time I saw it, and how it still ate, as if nothing could fill it.

Night has fallen, and I put another piece of flooring on the fire. The fumes from the burning varnish choke me, but it’s better than the cold.

There is no wind, no birds, no insects, just the dead silence of an icy tomb. I inch closer to the fire and look out my window. Across the street, the dark shapes of houses thrust up like jagged teeth in the moonlight. Then I see a shape I mistake for a tree, until it moves.

It floats toward my house, fifty feet tall, blotting out the stars with its immensity. Its face is a moon of white death and black teeth.

I know my fire won’t hold it back. It is too strong, too cold. I cast around for something to build my fire higher, but there is nothing. The creature fills my window, and its chill rips the breath from my lungs.

I fall to my knees, watching my fire dwindle. The foundations of my house groan and the window shatters. The fire is only coals now, and I reach for the bottle of lighter fluid and squeeze a stream of hissing liquid into the fire. The burst of warmth and flame throws heat across my body, and the creature shrieks and pulls away from window.

I can’t keep the fire high unless I find something else to burn, something bigger…

I stand and squirt lighter fluid over the wall next to the fire place, then squeeze a line on the floor, and then into the fire itself. The fluid catches, and a blazing dagger jumps from the floor to the wall. The plaster and insulation catch, a sheet of fire that bathes the room in blessed warmth.

The ceiling catches next, and the thing retreats further, smashing through a house across the street. Flames soon engulf the front room, and I run outside and watch my house go up. I use the last of my lighter fluid to spray the fence between my house and the neighbor’s. The fence catches, then the house, and the one next to it.

The creature floats in the distance, hanging in the night sky like an awful constellation. It howls its fury as the houses burn. I move with the growing fire, as close as I dare, inching toward the bridge in the distance.

Maybe I can get to the casino and someone there will know what to do.

If I can’t, I’ll let the fire take me and die warm.

Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. He is the author of the Acts of War novels published by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, Factor Four Magazine, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection (mostly rejection) at or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.
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