I stepped out of the shack on that summer day to find the ground frozen solid beneath my feet. The trees were stripped of their leaves and the blades of icy grass stabbed in all directions. Cassie’s busted bobcat rested atop last night’s pile of dirt.
“Aw hell, Sanford, who woke her up?!” Cassie handed me a cup of something resembling coffee. I’d given up getting her to call me by my first name, Sally. She had some phobia about people’s first names, I doubt “Cassie” is even her real one.
“I don’t know, Cass. At least it’ll buy us some time to get out of here.” The buried dead had been clawing their way to the surface for a couple of weeks now, it started after the last rain. The newly buried seemed to have an easier time of it–they still had all their parts attached. The more time they had to rot, the less likely they would be able to escape their dirt beds. It probably depended on their coffin, too. Now, with the ground frozen, they were going to have one hell of a time breaking out. Someone must have invoked Yuki-onna if the grounds were this cold.
Cass and I met each other in a tiny town called Longton, Kansas. Lucky for me, her bobcat broke down and I was able to fix it. I was in dire need of a another pair of eyes to watch my back and the bobcat came in handy from time to time.
I’m surprised we even met each other. You’d miss the whole town if you sneezed on the trip through. Everyone there was walled up inside with their guns pointed out the windows or they were at one of the two churches, praying.
There’d been a huge storm that swept through the states followed by the recently deceased pulling themselves out of the ground. An unlucky few of the living got themselves bit. They thought they’d buried their loved ones alive and rushed to help. It was all over the news. Their wounds would fester for a few days, necrotize, then they’d get hungry. The bitten had to be locked up within days; they kept trying to bite their hospital staff and rejected any food. The hospitals managed to force some into restraints and keep them alive on feeding tubes, the rest became emaciated and eventually stopped moving. The hospital staff nicknamed them, “Wendigos,” because the more they ate on human flesh, the more they seemed to grow.
We had been working our way through the country, luring the escaped dead into pits, and burying them with Cassie’s bobcat. It seemed to take them a few days to fight their way free of their new graves, so we hadn’t been staying anywhere for too long. We’d caught word of an old woman at the north end of the plains who might know how to stop the uprising, she was known as, “The Hag.”
“I don’t know which is worse, facing a bunch of Wens or that snow wench,” Cass said.
“All the more reason for us to keep going,” I said.
We loaded up the truck, I started the engine, and got us headed north. Cass fiddled with a CB radio she’d found in the shack. She said she wanted to see if there was anyone left out there. I think it was more out of boredom more than desperation.
We neared Salina without much incident; the Wens were pretty easy to see in the country. It was also great to watch a group of ’em encounter a herd of cows. We think they smelled the meat on ’em at first, but were unprepared for the stampede that ensued. It reminded me of rodeo clowns getting tossed around. Animals tended to stay clear of them. Predators, too. They only picked off the Wens if they got too close, but they never ate them.
We stopped for gas and directions at a QuikTrip–gas station staff are braver than most. And boy were they cashing in on the crisis.
“$5 for a gallon of gas. Are you kidding me? Let’s check another station, Stanford.”
I shook my head, “We’re runnin’ on fumes and I really gotta pee. Cough it up, this round’s on you.”
Cass sighed, “No peeking,” I leaned against the truck while she produced a hidden $50 bill. She stayed with the truck, suspicious of looters, while I ran inside.
The old woman at the register seemed surprised to see me, I guess everyone was staying in.
“Fifty on pump 5, please,” the cashier leaned and checked where I was parked, and took my money. I popped my head out the door, “Cass! Fill’er up!” and wandered to the coffee machines. I brought two hot, stale cups back to the cashier and tried to make small talk.
“Little weird out there, huh?” I said.
“Mmm,” she said.
“You have any problems with the Wens coming through?”
She squinted at me and said, “nah.”
“Maybe you could give us some directions, we’re on our way to see an old woman about ’em. They call her, ‘The Hag?'”
The cashier stopped and gave me a stone cold stare. The temperature dropped several degrees in the station and she slammed the register shut.
“Never mind then, keep the change,” I said and quietly backed out the door with the coffees. I jogged up to the truck and handed Cass her cup.
“What gives?” she asked.
I looked at her quizzically.
“You got me a coff-sicle, you shouldn’t have,” she said and threw her cup of frozen coffee in the trash.
It clicked. “Cass… I think we found her.”
The gas station windows shattered as we got in the truck. The old woman glared through the remains of the door.
Cass and I slammed our doors shut and brought the engine to life. Frost creeped along the windows and the old woman’s skin grew pale and her lips turned blue.
“What the hell did you do?!” Cass screamed.
“I don’t think she likes her nickname; I’m pretty sure the hag and the snow wench are the same person,” I replied.
“Don’t tell me you just pissed off Yuki-onna.”
“Then my lips are sealed.”
The tires spun on black ice and the truck rammed into a ditch a block away from the gas station. We were almost to the highway. So close. Cass looked shaken up and was checking to make sure she had all her limbs. I looked up and saw the smoke coming out of the hood.
Movement caught my eye. Wendigos. A whole herd? Group? Flock? Murder? A bunch of them were coming our way. The back windshield froze and shattered inward, stabbing us with icy glass. With the Wendigo ahead and Yuki-onna behind, we pulled out our shotguns and held our breaths. This would be messy.
Flash Fic went a little long, but it was good to get back into the swing of things!
Here’s the link to the picture I used as a prompt 🙂