“Did it—did it happen? It happened, didn’t it?”
I said, “Go upstairs and pack as much stuff as you can carry. We’re getting outta here.”
SHE BOUNDED DOWN the stairs seven minutes later, a satchel over her shoulder and the laptop under her arm.
We found Molly in the kitchen, standing on a chair and eating from a box of cookies that had been left open on the table. After some coaxing and threats we got her to follow us out to my truck. We loaded up, the engine growled to life. The windshield was a solid sheet of white.
Amy found the cardboard GhostVision glasses on the dashboard and examined them with a quizzical look. I found my ice scraper from under my seat and jumped out to scrape the ice from the windows. Outside I turned toward the house–
I stopped in my tracks.
I mumbled, “Oh, shit, shit, shit.”
There was a figure on the roof, silhouetted against the pearly moonlit clouds. Nothing but silhouette, a walking shadow. Two tiny, glowing eyes.
“What are you looking at?”
Amy, trying to follow my gaze.
“You can’t see it.”
She squinted. “No.”
“Get back in the truck!”
In a series of frantic bursts I managed to scrape a lookhole in the powdered-sugar crust of ice on the windshield, then jogged around to the back to do the same.
I heard Amy say, “Hey! What’s he doing up there?”
I leaned around the truck and saw Amy was wearing the Scooby- Doo ghost glasses and was staring right at the spot where Shadow Man was standing. She pulled off the glasses and looked at them in amazement, then looked through them again and said, “What is that thing? Look! What is it?”
“What—are you using the damned Scooby glasses?”
“I can see it! It’s a black shape and . . . it’s moving! Look!”
I did look, long enough to see the shape spout giant black wings. No . . . that wasn’t right. It became wings, two flapping wing shapes that didn’t quite meet in the middle. It flitted into the sky, a black slip against the clouds, higher and higher until it vanished.
I heard barking. Molly had gotten out of the truck, was at my knees.
Amy kept staring up, her mouth hanging open, steam jumping out in little puffs. She said, “David, what was it?”
“How should I know? They’re shadow people. They’re walking death. They take you and you’re gone and nobody knows you were ever there.”
“You’ve seen them before?”
“More and more. Let’s go, let’s go.”
We climbed in, called to Molly. She didn’t move, stood stiffly, trembling, growling at the sky. I called to her again, got out, picked her up and threw her inside.
I jumped in, floored it.
We fired down the road, fishtailing on the glaze of skating-rink-caliber black ice left over from the road graters. The house shrank in the rearview mirror. Beyond it, the low, flat Drain Rooter factory.
Amy twisted in her seat and peered back through the rear window, then did the same with those stupid ghost glasses. Molly was up and dancing behind us, bouncing around, probably thinking she’d be safer out on foot. Amy squealed, “Look! Look!”
I gave it a glance in the mirror, saw high headlights behind us, probably a Rooter truck leaving with a load. I did something they don’t teach you in driving class, which was to lean my head out into the blistering wind and look up, steering blind with one hand.
Black shapes were swirling overhead, winged things and long, whipping forms like serpents. Swirling, stopping, turning, like bits of debris in a tornado.
They were congregating around the factory.
Most of them were. Some of them were breaking off and following us, dark shapes flitting across the sky and into the shadowy trees and houses around us, vanishing from view. I pulled in my head and focused on the road.
Amy sat forward and strapped her seat belt on, screamed, “What do we do?”
“We’re doing it.”
Another glance into the mirror, headlights closer now. Trucker hauling ass, hauling drain cleaner.
A shadow flicked across the hood.
I stomped the brakes, the Bronco spun out, skidded, plowed ass-first into a bumper- high snowdrift alongside the road. Silence for a second, then the apocalyptic sound of eighteen wheels skidding on ice.
The semi jackknifed, the front end stopping and the heavier rear still pushing forward, toward us. A giant cartoon plumber, a red “X” through him, loomed in the windshield.
The trailer skidded to a stop about six feet from the bumper, then rocked threateningly back and forth, deciding whether or not it wanted to tip, clumps of snow spilling off the roof with each sway.
Silence, save for the tick of the engine and the rushing of the wind. Finally, Amy said, “Are you all right?”
I was scanning the sky for shadows. I glanced at the red cab of the semi, could see somebody moving inside. An elbow.
A hand clamped on my arm. Amy whispered, “There. Over there.”
She was pointing, with her handless wrist, God bless her, at a black shape growing on the side of the semi, several shapes, molding together, forming something like a spider. Sitting there on the white wall of the trailer like a piece of black spray- painted gang graffiti.
The little hand clamped tighter on my forearm, hard, like a blood- pressure cuff. A low growl from Molly, who had backed up all the way to the rear wall of the Bronco, pressed against the rear door like she was trying to escape by osmosis.
“David, go. Go.” Amy was whispering it hard, harsh hisses of “GO GO GO GO GO . . .”
I slammed on the gas. The tires spun. Spun and spun and spun. Four- wheel drive. Two wheels buried in packed snow, two wheels spinning on ice.
The shadow spider moved, blurred, flicked across the length of the tractor trailer and appeared right next to the cab. Just a few feet from the driver inside. I threw the Bronco into reverse, then forward, rocking out of the ruts dug by the spinning tires, praying for traction.
I looked up. The spider shape was gone.
I heard screams, curses. Rage. The driver had stumbled out of the cab, a big guy, tall and fat, a goatee.
The man was ranting, spit flying from his mouth, staring us down, fists clenched. Face pink with the effort of it. He turned his eyes on us. A rabid dog. “Cunt blood fucking cunt motherfuckers—”
Maybe he thinks we’re plumbers . . .
He stomped toward us and I could see them now, shapes moving around him, shadows wrapping around him like black ribbons twisting in the wind. And his eyes. His eyes were pure black now, the pupils and the whites gone in coal- black holes.
A few feet away from us now, trudging toward us like a robot. I slammed on the gas again, spun again, felt the rear end shift and then settle in, the tires making a pathetic, wet whine against the slush. A thin arm shot across my chest and it was Amy, reaching over and slapping the lock shut on my door a millisecond before the truck driver started clawing at the handle.
Crazed curses muffled by the door, his breath steaming up the glass. Tires whirring against ice. “FUCK YOU MOTHERFUCKING MOTHERFUCKERS EAT YOUR FUCKING—” A meaty hand smacked the glass.
The curses were replaced by a long, howling scream. The man stumbled back as if shot, a hand flying to his forehead. He stumbled, went to a knee, screeched like a saw blade on metal plate.
Limbs flew, flecks of red splattered over the windshield, Amy screamed. A head tumbled through the air, landed on the road and bounced out of sight. The tire sounds stopped. I realized I had let off the gas, was gawking at the looping remains of the man’s intestines, steaming in the frozen air.
The shadows, restless again. Crawling over the truck and the snowy ground around us, the things as stark as black felt in the snow- reflected moonlight. A tall one grew in front of us, almost the shape of a man but without a visible head and with too many arms. Molly went wild, barking and barking and barking, then melting into high, breathy whimpers.
I stomped the gas pedal one more time, got the tires spinning, heard bits of ice and dirt smack the fenders. The shape moved toward us, melting into the hood, walking through the engine block, moving across the hood like wading into a pond. It reached up with an arm, an arm as long as a man, then plunged it into the hood. The engine died instantly. The headlights went dark.
Shadow everywhere now. Movement, hints of it through the moonlight. Amy breathing next to me, quick, nervous gasps. For a long time, nothing happened.
She mumbled something, too low to hear. I glanced at her; she leaned in and said, “I don’t think they can see us.”
I didn’t get it at first but it almost made sense. Whatever they were, they didn’t have corneas and pupils and optic nerves. We couldn’t see them, normally. They were sensing us, feeling us out, searching without seeing.
I looked up, saw one shape flit away and disappear into the sky. Another, floating past the semi trailer, crawling over the plumber logo, then dissolving into the darkness.
I nodded, slowly, whispered, “They don’t belong here, in this world. They’re flying blind, with no eyes to—”
A soft thump on the window. Amy screamed.
Outside my window, inches from my face, was the severed head of the truck driver. A six- inch hunk of spinal column dangled from his neck, hanging in midair. His eyes were wide open, no sign of lids, two orbs twitching this way and that, taking us in. Amy was still screaming. Some lungs, that girl.
The head pressed up against the window, squishing its nose, cramming its eyeball against the glass to get a look in. Its mouth hung open, lips pressed against the glass, teeth scraping.
“Amy! Plug your ears!”
She looked at me, saw me pull out the gun, pressed her forearms over the side of her head. I started rolling down my window.
I created a gap of about six inches when the head tried to ram into the opening, jaws working, teeth snapping. I jammed the gun in its mouth and squeezed the trigger.
Thunder. The head disintegrated, became a red mist and a rain of bone chips. I glanced at the gun, impressed, wondered about the loads the stranger had sent me. I leaned to the window and screamed, “You should have quit while you were a—”