ONE SMALL, NEW ENGLAND TOWN IS TAKEN BY STORMAND NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME.
Once upon a time, Coventry weathered a horrific blizzard, one that left many people deadand others mysteriously lost. Twelve years later, the town is still haunted by the snow that fell that one fateful night…and now a new storm is on the way.
"A fun, bone chilling thriller."Boston Globe on Snowblind
Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns the little brother he lost in the storm and, this time, he will see another boy go missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning, whose wife was never found after she wandered into the whiteout, is starting over with another womanand more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy…and the boy's father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone callfrom a man who died twelve years ago. Old ghosts are trickling back to life as a new threat rolls in. Could it be that this storm will be even more terrifying than the last?
"Horror fiction is starting to make a comeback…writers like Christopher Golden are a big part of the reason."George R. R. Martin, New York Times bestselling author of Game of Thrones
"A ghost-house thrill-ride…A great read for a winter night, or any night."John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of Let the Right One In
This edition of the book is the deluxe, tall rack mass market paperback.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.22(w) x 7.53(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of such novels as The Myth Hunters, The Boys Are Back in Town, The Ferryman, Strangewood, Of Saints and Shadows, and (with Tim Lebbon) The Map of Moments. His original novels have been published in more than fourteen languages in countries around the world.
Read an Excerpt
Ella Santos stood on the sidewalk with a cigarette in her hand, watching the snow fall and feeling more alone than she ever had in her life. The storm seemed to loom around her, holding its breath and waiting for her to go back inside. For a couple of impossibly long minutes, no cars or plows appeared on the street. The bank and the boutique and the music store and the other restaurants on that stretch of Washington Street had all been closed up for hours, windows dark and abandoned. The city of Coventry had given itself over to the storm, and suddenly Ella felt foolish that she hadn’t already gone home and crawled into bed with a mug of tea and an old movie.
She took a long drag on her cigarette and huddled deeper inside her down jacket before exhaling the smoke from her lungs. The only sound was the snow itself, falling so hard and fast that she could hear the strange shush of it accumulating. Ella shivered, and not entirely from the cold. Alone on the street, she might have been the last woman on Earth, the only human voice remaining but afraid to interrupt the quiet conversation between snow and sky.
A squeak of hinges and a burst of laughter came from behind her and she jumped, startled by two women emerging from the restaurant at her back. Quiet music—the lilt of an acoustic guitar—carried out to her as well, just before the door swung shut.
“Night, Ella,” one of the women said, pushing her blond hair out of her eyes. “Thanks for staying open.”
Ella smiled, feeling foolish for the way she’d let the weird isolation out on the street get under her skin. As a kid she’d loved snowstorms, but as the adult owner of a restaurant, snow days were few and far between … and very bad for business.
“My pleasure,” she said, waving as the two women hurried across the street to their car, their shoes leaving tracks in the newfallen snow. “I hope you enjoyed your meal. Get home safe.”
“You, too!” called the second woman, whose dress was entirely inappropriate for a snowstorm, even covered by her heavy jacket.
“Closing soon,” Ella replied.
The women had been inside the restaurant for just over an hour and at least an inch of snow covered their car. Instead of trying to clean it off they piled in, and now the windshield wipers kicked on, sweeping areas of the glass clean. The rear window remained covered with snow as they pulled from the curb. The driver would hardly be able to see a thing, but fortunately there weren’t a lot of other cars on the road. Even the plows didn’t seem to be making many appearances tonight.
Ella took another drag on her cigarette, letting the smoke warm her before she blew it out through her nostrils. She had started smoking one summer in high school when most of her girlfriends had taken up the habit. Now she hated it, knew it made her look weak and foolish instead of cool and sexy, but she’d tried to quit half-a-dozen times and always started up again.
A loud bang and scrape announced the arrival of a plow several blocks distant and she turned to watch its grinding progress, the upper halves of its headlights peering over the giant metal blade.
The restaurant door swung open again and she turned to see her bartender, Ben Hemming, poking his head out. His blue eyes blinked against the sudden gust that drove snow into his face.
“You okay, boss?”
Ella smiled, reaching up to wipe snow from her eyelashes. “Just thinking. Things wrapping up in there?”
“Near enough,” Ben replied.
If he thought she had a screw loose, standing out there in a storm that was fast becoming a blizzard, he hid it well. Maybe it is a little crazy, Ella thought. But as isolated as it made her feel, she liked the pure white calm of it all.
“Time?” she asked.
“Quarter after eight,” Ben replied, snowflakes adding to the premature white in his hair.
“All right,” she said, tossing the cigarette to the snowy sidewalk and grinding it out with her bootheel. “Last call. We’ll close up at eight thirty.”
“Thanks,” Ben said. He started to duck back inside, then hesitated. “You sure you’re okay?”
Ella bent to pick up the crushed, damp cigarette butt. “Always.”
Ben didn’t recognize the lie or at least didn’t challenge it. He let the door swing shut, in a hurry to start closing out tabs. Ella couldn’t blame him; Ben had a pretty wife and a new baby at home and he didn’t want to leave them alone in the storm. Nobody was waiting for Ella back at her little house on Cherry Road. For her, there was no rush.
As she pulled on the ornate door handle a massive gust of wind slammed it tight again. It felt as if the storm fought against her, but she forced the door open and slipped inside. She turned as the door swung shut and caught a glimpse of the plow going by. In its headlights she saw just how thick and fast the snow was falling. Then the door slammed and she flinched. The blizzard had arrived.
The Vault had two big fireplaces, which had been roaring all through dinner and had now begun to die down. The early evening had been fairly busy despite the storm. Now, only three tables were occupied, but the family at one and the older couple at another were in the process of gathering their things and slipping on jackets and scarves and gloves. The trio of twentysomething guys at the last table seemed in no hurry, sipping their coffees while one worked slowly at his tiramisu.
Four people were at the bar—all of them regulars who would go now that Ben had doubtless announced last call. In the far corner, where she had live music Thursdays through Saturdays, TJ Farrelly sat on a stool with his fat-bellied acoustic guitar, playing an old Dave Matthews song. It made Ella smile. As long as somebody was there to hear, TJ would keep playing. Sometimes he would play after all the customers were gone, entertaining the staff while they swept up and cashed out.
Snow melting in her hair, trickling icily down her neck, Ella went into the ladies’ room to flush her cigarette butt, promising herself she wouldn’t smoke again tonight. She glanced in the mirror and laughed softly at her reflection, reaching up to brush the snow out of her hair and off the shoulders of her coat.
As she left the bathroom, the small window set high on the wall began to rattle in its frame and she thought she could actually feel the building sway. The restaurant was sturdy—once upon a time it had been a bank—but the walls shook and the draft that whipped around her made the bathroom door close with a bang.
It almost felt as if the storm had come in after her.
* * *
TJ watched Ella cross the restaurant and exchange a quiet word with the last group of diners at The Vault, three guys who seemed intent on camping overnight at the table if only someone would keep the coffee coming. TJ thought it was funny how the career drinkers at the bar would happily slide off their stools, tip the bartender, and head home, but the guys reminiscing over coffee were reluctant.
Old friends, TJ figured. High-school buddies who haven’t seen each other in a while. He would have asked them, but he felt fairly certain. TJ had always been observant; he had a knack for figuring people out, though Ella tended to puzzle him. The restaurant was basically her life. TJ figured it was normal for someone to be that wrapped up in an endeavor like this, where the financial margins were slim and the risk of ruin was pretty sizable. But Ella was thirty-two years old and single, not to mention considerably attractive, with long legs and chocolate-brown eyes and a mouth he’d thought more than once about kissing. There had to be someone she trusted enough to manage the restaurant a couple of times a week so that she could do something for herself—go to a movie or a concert or, for once, eat somewhere other than in her office in the back room of her own restaurant.
As if summoned by his ruminating about her, Ella came his way, a drink in one hand. In the other she carried her blue down jacket, which dripped with melting snow. The storm had wreaked havoc with her wavy, shoulder-length hair, but TJ thought the disheveled look worked for her.
He cut off the song he’d been singing even as she dumped her jacket onto the four-top table closest to him and sank into a chair. Sipping the drink—he guessed Captain Morgan and Coke—she put her feet up on the chair across from her. The back fireplace crackled off to her left and he saw that she was enjoying the heat.
“Play you something, Ella?” he said.
She pulled a mock-sad face. “You put away your harmonica.”
TJ reached into his backpack. “Anything for you.”
Sometimes she liked him to do sad, old Neil Young songs and sometimes more upbeat Dave Matthews stuff, full of heartache and irony. He considered Blues Traveler, but the night was winding down early and it felt later than it was, so something melancholy felt appropriate. Only after he had launched into “Sugar Mountain” by Neil Young did he recognize the sadness in Ella’s eyes and realize it might have been a mistake. But as he sang he watched her settle into the song the way she settled into her drink and he could see that both had somehow made her feel better, and he was glad. TJ knew he couldn’t make Ella happy—only she could do that—but he sure as hell didn’t want to make her sad.
He loved playing at The Vault. Music had never earned him enough to live on, but he didn’t think he could get through a day without laying his hands on a guitar. His father had forced him to learn a trade, which was how TJ had ended up with an electrician’s license, and he was grateful to the old man for pushing him. But even when he wasn’t playing music he could hear it in his head, feel invisible guitar strings under his fingers. That was the trick with a restaurant audience, he’d found. They didn’t clap much, but as long as he was playing for himself, he didn’t need their applause.
Tonight, though, he found himself playing for Ella.
“That what you had in mind?” he asked when he’d hit the last note.
“Perfect,” she said. “I wish you could sing me to sleep some nights.”
Ella smirked and glanced away. “Flirt.”
“Sorry. Can’t help it, I’m afraid. My father was an incorrigible flirt. It’s in the DNA. No cure.”
She laughed softly and shook her head. “Oh, well … in that case you’re forgiven.”
The last of the stragglers were heading for the door and the staff had started to set up for the next day. Ella glanced toward the kitchen, probably thinking she ought to be overseeing the activity back there. TJ wanted to remind her that the chef and his people knew what they were doing—it was all washing dishes and prepping for tomorrow—but he kept his mouth shut. It was none of his business.
“I guess we all ought to be heading home, huh?” Ella said, glancing at the trio of coffee drinkers as they finally made their exit.
“Not me. I told my mother I’d crash at her place tonight.”
Ella leaned back in her chair, took a sip of her drink, and gave him a dubious look. “Your mother?”
TJ shrugged, his hands idly toying with notes on his guitar. “She’s an old lady—though she’d punch me if she heard me say it. If the power goes out, I don’t want her to be afraid, y’know?”
“That’s really sweet.”
“Nah. I’m her son. It’s what you do.”
“Not what all sons do,” Ella said, getting up from the table. “You’re a good guy, TJ.”
She kept her glass with her—she wouldn’t have left it on the table for anyone else to pick up—and started to the kitchen.
“You should get going,” Ella said. “Bring your mom in for dinner some night. My treat.”
“I’ll do that,” he replied. “But I’m not in a rush. She’s not expecting me for a while yet and she’s only gonna want me to watch the Food Network with her or something. You mind if I keep playing till it’s time to lock up?”
Ella glanced back at him. “As long as you want to play, you’ll never hear me telling you to stop.”
She hurried away to the kitchen. TJ smiled as he watched her go, wondering if he might not be the only flirt in The Vault tonight.
* * *
Allie Schapiro stood vigilant by her microwave oven, listening to the kernels pop inside. The microwave gods had a cruel sense of humor, putting the little button labeled POPCORN right on the front of the machine. After burning bags of popcorn over and over she had finally learned that just pressing the button and walking away led to scorched kernels and that horrid smell. So while the movie played on in the living room—she had refused to let Niko pause it for her—she listened to the popping until the intervals began to seem like pauses, and then she took it out.
Opening the steaming bag, she found the corn popped to perfection, the buttery scent wafting through the kitchen. Allie gave her microwave nemesis a smirk and a soft “hah,” and then separated the popcorn into two plastic buckets she’d retrieved from a cabinet.
When she returned to the living room, Marty McFly was eluding Biff on a skateboard in 1955. Back to the Future was one of Allie’s favorite movies and she’d been shocked to discover that Niko and his daughter, Miri, had never seen it.
“That smells good,” Niko said. Beside him on the sofa, eleven-year-old Miri shushed him, totally under the movie’s spell. Her copper eyes were bright, framed by a lovely tangle of curly brown hair.
Allie’s kids—sons Jake and Isaac—lay on their bellies on the floor, chins propped on their hands, staring at the giant flatscreen. At twelve, Jacob was two years older than Isaac, but they were similar enough that people sometimes mistook them for twins. Allie didn’t see it, really. Jake had darker hair and nearly always wore a serious expression, while Isaac never lacked a grin … not to mention that he was four inches shorter than his older brother. She figured it was something in the way they connected, the way they sometimes spoke at the same time, each filling in missing words in some tale they were concocting. And, like their mom, they loved movies.
She set one of the buckets between them and Jake grabbed it immediately and pulled it in front of himself.
“Jacob,” she said, not quite sternly. “Share.”
He didn’t look up, just slid the bucket back to the space between them. Isaac had never taken his eyes off the television. When Biff crashed his car into the back of a manure truck and ended up buried in shit, both boys laughed. So did Allie. Watching this movie was like coming home in some strange way, and sharing it with Niko and his daughter tonight was something special, the two families together.
Strange, but wonderful.
She settled onto the sofa on Niko’s left and tucked her legs beneath her, handing him the popcorn.
“Thanks, love,” he said, kissing her cheek as he dug out a fistful, then held out the bucket to Miri.
The little girl seemed entranced by the movie, but Allie had long since gotten the impression that Miri noticed all sorts of things when she didn’t seem to be paying attention. Not so little a girl, Allie thought. At eleven years old, Mirjeta Ristani was a hell of a lot more sophisticated than Allie had been at that age.
Now Miri glanced up at her father, took note of the kiss that had just occurred, and smiled at Allie.
“Thanks, Ms. Schapiro.”
“We’re not at school, Miri. You can call me Allie.”
Miri nodded and dug into the popcorn, noncommittal on the subject of calling her former teacher by her first name. The boys, of course, had no problem calling Niko “Niko,” but that familiarity did not mean that they accepted him just yet.
This night had been planned for weeks as the beginning of an effort to change that. The boys’ father had been killed seven years past, in combat in Afghanistan, and for a long time she’d resisted the urgings of her friends to date again. When she’d finally given in, she had gone on a brief flurry of awful first dates and exactly three disappointing second ones. After the last of these, she’d been sitting alone at a table in Krueger’s Flatbread and had just started to laugh. She had covered her mouth, hiding her grin and stifling her laughter until it subsided, and only then had she realized that she had begun to cry.
Niko had been eating at the bar with Miri, then in the fourth grade. They knew her, of course—the year before, she’d been Miri’s teacher, and Allie had certainly noticed Niko. It would have been impossible not to, handsome as he was with his regal, sculpted features, olive skin, and eyes the same copper as his daughter’s. And here she was making a public spectacle of herself. Hideously embarrassed, Allie had risen and made a beeline for the exit, smiling politely as she passed them at the bar.
“Ms. Schapiro,” Niko had said, in that silky voice that made her pause.
“Mr. Ristani,” she had managed.
He had not smiled, not attempted to placate her. Instead, he had said three words that had alternately infuriated and inspired her for more than a week afterward.
He had said, “Laughter is better.”
Troubled, she had mumbled something and departed and for a week had avoided even looking at Miri in the halls at Trumbull Middle School. And then she had dug through the school phonebook and called him out of the blue on a Friday night and asked him if he remembered what he had said to her in the restaurant. It had surprised her that he did.
“I wanted to thank you,” she said. “And to tell you that I agree.”
They had been dating for more than a year. Darkly handsome, kindhearted, and staggeringly good in bed, he was everything she could have hoped for. Her mother ought to have been ecstatic that Allie had found a man who loved her. The woman had always wanted her to date a doctor. But, as she had made very clear, she had meant a Jewish doctor, not an Albanian one. Fortunately, Allie had stopped giving a crap what other people thought of her choices on the day she became a widow.
Things weren’t quite so simple for the boys, or for Miri. It was for their sake that she and Niko had kept their relationship fairly quiet, wanting to spare their children the gossip at school and to save Miri from being interrogated by her mother, Niko’s ex-wife, Angela. Tensions still lingered between Niko and Angela, who was a nurse at the hospital where he worked.
“Hey,” Niko said, giving her a nudge. He searched her eyes. “I thought this was your favorite movie.”
Allie took a handful of popcorn from the bucket on his lap. “One of them.”
“You seem far away.”
“No,” she said, smiling. “I’m here.”
She kissed his cheek out of reflex, just a bit of reassurance that all was well, and saw that Miri had been watching the exchange closely. Allie arched a querulous eyebrow and Miri gave her a shy smile and returned her attention to the movie.
A gleeful flutter touched her heart; Miri was onboard! Several of her friends had told her that she needed to focus on her relationship with Niko, that the kids would just have to deal with it because eventually they’d all be grown up and off to college and she couldn’t let their needs dictate her life. But she wanted Miri to like her, to feel comfortable with her, and she wanted—no, needed—Jake and Isaac to feel the same about Niko. If she and her handsome man had any chance at a future, it had to include their children.
Tonight had been the beginning of an effort in that direction, carefully planned. Dinner and a movie, in and of themselves, were not a big deal. But the night would end with Miri and Niko sleeping over, with Miri in the spare room and Niko in Allie’s bed. She had to fight back her own awkwardness at the thought of it so that the kids would not read it in her face and think she and Niko had anything to feel awkward about.
Forcing her anxieties away, she tried to focus on the movie and realized that Jake had been watching her. Like Miri, he had caught her little snuggle and kiss with Niko, but Jake’s face was unreadable. She smiled at him and he gave her the too-cool nod that had become his universal response of late and turned back to the TV.
Come on, woman, she thought. Breathe.
The boys hadn’t balked at the idea of Niko and Miri staying over, and Miri seemed at ease. It was all going to be fine. The storm raged outside and they were all cozy and warm here in the house. In a little while, when the movie was over, she’d make hot chocolate and take out the cookies she’d baked earlier. Things were going perfectly.
That’s what worries me, she thought.
But she nestled herself against Niko and he slipped his arm around her on one side and Miri on the other, and she let herself get lost in the movie again.
When Jake glanced back at them, Allie had a moment of unease, wondering if her cuddling with Niko was bothering him. After a moment, she realized that Jake wasn’t even looking at her and Niko. He was sneaking glances at Miri. Lovely Miri, just a year behind him in school. The girl caught him looking and Jake smiled at her. Miri gave him a half shrug, raising her eyebrows as if to say, What are you looking at? Jake rolled his eyes and looked back at the television, and Allie saw a sly, shy little smile appear on Miri’s lips for just an instant before vanishing as if it had never been there at all.
Oh, my, she thought. No wonder they don’t mind hanging out together.
Jake and Miri were crushing on each other, and neither of them had any idea that the other felt the same. Allie smiled. It was adorable and complicated, all at the same time, but for now she would choose to focus on the adorable part.
The wind gusted hard enough to rattle the windows in their frames and snow pelted the glass. The lights flickered and the television screen dimmed for a moment.
“Oh, no,” Miri said.
“We’d better not lose power,” Isaac said.
Jake kept his chin in his hands, now. “I kind of like it, actually. Candles and blankets.”
Miri shivered. “But it’ll be so cold.”
“We’ll be all right, love,” Niko assured her.
“Well,” Isaac muttered, “I guess as long as it doesn’t go out before the movie’s over.”
As if he’d given the storm a dare, another gust slammed the house and again the lights flickered. This time, they went out.
* * *
Joe Keenan took it slow across the bridge that spanned the Merrimack. The wind off the river whipped snow against his windshield and he gripped the wheel tightly. The snow fell so hard that his wipers could barely keep up with it. Where they didn’t reach, a fresh inch had built up on the glass in just the past half hour of his shift. He wanted to turn on the light bar on top of his patrol car, but they weren’t supposed to hit the blues without reason, and he didn’t want to give anyone reason to bust his balls. Not with six days remaining until he completed his rookie year. The phrase made it sound like baseball, but in your first year on the Coventry PD you were fair game for everything from gentle hazing to practical jokes, and you took the fall for fuckups that weren’t rightly yours.
A gust of wind buffeted the car so hard that the steering wheel jerked in his hands.
“Son of a bitch,” he said under his breath, wishing he were home with his wife, Donna, watching a movie or even one of her bizarre reality shows.
Not a chance, though. On nights like this, a handful of more-established cops would call in sick—they’d even have a debate about whose turn it was—and every rookie would be out in the damn storm, responding to calls about power lines being down or elderly folks who’d slipped in their driveways, trying to keep up with the shoveling so the sixteen inches of ice and snow that had been predicted wouldn’t freeze like concrete.
Bent over the wheel to peer out through his windshield, speedometer dropping under twenty miles per hour, he mentally corrected himself. He’d lived in Coventry his whole life, and in his experience there were no nights like this. His parents and aunt and uncles talked about the Blizzard of ’78 with this weird combination of fear and reverence and even fondness, but this storm was starting to rage seriously. Apparently, back in 1978 the blizzard had stalled, the conditions just right to keep it spinning on top of the greater Boston area for days. Tonight’s blizzard wasn’t likely to hang around that long, but if the sexy, doe-eyed weather girl from channel 5 had been right this morning, it would be remembered with some fear and reverence of its own.
Keenan turned on the heater. He hated to run it because something had broken off or been jammed inside and the blowing air caused an annoying clicking sound, not to mention that some drunk kid had puked in the back the week before and the smell lingered no matter what efforts were made to clean the seat and floor. The heat only made it worse.
“This is bullshit,” he whispered, as if someone might overhear, and he glanced at his own blue eyes in the rearview mirror for reassurance. His mirror image agreed with him.
He flicked on his right-turn signal, though nobody was on the road to notice. Coming off the bridge, he saw the gleam of the Heavenly Donuts sign and felt a little spark of happiness in his chest. He desperately needed a coffee. He’d park and sip it for a few minutes and drain away the tension that had built up from all the time he’d spent with a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel. He hated driving in storms.
So maybe you don’t. Tuck away in a parking lot for an hour. Who’ll notice, out in this? And it was true. If he got a call and had to respond, he could do that. But an hour of rest with a big hot cup of Heavenly’s coffee would make him more alert and better able to do his job—at least that was what he told himself. Trying to peer through the clear parts of the windshield and the hypnotic swipe of the wipers had him halfway to falling asleep as it was.
The lure of coffee drew him into the parking lot and almost immediately he started having second thoughts. There hadn’t been a plow by in a while; there had to be three inches of snow in the lot and more was falling by the minute. What if he fell asleep and got snowed in to the lot? Better to keep moving.
Still … a café mocha would be bliss.
He ran one big hand over his bristly blond buzz cut, hesitating only a second before he slid the cruiser into the drive-through lane, frowning as he spotted a single truck parked in the lot, more than half a foot of snow already accumulated on top of it. Rolling down his window, he waited at the big menu board. A terrible feeling washed over him. Something was wrong, here.
“Hello?” he called.
No answer. Not even static. Troubled, he took his foot off the brake and let the patrol car roll around the corner of the building, tapping the accelerator. But it was only as he rolled up to the window and saw the gloomy shadows inside that he understood the crisis at hand: Heavenly Donuts had closed up early because of the storm. There would be no coffee.
Bummed, Keenan started mentally mapping out his distance to other coffee shops. Coventry had a Starbucks and three Dunkin’ Donuts, but the nearest of the four was miles away and there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t all have shut down as well. Not that he could blame them: there weren’t many customers braving the streets tonight.
With a sigh, he pulled out of the lot, figuring he might as well drive over to the nearest Dunkin’, especially considering how quiet his radio had become. During the evening commute he’d responded to five different accidents. It was a part of living in New England he had never understood. These people saw snow every winter, but somehow every summer they seemed to forget how to drive in it.
Now, though, going on ten P.M., pretty much everyone was home safe and sound except for an unfortunate handful, like plow drivers and rookie cops.
Driving along South Main Street, Keenan realized he’d screwed up, so distracted by the unfulfilled desire for coffee that he’d forgotten to clean off the windshield. The wipers were starting to stick, so he hit the lights and started to pull over to the curb, the swirling blue making strange ghosts in the storm and tinting the flakes on the glass.
With a loud crump, the car struck something that rocked it violently to the left. He slammed on the brakes, arms rigid on the wheel, so tense that he was unable to muster a single profanity. His heart thundered in his chest and he felt it in his eardrums and temples—worried for a moment that he might be having a heart attack and thinking about cutting back his Oreo intake—and then the car skidded to a shuddering halt and he exhaled.
He slammed the patrol car into Park.
“Motherfucker,” he said, just to assure himself that his capacity for profanity had not suffered any injury.
Popping the door, he climbed out and took in the strange, silent landscape of Coventry under siege by winter. Power lines hung low and heavy. Shop windows were caked with blowing snow. Drifts had begun to form. The blue glow from his light bar spun all around, painting it all in ghostly shapes that waxed and waned without a whisper.
Boots crunching in the snow, Keenan stepped back and scanned the driver’s side for damage. Finding nothing amiss, he made his way around the front and was happy to see both headlights in working order. Since the moment of impact he’d been running through a catalog of things he might have hit—parked car, dog, deer, person—but he didn’t think it had been any of those. The wet snow had crusted thickly on his windshield, but the wipers were still clearing enough of a span that he would have seen anything as large as that. His headlights and the streetlamps might not cut very deeply into the storm, but they were still working.
Still, he’d hit something, and as he came around to the passenger’s side, he saw that he had the dent to prove it. He searched the street and glanced over at the sidewalk but saw no sign of whatever it had been. Following his tire tracks thirty feet back the way he’d come, he saw no other tracks. No prints. No blood in the snow or evidence that there had been anything at all. It was easy to make out where the impact had occurred by studying the way the tire tracks jagged so abruptly to the left.
“What the hell?” he muttered.
Keenan walked back to the car, confounded by the dent. How could he have hit something when there had been nothing to hit? He crouched by the car and wiped off the snowflakes that had started to adhere to the dent. He’d catch hell for this and would never be able to explain it, but he wasn’t going to solve the puzzle by freezing his ass off while the storm whited out any evidence.
As he started back around the front of the car, still bathed in those blue lights, a thought occurred to him. What if he hadn’t hit anything after all? What if something had hit him?
Keenan gritted his teeth against the cold and shook his head. It was a stupid idea and the semantics didn’t make a damn bit of difference. Even if a bear had come hurtling out of the storm and crashed into his car as he drove by, there would be some evidence of its presence. Blood. Fur. Tracks.
Unless the bear had wings, it hadn’t been a bear.
Copyright © 2014 by Christopher Golden