Jake Thomasson pulled the sleeve of his sweatshirt down, covering his hand, and wiped away the condensation from the window. It was the third time he had done this in the past ten minutes, but he didn’t want to miss seeing if any cars drove by outside. He was sitting on his knees on the family couch, elbows propped against the back of it and leaning forward, his small face almost pressed against the window. He was so close to it that he could feel the cold coming radiating from it, even though it was nice and warm in the house. On the floor by the couch was his red Transformers backpack, with a pencil case full of crayons, an index card with his home address and phone number written on it, his baseball cap, and a three-day-old apple inside. He was humming the tune to I Dream of Jeannie absentmindedly, not loud enough to cover the sound of the television from the kitchen in the next room.
Jake wasn’t listening to the TV, nor was he listening to the snippets of his parents’ muted and tense conversation that drifted out of the kitchen. It was light in the kitchen, but the only illumination in the living room was from the large picture window that Jake was looking out of, rapt. The world outside was a near-perfect white, and the dim daylight crept in like a ghost, bringing silence and mystery with it. Jake had lived in this house for all of his five years, and knew the outside street as well as he knew anything. He knew the front porch, which was painted a brick red color. He knew the steps that led down past the yard. He knew the plastic kiddie pool that was up every summer, and which he had used as recently as last week. He knew the cracks in the sidewalk beyond, and he knew to never, ever go off the sidewalk into the street, because that’s where the cars drove, and a car could run him over. He knew the houses across the street, where the Laramies lived, and the Alvarezes, and his friend Bobby Guilliford and his parents.
Now, however, he didn’t recognize any of these familiar sights. There was only snow. The snow had drifted up onto the porch, and the only red paint still visible was on the columns supporting the overhang. The steps, sidewalk, and road were indistinguishable from each other, except for a row of intermittent bulges that marked the parked cars at the edge of the roadway. The pool was just a slight mound on the right side of the area where the lawn used to be. Beyond that, the drifting flurries obliterated everything. Bobby Guilliford could be standing in his front yard across the street, playing with his juggling balls, and Jake would never know.
In fact, Jake hadn’t seen anyone for a day or two now. The snow had started four days ago, on August 20th, and there were still people driving for the first day, and then walking around for a bit longer. But the snow had just kept coming, and eventually, Jake stopped seeing anyone outside. That didn’t stop him from looking, though. In his mind, he kept expecting to see the splash of headlights come down the street, followed by the bright yellow of the school bus that he’d been waiting for. The bus would stop in front of his house, and he’d run out with his backpack and get onboard, seeing all of the other kids huddled up in coats and scarves and gloves. Bobby would be there, and so would a whole bunch of other kids that Jake had never met before. The bus driver would smile at him, and the doors would close, and the bus would take him across town to his first day of school. His first day, which should have been two days ago.
Jake wasn’t too young to realize how strange it was to have snow this close to the end of summer. He had known this on his own, but it was confirmed when he overheard his dad on the phone the day before saying that it was, “fucking unnatural.” Jake’s mother had seen Jake listening and told his dad to watch his language, but Jake’s dad didn’t like that, and they had spent the rest of the day yelling at each other. This wasn’t out of the ordinary (not “fucking unnatural,” Jake thought,) but they had seemed more easily angered since the snow had started. Jake didn’t have the vocabulary to describe how it was different now, but he was very in tune with his parents’ emotional barometers, and he was happy to spend his time sitting in the living room and looking out the window.
Except now, he was hungry. He knew that he had the apple in his backpack, but he didn’t want to eat it. Jake enjoyed apples, but if he ate the one in his backpack, then he wouldn’t have one if the school bus happened to come by right then, and he didn’t want to go to his first day of school unprepared. Besides, he was finally getting restless after sitting here all day. He turned around on his knees and shuffled off of the couch to make his way to the kitchen. As he walked through the doorway, he saw his parents sitting at the small, round table, watching the news on the portable black and white television that had permanent residence on the counter. His mom had a lit cigarette in her hand, forgotten, and his dad was holding a half-empty bottle of beer. There was an empty glass on the table near his mom. Neither were looking at him.
“Mom, I’m hungry,” Jake said, and both of his parents jumped a little, startled. A small splash of beer spilled out of the bottle in his dad’s hand, wetting his bluejeans.
“Shit,” his dad muttered, and pushed back from the table, glowering briefly at Jake. “What are you doing creeping around?”
“I just want something to eat. The bus isn’t here yet.”
“The bus isn’t going to c–” his dad started, but then stopped. He looked at Jake for a moment, his expression irritated, and then softened a little. “Your mom will make you something to eat. I gotta go change my pants.” He glanced at Jake’s mom and then turned and went out of the small kitchen. Both Jake and his mom looked after him for a moment as he walked down the hall towards the back of the house.
“How’s a peanut butter sandwich sound, kid?”
Jake turned to his mom and then looked at the clock hanging on the wall. He wasn’t very good at telling time yet, but he knew that it was later than lunchtime. “Isn’t it time for dinner?” he asked.
Jake’s mom appeared startled as she followed his gaze to the clock. “Shit,” she muttered, and then quickly glanced back at Jake. “Sorry,” she said.
“Can we have noodles?” Jake asked.
His mother took a drag off her cigarette and then ground it out in the ashtray on the table. “Sure, Jake,” she said, walking over to the cabinet. Jake turned his attention to the television, but caught his mom say, “not too much left besides noodles, anyway,” under her breath. The man on the news was sitting in a studio, talking about the snow. The news was boring to Jake, but he sat down in his dad’s chair, rested his chin in his hands, elbows propped on the table, and waited for his mom to cook dinner.
* * * * * *
Jake sat in the living room, wrapped in a blanket and slumped down with his chin resting on the back of the couch. His backpack was still on the floor where it had been the day prior. He was looking out the window again. The snow was higher now, piled up to the point that he could see a few inches of it above the bottom edge of the glass. The bumps that represented the parked cars were still visible, but harder to make out now. The snow was slowing, but Jake could barely catch glimpses of anything beyond the roadway. He could see a little bit of the houses across the street, but didn’t see any lights, so their power must be out, too.
When Jake had woken up early that morning, the house was cold and dark. The electricity had gone out sometime during the night. He had gotten out of bed and walked groggily to his parents’ room. The door was open and they were still asleep. He crawled into bed with them and must have drifted off again, because it was suddenly later and they were gone. He could hear them yelling at each other in the kitchen. It was bad. Jake usually went outside when it was like this, but he couldn’t go outside now. He turned over in their bed and pulled the covers up, trying to block out the sound.
“Well, what the fuck do you expect me to do, Linda? I can’t go out there and the phone isn’t working.”
“I don’t know, but we have to do something! We’ve only got food for a few more days.”
“Yeah, because that’s what you really want me to go get for you.”
“How dare you! You’re the only one allowed to have a drink in the evening?”
“Or the morning, or the afternoon.”
“God, you are such an asshole. We are running out of food, Jim! The snow isn’t stopping and we don’t have much left to eat!”
But now the snow was stopping, and Jake sat on the couch and watched the last of it as it drifted down from the blank sky. He was still looking for the school bus, but it was more out of habit than anything at this point. There were no tire tracks on the road, no footsteps or animal tracks either. Just an unblemished white that was as high as he was tall. Besides the dwindling snowflakes, there was no movement outside, no sound, no nothing.
Jake desperately wanted to go to school. It wasn’t just the thought of new friends and an exciting new place, but it was a chance to have something be different. In all of the shows, classes started on time, and the teachers kept things in order, and things just made sense. If he had been older, Jake would have said that the reliability of school was what he was yearning for. Something with structure and dependability that he had been craving for his whole life.
Inside the house, there were occasional sounds coming out of the kitchen, something like a drinking glass on wood. That meant his mother was in there, but he didn’t know where his father was. Probably in the bedroom. Jake pulled the blanket tighter around himself, shivering a little, and continued to stare out through the window.
* * * * * *
Jake woke up the next morning to the sound of his mother screaming hysterically. He bolted up, not sure where he was. He had slept in his parents’ bed the night before, but the darkness and sudden jarring wakefulness were disorienting. He jumped out of bed and almost tilted over, still not fully awake. He barely registered how cold it was in the house. His mother wouldn’t stop screaming, and he could now hear his dad trying to get her to be quiet. “You’re going to wake him up, now shut up!”
Jake ran out of the bedroom, knocking his shoulder against the door jam in the process. The screaming was coming from the living room, and he found his parents there. His dad was holding his mom in a tight hug, restraining her as she was desperately trying to escape his embrace. He was wearing his denim jacket, and his mom was wearing what looked like two pairs of pajamas. They were in the center of the room, but she kept turning her head back towards the picture window as his dad tried to keep her from looking out. He was making shushing noises and telling her not to wake Jake up.
“What’s going on?” Jake asked. His dad turned to him, and in his distraction, Jake’s mom twisted out of his grasp and flew towards the window. She leaned over the back of the couch, staring desperately outside. Jake had a moment to think that she was exactly where he had been a few days before, and then his mom started yelling again.
“JESUS CHRIST, DO YOU SEE IT? DO YOU SEE IT? DO YOU–”
“LINDA. JAKE IS HERE,” his dad bellowed, and Jake’s mom stopped, flinching.
Jake stood in the doorway, looking at his parents, and started to cry a little. “What’s happening? What’s wrong?”
“Christ, now I have to deal with this, too?” his dad said, but his mother had apparently sobered a little, and she came over to comfort Jake.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” she said, trembling slightly as she knelt down and hugged him. Jake was crying openly now, scared and cold. “It’s okay, Jakey. Mommy and Daddy are just really wanting the snow to go away.”
“What did you see outside?” Jake asked, between sobs.
“Nothing, baby, nothing,” his mother said, but Jake felt her head lift from where it had been against him, and he knew that she was looking at his father.
“Jim,” she said.
“What?” he replied, frustrated.
Jake felt his mother sigh deeply against him, and then she picked him up. “How about we all go into the kitchen and have some breakfast. How’s some cereal sound, Jake?” Jake kept crying, but managed to nod his head. She carried him into the kitchen and put him down in a chair at the table. When his father entered a few moments later, his mom went over and the two whispered together. Jake was still crying, but thought he heard her say, “don’t let him look out the window.”
After a breakfast of cereal with no milk, they spent the day in the kitchen, playing cards and layering on clothing to try to stay warm. Jake would have enjoyed it if his parents hadn’t kept glancing out towards the living room, obviously distracted. Sometime later, before it got dark, they both had a drink, and then another, and more after that, until everything was gone. Then they started arguing, and Jake left the kitchen for his bedroom, where he lay in his bed and listened to them yell at each other. After a while, he slept.
* * * * * *
Jake awoke in the night, hungry and needing to use the bathroom. He walked past his parents’ room on the way to the toilet, and saw his dad asleep in their bed, still wearing his day clothes. His mom wasn’t there. Jake went into the kitchen, where he saw his mother slumped in a chair, leaning on top of the table, lightly snoring. Jake stood there for a minute, feeling a multitude of emotions that he didn’t know how to process, and quietly started to cry again.
Still crying, he walked to the bathroom and went pee, and then started back to his bedroom. Halfway there, he stopped, listening to the silence of the house and the world outside. It was cold, very cold now, and he wanted to get back into bed. But there was something else he had to do first. He was done crying, but his nose was still running, and he wiped it with his sleeve as he turned around and started towards the living room.
He was walking stealthily now. Neither of his parents had woken when he was moving around the house a few minutes earlier, but now that he was doing something that he knew he wasn’t supposed to, he was scared that one of them would wake up and be angry. Making his parents angry was at the very top of Jake’s list of things that he didn’t want to have happen. He crept back down the hall, passing the open door to the bedroom and entering the kitchen. His socks had been silent on the carpet of the hallway, but some of the floorboards in the kitchen creaked from time to time, and he was careful to step very lightly. Even so, his mother shifted in her chair as he walked past, and Jake jumped a little. When she settled back, he went the rest of the way through the kitchen and into the living room.
It was very dark, but the snow outside seemed to cast a faint light into the room. Jake walked slowly to the couch. The snow had stopped the day before, but was still piled high enough that he couldn’t see across it while standing on the floor. He climbed up onto the couch and stood up, pressing his hands against the cold glass and looking out across the yard and towards the houses across the street. There were still no lights on in them. There was no movement of any kind. What had made his mom so upset?
Jake looked around for a minute, not seeing anything. He was turning to get off the couch and go back to bed when something caught his eye. It was on top of the snow, just at the edge of the window and to the side. Jake hadn’t seen it at first because he had been looking past the snow, not at it.
Jake stood there motionless, his heart speeding up and his eyes wide. He was shivering now, but not just from the cold. He was aware that he needed to not make any noise or he would wake up his parents, but he was starting to breathe heavily, and knew that he wouldn’t be able to stay quiet for much longer.
He stumbled off the couch, and ran as silently as he could back to his room. He jumped into bed, pulled the covers up as high as they would go, and started to sob into his blankets. He stayed that way for over an hour, until fear, hunger and anxiety exhausted him and he drifted into an uneasy sleep, dreaming of the four-clawed footprints that lead up to the front window and then away from it, and the small puddle of frozen blood that was pooled against the glass.
* * * * * *
The next two days passed without incident. His parents fought. There wasn’t any food left. Jake tried to fit himself into the unseen cracks of their new life.
* * * * * *
Jake woke up to a smell that he wasn’t expecting. Bacon. He stumbled out of bed and walked, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen. His mom was at the counter, cooking on a small propane camping stove. His dad was sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette.
“Mom?” Jake asked, rubbing his eyes. His mom turned, a smile on her face, but it faded when she saw him. She stopped, looking at him, until his dad muttered, “want to get Jake some bacon, honey?” He wasn’t looking at Jake.
“Yes,” she said, strangely, and then again with more conviction. “Yes! Here, Jake,” and she pulled four thick strips of bacon from the hot griddle. The smell was amazing, and Jake realized that his mouth was watering like a cartoon wolf. Jake sat down at the table and tore into the bacon. As he was finishing, his mom placed three more strips on his plate. Jake looked up and started to say, “thank you,” like he had been taught, but his mother quickly turned away when he caught her gaze.
Jake continued eating his bacon, aware that the mood had turned somber since he arrived. His mother continued to cook, and his father was still drinking coffee, but it was otherwise silent in the kitchen.
“Mom, where did the bacon come from?”
There was a bang as his mother slammed the fork in her hand down against the countertop. Jake froze. Something was very wrong here.
“Can’t you just be happy?” his mother said. She had both hands planted on the counter, her shoulders tense. “Can’t you just be fucking happy?”
“Hey, Linda…” Jake’s father started.
“No!” his mother yelled, spinning around and facing them, the fork in her hand pointed accusingly towards Jake. “We haven’t had anything to eat for days, and you can’t just be happy that there’s food here? You have no idea what we had to do for this! NO IDEA!”
“I’m sorry, Mom–” Jake began, but it was too late.
“No, it’s ruined now!” she yelled. She slid the propane stove to the edge of the counter, and swept the remaining bacon into the sink with the fork.
“Hey, what the hell?” Jake’s dad shouted. He stood up, angrily. “Why the fuck did you do that?”
But he got no answer. Jake’s mom slumped slowly to the floor, crying. His dad stood where he was for a minute, and then said, “fuck this.” He looked at Jake and started to turn to go, but then stopped. “You did this to her,” he said, looking back over his shoulder, and then something that confused Jake further. “I’m not even sorry, you know that? Not sorry a bit,” and he stomped down the hall, slamming the bedroom door behind him.
Jake sat, stunned and terrified. His mom huddled on the floor by the sink, sobbing loudly. After a minute, Jake grabbed the remaining bacon from his plate and walked slowly into the living room. He sat on the couch and chewed, numbly, until the food was gone. When he was done, he curled up on the couch and looked out the window at the silent world beyond. After a while, he started crying himself. Slowly, he drifted off to sleep, but not before noticing a fresh set of clawed tracks leading up to the window. There was no set of retreating prints this time.
* * * * * *
“Jakey, wake up.”
Jake shifted on the couch, where he was curled into a small ball. He had been dreaming of someone scratching on the front door.
“Jake, come on, you have to get up now.”
His mother. Talking to him. Jake opened his eyes. “Mom?”
“Yes, Jake. It’s time to get up. Come on, now.”
Jake looked around. The house was dark. It was sometime during the night. Both of his parents were standing by the couch, looking down at him. His father was holding Jake’s jacket that he had worn last winter.
“What’s going on?”
His mother, again, sterner now. “Jake, I told you. It’s time to get up. Now get up.”
He pulled himself into a sitting position, confused and half-awake. His father handed his jacket to him. “Come on, Jakey. You gotta put your jacket on. It’s time to go.”
“It’s time to go. Time to go to school, Jake.”
This woke Jake up fully. “Huh?” he said, and turned to look out the window. It was just as it had been the last few days. The snow covered everything. There was no light, no movement.
“Where’s the bus?” he asked, still looking out the window.
“It’s coming, baby,” his mom said. “Now, put on your jacket and get ready.”
Jake stood, unsteadily, and put his jacket on. He looked down at his backpack. “I ate my apple.”
“What?” His father.
“My apple. The one in my backpack. I ate it a few days ago. I need one to bring to school.”
His parents exchanged glances.
“My jacket doesn’t fit anymore,” Jake said, stretching his arms out, the sleeves only coming to his mid-forearm.
“Oh, it’s okay, sweetie,” his mom said, kneeling down and trying to pull his sleeves down to his wrists. “You just need it to get from here to the bus, and there will be lots of food at school.” It was dark in the house and Jake couldn’t see her face clearly, but there was something glimmering on her cheeks.
“But it’s night time, Mom. There’s no school at night.” His father abruptly turned around and walked out of the room.
Jake’s mom made a sound that might have been a sob, but when she spoke, her voice was bright. “Well, with all of the school everyone missed, they’re having a night class so you all can catch up!”
“No more questions, Jake!” his mother said, suddenly harsh. “You’ve been waiting to go to school all week, and now you don’t want to go! I can’t believe you!” She stood up and looked down at him. “Well, I don’t know if they’ll want you now, with you acting this way and all.” She crossed her arms.
“No, Mom, I do! I really do!” Jake wailed, now distraught as well as confused.
“It might be too late for that. I don’t think the school will want an ungrateful child like you.”
“Please, Mom!” Jake said, now starting to tear up. “Please, I really want to go! I want to meet everyone!”
“Yes! Please, Mom!” Jake looked up at her, pleadingly. A moment passed. Jake thought he heard his mother crying, too.
“O-okay,” his mother said. “But you have to go right now. The bus will be here soon.” She took Jake by the arm and walked him to the front door.
“My backpack–” Jake said.
“You don’t need–” his mother started, but then stopped, looking at him. “Of course. You can’t forget your backpack, now can you?” She walked back to the couch to retrieve it, and then returned to Jake. She stood for a moment, looking down at him and clutching the Transformers backpack to her chest.
She knelt down and helped him put it on, and then hugged him fiercely. “I love you, Jakey. Please remember that,” she said, and then the dam broke, and she started sobbing loudly, still holding him to her.
“Mom? What’s going on? What’s wrong?” Jake asked, crying himself.
His mom released him and stood, wiping her eyes. “Nothing, sweetie. Nothing.” She took a deep, shaky breath, and released it. “Okay, baby. It’s time to go,” she said, and reached past him to open the door. As she did so, a drift of snow fell in across the carpet, but not before Jake realized that the carpet was already covered in a dirty swath of white. Before he could ask about this, his mother was helping him up on top of the snow. It was just firm enough for him to stay on top of it without sinking too deeply. Still, as he started to sink, he panicked, and turned back towards his mother.
“Mom!” he said, desperately, but she was already closing the door. Jake could hear her crying as she did so.
The latch clicked shut, and Jake was suddenly alone in the dark, silent world. He stared at the door, confused and scared. The breath he pulled in was cold, and he could feel his tears tracing frigid tracks down his cheeks.
He crouched there, half in the snow and leaning on the door, for several minutes. He didn’t care about school anymore. He didn’t care about the bus, which he knew wasn’t coming. He just wanted to go back. Back inside, back to the week before when none of this had happened. Back to when things weren’t scary. He cried outside, alone in the snow. He cried until he heard the sound of light footsteps, swiftly approaching from the darkness.
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