Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
The first sign of trouble had been the night before it started in earnest. Sarah had been talking to Rebecca, that’s her sister, even though it had gotten rather late. Erica was camped out in Billy’s room, and while not overly thrilled about sleeping in the same room as her cousin, we sold her on the idea of it being like camping, all nested out in a tumble of old blankets and pillows. I was just coming in from my last cigarette of the night and Sarah was saying goodnight to her sister, making her way to the guestroom we were staying in. Peeling my boots off in the laundry room, I could hear the faint scuffing coming from down the hall, and an even softer sniffling under it. Erica came slinking around the corner, eyes darting quicker than I could track, trying to look everywhere at once. Dirty blonde hair corkscrewed into a sleep induced mess, and a huge dark stain on the front of the old Brave onesy she still insisted on sleeping in. My brave little girl was terrified, and the sight of that alone was enough to take my breath away. She finally locked on me and ran forward, clamping onto my leg in a death grip, and whatever shred of courage had driven her out looking for her parents shattered, as she broke out into wretched sobs.
I pried her hands loose from behind my knee and picked her up, holding the back of her head as she buried her face in my shoulder, trying to muffle her crying. She reeked of fresh urine and terror sweat, shaking like a bird with a broken wing. I whispered in her ear, trying to coax out of her what the nightmare had been about. She shook and cried for a while longer, trying to worm her way into my chest, till finally she pulled her head up and told me it was no nightmare. She was afraid of the little boy trying to get her to come outside. When I asked what little boy she told me she had woken up to the sound of someone tapping on the window of Billy’s room, hard enough to make the glass shake in the frame. She said that when she woke up and looked out the window he stopped and started talking to her. She couldn’t make any sense of the words he was using, claiming that the words came out like he had a mouth full of marbles, but she knew that he wanted her to come join him outside. She said that he was an “Elbow, like the man at the pretzel stand at the mall, all white and thin”, which was Erica-speak for an albino, except that his eyes were black instead of red and that all he had on was pajamas. When she didn’t immediately start climbing out the window the little albino boy got angry and started hitting the glass with an icicle, saying that he would come inside to get her and drag her out into the frost. I asked about that, ‘into the frost’, as it didn’t sound like something my daughter would say. She just nodded and started crying again, saying that she wouldn’t go outside.
I held her for a bit longer, then put her down. Kneeling in front of her I dried her tears with my shirt and told her I would go check and make sure the little elbow boy was gone. Immediately she started crying again, latching back onto me, begging me to not go, to not go into the frost. I kissed her forehead and drug a chair over to the door for her to stand on, telling her that she could watch through the window to make sure I stayed ok. Wrestling my coat back on, I went outside and walked the length of the house, making sure to stay where Erica could see me. The snow on the ground around the window was smooth and undisturbed, wind polished and packed hard. I returned to the house, and explained that it must have been a dream because no one had been anywhere near the window. She almost started crying again, insisting that it had been no dream. I hugged her some more and ran my fingers through the hair on the back of her head, insuring that everything was ok. We stripped off her wet pj’s and got her cleaned up with a quick shower, A quick trip into Billy’s room, him being still fast asleep, netted us clean clothes to sleep in and the two of us climbed into bed next to a softly snoring Sarah.
I woke up the following morning with only Sarah next to me, Erica off to enjoy her vacation ritual of early morning cartoons and a breakfast cereal induced sugar frenzy. I stumbled into the bathroom to avoid ending up like my daughter the night before, and then started making my way back to bed. Still squinting and barely awake I stepped into a small pile of snow-slush someone had tracked inside. I started whispering curses, lifting my foot and rubbing my eyes to focus on whatever was on the floor, and my brain locked. Under my foot wasn’t snow or any other kind of sludge off of someone’s boots.
“Are those…brains??” I heard myself whisper as I stared down at my foot and the carpet under it. They can’t be, some detached part of me muttered, nothing could be from a living thing and be that cold. Whatever it was was maybe half a degree from being frozen solid, the traces left on my foot almost burning with cold. I braced myself on the wall and scrubbed my foot on the carpet trying to get it off, still suffering from some sort of mental vapor lock, looked up the hall and straight into the eyes of my daughter.
She was walking out of Billy’s room, head turned to the sound of me trying to clean myself. She was covered…covered from the cheeks down in blood and torn bits of meat. It flaked off the tiny little claws her hands had curled into, from her mouth and chin. She had thick globs of it matted into her hair. I just stood there, in such utter disconnect from what I was seeing that I didn’t even register that she started talking and walking towards me. With agonizing slowness my mind started processing what I was looking at, details becoming things I was able to understand. Her hair had lost all of it’s color, faded from a dark blonde to paper white, almost invisible on her skin which had gone the same shade. Even her eyes had faded that way, stark white globes in her head with only the smallest pinprick of black in the center. Finally it dawned on me that she was speaking, but I was too entranced by her mouth to understand what was coming out of it. Shredded flesh was stuck to her thin little lips, congealed and hardening at the corners, but her teeth held me. I could see through them, even covered in filth they were partially transparent. They weren’t teeth, not anymore. They were little slivers of ice, poking out of her gums.
She had gotten so close to me I could see her scalp through the blood matted on her head, and had time to think “Is she speaking…Belgian??” before she tackled me.
Erica ran and lept hitting me dead in my sternum, knocking me flat on my back. One hand lurched up and knotted itself just over my hairline, the other flailing wildly at my face. Finally coming fully awake from pain I realized it wasn’t the power of her blows that hurt, it was contact with her skin. She was cold. Arctic, glacial, polar ice caps cold. Her strikes burned she was so cold. I brought my hands up to push her off of me and where my skin made contact with her face my hands steamed, all the heat lost in an instant. I jerked back, seeing the bloody handprints I left on my daughter’s face as I tore skin getting myself free, thrashing to get loose, afraid to even touch her.. She forced her hand open palm on my chest, burning me so badly it scared, and growled at me in a liquid gurgle. Words of some kind, spit rather than spoken, before she lifted her head and opened her mouth so wide I could hear bones grind and tendons creek. Quicker than I would have given her credit for her head whipped down and my daughter bit the pinkie off my left hand. The pain was so intense I couldn’t even scream, the wound cauterized instantly from the cold, and I watched Erica lean back and bite down hard on my finger. It was so deeply frozen it shattered, my own crystallized blood flying into my eyes. Animal terror gripping me I found my voice, screaming like some crazed thing, and twisting my remaining intact hand into her pajamas threw her overhand off of me.
I followed through with the throw, rolling myself onto my stomach, screaming even louder when I realized what I had done. Having fallen I had landed with my shoulders directly in front of the doorway to the guest room. Able to do nothing I watched with horror as my daughter completed the arc of the throw and landed square on the sleeping body of her mother. I was on my feet as fast as I could be, but it was already too late. Erica’s head flew to Sarah’s belly, and even over the sound of both of our screams I would hear the thick, wet tearing of skin as Erica chewed her way into her mother’s guts. Her screams didn’t last long, and the sounds of meat shredding quickly turned into cracking ice. I stumbled away, unable to watch my wife’s dying moments, retreating to the front of the house.
I made it as far as the living room before I collapsed. Down on my knees, unable to care about the pain in my hands as I struggled not to fall any farther, I crawled away from the horror in the bedrooms. In moments I heard movement, and turned back to see my daughter climbing onto the back of the couch that divided the room. Standing erect and staring down on me with nothing but hate in those horrible white eyes, she watched me scramble back to my feet and backpedal till I was pressed against the fireplace. Slowly she tamped down, bending at the knee till her hands were below her ankles as she balanced on the sofa, snarling at me it whatever she was attempting to use as language. I pressed harder against the fireplace, trying to push myself through it, my hands crawling over brick and up to the mantel. In the scant moment she finished speaking my injured left hand closed over something hard and in the same second she lept forward I swung, destroying the cable box I had found over her head.
The impact drove her right, and she crashed into the brickwork next to me. She landed on her side, eyes wide and unfocused for the moment, and I, still moving on instinct rather than conscious thought, ignored even more damage to my hand to grab her by the hair and repeatedly bash my own daughter’s head onto the corner of the bricks till the side of her skull exploded.
For the second time in less than five minutes I realized my mistake far too late to do anything about it. When her head broke blood and what should have been bone went everywhere, including onto me. A long, thin splash of it shot into the air, sloshing over my shoulder and the right side of my face. Blinded and maddened by pain, I cradled my face in my hands, damaging them even further. The cold was unlike anything I can describe, the closest thing I can think of being sprayed with molten metal. Even as I screamed I could feel the blood boring into my flesh, freezing my skin to such a degree that any movement caused it to crack like bone china. I passed out in seconds, and in my final moments before a black tide unconsciousness washed over me I looked at the remains of my daughter with my one remaining eye and saw that Erica’s bones were gone. They had been replaced by a dark, dimly transparent ice. I lay maybe three feet away from her and I could feel the cold coming off of the ice, sucking the heat from everything and frosting the bricks till they cracked.
They tell me it was three weeks before I was fully awake again.
One of Rebecca’s neighbors had gone looting in the houses nearby and stumbled across me. At first he assumed me to be just another corpse till he saw that I wasn’t covered in frost like the others he found in the house. It seems that I lay there for two days before he found me, and another half of a day before he could safely bring a truck to rescue me. Sig, which is short for Sigmund Boarsson, led a few others he had found to Rebecca’s house and took me to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which they had turned into a bolt hole of sorts.
The doctor that tended to me, Dr. David Talbot, may be one of the last alive on the east coast. The morning the children changed Dr. Talbot was working, on top of the hospital at the helipad, trying to stabilize a boy that was being flown in. He was rolling the child deeper into the hospital when he says that every alarm in the place went off at once. Every single child under the age of ten flatlined at the same time. The staff went berserk, running everywhere at once, trying to figure out what had happened. Dr. Talbot ran to the office of the IT department thinking it had to be a mistake of some kind, a system wide crash or something. The techs hadn’t showed up yet and he was checking what little he could think of when the screaming started. He opened the door to see a RN with a naked two year old trying to chew it’s way through her neck run past.
He stood in shock as an orderly arrived to help the nurse. The orderly grabbed at the child, yelping in pain as his hands steamed from the skin to skin contact, and accidentally whipped the child against the wall in his shock. On making contact with the wall the child burst, spraying lethally cold blood and the ice that had replaced its bones all over the orderly and nurse. Talbot quickly shut and locked the door to the office, pushing desks and equipment into a hasty barricade. He stayed in there for hours till he couldn’t hear more screams from the staff. He waited even longer till he found the courage to peek out of the office, and longer still before he left it’s security. The hospital had been turned into an abattoir, bodies of both patients and staff littering the halls and rooms. Looking out of a window he saw packs of children chasing survivors of the initial attacks through the streets, but always away from the hospital. He guesses that the children are following a pattern, spreading a net wide and using the hospital as its starting point.
The children are intelligent and are able to communicate with one another. The only reason Sig is alive is because he can somewhat understand them. He says that they speak a very old version of a Norwegian dialect, and when they were tracking him they yelled to each other, obvilous that he could understand them. He say’s that they call themselves Ymir’s Get, and are intent on hunting down every last human that is not one of them. They are strong and fast, but not to an inhuman degree. Intelligent and cunning, but not what one would call ‘smart’. All of them look the same, dressed in whatever they had on them when they changed and with that horrible white on white appearance. There is another survivor here, a kid that was going to college in the city, who thinks that the ice that makes up their bones is at a temperature of absolute zero, so cold that movement has stopped down to an atomic level. He also says that that’s impossible for a number of reasons I don’t understand, but he still insists that its the only explanation that makes any sense.
The only one of us that has any guess as to what happened to the children is Sig and even he thinks it’s crazy, but admittedly, not any crazier than dead children with bones of ice trying to murder us all. He says that Ymir is the father of the frost giants in the mythology of Scandinavia, killed by the gods to make the world and that its his bones and flesh that make up the earth we stand on. He thinks that whatever giants that are left in the world, and even he has no guess where they are, did this to the children. Infected them with the cold of Ymir and turned them loose on the rest of us. It’s nuts, but coming up with ideas as to what happened passes the time, and we have a lot of that on hand.
I’m able to walk with the help of crutches for short distances and my hands have healed enough that I can feed myself again. Most of my upper torso and face look like they’ve been hit with acid. I lost the eye and ear on my right side and the back teeth as well. It’s been awhile since I cried when I look in a mirror, but I still avoid them whenever I can. I don’t know what I’ll do if something happens to the rest of the people here. I can’t move very quickly and can’t use the stairs, so I’m stuck on the floor I’m on. What little fuel the generators have left is used to keep the heat on and the medical equipment running for me and the others who’ve been hurt. None of us have been warm for weeks and winter’s end is nowhere in sight.
The funny thing is that it doesn’t really bother me as much as it used to. Erica has been visiting me at night, talking to me through the window. I couldn’t understand her much at first, but she’s been teaching me to understand her. She says that the rest of the survivors have barred up the bottom floors of the hospital tight enough that she can’t get in to see me, which is why she has to climb up the outside of the building every night. She wants me to open the window so she can come in, but I keep telling her that they weren’t built to be able to do that. She says that once I’m strong enough I can go downstairs and open the doors for her and that I shouldn’t push myself to do it, she’s willing to wait. I’m sure she is, it’s not like she doesn’t have time on her hands either. I can see the stars through the side of her head when I look into her eye, from the hole that I put there. Erica’s not angry about it anymore, she understands how the both of us overreacted that morning. She keeps telling me how excited her and all the rest of the children of the people here are to get inside and see all of us again.
I know that when I open the doors to the hospital she and the rest of the children are going to rush in here and kill all of us, but that doesn’t bother me much. It’s not like I’m going to have much of a life like this anyway. And besides, a daughter needs her daddy.
Credit To – Jason Markley