“What was that?”
Everett turned in his chair. “It’s starting again. Put the candles out.”
Lori licked her fingers and pinched the wicks of the candles on the coffee table. She sat back on the couch and pulled her legs up beside her. “What do we do?”
Everett rubbed at his forehead. His voice was quiet. “I don’t know.”
They sat without speaking, listening to the wind blow, and the snow click against the windows.
Della ran into the living room and jumped up on the couch beside Lori. She wrapped her arms around her mother and buried her face in her neck.
“What’s wrong, baby?”
“Someone’s in the backyard.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I heard something. I think it was the back gate.”
Everett pursed his lips, and his face lost what little colour it had. He rose to his feet and walked to the window. With one hand cupped against the glass, he stared out into the darkness. Everett turned and zipped up his jacket, then walked through the kitchen and out the back door. Lori looked to Della, pushed herself up off the couch, and followed after Everett.
Lori stepped onto the back porch. Della followed close behind, wrapping her arms around Lori’s waist. Lori set a hand on Della’s shoulder, but kept her eyes focused on Everett.
Everett stopped at the depression in the middle of the yard. He turned all ways, scanning for signs of movement. The back gate had been forced open. One of the boards, broken clean off, was sticking out of the snow nearby. Trails in the snow led around to the corner of the yard.
Everett called out. “Where you at, you piece of shit. You want trouble, you’re in the right place.” Everett lifted the hem of his jacket and took a folded knife from the sheath on his belt. He flipped the blade open and held it out. “Come on and get it.”
For a moment, the falling snow was the only thing that changed. Della raised her head and pointed into the shadows. “Mom, look.”
The blanket on the fort pulled to one side, and a figure emerged. They stood to face Everett. The stream of heat from their breath wafted up and drifted away.
Lori increased her grip on Della’s shoulder and held the other hand loose over her mouth. “Oh my God. Jason?”
Everett looked back at Lori, then to the shadow standing across the yard. “You little son of a bitch.” He adjusted the grip on his knife. “Get your ass over here.”
Lori pushed away and started down the front steps. Della reached out and grabbed at the sleeve of her coat. “No. Wait.”
Jason was still at first. He turned his head to look behind him. When he faced forward again, he walked out of the shadows. Only a t-shirt and jeans protected him from the cold and snow. A dark stain ran down from his mouth to his shirt and over his narrow chest. Blood left tracks from the corner of his eyes. Faint haze drifted from his exposed skin. Jason stopped shy of Everett by three or four paces. His arms were limp at his sides, his head lowered and cocked.
“I knew you’d be back.” Everett turned his head to spit but kept his eyes locked on the boy. “Think you’re a big man settin’ out on your own? Guess we all know exactly what you are now, don’t we?”
Jason raised his head and focused his bloodshot eyes on Everett. Everett swallowed as he took a half step back. Jason bared his teeth, and a fine mist of blood sprayed as he screamed out.
Into the Storm, available now on Kindle and Kobo
Surviving the Storm, available September 21, 2020