by William Cole
After months hiding from mimics, teens argue if they should stay inside or brave winter
CW: Blood, death, transphobia, swearing
"Lynn? Are you there? It's your grandma. Please let me in. I'm getting so cold. Lynn?"
Cam looked up at Lynn from where he braced his shoulder against the blue vinyl mats stacked against the double doors. He cocked an eyebrow.
"Don't," Lynn said. "My grandma would never call me by my real name." Even as she said it, guilt tickled the back of her mind. She wasn't sure if she would even let her real grandmother in.
When night fell, the pleading finally quieted. The pawing at the door slowed, until finally the only sound in the gymnasium was the howling of the wind and the steady drip, drip, drip, coming from the far corner.
Lynn watched Cam as he slept, each breath rising in plumes from his nostrils. She felt his chest rise and fall, a copse of new hair tickling her fingers. She checked her own chest, and was relieved to find it smooth.
"I think it's frozen," Lynn said. "It's been quiet for so long."
Cam opened his eyes a fraction and hugged her closer. "It's nice. Between gusts of wind we can enjoy some peace."
"We should go out, Cam. See if there's any sign of rescue."
Cam ambled out of the closet where they had made their bed and towards the double doors. He slid the makeshift blinds away from the window. Sickly grey light invaded the gymnasium, illuminating accumulated filth. Death-stained snow had piled up waist-high outside.
Through a warped lens of frozen condensation and glass, they could see a figure at the edge of their vision. If they hadn't known better, they might have thought it was a person caught in the storm. Its sunken eyes pierced back through the murk. Silver hair like a snake's tongue lashed at them.
"I don't think we're going anywhere in this," Cam said, eyeing Lynn's naked legs.
Lynn's footsteps echoed across the gymnasium. She walked along the many-coloured lines where she used to play volleyball, pressing her palms to her temples. "This could be our only chance, babe. What happens when they thaw?" She held out her teacher's keys. They were still rust-red with blood. "Mrs Dobson's is only a few blocks away."
Cam's gaze returned to the distorted figure. It squatted under the basketball hoop like a gargoyle. He thought for a moment that it had moved since he last checked, then shook the thought from his mind. He tried his best to look nonchalant.
"I think they're dead for good. I say we hole up until it's warm enough not to freeze before Dobs's is in sight."
"Cameron," Lynn began, panic creeping into her voice. She clutched a hand to her chest, stretching the collar of her top with anxiety. Her voice cracked, and she stopped herself from finishing the thought.
Cam took in her edges and bones. Her flat chest, the acne that dotted her face and neck. Hair threatened her upper lip. "You know, I'll still love you if you have a few chest hairs, Lynn." He put his hands on her narrow hips, brought them closer to his own.
Her eyes drifted to the double doors. Ice glistened in the break between them. She wanted to push away the blue mats and wrench the door open. It would be cold, yes, but freezing was a better fate than becoming what Grandma - the real Grandma - always said she would become. Lynn pushed Cameron away.
"It's not about chest hair. It's all the things I can never get back."
They slept separately that night, despite the piercing cold. She heard voices in her nightmares; her teachers, family, and peers, all bargaining for her mercy.
But she had seen what happened to those who trusted. Mrs Dobson had stopped to give a basket of supplies to a man on the street back at the start. He had kids to feed, and nothing to feed them with.
He knew exactly what he needed to say to get me out of the truck, she stammered when she returned, bloodsoaked and trembling. Her face and hair were covered in pitch-like residue. She showed Lynn her wounds, circular holes the diameter of fists punched in flesh. They won't clot, she said. Wounds like these don't heal.
She watched Cam and Lynn take the last of the supplies into the gym before turning to leave.
Lynn begged her to stay, but she refused to die in front of her students.
It had my husband's voice, she croaked. Close that door, Lynn. Close that door and don't open it for anyone but yourselves.
Cam awoke to a rush of cold electricity, the dryness of winter air rinsing him of accumulated mildew. He bolted upright.
He raced to the doors. They were wide open, letting fresh snow flutter onto the wooden floor. A caped figure trudged its way through the snow.
Cam shouted for Lynn to come back, but a vicious wind tore his words from him. She was saintlike; her survival blanket rippled like wings of silver, her lantern cast an amber halo around her. At any moment, Cam felt she would ascend in glorious rapture, leaving him behind on this cursed earth.
Lynn braced herself as she stumbled onto the frozen figure. Its surface clung to her skin like flypaper, burning her. Tears blurred her vision. She wrapped her arms in a bear hug around it and pulled.
Cam helped her as she returned through the doors. The creature followed, settling on its side with a hollow rattle. What Lynn had hoped was a long coat was actually a nightgown. Small flowers arranged in a diamond pattern danced and stretched across the body's folds of loose skin. It belonged to her grandmother.
Lynn forced down bile. "Open the fucking supply closet, Cam."
Cam paced the floor. He kept putting his hands in his pockets, pulling out his long-dead cell phone then putting it back, like he was expecting a text.
Candles burned next to Lynn, who sat cross-legged in front of the closet door. She counted the drip, drip, drips, from the far corner to pass time. She counted until she got to a hundred, then counted backwards.
For three days, Cam paced and Lynn counted. Not even the wind dared disturb their uneasy peace.
Cam broke. "She's dead, Lynn."
"It's still frozen." Lynn refused to meet his eyes.
"C'mon, it's not even talking."
"Did you want to open the door and find out?" Bitterness tinged her voice. She wanted to know, too.
Cam shook his head in frustration. "If it means we can go back to sleeping in the closet, I'll do it."
He walked to the door and readied the steel bat. He looked back at Lynn, who had taken the hockey stick from between the door handles. She nodded.
Cam held his breath and flung the door open.
The creature lay prone in a brown puddle.
"Don't go in," Lynn whispered.
"It's dead. It has to be."
She put a hand on his shoulder.
"Close the doors. Please."
"I'll smash it."
"No. I'm not getting another one."
"No, you're not." Cam twisted out of Lynn's hand, bat raised.
He approached it.
Before Lynn could scream, its hand wrapped around Cam's ankle. It was on top of him, wrestling Cam on the floor. He forced the bat under its chin to keep it away when its face - Grandma's face - opened like the lid of a can, exposing rings of razor-sharp teeth. Each saliva-coated tooth flexed hungrily in its socket, reaching towards Cam's screaming mouth.
Lynn shut her eyes and swung the hockey stick as hard as she could. The blade snapped against the creature's forehead, showering Cam with splinters. The creature let out a cat-like screech as it crashed backwards into a shelf, cans of food and equipment tumbling on top of it.
It flung cans off of itself with impossible speed. Black blood seeped from its forehead, staining its silver hair. Lynn charged with the remains of her hockey stick. The creature wailed as she pierced its chest.
"Nice moustache. Can't pretend anymore, can you?" A laugh escaped its quivering maw, spraying cold spittle on her. It reeked of partially digested blood. "You shouldn't have let me in, Da-"
Cam brought the bat down on the creature's head. Grandma's laugh became shrill and echoed through the closet as it collapsed on all fours.
"Wounds like this don't heal! Wounds like this don't heal!" It shrieked, using Dobson's voice. Cam hit it again and again until the laughing stopped and the floor was coated in sludge-like viscera.
He found Lynn in the corner, hiding behind ink-stained legs. "I'm sorry. Lynn, I'm so, so sorry." Cam tried to wrap an arm around her, but she pushed him away so hard he fell backwards.
"You will never have to wait like I've had to." She stood over him, eyes red with fury. "We are getting the fuck out of here."