A brutal snowstorm has blanketed the area and brought with it translucent phantoms that invade humans and drive them to murder.
- Leisure Books
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- 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Meet the Author
A writer, visual artist and musician, Ronald Malfi used to front the Maryland-based alternative rock band Nellie Blide. Most recognized for his haunting, literary style and memorable characters, Malfi's horror novels and thrillers have transcended genres to gain wider acceptance among readers of quality literature. Malfi has previously published with Medallion and Delirium (among others). Snow was his first novel with Dorchester.
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By Ronald Malfi
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2010 Ronald Malfi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe newscaster with the plastic-looking face and the electric yellow tie spoke of doom. Todd Curry glanced up at the screen just as an HD map of the Midwest replaced the newscaster. A digital white mass blipped across the state, moving in staggered increments across the screen, completely obliterating Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. At gate sixteen of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, a number of people groaned in unison. For a moment, Todd thought it was in response to the digital snowstorm on the flat-screen television set, but then he looked over to the check-in counter and saw that flight 218 to Des Moines-his flight-had been delayed another hour.
"Son of a bitch," he whispered to himself.
"The snowstorm will continue through the evening and well into tomorrow afternoon, which is bad news for a number of commuters who are desperately trying to make it home this Christmas Eve," the newscaster said, grinning like a ventriloquist's dummy in high definition despite the bad news. "Downtown Chicago has already been hit with six inches and some of the outlying areas may see as much as fifteen inches before this storm passes. So unfortunately for all you holiday travelers, there appears to be little reprieve in sight. Back to you, Donna."
"This is bullshit," gruntedan enormous man in a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt and cargo pants that looked like they had been cut from the fabric of a multicolored circus tent. The man was sweating profusely and balancing a triangular Sbarro's pizza box on his left knee. His small, squinty eyes shot over to Todd, who was seated two chairs away. "You believe this? You just watch, buddy. They're gonna cancel this flight."
"Sounds like my luck," Todd returned. In his lap, his hands wrestled with each other while between his feet his laptop sat in its nylon carrying case. Like someone anticipating a horrible telephone call, Todd's eyes kept shooting back to the flat-screen TV bolted to one of the rafters above the rows of seats. On the screen, a mildly attractive woman in a burgundy pantsuit was shaking her head at the unfortunate weather conditions.
"That's their little trick," the big guy in the Bulls sweatshirt went on, jabbing an index finger roughly the size of a kielbasa at the check-in counter's electronic screen. "Right now they know this flight's been cancelled. Hell, look outside! Doesn't take a meteor-fucking-ologist to see we ain't leaving the ground anytime soon."
The big guy was right: over the past hour, the walls of plate-glass windows had become great sightless cataracts, blinded by twirling, billowing snow. Todd could just barely make out the vague dinosaur shapes of the airplanes out on the tarmac, gray and indistinct beasts fading into the background the longer he looked at them.
"They keep saying the flight's delayed just to weed out the more impatient travelers," said the man. He had his pizza box open now and he was trying to gather up the messy slice inside with his overlarge fingers. "They get a few boneheads going up to the counter, changing their flights and asking pointless questions, before they slink away like dogs who've been beat for nosing around in the kitchen trash."
Indeed, a small line had already formed in front of the check-in counter, though it did not seem to be moving very quickly.
"You just watch," said the man in the Bulls sweatshirt. "Once that line dwindles, they'll put up the cancel sign on the board. It's a lock."
"We could still get lucky."
Ha, Todd thought morosely. You have no idea, chubby.
"They do it this way to stem the flow, know what I mean?" said the man. "They don't wanna get rushed by a hundred people all at once, see?"
Todd ran his hands through his hair and said, "You do a lot of traveling?" With his run of bad luck, he was already thinking this fat bastard would wind up sitting next to him on the flight ... if there was a flight.
"I'm in sales. Medical supplies. Pharmaceuticals." The guy finally managed to wrangle the slice of pizza out of the box, but not without having a wedge of pepperoni land in his lap. "Shit on a stick." He looked up at Todd with his piggish, squinting little eyes. "How about you?"
"Travel much? No, not really."
"I meant, what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a lawyer."
"No shit? Private practice?"
"Personal injury, DUIs, that sort of thing."
"Gotcha. Ambulance chaser," said the guy in the Bulls sweatshirt, sliding the tip of the pizza into his mouth. He tore a bite out of it that would put the shark from Jaws to shame. "I get it. There big money in that?"
"I do okay." He checked his watch: 5:45 P.M. The goddamn flight was supposed to have left two hours ago. He envisioned Justin watching television in the living room of the little house on Calabasas Street in Des Moines, wearing his Turbo Dogs pajamas and sporting his fresh crew cut, while Brianna-Todd's ex-wife-scampered around the house doing a little last-minute tidying up. She'd been a good sport about all this and Todd silently thanked her for it. After all, it was for Justin's sake.
It had been almost a full year since he'd seen Justin, back in ... Jesus, was it back in March? For the kid's seventh birthday? That long ago? Of course, he was supposed to have had Justin for three weeks this past summer, too, but life had a way of changing plans without fair warning. This past summer had been a mess-a complete fucking wreck, in fact, thank you very much-and, in the end, his only communication with Justin since March had been over the telephone or through handwritten letters in the mail. Justin's teacher had taught his class how to write letters and address envelopes-something the boy had been infatuated with since learning it-and it wasn't long before bulky white envelopes started to appear in Todd Curry's mailbox, the printing done in big childish capitals, usually in Magic Marker, the stamp crooked in the corner like a poorly hung picture. The letters had touched Todd deeply-deeper than he had thought they could-and it wasn't until one morning in late July, after returning from a pitiful and humbling weekend in Atlantic City, that Todd had collapsed into tears over a ridiculous crayon drawing of a cat wearing a top hat, with arrows for whiskers, that Justin had sent him. He'd stuck the drawing to the refrigerator in his tiny Manhattan apartment with a Domino's Pizza magnet ... but the drawing had been so accusatory and made him feel so guilty that he removed it after only two days. The next time he spoke with his son over the phone, it was all he could do not to crumble apart again like a sand castle. Something had changed in him. Immediately after the phone call, he'd scrounged through the kitchen trash to retrieve the stupid drawing of the cat in the top hat, but it had been too late-it had gone out with the trash earlier that week. Gone.
Gone, he thought now, and the word resonated like a ringing gong in the vacant chamber of his mind.
"I usually don't travel on Christmas Eve," the fat guy in the Bulls sweatshirt was saying, his mouth loaded with pizza, "but this was a big client and I didn't want no one getting the jump on me. The pitch went fantastic, too. I really hammered them. Wore a suit and tie, the whole nine. Really did the thing up nice, know what I mean?"
"Sure," Todd said, snatching up his laptop and standing. The last thing he wanted to do was spend another minute talking to Chunky the Pharmaceutical Rep. "I think I'm gonna grab a coffee."
Chunky looked dejected. "Don't you wanna see how the flight plays out? We got a bet."
"No bets. And besides, I thought you said it's going to be cancelled. That it was a lock?"
The guy shrugged his enormous shoulders. There was nothing but pizza crust left in one grease-streaked hand. "You mark my word, Perry Mason. You just watch and see."
Todd bustled down the corridor, a few fast-food joints to his left and his right. Any of these places would serve coffee, but his eyes happened to lock on a small bistro called Hemmingson's at the end of the gangway. Thanks to the delays, it was now well past happy hour. Fuck coffee; what he needed was a stiff goddamn drink.
The place was overpopulated, no doubt due to the multitude of cancellations and delays, yet Todd managed to squeeze his way to one corner of the bar and order a Dewar's on the rocks without taking an elbow to the ribs. A hodgepodge of Christmas decorations and sports paraphernalia hung from the walls and, despite the smoking ban, someone was puffing away on a cigarette. The TV behind the bar was tuned to the Weather Channel. On a steady replay, the television showed clip after clip after clip of Midwesterners in parkas with fur-lined hoods trudging through the blizzard. These clips were replaced by shots from a traffic-cam along the interstate, where it looked as though the world were made up of nothing but fender benders and police lights. Todd felt something cold and wet turn over in his stomach. When his scotch arrived, he gulped down a hefty swallow in hopes of killing whatever angst was squirming around down there.
"Excuse me, excuse me," came a woman's voice from somewhere beyond the crowd of bar-goers. Todd turned around and saw a woman in a cream-colored knit wool cap struggling just beyond the wall of broad male shoulders. "Excuse-shit!" With that, the woman came bursting through the crowd. Overburdened with luggage and squeezed into a knee-length jacquard coat that was maybe two sizes too small, she looked as though she were about to rebound off the lacquered countertop. Todd reached out and grabbed her forearm, steadying her before she completely lost her balance.
"Whoa," he said. "You okay?"
"Christ," she huffed, and dropped both bags at her feet right in front of him. "It's like Custer's last stand in here. What's a girl gotta do to get a drink, anyway?"
Todd grinned. "I think you made out pretty well, actually. No arrows in the back or anything."
"Although I think some Indian brave back there cupped an ass cheek." She pulled the knit cap off her head and a sprig of red wildfire hair exploded from her scalp. She had a cute face, though, with narrow cheeks and large, beseeching green eyes. A smattering of faint red freckles peppered the saddle of her nose. All of a sudden, what with three days' growth on his face and dark patches beneath his eyes, Todd felt uncharacteristically self-conscious. "I really should have brought my stun gun," she said, her eyes not settling on him for more than a split second. "March through the crowd like a goddamn cattle driver."
"Maybe a stun gun won't be necessary," he said. "What do you want?"
"To drink?" She looked instantly flummoxed. Then: "Oh, yes-uh, do they have Midori?"
He blinked. "I don't know."
"Midori sour, if they have Midori. But do not substitute generic melon ball for Midori," she added quickly. "It's not the same and, anyway, I think something in the melon ball makes me break out in hives." She raked stunted fingernails down the length of her neck, as if the simple mention of hives had summoned them into existence.
"Duly noted," Todd said. As it turned out, the bartender had Midori. The drink was mixed and set on the bar posthaste. "Merry Christmas," Todd said, and they clinked glasses.
"So you're a 'merry Christmas' and not a 'happy holidays' kind of guy, huh?"
"I'm sorry, did I offend you?"
"Not at all. It's refreshing. I'm so sick of political correctness. I'm suffocated by it. We're so goddamn politically correct that we lose our individualism, our definition as human beings. Don't you agree?"
"I guess I never thought of it that way."
She downed half the drink in one healthy swallow. Then she set the glass down on the bar and proceeded to pull off her leather gloves. She was sporting a jammer roughly the size of a disco ball on her ring finger. It sparkled like a movie star's smile.
"God," she groaned, "can you believe this weather?"
He nodded, sipping his scotch. "Your flight cancelled or just delayed?"
"I had a dream last night that I was trapped inside a submarine and there were all these people in business suits all trying to climb up the ladder and get out of the sub." She had totally ignored his question. "They started pulling each other off the ladder and fighting and clawing at each other like animals. Women, too, only they were in ball gowns. Just everybody swinging and punching and clawing at each other. I just stood off to one side and watched the whole thing go down. Then, from somewhere deep in the belly of the sub, some big alarm starts going off." When she imitated the alarm sound from her dream-"WEEE-ooh, WEEE-ooh, WEEE-ooh"-several heads turned in her direction. She didn't seem to notice. "So, shit, we're sinking, right? And these assholes are just pawing at each other like children on a playground, grabbing each other in headlocks and rolling around on the floor of the sub." She sighed and looked instantly miserable. And somehow that made her more attractive. "I guess it was a prophetic dream."
"Prophetic? You mean you were on a submarine this afternoon? That actually happened?"
"Lord," she groaned, rolling her eyes playfully. A coy smile overtook her features and he felt something squash that uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. She held out one hand-the one flaunting the massive engagement ring-to address the overcrowded barroom. "Are you really that literal? I'm talking about here, right here in this airport." She frowned but meant nothing by it. "Where's your sense of symbolism?"
"I guess I'm not very symbolic."
"Well, then," she motored on ... then paused, her eyes finally settling on him. They were brilliant aquamarine eyes, shimmering like Caribbean water. "Hey," she said, her voice softer, "I'm sorry. I'm going off like a firecracker. I'm Kate Jansen."
"Hey, Kate." They shook hands. "Todd Curry."
"Thanks for the drink, Todd."
"I guess you're one of the terminal," she said.
"A casualty of all these cancellations."
"Oh." He smiled. "Terminal. Very clever. I get it."
"Where're you headed?"
"Well," he said, glancing again at his wristwatch, "I was supposed to be on the four-thirty flight to Des Moines, which is now the six-thirty flight ..."
"Then we're both afflicted with the same ailment." Again, she clinked her glass against his, then took another strong swallow.
"So you were on that flight, too, huh?"
"Guilty as charged. Was tasked with spending Christmas with my fiancé and his family, but I guess it's in the gods' hands now."
"You say 'tasked' like it's some sort of castigation."
"Oh," she said, nodding fervently, "it is. His family is atrocious. They're like the villains in a Charles Dickens novel, all hunched over and swarthy, wrapped in drab, colorless clothing and screaming at peasant children."
"They sound marvelous."
She exhaled and he could smell her perfume-something sweet, like candy-mingled with the Midori on her breath. "But I love the son of a bitch, so I put up with them."
She caught him looking at her diamond ring but didn't say anything about it. Todd quickly jerked his eyes away and feigned interest in the newscast on the television. Snow, snow, and more snow. Damn it, he thought, still picturing Justin in his Turbo Dogs pajamas. I tried, buddy. I tried.
"How about you?" she said. "Is Des Moines your final destination?"
"Visiting my son."
"So you're divorced?"
"Yes. He lives with his mother."
"You two get along? You and the mother, I mean. Not the kid."
"Your fault or hers?"
"That we don't get along?"
"The divorce in general," she clarified. "Your fault or hers?"
"I ... it was mutual, I guess."
"Mutual?" She looked skeptical.
"It just didn't take."
She laughed once, sharply. More heads turned in her direction. "You say it like a surgeon who's just botched an operation. 'The transplant didn't take.'"
"What I meant was we both agreed it was for the best."
"So you both equally agreed that she'd keep the kid?"
Her boldness shocked him. "Wow. You go right for the jugular."
"Oh?" She seemed genuinely surprised. "I'm sorry, was that rude? I get weird talking about divorce. My parents went through a messy one when I was eleven and I took turns playing the hostage for each of them. I'm sure it fucked me up in more ways than one, too. You should have seen me in college, boy." She lowered her voice a bit. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"It's okay. I guess there's no such thing as an easy divorce."
Kate Jansen offered up that same coy little grin. "Or an easy childhood."
This made him think again of Justin. What the hell was he doing? It was Christmas Eve and he was drinking scotch in an airport bar while chatting up some stranger. He set his drink on the bar and picked up his laptop. "It was nice meeting you, Kate, but I should go check on my flight."
"Our flight," she corrected.
"That's right. You coming?"
"I think I'll stay here and finish my drink. Hate to break it to you, bub, but I don't think we're going anywhere tonight."
"I hope you're wrong, honey," he said, dumping enough bills onto the bar to account for both drinks. "Guess I'll see you around."
"Save me a bag of peanuts."
He pushed quickly through the crowd, the laptop's carrying case thumping numbly against one knee while he perspired in his coat, hoping against all rationale that the goddamn flight wouldn't be cancelled, wouldn't be cancelled, wouldn't be cancelled.
Excerpted from Snow by Ronald Malfi Copyright © 2010 by Ronald Malfi. Excerpted by permission.
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