The long, long sleep was over. He had been dreaming of flesh—warm, trembling flesh—but now he had awoken, and the gnawing from within consumed him. How long had it been since he had feasted? He stretched and spread his wings, casting a long dark shadow over the earth. From his perch he surveyed the landscape, a patchwork cloth of fields and farm roads far, far below. There were bodies down there, he knew. All kinds. He chuckled. The last few years had been lean, and the hunger enraged him. This time, no sunshine would prevent him from feeding. He was ready, and there was nothing to stop him. This time, he would take his fill.

The cat was glaring at her with its two yellow eyes. At least, it seemed to be glaring. She could never be quite sure, but disapproval was written all over its face. Any minute now it might decide to slash her jugular and drink her blood, for all she knew. She hadn’t wanted it in the first place, this cat, but it had appeared at her doorstep one night and had since taken over.

“You’re a real pain in the ass,” she grumbled as she stumped to the bag of kibble and poured some into a bowl. The cat continued to glare, but soon was eating the food, the crunching loud in the quiet room. The phone in the corner of the room began to ring.

“Hi, Mara,” her grandson said. “How are you?”

“The same as ever,” she replied.

“I’ve been hearing you’re in for some bad weather.”

“I’m not scared of weather.”

“I know, I know. You’re not scared of anything. But this isn’t about being scared. It’s about being prepared. It’s about being wise.”

“I’m not stupid. You think I’m just a weak old woman who can’t take care of herself.”

“That’s not what I meant,” her grandson said. He sounded weary, but she didn’t care. “The weatherman said—”

“The weatherman can go to hell. He’s usually full of shit anyway.”

“Not this time. This time they’re saying it’s for sure. Unprecedented. You’re ten miles from town, on a dirt road, for god’s sake. What are you going to do if the power goes out?”

“I know how to take care of myself.”

“I just want you to be safe.”

“Since when?” she said with a snort. “You’re down there and I’m up here. You couldn’t wait to get away from me. You don’t even call me Grandma anymore.”

“Do we have to do this every time I call? I’m not apologizing for moving away. We both needed the distance.”

“I didn’t want you around anyway.”

“So now you’re glad I moved. There’s no pleasing you.”

She hung up. There was no way she was waiting to hear the litany of complaints he had against her. Diapers and toilet training, the groceries he had eaten, the clothes she had put on his back. The long years working stultifying jobs catering to indifferent employers. The enormous cost of raising a child meant nothing to him.

“I could have done what I wanted to do all those years,” she said to the cat. “I could have gone back to school, had a real career. I thought I was done with childrearing until his father died, God rest his soul. I raised his kid instead, after his no-good mother disappeared.”

The cat only glared at her. He looked like he might like to jump on her face.

“Like you give a damn.”

She walked to the window and lit a cigarette, staring out through the blinds at the bright blue winter morning.

“Fucking weathermen,” she muttered. “Getting everybody worked up about nothing.”

Sitting heavily into a kitchen chair, she groaned. Her knees were aching and she massaged them. They always ached in the winter, but this year seemed worse. The idea that they were especially bad when the weather was about to change rose in her mind but she waved it away like the smoke drifting around her head. The furnace chugged steadily and she was reassured. The old house was drafty, but she wasn’t afraid of a snowstorm. She had been through worse.

She rose with effort and stubbed out her cigarette. Maybe she should bring in some wood for the stove, just in case.

The farmhouse faced east on its five acres of scrubland, the dilapidated porch situated so that one might watch the sunrises, if one was so inclined. Mara wasn’t, and as she stepped out the front door, she grimaced at the glare. Creaking down the steps, she made her way to the rick of firewood located on the far side of the overgrown lawn, feeling idiotic for gathering an armful of logs when the air, though brisk, was far from frigid.

Oklahoma winters could be brutal, but they hadn’t killed her yet. Without help from anyone, she had raised her son and grandson, tended her gardens and killed her chickens. She made do with what she had. Keeping busy was the important thing. Too many people lollygagging about, expecting the world to entertain them.

She made her way through the mounds of dead weeds back to the house and set the firewood on the porch beside the door. Straightening with a frown, she glanced around the property. The place was a mess, she thought. The garden beds were nearly invisible, overgrown with Bermuda grass and bull nettle. The henhouse was empty and its frame was covered in ivy. At one point there had been flowers surrounding the porch, sunflowers and coneflowers and trumpet vine winding around the supports. She had planted them long ago. But now they were gone, choked out by thistles.

A place took a lot of upkeep for it to thrive, she knew. She had been tired the last few years. But in the spring, she vowed to herself, she would pull the weeds and mow the lawn and make her garden again. Enough was enough. People would drive by and know she was no charity case. They would stop bringing bags of food to her doorstep and leave her alone, goddammit. She went back into the house, slamming the door behind her.

Descending upon the cities and towns, farms and fields, he settled down with a throaty chuckle. The hunger rose up, filling him with rage, but he knew he must be patient. Soon, he told himself. Soon, the flesh would begin to fail, and he would have all he could hold. He preferred the dark. He could work in the daylight as well, but nighttime, when all was still and quiet, was when he did his best work. This time was no different.

Evening came, and with it, a darkening sky. The clouds hung low and heavy and grey. Mara went about making her supper. She cut a potato into thin slices and fried it in a cast iron skillet, emptying a can of beans on top of it. As she sat at the table, gazing out at the window and chewing, the first droplets of ice began to fall. Minutes later the storm was in full swing, the frozen rain making a pattering sound on the roof, like thousands of tiny feet running to and fro.

Mara washed her dishes carefully and laid them to dry on a towel on the counter. She bent and opened the doors to the space beneath the sink as she had always done when hard freezes came. She didn’t care what the weather people were saying; some things were just common sense. She knew she had plenty of staples in her pantry, and even some bottled water.

“Worst comes to worst, I can always drink the vodka,” she said aloud. “It won’t freeze.”

She sat in the living room with a cup of ginger tea and flipped the television on. Her favorite true-crime show was beginning, and she settled deeper into the threadbare couch. The cat came and curled up on the other end.

“It’s going to be the boyfriend,” she told it. “As usual, right?”

The cat didn’t answer, but neither did it look up, and Mara felt that it must be agreeing with her. Before the gruesome details could be explored, however, the program was cut short by a special weather alert. The meteorologist stood in the middle of the screen, eyes alight with excitement.

“Hi everyone out there in Green Country,” he began with a broad smile. “I hope y’all are staying warm, because it’s about to get crazy out there.”

They were interrupting her favorite time of day for weather? Mara was incensed. With an expletive, she changed the station, but weathermen were everywhere, on every local channel. She slammed the remote down on the arm of the couch.

“Shitdammit,” she said. “Who needs to hear all this over again?”

“Temperatures are dropping quickly in the region,” Ryley Rutherford of News On Six said, using his pointer to trace the affected area on the map. “Tonight should bring lows around five degrees, but that’s downright toasty compared to what’s coming.”

“His teeth are too damn white,” Mara grumbled. “Who in tarnation has teeth that white? It’s ridiculous. Hey, Rutherford,” she shouted at the screen. “We already know it’s gonna get cold. What do you want, a cookie?”

The weather report went on, with the old woman becoming increasingly angry. When it finally ended and returned her to her drama, she found that she couldn’t piece together the story enough to enjoy it. She snapped the television off with a disgusted noise, drained her mug, and headed to bed.

In the small town below him, he found his first meal. The stray dog lay trembling in the gutter, the ice sheeting down upon its small body until, with a final spasm, it succumbed and breathed no more. It did nothing to fill him, and the sweetness of its flesh only fueled his desire for more. He swept around the corners of the buildings, searching the alleys, but it seemed all beings had found safety. He rose into the air and took in the view. Smoke rose from chimneys, and cheerful yellow light shone from windows all over the town. There was warmth within those walls, he knew. He would take that next.

It was the cat that woke her. It was pawing at her face and making a godawful noise in her ear. She pushed it off her chest and sat up. The room was cold and pitch black. She snapped the switch on her lamp but nothing happened. Rising, she wrapped a blanket around her body, pulled a flashlight from her bedside table, and shuffled down the hallway to the thermostat. Although it was set to sixty-eight, the temperature in the house was sitting at fifty-six. She shivered.

“Power’s out, cat,” she said. The cat’s yellow eyes glowed in the halo of the flashlight, watching her. She moved to the window and peered outside, aiming the beam of light into the darkness. The freezing rain was still falling and the entire yard glistened, the tree branches hanging low beneath the weight of the ice. Mara squinted at the thermometer hanging by a nail on the porch post.

“Four degrees. Guess it’s time to use the woodstove.”

She crossed the tiny living room to the woodstove, which squatted in the corner like a small, rotund man. Stuffing logs and kindling into the chamber, she lit the fire and watched as it crackled, then blazed.

“It’s gonna get colder than a witch’s tit, cat,” she said, pulling an afghan off the threadbare sofa and wrapping it around her shoulders. “Must be nice to have a fur coat.”

The animal came closer, sniffing the stove and rising up on its back legs to peer inside at the flames.

“Don’t singe your whiskers,” she admonished. The cat only looked up at her in what she perceived as disdain. Mara shook her head. “Well, don’t expect me to put you out if you catch on fire.”

The cat yawned hugely, and Mara could not stifle a yawn herself. The grandfather clock chimed three times, and the old woman stretched out upon the sofa, pulling her wrappings closer.

“Don’t worry, cat,” she said, as it curled up at her feet. “There are worse things than being cold.”


In the gray light of morning, Mara awoke. The fire had died to embers, and she rose to add more fuel, tending it until it blazed once more. She chafed her hands beside it, loathe to leave its warm glow. Soon, however, hunger and thirst overrode her desire for heat, and she shrugged herself into her winter coat, then moved to the bedroom for an extra pair of woolen socks. Thus fortified, she returned to the kitchen.

The gas stove didn’t work, its igniter dead along with everything else electronic. No matter. The old woman cranked on the gas and used her cigarette lighter instead. Soon she was cooking scrambled eggs on her griddle, along with buttered toast.

“See, cat?” she said as she poured its breakfast into the bowl. “No sense crying over no electricity. Some folks are just plumb spoiled.”

The two ate their breakfasts in silence, Mara drinking a glass of icy water from the tap, wincing a little as it hit her throat. She washed up, letting the tap warm before putting her bony hands in the water. At least the water heater had a pilot light, unlike the fancy newfangled tanks she had heard about. When the electricity went out, so did the hot water. She snorted.

“People are going to advance their way into oblivion,” she said. She lit a cigarette and went back into the living room, wrapping herself once more in blankets and feeding the woodstove. By the afternoon, her stash of wood had dwindled, and she rose with a creak.

“Guess it’s time to get more fuel,” she mumbled, pulling on her parka once more. She grabbed a woolen hat and scarf from the closet and heaved the door open, gasping as the air hit her cheeks and bit into her lungs with its sharp and jagged teeth. Wiping ice from the thermometer, she saw the thin sliver of mercury shimmering at ten below. The sky was a blanket of gloom hovering over her and the trees sagged beneath their coats of ice, bent like old men over the crystallized grass. Broken limbs littered the ground.

Mara picked her way gingerly down the steps, holding onto the railing as she went. The wind seemed determined to snatch her feet right out from under her. Several times she almost lost her footing, and she gritted her teeth as she stomped to the woodpile, her boots crunching through the layers of frozen vegetation. She pulled the covering away from the logs with effort, cursing as the rigid tarp refused to cooperate, and collected an armful, which she deposited on the sagging porch. After four laborious trips, she was satisfied with the size of the pile.

“Ought to get us through to tomorrow, at least,” she muttered as she reentered the house, fingers and toes numb and her face almost too cold to feel. Her heart was hammering from the exertion but she did not stop to rest until the stove blazed with heat once more. Sitting heavily before it, she sighed with relief as the warmth radiated through her body. The phone rang and she jumped. The only calls she ever received were from telemarketers and her grandson, and she wasn’t inclined to leave her cozy perch to answer either one. Soon the answering machine picked up, and she heard a soft male voice.

“Mara, I heard the power is out, just like I was afraid of. I wish you had a damn cell phone. I’m worried about you. Please call me back.”

The message ended, and silence descended once more. Only the crackling of the fire filled Mara’s ears, and she sighed, rubbing her temples. She regretted her earlier harsh words, but had no idea how to take them back. She had always been tough on her grandson, she knew, but he had needed discipline. He was emotional, and prone to brooding. She had no patience for self-pity. Life was hard. He had to learn that. She certainly had.

“Cat,” she said to the creature as it sat at her feet, grooming itself. “Don’t ever have children. They’ll break your heart every goddamn day.”

He looked down upon the darkened landscape with approval. The power would be out for days, he had made certain of that. The unprecedented weather had layered the roads with ice that no lineman could traverse. Even the sand trucks couldn’t make it thirty feet without sliding into the ditches. Oklahoma was immobilized, utterly unprepared for such a storm. Even now, the heat was draining away from every dwelling. He smiled, though the gnawing in his insides grew. All he had to do was wait.

On the morning of the fourth day, Mara rose from the couch beside the stove to find her pipes frozen. Though she cranked the taps, no water emerged.

“Shit,” she whispered. “Shit, shit, shit.”

She had left the cabinet doors open, and the taps trickling, but it had not mattered. She felt the cold in her bones, a chill she could not shake. Even her bottles of water were frozen; she had moved them in front of the fire to thaw. For the first time, her determination wavered. She moved across the frigid kitchen tiles to the telephone. With only a moment’s hesitation, she plucked it from its cradle and held it to her ear. Jiggling the receptors affected nothing—there was no dial tone.

“Frozen branches must’ve brought the lines down,” she said. “Well, cat. We’re really on our own now, aren’t we?”

The cat wound around her legs and meowed. She filled its bowl and grabbed a box of crackers, carrying it back to her seat before the woodstove. She could hardly bear to spend any time away from her perch for anything but essentials. Every blanket, quilt, and afghan had been brought to the couch, where they formed a makeshift nest that she tucked herself into whenever possible. Forays to the bathroom were hurried, the frigid air accosting her exposed flesh painfully. At least the toilet was still working. For now.

She pushed another log into the stove and burrowed into the blankets as she ate her crackers. The cat came to join her, curling up amidst the covers at her feet. Drinking from one of the thawed water bottles, she tried to turn her mind from her increasingly dire situation. The temperature outside had risen to five below during the night, but did not rise above zero during the day. The sun was still hidden behind the leaden clouds, and she had not seen a single vehicle on the gravel road outside her property since the storm had hit.

The temperature inside the house was eighteen.

“Don’t worry, cat,” she said. “The weather’s bound to break soon. We just have to hold on.”

The cat paused in its grooming to gaze at her. She extended her hand and patted its head tentatively. It was soft, and warm, and for some inexplicable reason, she felt a lump rise in her throat. Her grandson had begged her for a cat once, but she had rejected the idea. Only queer boys liked cats, she told him. Better to have a dog. He hadn’t wanted a dog, however, and had wept when she had not relented. The memory twisted uncomfortably in her mind.

“He was a soft child,” she muttered, withdrawing her hand from the cat and burying it beneath the blankets to warm it. “Life isn’t kind to soft people. I only wanted him to toughen up.”

The cat said nothing, but crept closer, poking its face into the blankets. She lifted them, and it crawled into a pocket beside her chest, where it curled into a ball and closed its eyes. She felt a small vibration against her ribcage as it started to purr.

“I should have let him have a cat,” she said, the vapor of her breath hanging in the air as she drifted off to sleep. “It wouldn’t have done him any harm.”

He descended upon the small acreage, dry pinions whisking through the air. He engulfed the entire area beneath his wings, salivating as he settled upon the homestead and scattering fresh ice upon the wooden steps. The woman was old, but he didn’t care about that. She looked positively delicious.

It was the last armful of wood that did it. As her foot hit the top step of the porch, it slipped out from under her and she went down, the logs tumbling around her like ninepins. She heard the crack before she felt it, the shattering bone reverberating through her body like a death-knell. The pain shot through her like lightning, leaving her gasping on the frozen boards, the air knife-like in her lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to quell the rising panic in her gut.

Don’t stay here, idiot a voice in her head urged. It sounded strangely like her own mother, shrill and demanding.

Collecting her strength, she willed herself to get onto her stomach, although she wailed as she did so. Dragging herself by the elbows, she pushed the front door open and hauled herself inside. She lay in the foyer, panting heavily and feeling the tears freeze on her cheeks before she could even chastise herself for letting them fall.

Shut the door, damn you the voice commanded. Even now the wind blowing in was enough to curdle her blood, though she was dressed in every bit of available clothing. Somehow, she was able to heave the door shut with her good leg. She flopped back onto the floor with a groan. The cat hurried over to her, meowing plaintively, and sniffed her face with its cold nose.

“I’ve really done it now, cat,” she moaned. “If only I had a damn cellphone. I could call someone for help.”

The cat sat on its haunches and meowed again.

Get to the stove before you lose your miserable life came the next order. Was it her mother? She shuddered, as though the specter of her parent might appear at any moment and see her, helpless on the floor. How could she have let this happen? She was useless, just as she had been told so many times.

Get to the stove, you lazy bitch

If only she could. It was so far away, all the way across the room.

“I’ll try,” she whispered. The piercing throb in her leg made her feel woozy and she choked back the bile that rose in her throat as she rolled over again and began to drag herself towards the sphere of warmth still radiating from the dying fire.

She made it halfway there before her arms gave out and she collapsed again.

“I can’t do it,” she whimpered.

I didn’t think so the voice said. It sounded triumphant, and dripping with derision. It was definitely her mother. Mara began to cry in earnest. The cat rubbed against her face, meowing. Did it seem to be urging her on, or was she imagining it?

“I’m sorry, cat,” she said. “It just hurts too bad.”

The cat lay down beside her as the world blinked out.

He chortled deep in his throat. His next meal was so close, he could almost taste it. He would have the cat for dessert, he thought. It wouldn’t last long either. He cast a glance upward, where the sun was breaking through the gloom.. His power was weakening, and he knew even now that the temperature was rising. Still, he had time.

Mara awoke, so cold she could not feel her extremities. The cat had crawled beneath her coat and it was only there, where it pressed against her abdomen, that she felt any warmth at all. Her leg ached deep within, and when she dared to move, the bone shrieked in protest, sending a fresh wave of nausea slicing through her. She lay back on the floor, breathing heavily. The fire in the stove had gone out, and the silence in the farmhouse was thick and ominous.

“Hang in there, Mama.”

The voice made her jump, and open her eyes once more. Kneeling beside her was a familiar form, lithe and handsome and ruddy.

“Son,” she croaked, certain now that she had passed from reason to madness. “Where did you come from?”

“Everywhere and nowhere,” he said with a small smile.

“I’m sorry I failed Andy,” she murmured, reaching out with one hand to touch his cheek. She was filled with a sudden urgency, a need to be forgiven. “I tried.”

“I know you did, mama,” he said, pressing her frozen fingers to his lips. “You did what you could. He’ll be okay.”

“I don’t understand,” Mara whispered. “Am I coming with you now?”

“Not yet,” he said. “Help is on the way. I came to tell you. Don’t give up.”

“I’ll try,” she answered, closing her eyes once more. When she opened them again, he was gone.

He heard the wail of the police siren before he saw the car. It couldn’t be, he thought. Not now, not when he was still so hungry. The wail grew louder and he saw the flashing lights, the cruiser moving carefully down the thawing road. Anger consumed him. It wasn’t fair. He snarled, fangs bared, and swept down from the rooftop. He would take her now. Now, before the cops could get to her. He didn’t care about the rules. He had to move fast.

Officer Mason stepped from the car and was joined by his partner as they navigated the slippery steps. Logs littered the porch, and the door hung open.

“Ms. Jenkins?” Mason called. “Ms. Jenkins, you okay?”

As they entered the house, Mason shuddered. The air inside was colder than he had ever felt, and filled with the smell of death. He saw a form lying crumpled on the floor, almost engulfed by an inky black cloud that looked like a vast, empty hole in the dim light. As he moved forward, the cloud seemed to take on human form, slowly rising upwards, huge and menacing.

“Hey!” Mason shouted, pulling his gun. “Freeze!”

With a shriek, a sudden gust of frigid air swept over him. He thought he felt a rasp against his cheek, and the sound of something enormous taking flight. The door slammed behind them and the room brightened. Mason turned to his partner, eyes wide.

“Did you see that?” he asked.

“I heard the wind,” his partner replied. “But I didn’t see anything. Why’d you yell like that?”

Mason holstered his gun instead of replying, and moving quickly towards the form on the floor. Kneeling, he pulled off his glove and patted the woman’s cheek. She was pale, almost white, and colder than seemed possible.

“I think she’s dead,” his partner said. Mason patted her cheek a little harder, and shook her shoulders.

“Ms. Jenkins, can you hear me?” he called, unwilling to believe they were too late.

“She’s dead,” his partner said again. “Look at her, she’s frozen solid.”

“Quiet,” Mason said, bending to put his ear to her mouth. He felt no breath, and shook his head with reluctant resignation. “Better get the coroner on the line.”

His partner pulled out his phone and pushed the buttons. Before he could speak, however, the woman on the floor gasped, and cried out in terror.

“Get away!” she screamed, eyes wide. “Get away!”

“Ms. Jenkins, it’s all right,” Mason said, smiling in relief. “I’m a police officer. Your grandson called us, asked us to check on you. Ms. Jenkins, do you understand?”

The woman’s eyes stared, and then cleared. She began to sob, reaching out for the officer. He leaned close and she clutched him to her chest.

“Thank God, thank God,” she wailed. “I thought you’d never come.”

“We wouldn’t have, if your grandson hadn’t let us know you might be in trouble,” the partner said. “You’re a very lucky woman.”

“I fell down,” she said with a grimace. “I think I broke something.”

“Ron, get the heated blanket from the car. We’ve got to get her warm. I’ll call the paramedics.”

The paramedics arrive, filling the small house with their presence and hauling the gurney into the room. As they went to lift Mara, a small noise caused them to stop.

“What the hell…” one of them exclaimed, as the woman’s coat began to move.

“It’s a cat,” said another, as he pulled the creature out with a chuckle. “Look!”

“I’ll be damned,” Mason said.

“Keeping you warm, was it?” the EMT asked, passing the cat to Mason as they settled Mara on the bed as carefully as possible. She nodded almost imperceptibly. “I’m afraid you can’t take it with you to the hospital.”

She reached out for the animal, and Mason placed it in her arms. It rubbed against her face as she pet it and kissed its head, tears still tracking down her cheeks.

“My grandson…is he here?” she whispered.

“He told us he was driving up,” the officer answered. “Now that the roads are passable. He should be here by tonight.”

“I’ll give it to him,” she said, clutching it to her chest. “From me to him. A gift.”

The gurney was carried out of the house and Mara closed her eyes against the brightness, feeling the light warm her face and dry her tears. From all around came the sound of melting ice, water running off the roof and puddling upon the muddy earth.  The trees in the yard were slowing rebounding, revitalized as they released their heavy burdens to once more stretch their freed limbs to the warm, yellow sun.