The sky spits snow through the crack in my window. It pricks my fingers which are curled tight over the steering wheel, but I barely notice. I squint past my little brother and look for the numbers ‘16128’ somewhere on the next house.
“Two, six, … eight?” I read. Snow has collected in the curves of the numbers. I can’t tell if that’s an eight or the rounded edge of a mailbox.
My brother displays the numbers I just said on his fingers. “Ninety-six.”
I take a puff on my Virginia Slim and hold the cherry up to the slip of paper with my stepmom’s directions scrawled across it. “Jesus, are we even on the right road?”
My brother sighs and clasps his hands over the tip of his tie.
“Help me look, Nathan. What’s the street sign say?”
He stares straight ahead through the windshield and tilts his head like he’s listening to something. Snowflakes burst when they fall on the glass. The wipers smear through them.
I bite the inside of my cheek and step on the gas until we get to an intersection. The snow catches the glow of my headlights and makes it look like we’re traveling at warp speed. I touch the brake. We slide through the stop sign, but no one’s coming.
Steam from our breath clings to the windows. I use my coat sleeve to brush it away. “Stop breathing so much.” The green road sign sways in a rush of wind. “Willow Road. This is the right one. So help me look.”
I drive on, figuring the next block is the three hundreds. “Three, four, eight,” I read over the top of Nathan’s head.
He works his fingers to the numbers again and tilts his head to the other side. “Ninety… six.” A crease puckers his forehead.
I smack him on the arm and point out the window. “Would you stop multiplying and help me look?”
He blinks. His crease deepens.
We creep forward, the tires crunching on the snow. I wonder for the millionth time what’s going on in that bizarre brain of his. And why none of these houses have lights on inside. “Three, eight, four,” I say.
“Ninety — ”
“Six.” I stare at the odometer. 9696. That’s not right. Can’t be. A chill pebbles my skin under my dress even though the heater is cranked. I flick my cigarette out and push the button to put up my window. “Nathan? What’s with ninety-six?”
His face is pale. He swallows, then shakes his head.
I stop the car at the base of a steep hill to look at him. “What’s wrong?”
He curls his fingers around the edges of his seat, gripping it tight.
I shake my head and step on the gas. The tires spin and moan over the snow. “Shit.”
Nathan lets out a trembling breath.
Dark shadows, darker than the street, glide behind the swirling snow. Coming down the hill. Lots of shadows. The sudden cold in the car scratches my throat with each quick breath.
I shift into reverse and smash the gas, but we aren’t moving. The headlight beams jab through the dark and up the hill. A row of pale faces materializes out of the shadows and drifts closer.
What the hell? I push the button to lock the doors, ram the car into drive, and sink my foot on the gas. More spinning, groaning tires.
The wipers rub through the snow, but not the faces. Another row appears behind the first. And another. They all glide closer. Their bodies aren’t right. The headlights shine through them.
I glance at the door handle, then at Nathan. Tears slide down his cheeks. He displays ninety-six on his fingers, again and again.
The rows of faces slip past my side of the car. Their eyes are black, their expressions empty. Nine rows of ten people pass by, snow blowing right through them. Ninety.
Plus four. Right in front of the car’s hood.
Nathan whimpers. “Ninety-four.”
I try not to look at the four things staring at us through the windshield and creep a trembling hand into my coat pocket for my phone. There’s no Christmas party at 16128 Willow Road. And my stepmom knows it.
No one moves. Except my fingers over 9-1-1. But I think I tap the one too many times.
Then the car doors burst open.
Ice clenches my heart until I can’t breathe.
Lindsey R. Loucks writes horror, dark comedy, and whatever else she can think up. She is currently querying her second young adult novel. Her short stories have appeared in Work Literary Magazine and Weirdyear, and will appear in future issues of The Red Asylum and Yellow Mama.