I woke earlier than usual that morning. It was 37 degrees and my bones ached from the cold, which stung me to my very core. I rose out of my bed and went downstairs. It was still dark out. The day ahead would be grim. Weather forecasters predicted some sort of cold, slush-like rain, with the consistency of a margarita one would drink on a warm February afternoon. Already, a light mist fell.
Fear gripped the region, but across the street I watched stubborn Mr. Henderson leave for work early, just as he always had. As he left his front door, Mr. Henderson turned and kissed his crying wife. He knelt down to his children and assured them everything would be okay. He told them to be brave for their papa, and they nodded through their own fearful tears. Then Mr. Henderson turned and began to walk down the stairs to his car parked in the drive.
Mr. Henderson took one step. Then, carefully, another. But suddenly his balance failed him, his eyes widened, and he began to wobble.
“Barry no!” Mrs. Henderson shouted, her very worst nightmares coming true in front of her own eyes.
Mr. Henderson swayed and swung his arms trying to regain his balance, but it had gotten him. Not ice, there was absolutely no ice yet, for it had only rained a sixteenth of an inch and was still about 37, maybe 38 degrees out. Rather, it was Ice Fear that took Mr. Henderson’s legs out from under him. In the south, fear of ice was as deadly, if not more so, than the ice itself.
Mr. Henderson, no longer able to keep upright, tumbled down the concrete stairs, head over heels, his face smashing against step after step. Finally, his body crumbled down to the drive, now a broken pile of bones, while Mrs. Henderson wailed from the doorway.
Mr. Henderson, bloodied and broken but still alive, turned back to his wife, who began to leave the doorway to aid her husband.
“STAY,” he shouted through a bloodied, broken mouth, teeth and flesh leaving with his command.
Mr. Henderson turned and dragged himself to his car, leaving a wide trail of blood behind him. His wife and children watched in horror. He pulled himself up to the driver’s door, opened it, and lugged his half-dead body inside the vehicle. For a moment, I saw hope in Mrs. Henderson’s eyes. That hope, however, was as misplaced as it was fleeting. Mr. Henderson began backing the car down the drive, but noticing a slightly thicker moisture than usual on the back window, Mr. Henderson once again panicked. The car began to swerve and then, inexplicably, sped up. Mr. Henderson’s car slammed into a tree in front of the house and burst into flames.
“Barry! Why, God?! Whyyyyyy?!” moaned Mrs. Henderson, who, no longer able to contain herself, rushed after her husband.
But Mrs. Henderson too lost confidence on the stairs, and was consumed by the Ice Fear. Her limbs flailed and she fell much like her husband, tumbling over hard concrete, suffering multiple crippling blows before her lifeless body plopped to the bottom of the stairs like a satchel of meat.
The cries of her children echoed through the neighborhood, but were quickly drowned out by sirens. Another neighbor must have seen the tragic scene unfold as well and called 911. An ambulance sped down our street toward the accident. Upon seeing the wreck in front of him, however, the ambulance driver assumed there must have been a lot of ice, and he too panicked. The ambulance driver yanked the steering wheel left and right with all his might and the giant vehicle swerved in an attempt to avoid what might, maybe, possibly, be a little ice. He also sped up, in the hope of quickly getting past the possibly slick stretch of road.
The ambulance driver lost control just as Mr. Henderson had, and his vehicle slammed into Mr. Henderson’s car on the sidewalk, causing an even larger, second explosion. The Henderson corpses as well as the poor souls in the ambulance were all consumed in flames. It was a small comfort to me that they at least left this life in a familiar warmth as their bodies roasted in dueling car fires. The poor Henderson children though, now they were Winter’s orphans, and to the Winter they belonged. The cold was thirsty for blood. Slake its bloody thirst the cold had, and slake it would continue. The icy mist thickened.
In an attempt to keep the neighborhood roads safe from any ice that may form later, several neighbors tried using gasoline to lead the flames from the burning ambulance and car into the street. In their haste to fend off the ice with flames, three more died after inadvertently encircling themselves in fire in the middle of the street.
I left my home a short time later, scooting down my own stairs on my butt. I would take as few chances as possible today. I started my car and backed slowly out of my drive. For a moment, I could feel the Ice Fear grip me as well. I swerved slightly, but steadied my resolve, backed from my driveway safely and proceeded out of my neighborhood. The mist continued to fall. Up to an eighth of an inch, an anxious voice on the radio reported.
The local streets were already a nightmare. Some cars were piled into each other in cross lane accidents, while others had popped up on the curb. At one corner I saw a school crossing guard sitting on the ground, hugging his knees as he rocked back and forth and wept.
“I’m not going back out there. I can’t go back out there,” he mumbled to himself.
I crept my car past an overturned Goodwill truck. The stranded motorists, cold and confused, pulled the contents of the truck out and began to build a bonfire with the clothes they found. One man tossed a whole box of heavy jackets onto the fire for warmth and many huddled around it and graciously thanked the man.
Finally, I reached the highway onramp. I said a quick prayer and proceeded up it. The scene that unfolded in front of me as I climbed the ramp was one of pure horror. In the distance I saw an ever-rising mountain of wrecked cars, an impromptu, towering monument to man’s futile battle against nature that stood tall in the sky as the cold mist rained lightly down upon it. At the top, surviving but hopeless motorists threw themselves from it to their deaths below. Driver after driver slammed their cars into the mountain, unable to control their vehicles on the sort of slick road, and the mountain rose.
Three cars in front of me swerved into each other, and I snapped back to reality. I quickly merged to the left to avoid the small pile up, but suddenly five more cars in front of me collided simultaneously. I slammed on my brakes to avoid becoming a part of the wreckage. To my good fortune, my car stopped immediately. I must have been on a patch of road not quit as cold and wet as the rest of the asphalt. I looked to my left and then to my right. Traffic had stopped in all lanes. The mountain of cars stood in the distance in front of me.
Though traffic had now stopped before me, to the rear chaos raged on. Another car lost control and crashed into the back of mine. On impact, the car’s driver jettisoned from his seat, out through his windshield, and came crashing through my back window. The broken driver laid half inside my window, and half out of it, on the trunk of my car. Barely conscious, he looked up and reached a bloody arm toward me.
“So…cold,” he coughed painfully. “Kind of…slick.”
Before I could reach to pull the driver inside my car to safety, a pickup behind us cut hard to its left to avoid a puddle of slushy water, rolled and flipped high into the air, and crashed down on top of my trunk and the driver who laid on top of it. The impact instantly sent the driver’s innards shooting out of his mouth, like toothpaste that had just been stomped on. My front seat was covered in blood and guts. I screamed in terror and leapt out of the driver side door.
I ran, but was so shaken that Ice Fear gripped me with its evil clutches and I slipped and fell hard on the pavement and lost consciousness.
A short time later, I awoke to a woman kneeling over me, nursing a small cut on my head. It was now much colder, at least 36 degrees, and dropping.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“Hell,” she said distantly.
I pulled myself up and took in my surroundings. Traffic had stopped as far as the eye could see. Carnage was all around.
“You guys have got to be fucking kidding me,” a man standing next to a car with Ohio license plates exclaimed.
“You’re lucky,” the woman said to me. “Ain’t so bad here. Some folks was talkin’ about a Chick-fil-A three miles north. Said it started gettin’ that slush margarita rain while the drive-thru was crowded for the breakfast rush. Weren’t no survivors. Cars crashed through the walls. Place burned to the ground.”
For a time I simply stood and watched. I wanted to remember it all, horrible as it was, but the true terror had not yet begun.
“The whiteness descends!” screamed a terrified voice.
We all looked up and saw our certain death floating softly down toward us. The snow had come.
“Oh no here comes a little snow,” the Ohio man shouted sarcastically. “It’s gonna be like two inches, you morons. Jesus!”
Trapped on the highway with no rescue in sight, anarchy began to reign. Soon the stranded split into tribes and started warring over territories. We divided ourselves the only way we knew how: SEC football allegiances. The Auburn tribe controlled the tractor-trailer wreck up a few miles, making familiar shelters in the half burned trailers. The Alabama tribe prayed to their devil god Nick Saban and asked him to shower the wintry landscape with fiery salvation, while a small band of Mississippi State fans retreated to the darkness beneath the onramp and resorted to cannibalism way before they needed to. Their first victim was the Ohio man, an Ohio State alumnus. No one minded.
The snow lightly coated everything in sight and with it came outlandish rumors that spread through the camps, though no one knew quite what to believe. One frightened man said he saw a family being ripped to shreds by a pack of ravenous yetis. Another swore White Walkers roamed the lands beyond Car Wreck Mountain.
Twelve hours after I had driven onto the highway, and after fighting off a Mississippi State cannibal attack while making their way up the onramp, rescue workers finally reached us. The hardened firefighters took in the view and were repulsed. Several vomited at the sight. A few freezing motorists huddled around the steaming puke for warmth.
The hospitals were full, so those with minor injuries like myself were taken to nearby large public spaces to for shelter. I and many others from my stretch of highway were escorted to a movie theater a short distance away. The dismayed theater manager, himself no doubt having seen many horrors that day, tried to comfort us as best he could. We were given popcorn and hot dogs to eat, Coke to drink, and told we would be played a film to help keep our minds off the unspeakable things we had endured over the course of the day.
I gladly settled into a seat and ate my food. The warm meal was a luxury like I had never tasted before. The theater darkened and the opening credits of the film began to roll. Then, as if by some cruel twist of irony, a cartoon font faded slowly onto the screen, and a lone word simply read, “Frozen.”
Cries erupted from the packed theater and panic quickly spread. Terrified survivors of the snow, suffering flashbacks at the mere sight of the word “Frozen” moaned and screamed as they raced for the exits. A riot broke out. Dozens were trampled beneath panicked feet. The movie theater was burned to the ground, with the manager, staff, and hundreds more inside. I barely escaped. From there I walked the half mile back to my house, past the now extinguished wreckage that still held Mr. Henderson’s charred corpse, crawled into bed, and wept for the innocence we had all lost.