Richard Schiver is the author of eight novels, three novellas, and a collection of short stories. His most recent novel is a paranormal ghost story titled Cursed. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Maryland Writers Association.

He can be found on the web HERE


by Richard Schiver


Rosemary shifted uncomfortably in her seat and glanced at Ryan who sat hunched behind the steering wheel. They sped through the night, chasing their headlights down a winding country road that followed a mountain ridge through the hills of the Shenandoah Valley.

For dinner they stopped at a Cracker Barrel off Interstate 95. The waitress proved to be overly friendly and bantered with Ryan while Rosemary studied the menu. For some reason, jealousy flashed at the exchange between her husband of thirty-two years, and the waitress whose only crime was being sociable. After the waitress left their conversation became clipped and brief.

Back in the car, the argument escalated from icy stares and monosyllable responses to all out yelling and screaming. Distracted by Rosemary’s anger, Ryan turned the wrong way out of the parking lot. Instead of taking them back to the interstate, the road he followed took them into the middle of nowhere.

A full moon rode across the sky, partially obscured by a towering formation of black clouds that carried the promise of rain. Back-lit by the moon, the clouds bore a sinister appearance that awakened a deepening sense of dread in the pit of Rosemary’s stomach. With her emotions at a high point after their stupid argument, she felt strangely out of place.

“Why don’t you turn around and go back?” she said.

Ryan remained silent behind the wheel, focused on the road ahead. She knew he could be a stubborn old bastard when he wanted to and appeared to have decided to be just that. Rosemary settled into her seat and watched the approaching clouds as her unease grew.

Lightning illuminated their voluminous depths with a soft flash that added to the disquiet filling her soul. Not far ahead, a jagged streak of electricity pierced the clouds, arcing down in a ragged line that imprinted itself upon her retinas, and she closed her eyes as Ryan muttered to himself. Silently she counted to herself as the lightning faded, reaching “twenty Mississippi” before stopping. No rumble of distant thunder reached her, adding to her apprehension.

The lack of thunder highlighted her anxiety. The sense that something was out of place grew from a tingling at the base of her spine. It swelled to a tightening of the scalp that caused the short hairs on the nape of her neck to stand on end.

They emerged from a scattering of trees onto a flat plain. Barren fields lay on both sides of the narrow ribbon of asphalt that passed beneath the towering clouds. Ahead of them a faint wisp of smoke rose from the surface of the road before being whisked away by the wind. Rosemary suspected this was the point where the lightning struck, and the instinctive part of her psyche that had never developed beyond that of primitive mankind recoiled from the thought of passing over the same spot.

She glanced at Ryan who was still hunched over the wheel, seemingly unconcerned with what lay ahead. She wanted to reach out and pull the steering wheel from his hand; to stop their forward motion and turn them around. But it was too late. All she could do was watch helplessly as they raced towards the spot on the road. She felt somewhat better when she reached up and grabbed the handle above her head, prepared for what she felt was coming.

Ryan glanced at her with a perplexed expression. Before he could say anything, the car lurched sideways, its wheels losing traction with the road as the sound of squealing rubber filled the night. The steering wheel was yanked from his grip, spinning wildly as he cried out and pulled his hands away.

Black ice, she thought frantically as the car spun ninety degrees to the right, and the hood pointed at the field beyond the rusted barbed wire.

They continued down the road broadside, straddling both lanes, brakes screaming in protest. The world beyond her window flipped onto its side as the tires dug in and her stomach seemed to be floating as she was lifted into the air. A spray of sparks accompanied the sound of steel grinding against pavement. Glass shattered around her, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she clung to the overhead handle.

She screamed. Her head whipped to the side, rebounding from the side window. Stars exploded behind her eyelids as a spot of pain blossomed above her ear. The air bags deployed with a savage pop, white dust seemingly everywhere.

The car rolled onto its top and the seatbelt cut into her waist as her weight settled against it. She instinctively put her hands up to keep from falling, still screaming in an unintelligible voice that competed with the rumble of the roof against the pavement.

Everything happened so fast, there had been no time to react, and she shuddered at the thought of what might have happened had her instincts failed to warn her. The only thing they could do was to continue to hold on.

The car slid from the roadway into the ditch running alongside. Everything that had been on the floor, her purse, half melted candies, even a few old fries, were now on the roof of the car. She and Ryan, still strapped into their seats, hung upside down. The side of her head throbbed in time with the panicked beat of her heart.

Finally the cars stopped moving, still upside-down.

“Are you okay?” Ryan asked, his voice shaky, his anger forgotten.

“I think so.” Rosemary checked herself for injuries. The only pain was the dull ache on the side of her head from when it bounced off the window, and the discomfort of the seatbelt cutting into her lap.

Ryan held one hand against his belly. “I think I broke my wrist.”

“I told you we were going too fast.”

Ryan sighed.

Rosemary undid her seat belt and slid from her seat down to the roof of the car now serving as the floor. Ryan followed her lead and they wiggled free of the overturned car to the outside night.

A harsh wind whistled across barren fields as Rosemary and Ryan emerged from their capsized vehicle. The towering mass of black clouds was directly above them, completely obscuring the face of the moon, casting them in its shadow that stained the ground like a malignant sore pulsing with the bleak specter of a living nightmare. Cradling his injured wrist, Ryan gazed across the outside of the car at the passenger’s side, where the front wheel was lying, somehow completely detached from the car.

He exclaimed, “Holy shit, what happened to the front wheel?”

Rosemary’s unease burrowed even deeper. One third of the wheel was gone, along with the rim, and a large portion of the components that made up the brakes and axle. Brake fluid dripped into the wheel well.

The parts had not been worn off from contact with the road surface, as would be the case had the tire exploded. The missing section had been cleanly severed with near surgical precision; the tire still maintained its original shape as if there were still air in it. The edges of the metal parts glowed a dull red and Rosemary reached out to feel for the missing parts, the heat from the metal warming her chilled flesh.

“Don’t touch it.” Ryan stepped around to get a closer look at the damage. She drew her hand back and returned it to the pocket of her thin coat.

“I’m really cold,” Rosemary said.

Without a word, Ryan turned and walked to the edge of the road. Rosemary hurried to keep up, while still keeping an eye on the clouds above. She was confident the lightning she had seen had something to do with what happened, but she couldn’t explain the feeling with any degree of confidence. On a primitive level it felt like the clouds above were watching them as if they were detached sentient beings observing the activity of insects.

“What are you looking for?” She reached Ryan's side as he scanned the road in the direction they had come. A long white scar glowed in the night from where metal met pavement, a glittering trail of glass next to it.

Ryan looked from the car to the scarred pavement, and back again before moving down the road. “Dunno yet, but I’ll know when I find it.”

She glanced at the sky above and spotted an opening in the center of the approaching clouds. A shaft of moonlight poured through, painting the ground with an effervescent light that slowly approached the spot where they stood.

Ryan’s cry drew her attention and she spotted him sitting on the pavement at the end of the white scar.

How did he get there so fast? Why is he sitting down? she wondered.

She trotted down the road, her slippers slapping the pavement, slowing when she got close. Ryan sat at the edge of what looked like a small pool of water with both of his legs, from the knees down, hidden beneath the surface.

That’s not possible! She knelt beside him, the scent of his aftershaves battling the rank odor of fear rolling off of him in waves. “What happened?”

“I was just walking. There seems to be ice covering water here, and fell through. I can’t get up.”

It’s all my fault, she realized: the argument, the accident. If she hadn’t of been so worried about Ryan and the waitress, none of this would have happened. They’d been together for more than thirty years, and she suspected there might have been a time or two when he was not entirely faithful.

Yet no evidence ever came to light to confirm her suspicions. Outwardly he led the life of a contentedly married man who at times doted on his wife, but she knew he had secrets. Everyone had secrets, including herself.

She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his chest. “Let me help you.” She pulled back, the muscles in her back straining with the exertion, her legs shaking with her effort. The upper portion of his body moved in response, but his legs refused to budge, and he cried out as she struggled to pull him free.

“It’s so cold, I can’t feel my feet.” His voice sounded odd, because his teeth were chattering.

Rosemary leaned over to gaze into that silent pool. She suspected this was the spot the lightning struck. Behind Ryan, in the direction of their car, the pavement was gouged out by the impact of the severed wheel. She glanced at the clouds above. More imaginative than her husband, she understood there were some things you did not interfere with. They had stumbled upon something here and she doubted either of them would be able to walk away unchanged. Based on how well Ryan was stuck in that pool of black ice, she suspected he might not be walking away at all.

The thought chilled her to the bone, a chill heightened by the relentless wind whistling across this barren ridge. She pulled her thin coat tighter around her body, trying to find some warmth in this desolate place.

There had to be a way to get him out. She could not give up. He was her husband, her friend, the father of their three children. You did not abandon your spouse because he exchanged smiles with a woman half your age. You did not walk away when he needed you the most.

Moonlight danced on the surface of the ice, and behind the reflection she could make out starlight sparkling against an ebony sky. She glanced up at the moon, realizing when she did that the stars behind the moon bore no semblance to those she’d seen reflected from the surface of the ice.

It was then she understood that the stars on the pool of water were not a reflection at all. The ice was like a window to another place and the stars were not a mirror image, but points of light in a sky that existed on the other side of the black ice.

A shadow moved across the surface of the black ice and it was pushed up from the other side. A circular object appeared, nubs sprouted across its surface, slowly materializing into sharp points as it gradually emerged from the ice. The ice seemed to flow away from the points like slow moving water to reveal what looked like a small rusty ball covered in sharp spikes, each measuring about three inches in length. The tip of each spike glowed a dull red.

Ryan moaned as he struggled to pull away from the spiked ball that appeared where his ankles should be.

Hissing came from the ball and Ryan whimpered as it slowly unwound, opening itself to reveal a multitude of short legs beneath a narrow body ending in a snout filled with needle-like teeth. A red eye glowed on each side of the snout. With a metallic hiss similar to the squeal of metal against pavement, the thing lifted itself out of the icy pond. It fled across the surface of the black ice to the side of the road where it vanished into the brush.

“What the hell was that?” Ryan said. Rosemary could barely understand him now because he seemed to be violently shaking from the cold.

Reality slipped sideways as the circle of moonlight enveloped them. An inkling of an idea began to form as she looked up, her shadow long at her feet. The idea was not fully formed, with nothing concrete she could put her finger on. But she felt it would explain everything that was happening.

The moon was framed by banks of thick black clouds illuminated from within by flickering flashes of lightning. Partially obscured by the moon’s halo, the stars glittered with a hard light against the emptiness of a black sky. There was something off about them, it was no one thing she could put her finger on, but she felt they were not where they belonged.

Reality slipped again and Ryan’s cry of pain drew her attention to that circle of roadway that held him captive. It looked as if he’d sunken a few more inches while she was distracted.

“There’s something else in here, it brushed against my leg!” The panic in his voice stopped her. She felt like she was in a dream, unable to move, locked in place by a deepening sense of dread. With it came understanding as her earlier incomplete thought flipped a few circuits to complete it.

That which was devouring Ryan was not a patch of ice at all, but a passageway, a nexus, a meeting place between two worlds that were remarkably alike.

Was there another Rosemary? An anti-Rosemary who inhabited that other world and was even now uselessly trying to save her husband, an anti-Ryan who had been foolish enough to fall into a patch of black ice that wasn’t what it appeared?

“Help me,” Ryan whimpered as he pushed himself back with one hand, the other close to his chest. The surface of the black ice rose in response to his struggles, following him briefly before pulling him back. With each attempt he sank deeper into that sparkling night-puddle of water.

“Help me, dammit!” Rage replaced the fear in his voice, spurring her to action. She wrapped her hands around the bicep of his arm, interlaced her fingers and leaned back with everything she had. Her back screamed in protest, her thighs burning, unaccustomed to such exertion. Her feet slid over the roadway.

It was no use.

His teeth chattered even more. “It’s so cold.” His flesh had taken on a gray hue, his lips blue.

He cried out as another inch of his body slipped through into a place that existed beyond reason. His hips vanished beneath the surface, and he struggled to keep his balance, reaching with his uninjured arm as his upper body rocked back and forth. His hand strayed too close to the surface, becoming trapped in the morass, and he tried to pull it away. A blob of whatever this puddle was wrapped around his hand as he lifted it, stretching out like rubber bands connecting the two.

It reminded her of taffy being worked on the spinning arms of the machine in the window of the candy store on the Ocean City boardwalk. She and Ryan, along with their three children had spent a week there ten years earlier. She wished she could be there now, where it was warn, and the only thing they had to worry about was getting a sunburn and eating too much.

He reached for her with his injured hand, but she remained rooted in place. Something in his eyes stopped her. Behind the panic lay the rage of the knowledge he was doomed; smoldering with the promise if she got too close, he’d grab hold and never let go—dragging her with him to their deaths.

She recalled a lecture from her freshman year in college about how nature abhorred a vacuum, and how a certain balance had to be maintained at all times. It explained why the strange creature had come across, to replace the missing components of the wheel that fell through as they passed over it. His other hand became trapped, and he struggled as the surface reached his chest. He looked from her to the patch of ice that was slowly devouring him, and back again.

She wished he would quit looking at her. Though she tried to look away, she found she couldn’t.

Terror burned in his eyes. “Please,” he pleaded.

She’d never seen him so weak. He’d always been her rock, her shoulder to lean on. She didn’t know what to do and it broke her heart. She didn’t have the strength to pull him free, and even if she could, what was to keep her from falling in?

The surface reached his shoulders and his head tilted to one side. The flesh of one cheek came into contact with the surface. A sound like someone slurping a cup of hot coffee came as his flesh was stretched out, trapped in the black ice as he struggled to turn his head away.

His eyes pleaded for help but there was no one to call. Nothing she could do but watch as her husband was slowly devoured.

The light from the full moon encompassed him, glittering on the surface of the black ice, illuminating his terror as he was pulled into that other place. His remaining eye watched her with insane shock. It too vanished and she remained transfixed by the horror unfolding before her. His head slipped beneath the surface, vanishing with an audible pop that sent a chill along her spine.


She was alone. Cold wind whistled through her hair. The light of the full moon moved on as the towering clouds continued their journey. She was only dimly aware of headlights filling the night around her. She heard the sound of a motor idling somewhere ahead. The silhouette of a man passed through the light, his shadow long on the ground.

“Are you all right, Ma’am?” A man's voice came to her.

At the edge of the light given off by the headlights, she became aware of movement. Something slithering along the ground, growing from that circle in the road.

Nature abhorred a vacuum. Balance had to be maintained. When an object moved from one place to another, something had to fill the void it created. Like a birth replaces a death. Something had come across in exchange for Ryan. What it was she didn't know and didn’t really care. All that mattered now was getting away, and she turned to flee as more slender shadows joined the first.

“Hey, where are you going? I’m not gonna hurt you,” the man shouted after her.

She was thirty yards away when the man screamed out in agony.

She didn’t slow down, nor did she look back. She didn’t need to see it to know that whatever had come across would not be good for any of them.