ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

Halfway across the open land on our way toward the next clump of pines that stood like skinny sentinels in the darkness, black patches against the snowy hills, we found that the snowshoes had not been instruments of over-caution. The field dropped ten feet within three yards, forming a breaking point for drift winds, and the rest of the broad flatlands, clear to the woods, was buried in a good six feet of snow. We treaded carefully despite the fact that the crust seemed everywhere thick enough to support us. We stayed ten feet apart to distribute our weight and help prevent too great a strain on the crisp outer layer of the drift. I felt like a stunt man trying to prove he could walk on softboiled eggs without disaster. A hundred yards from the trees, I felt the crust cracking under me, slowly but relentlessly. Then I heard it: painful whining and a low, dull moan.

I panicked, was about to run to avoid disaster, and remembered that would not help the situation at all. No running. Walk as if you were that damn fool stunt-man on the softboiled eggs. But by the time I remembered, I had convulsively leaped a single step to escape the weak area, smashed through the crust with all the force of my 160 pounds, and fell through snow over my head.

When I was a kid, the other kids used to call me Bucket Feet Kennelmen.

Now I knew why.

I flailed, trying to beat away the endless slide of white powder that covered my face, creeping coldly up my nostrils, came close to suffocating, and broke through so that I was looking up the hole I had made at the dense night clouds and the ever-faster fall of snow. I stood very still, afraid to move lest the loose snow beneath the crust and on all sides of the shaft come down on top of me, making my position that much more impossible. It seemed like slightly over six months, but it was no more than a minute or two before His face appeared and He came to the rim of the broken crust, cautious not to get too close, but leaning out towards me.

“Don’t you fall in too,” I warned. “Any ideas on getting me out of here?”

“I’ll dig a sloping path into you and pack the snow as I come,” He said. “It’s the only way. I can’t pull you out. That would break the crust here and bring me down with you.”

“What are you going to dig with?” I asked. “We haven’t any shovels or tools.”

“Wait,” He said.

The wind howled above. A gust of it blew a film of snow over my face.

He removed His gloves and stripped off the insulated jacket and undershirt beneath. His chest and shoulders and arms bulged and rippled with fantastic muscle development. These were muscles the size of those you can get lifting weights every day until you drop, but they were not blocky like weight-lifting muscles; they were leaner, giving hint to a usefulness that a muscle-bound exerciser can never know. The cold should have had Him huddled and trembling, but He didn’t even seem to notice it. He was the supreme study in detachment, in nonchalance. The snow fluttered down and struck His bare shoulders and chest, melted and ran off Him in cold streams of glistening water.

He held His hands out before Him as if doing a stretching exercise, held His fingers close together, closed His eyes and stood solid as a great pine, unmoved even when the wind suddenly picked up and began howling again. I could see very little in the dim light, but I could make out that some transformation was taking place in His hands. When He finally opened His eyes and set to work making a sloping path into me, I saw that the transformation was startling. The fingers had fused together so that the hands were flat scoops. The palms had broadened and lengthened until they were as large as the blade of a spade. He turned and walked out of sight to begin work. Working quickly, He removed the crust from the snow twenty-five feet away and began angling toward me, packing the snow in steps. Two hours later, after a second minor cave-in that required Him to reclear an area of His path, we were both on top of the drift, suited again, and headed toward the woods at the end of the field.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean