Originally published in Grievous Angel, March 2018
Paul Avery, one of two graduate students in the University of Chicago’s prestigious art history department whose whereabouts could be confirmed, stayed inside the luxe three-story brick house on Cornell Drive longer than he’d planned. The former owners were likely dead in the basement, judging by the smell and the door nailed shut from both the outside and the inside. Paul tried for a moment to imagine the scenario that had led to that outcome, but then he noticed that the owners had been art collectors. He wandered through the house disdaining the second-rate Impressionists that predominated. One painting over one of the five bedroom fireplaces caught Paul’s eye. It turned out to be by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, a Portuguese painter whose reputation might have grown to rival that of Picasso had he not died in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Paul sat on an Empire chaise to admire the painting, pretending for a moment that he still lived in a world where it was not ridiculous to sit and admire paintings.
By the time he roused himself to search the house (in vain) for supplies and food, it was evening. The clouds that had been gathering over Lake Michigan had rolled over Hyde Park and were dumping the year’s first snow onto the deserted streets. He stepped out onto the porch and glanced around, wondering why this looked so different than previous first snowfalls.
The street should have been suffused with an orange glow as the snowflakes caught the light from the sodium lamps, but a lot of things were not as they should be. “No streetlights,” he murmured. He smiled for a moment, and then pulled his backpack off to retrieve his flashlight from it. Three vaguely human forms lurched out of the shifting shadows and pulled him off the porch, tearing at his throat and eyes with their teeth and fingernails.
His fellow survivors learned a lesson from his death, but only after two more people died looking for him: it was safer to assume that anyone who failed to return from a foraging trip had in fact been devoured. They could of course be forgiven for assuming so; although it was impossible to confirm definitively that Paul had been eaten, there were witnesses to the deaths of the two putative rescuers. Not eyewitnesses, of course. Others were close enough to hear the screams, and the next day we could follow the blood and the tracks in the snow. But right then, the moonless night and thick snowfall made it impossible to see anything.