The Masters Review Blog

May 19

New Voices: “White Out” by Caitlin O’Neil

Congratulations to Caitlin O’Neil and her haunting story, “White Out,” the second-place winner of our Winter Short Story Award. In “White Out,” New England is under feet of snow, which has separated families and loved ones from the rest of the country. The affected area worsens, enters a state of emergency, and becomes a military state. This story follows a woman struggling with the physical and emotional elements of survival as she contemplates what is at stake — and what it will take — to reunite with her son and husband. Enjoy this creepy and compelling tale.

“There was something familiar about her solitude, something that felt like a correction.”

The snow had started the way it always did, quiet and perfect in the night. Three weeks later, it still hadn’t stopped. It wasn’t much, just an inch or two a day. But it was adding up. The governor had closed the roads so the big trucks could come through with supplies, but Tess snuck out for more firewood.

When she saw him—walking like a man but so clearly a boy—she powered down the window.

“Get in!” she shouted.

He shook his head. “You shouldn’t be out here.”

“It’s cold. You can warm up at least.”

She drove alongside him for a few minutes, watching his breath cotton over his face. The hood, drab green and threadbare, masked all but his profile. Work boots, jeans, Jansport backpack. This was not a well-planned trip.

The radio played Pet Shop Boys; the news was getting creepy, but then so was everything. Finally he stopped. She hit the break.

Once inside, he pulled down his hood and pressed his hands to the heating vents. His finger hit the scan button.

“Not a new wave fan?”

“Not Brit-pop. Blondie’s okay, but I’m more into punk.”

He kept his eyes on the road. They were sliding a bit, bouncing against the snow banks, but it was okay. They were the only ones out. It was a very compliant citizenry.

“Where to?”

“You know that D&D by the highway?”

“On 24?”

“Yeah, there.”

“What’s there? Besides coffee.”

“They don’t serve coffee anymore.”

“No?”

“The trucks aren’t due until Thursday.”

“So?”

“A buddy of mine is coming down from Worcester. He’s giving me a ride.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere. I just need to get the fuck out of here.”

The radio was playing Portuguese Fado now, thrumming guitar and wailing voices that sounded celebratory. Tess smiled and nodded. Everything seemed okay again since she’d started taking David’s pills. She hadn’t counted on feeling quite so wonderful.

“Won’t someone be missing you?” She thought of David and Daniel stuck in Florida. The airports had been closed for two weeks.

“My sister kicked me out.”

“Parents?”

“Not in my world.”

He turned and she saw the acne sprinkled across his cheeks, the dark brown of his eyes that made his pupils come and go. The roads he was asking her to travel would surely be patrolled, but when the turn came, she took it. He was in her world now.

When they reached the patrol cars, she made up a story about insulin and blood sugar and they got an escort to the D&D where the boy—his name was Dev—got the last chocolate crueller in Massachusetts.

Dev nodded at the door. “You can go.”

“When’s your friend coming?”

He glanced at his phone. “He’s almost here.”

“Where are you headed?”

“He’s got a cousin in Jersey.”

There were two makeshift resettlement camps they were allowed into, one in Connecticut, one in Jersey.

“I’ll wait until he gets here.”

“It’ll be dark soon.” Bad things were happening at night.

“At least let me call you. Then you’ll have my number.”

He recited, she typed, his phone buzzed.

“Good luck,” she said.

Then, unthinking, she ruffled his hair the way she did Daniel’s, her hand surprised by prickles of stubble and the warm skin beneath. She’d taken for granted all the times each day that Daniel grabbed her, how often Dave cupped her shoulder or hip. Touch was a hunger now. She was all hunger these days.

The boy shook her hand off like happy retriever and smiled. “Good riddance, Massachusetts.”

She left, the twinge of jealousy in her stomach staunched by the bright edge of drug in her blood. Oh, how she had needed it.

<<  Read the rest of “White Out” here  >>

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