Bundle up and find a warm hiding spot before you crack open Patrick Rutigliano’s latest, Wind Chill. In terms of both atmosphere and sheer scares, this novella from Crystal Lake Publishing delivers chills of Arctic-level proportions. Rutigliano has penned an ice-cold monster story that explores family dynamics, in this case that of a mentally damaged father and his confused and bitter daughter.
Driven mad by the death of his wife just months earlier, Mr. Rawlins has drugged his daughter, Emma, and dragged her out to a remote cabin in the middle of the woods, seventeen hours from home. He’s stocked up on AR-15s, homemade pipe bombs and shotguns, readying himself and Emma for what he is sure will be the impending collapse of society.
Needless to say, Emma, an average teenager who just wants to stay out and watch R-rated movies, doesn’t appreciate her father’s behavior. In fact, she’s livid and wants to escape. But it turns out the snow and her father’s delusions are the least of her concerns, as there exists a nameless creature in the woods, something ancient, kicking up the wind outside, its arrival coinciding with a recent series of surreal and nightmarish dreams for Emma. And it just might have something to do with her dead mother.
What would you do if your parent held you captive, but they still cooked your meals and asked how you were feeling? While a menace is always looming on the periphery, much of the tension in Wind Chill comes from Emma’s strained relationship with her father. It’s not black and white; she hates him for holding her prisoner, but still feels love for him and can still see the man he once was underneath the crazy veneer. That’s some real life stuff, right there. Any son or daughter can appreciate a love-hate parental relationship, whether or not said parent has kidnapped them.
With so few characters—literally, there is Emma, her father and the “monster”—much of the book is driven forward by internal monologue, which can sometimes seem stiff. However, it does helps to break up long stretches of description.
As for the aforementioned chills, Rutigliano accomplishes both simultaneously, building dread and painting a picture of a frigid, desolate landscape with vivid description. I read this book in the dead of summer, 90-degree heat outside, and I felt buried neck-deep in snow whenever I cracked it open. I could feel the cold on my face, hear the wind whipping against the trees.
Take this passage for instance:
The wind gained strength, blowing the snow and spinning higher into the air, the cloud thickening in spots as it pulled fresh powder from the ground. A rapid succession of Rorschach images blew across the landscape.
Her eyes closed under the blasts of frigid air, ice forming on the lids while the ebb and flow of the gales gave way to one massive roar.
Packaged with Wind Chill are several short stories which explore even stranger themes. “Bang” is a fun take on rival monsters as they fight over a victim. The creation and destruction of Earth becomes a simple game in “The Destructionist.” And two stories, “The Fear Merchant” and “The Last Great Effect,” explore what real horrors can be wrought by creatives in the horror business.
Wind Chill is a quick, atmospheric read with a unique father-daughter relationship and unconventional “villain,” a fun horror story with shades of The Shining. Add in the additional tales and you’ve got a diverse book to enjoy year-round—even more so, if you find yourself stuck for months in an icy fortress.