Carol awoke to an icy chill. She shivered out impulse, forcing several puffs of white mist to escape her lips. She sat up, noting she was on the floor of the dining room– alone. The tables, the chairs, and even the entire ground she was upon was all layered with a good inch of snow. The staples of the curtains to the windows had come undone allowing the wind to enter unchallenged.
“Hello?” she called out softly.
There was no answer aside from the wind’s hollow cry, which summoned another shiver from her.
Carol jumped to her feet. Instantly, she ran behind the counter, propping open the door to the kitchen. Despite being closed, a thin layer of snow had managed to cover everything in there as well.
“Sam?!” she called out.
The kitchen wasn’t very big. She could see in-between the shelves at the center through to the other side where the sink sat on the opposite wall. The room was absent of anyone. Carol left it and ran to the stairs leading to the lobby. The entire area was still submerged in snow.
Where the hell is everyone? she thought.
She ran back to the diner and was startled to find Ruth suddenly standing near the window, looking outside nonchalantly.
“Ruth?” she said softly. “What’s going on? Where is everyone?”
She remained quiet though. Carol slowly approached, noting the snow had accumulated up to the sill on the verge of spilling inside.
“Ruth, are you okay?”
“I can’t stop dreaming of this place,” she suddenly spoke out. “It’s like it won’t let me forget.”
Carol was puzzled. “What are you talking about? Where’s your dad and the others?”
“She wants me to remember,” Ruth went on, ignoring her questions. “Though this is the strongest the dreams have ever felt.”
Carol shivered as she approached her. She couldn’t see how Ruth could stand so close to the open window without being affected by the cold front.
“Ruth, honey, let’s get you away from that window, okay?” she said, tugging on her arm. Ruth glanced at her to reveal a bluish-purple face, her lips dry and crusted. “Oh my God, you’re freezing. Get away from the window!” She quickly reeled her back from it, pressing her hand to Ruth’s face. It was like ice. “What the hell’re you doing standing out in the cold?! Where’s your father?”
Ruth gave her a puzzled look. “I’ve never shared these dreams with anyone before.”
“Honey, why do keep saying that? This isn’t a dream.”
Suddenly, a sharp snap of wood drew their attention. Carol quickly scanned the room, but it was still empty.
“What was that? Was it the others?” she asked.
Ruth shook her head. “No, it’s her.”
Carol shot her an unsettling look. “This isn’t funny anymore, Ruth.”
The same snap of wood surfaced again in response from further back in the lodge. It sounded like someone was casually splitting a bale of twigs. Carol’s heart started to pick up. She grabbed Ruth’s hand and cautiously moved towards the sound. She tried to tread softly but she couldn’t stop her shivering; her entire body was becoming numb now, even her teeth began to chatter. It felt like the very heat was being reeled from her at an alarming rate.
She paused at the corner that branched to the hallway of the lodging rooms. As she was about to turn, a soft “coo” filled the air that caused her heart to skip a beat.
“W-who’s there?” Carol forced out, feeling her lip quiver. Every strand of her hair felt erected.
There was no reply, only the same minor snapping of wood. She glanced back at Ruth whose face looked in a daze. She didn’t seem disturbed by any of this. On full pins and needles, Carol took a second to compose herself, before she peeked around the corner.
The hallway was empty, covered in the same film of snow like everything else.
An eerie feeling settled in her stomach. Her senses were telling her to run, to not pursue, but something else prompted her to continue onward.
She crept down the passage, fighting the urge to shiver uncontrollably. As she came near the first door on the left, she heard it again: the cooing. She swallowed, placing her hand on the handle. Once again, she took a deep breath, and turned it. The door gradually opened to reveal the back of a figure facing the window. Carol recoiled, ready to pull the door back until it spoke out:
“Wait,” it said softly, forcing her to halt. The voice sounded like it belonged to a young girl.
The figure was shrouded in an aura of white, vaguely obscured. Yet when it turned around, it revealed a stunning face, appearing to be a year or so younger than Ruth. Was it an angel?
Her face was flawless, with skin as pale as snow, if not whiter, accented by a kiss of red on her cheeks. Her eyes were unblinking, radiating as they cycled through random hues of blue like a kaleidoscope – her gaze alternated between her and Ruth. Long, brown locks of hair cascaded down her face like a river of chocolate falling over her bare chest. Peculiarly, her head was fitted with two small antlers.
The girl’s pink lips parted into a smile to reveal a set of ivory, jagged teeth.
“It is time,” she said softly with a voice layered as if three unseen others had spoken in unison with her. “She will wait no more for you.”
Carol was speechless. She noticed the girl was looking at Ruth, and managed to find her voice. “W-who?”
The smile widened on her. “Mother,” she said holding up a hand which released a sickening crack. “Come, Ruth.”
Instinctively, Ruth began to walk forward slowly extending her own hand. Carol immediately yanked her back. As she did, the light finally diminished from the girl’s form, allowing her to fully see the being. Her eyes fell upon the hand first and immediately her stomach tightened. This thing was far from being an angel. Her… or rather its torso was human-like – but its lower half was composed of wood as if its legs had been carved out of a tree. Sharp jagged pieces stuck out at odd angles with roots in the mix – bits of dirt clinging to a few of the edges as it became two hooves.
The skin on its shoulders formed down into a twisted knot of wood, its hands fitted with large, jagged talons for fingers. Its hand remained stretched out – the calmness still in its smile. What frightened Carol more than anything was the urge to take it regardless.
“W-what t-the h-ell are y-you?” she stammered, feeling the cold sap the last of the heat within her.
“Mother awaits her children,” it retorted, ignoring her question. “None may reject the call when chosen.”
‘Chosen’ and who was this mother? The f**k what it all meant; they needed to leave, immediately. Carol tried to move, but her legs wouldn’t respond. It was like every inch of her joints were locked-up, too numb to obey. When she glanced down, she noted her hands which were now a sickly dark-blue – she could barely feel them except for the lingering sting the chilly air had to offer.
The creature took a step forward, releasing sickening snap from its legs, sounding as if its entire body would collapse. It then took another, its face frozen in that perfect smile, its piercing eyes never once blinking still. As it drew closer, Ruth raised her hand again.
“Ruth, the hell’re you doing? Stay the f**k away from that thing!”
“None may reject the call when chosen,” Ruth repeated in a monotone voice.
Carol could feel her trying to move towards the creature.
“No, Ruth!” She tried to pull her back, but somehow, the young girl’s strength seemed to dwarf her own, slowly pulling away from her. Carol noticed the damn thing kept edging its way closer. All the while, she found it hard to peel her eyes away from its porcelain face with those eyes, ones that seemed to fuel the tundra spreading within her.
She opted to direct her focus into lifting her legs, but they were so heavy like foreign objects attached to her body. The thing grew closer. She couldn’t focus while its gaze was upon her and decided to shut her eyes. Carol poured every ounce of willpower into her legs, repeating the command to move them. For a second, she vaguely felt one move. She continued until one foot slowly dragged against the snow.
Yes, she thought, just a little bit more.
She continued to slowly drag it – it was tingling as if she had fallen asleep on it. However, she misplaced it, losing her balance, and fell to the floor. The snow powdered over her body like the rush of cold water, adding insult to her already chilled form.
Ruth had managed to stay up, still holding out her hand. Carol couldn’t let her leave with that thing. With only her arms still under her control, she mustered up all her strength to pull herself across the floor. If she could just grab Ruth’s ankle or even a piece of her clothing… In a failed effort, she was only able to reel in a handful of snow.
“Ruth, don’t! Run, dammit!” she yelled.
“None may reject the call when chosen,” Ruth repeated.
At that moment, Ruth’s earlier words dawned on Carol: she said this was a dream. Carol prayed that was truly the case – she had no other options. She closed her eyes and began speaking out loud, “Come on, Carol. Wake up! Wake. The. F**k. Up!!”
“Wake up! Come on, wake up!”
Carol’s eyes opened. She was back in the dining room except now it was dark, lit by several lanterns placed arbitrary atop tables and the floor. The snow that had covered everything was now gone, even the windows were back to being sealed off. All the furniture had been pushed up against the wall to allow the layout of blankets and pillows.
It really was a dream, she thought, feeling relief wash over her, all of it.
Carol found that she was bundled in a blanket near the wall. Even so, her mind desperately tried to convince herself she was still in that half-frozen state; she even could feel the urge to shiver out of impulse but her body didn’t feel cold.
It was just dream, she assured herself.
“Come on, Ruth. Wake up for us, darlin’!”
That voice. It was Felton’s. She glanced over to see him along with Alex near an unconscious Ruth. She was propped up against the wall being shaken by her dad, but her eyes remained shut. That’s when she noticed Ruth’s face; it was like in the dream: slightly blue with sickly purple lips.
“S**t, Sam, where the hell’s that hot towel?!” Felton yelled out, adding another blanket over her.
A second later, Sam came running out with a steaming towel. He quickly passed it off and Felton immediately began rubbing it across Ruth’s face.
“Come on, baby, wake up for us. You’re gonna be okay, you hear?”
“Felton?” Carol started. Her voice sounded so raspy. “W-what’s going on?”
To her surprise, he managed to hear her among all the commotion.
“Carol, everything’s gonna be okay, you hear? Jus’ gimme a minute to get this sorted out.”
“But—” She was about to protest when she felt it. Underneath the covers, something cold was in her hand. She slowly pulled it out and to her surprise she found a lump of melting snow in her palm.