“You alright, Carol?” Felton asked. “You’ve been quiet all morning.”
She was huddled under her blanket in a corner staring off into space.
“Huh?” she replied, coming to.
Felton chuckled. “I asked if everything was alright with you?”
She blinked for a second, staring over to Ruth, who was bundled up tightly nearby. The color had returned to her face, her chest rising and falling in a calm rhythm. Felton noted this and glanced over to her.
“She’s doing fine now,” he brought up. “She’s had episodes like that for years. This was prolly the worst I’ve seen it though.”
“Episodes? She was blue, Felton. That can’t be normal?”
“You’re right, it ain’t. It’s called: Raynaud’s Disease. Makes the unlucky victim exhibit frostbite-like symptoms, usually to cold or stress. With Ruthy, it’s a bit more extreme than usual – off and on at odd intervals. It’s a good thing you woke me though.”
Carol blinked. “I woke you up?”
It was Felton’s turn to give her an odd look. “You don’t recall screaming Ruth’s name in the middle of the doggone night? Nearly made us all soil our draws,” he replied with a chuckle. “You woke me up and when I heard what you said, I glanced over at ‘er, and that’s when we found ‘er like that – cold as ice.”
Carol glanced over to her and swallowed. The thought of the dream surfaced. It was more like a nightmare, and yet, it felt so real. She thought of the snow in her hand. How was that possible? Then there was that thing…
“And then what?” she managed to ask.
“Well, you were still asleep apparently. ‘Bout a minute later, I looked over and you were awake. Look, Ruth’s gonna be fine. Is that what’s got you so quiet lately?”
Carol bit her lip.
“What’s wrong?” Felton asked, noting her puzzled look.
“Hey Felton, I got the sheriff on the line!” Sam announced. “I got a hit!”
Sam was propped up on a chair, phone-in-lap near the wall. Everyone made their way over to him.
“You got in a touch?” Alex asked with a genuine smile. “Nice goin’, old man.”
“’Bout time, we get some good news flowin’,” Felton chimed-in.
Sam held up a hand for silence as he listened in on the phone. “Yes, sir,” he said to it, “I can hear ya, but yer breakin’ up a little. Yeah, we’re doing fine. There’s uh… five of us in total.”
Felton could vaguely hear the voice on the other end.
“We’re managing so far, but our generator gave out yesterday,” Sam explained. “That’s correct. Yeah, the cars are no good either. No, sir. Yes, sir.”
“Ask him when they’re coming,” Alex suggested.
Sam gave him a glare and held the phone closer to his ear.
“What’s that? Sorry, Sheriff, yer gonna have to speak up – how long are ya –?”
Immediately, the color seemed to drain from Sam’s face. This seemed to add another level of anxiety to Alex, who demanded the phone be handed over to him. However, the line seemed to go dead as the old man made multiple attempts to confirm the information.
“So, what’d he say? Spill it!” Alex snapped.
Sam swallowed a bit, letting the phone slip from his hand.
“Come on, Sam, I can’t take the suspense anymore,” Carol added.
“Sheriff said,” he started, “the avalanche’s got the whole south-end covered in at least twenty-feet of snow. They’re having trouble clearin’ it let alone traversin’. In fact, he said the terrain’s been givin’ ‘em issues and what not – vehicles stallin’ and somethin’ about areas they already cleared, appearin’ as if they hadn’t touched it after a break. It hasn’t been snowin’ like that. He said he’s never seen anything like it before.”
A puzzled look circulated around the group as he explained this.
“How long did he say until they get to us?” Felton asked.
“They said, given all the mishaps, a week, at least.”
“A f*****g week?” Alex repeated. “Are you shitting me? What kind of cops you got running this area?!”
“Calm down,” Felton replied. “He said the snow’s been givin’ ‘em trouble.”
“That don’t give ‘em any excuse. Like I said to the old man: this is y’all’s mountain, why aren’t you equipped to handle it?”
Sam glared at him again. “Watch it, sonny. Like I said: Misty Pass don’t get no avalanches!”
“So, what do we do then?” Carol asked.
Felton gave off a sheepish smile. “I guess all we can do is hold down the fort: we ration what we got, keep our minds in tack for each other’s sake… and wait it out until they come.”
“You think that’s a good idea?” she asked.
“What exactly are you suggestin’ we do otherwise?”
“Well, for starters, how about we just make our way down,” she continued, “and meet the rescue team halfway instead sitting here on our thumbs.”
“Ya think that’s smart, missy?” Sam asked. “Even after everything ya heard?”
“Hold up,” Alex chimed-in, “Lady, you wanna go out in this freak weather?”
“I’m just tryin’ to consider all our options,” Carol replied.
“Yeah? Well, it’s a bad option. Period. I ain’t going out in that f*****g tundra unless it’s on the back of a rescue chopper.”
Sam sighed. “Can’t believe I’m sayin’ this, but, ma’am, I have to agree with the suit on this one.”
“Thank you, old man,” Alex retorted, “Wisdom does reside in the elderly.”
“I’m with the two on this one, Carol. It’s too dangerous to consider.”
“Felton, what if it takes longer than a week? Or what if we run low on food before they get here. You really wanna take that chance?”
“True, but what if it doesn’t. There’s dangers with going out in this kind of weather, especially after an avalanche. Horrible things can happen out there, Carol… That’s not even includin’ the time it’ll take down move the mountain. And what if they’re not even there when we get to the bottom? I don’t wanna risk anybody’s safety if we don’t have to.”
“Yeah,” Alex annoying added, “plus, Blue Missy over there is still out cold. Don’t think it’ll be smart moving her in this after last night.”
Carol scowled at him. Boy, did she want to crack him across his jaw. Luckily, Ruth started to moan as she came to, drawing everyone’s attention.
“Felton, Carol – I say we at least wait the week out,” Sam suggested. “If we don’t hear anything by then, maybe we reconsider the option. How’s that sound?”
The two pondered the idea and then nodded. Sam returned one. Felton crouched next to Ruth as she sat up. Her eyes were red and glossy.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said softly. “How are you feelin’, baby-girl?”
“H-how,” she started with a raspy voice, “how long have I been out?”
Felton smiled. “Jus’ the night and most of the mornin’. Almost thought you’d sleep the day away.”
Sam appeared with a cup of hot cocoa.
“Here ya go, missy,” he said extending it to her. “Thought this would brighten yer spirits.”
Joy wash over her face as she took it, thanking Sam, and choked down several gulps.
“Now, ya sure yer alright, sweetie?” Sam continued. “Ya gave us quite a scare last night.”
Like a switch, the dread returned to her face. “W-wha…”
Felton sighed. “Last night, you had another episode but worse than I’ve seen on you. We found you bluer than the sky in the summer and cold as ice. Hell, we couldn’t even get you to respond when we tried to wake you.”
Ruth held the cocoa closer in silence.
“By the grace of God, Carol sensed somethin’ was up and hollered your name, which prompted us to respond when we did.” As he explained this, the two locked eyes again. “I don’t know what would’ve happened if she hadn’t. My question is: did you go outside at any point? Cause it seemed like we were all bundled up pretty good in here.”
Ruth didn’t respond. Felton realized her eyes were still locked on Carol’s.
“Ruth?” he repeated.
“I’m fine!” she suddenly blurted, which startled everyone. She quickly stood up, spilling some of the cocoa as she set it down. “Look,” she said softly, “I’m sorry, Dad. I… I don’t know what happened. It was probably… just a draft or something. Thank you, for being there, but I really would like to be alone right now, okay?”
Felton grudgingly nodded as she made her way to the hallway at the end.
“Somethin’s certainly got her shaken up,” Sam noted.
Carol immediately followed her. “Ruth?!” she called out, halting her from entering the bathroom.
“I just want to be left alone right now, Carol,” she stated without turning around.
“I – You know what I want to ask you, don’t you?”
Ruth turned around sharply. “Please don’t, I-I don’t want to talk about it.”
Carol quickly closed the gap between them. “So, I wasn’t just seeing things then. That really was you in my dream.”
“Carol, I don’t…”
“Ruth, I need you to tell me what the hell all that was? I can’t even begin to explain the level of scared shitless I am right now. I don’t even know what was real and what wasn’t. Then there was the incident with you last night… You need to explain before I lose my mind.”
Tears began to fill Ruth’s eyes.
“Ruth, please,” Carol begged.
She sighed. “Look, you’re better off if you don’t get involved, okay? I would rather you just forget it. Can we just leave it at that?”
Carol was dumbfounded. How could she just pretend as if what they had experienced hadn’t happened? How could anyone forget? Yet, she couldn’t find the words or the strength to relay that. With the silence, Ruth proceeded to the bathroom door, opening it. Immediately, their eyes widened at what they settled upon on the other side: it was the girl – that creature – standing there with its hands stretched out. She smiled and in a ghastly voice, spoke out: “Ma-ga!”
Carol shrieked and quickly slammed the door on it.
Instantly, the others came racing around the corner.
“What?!” Felton asked half out of breath. “What’s wrong?! Who screamed?! Ruthy, are you okay?”
Carol ran up to him. “Felton, we need to leave! We need to f****n’ leave now!”
“W-wha – Tell me what happened?” he questioned with a puzzled look.
“Can we just leave, please?” she begged.
“Carol, calm down, and tell me what’s going on?”
Again, she couldn’t find the right words though and simply backed away into the wall. Felton looked over to Ruth, who was completely red-faced, huddled into a corner crying hysterically.
“Ruth, what’s wrong?” he asked.
She fumbled on her words in-between tears.
“For God’s sake, speak-up, Ruthy!” Sam demanded.
All she could do was point in the direction of the bathroom. Immediately, everybody glanced at the shut door. The air was pin-needle silent; all eyes pressed on it as if waiting for something to come bursting through. Yet, no motion occurred beyond it. Finally, Felton broke the trance and decided to do the honors.
“Dad, don’t…” Ruth said from her spot.
He held up a finger to her to signal silence. As he crept towards it, the others watched anxiously like a family of deer in headlights. Felton’s heart was pounding like a jackhammer in his ears as his hand settled on the handle. After a deep exhale, he slowly opened the door, and peeked around the edge. He flinched at what he found.
Inside leaning up against the wall was a tall bundle of twigs much like the ones he found under Carol’s truck. However, unlike those, these were fully intact, and strangely, they were fastened to form the shape of a person.
“What the hell is that?” Alex inquired. “Is that what all the hollering is about? Another f*****g tree?”
“What the f**k?” Carol said, her hands running through her hair. “No, that is not we saw, there was something in there!” she shouted in a tear-streaked, reddened face, “I know what the f**k I saw!”
“Carol, please,” Felton stated, attempting to approach her, but she swatted his hands a way.
“No, No! Don’t, Felton! Just Don’t! I’m not f****n’ crazy!”
“Nobody’s callin’ you crazy,” he assured.
“Speak for yourself!” Alex shot.
Felton quickly tossed him a glare. “Lay-off ‘er.”
“I know what I saw. Ruth saw it too, didn’t you?”
They all glanced over to Ruth who was silent in the back, eyes still pressed upon the bundle leaning in the bathroom.
“Ruth?” Felton said softly. “Is that true?”
Her eyes carried over to her father’s, then to everyone else’s until they settled on Carol’s – they were glossy and reddened, pleading for support.
“I…” she started, “I don’t know what I saw.”
Carol shook her head in disbelief. “What… What do you mean? How could you miss it? Tell them, Ruth!”
“Tell them the dream… about the girl, what you saw… what we saw.”
“What dream?” Felton asked.
“Ruth…?” Carol pleaded.
“She’s lost it,” Alex stated.
“F**k you!” Carol shot at him.
“Hey!” Felton snapped at Alex. “Carol, just tell us what you mean?”
Ruth’s struggled to say anything, but eventually opted to be silent.
Betrayal etched across Carol’s face. “Felton, Ruth and I… I don’t know how to explain it,” she began. “We had this… this dream. It was strange but somehow, we were sharing it.”
Alex rolled his eyes.
“And in it,” Carol continued, “there was this… thing… I don’t know what. It wasn’t just a dream though. Whatever was in it, we saw here. It was in that bathroom.”
“You mean the tree?” Alex mocked.
“It wasn’t a f****n’ tree, a*****e!” she shot.
“Oh really? Looks like one to me!”
“Hey!” Felton barked, snapping his fingers. “Enough, both of you!”
“Come on!” Alex retorted, “First, blondie over here, ruins my car and gets us all trapped here. Now, she’s crying wolf trying to drag your daughter into it… I bet just so we can leave this place, and you’re okay with it?”
“F**k you, you son-of-a-b***h!” Carol snapped. She quickly cracked him across his nose.
“You b***h!” Alex yelled, gripping it as blood gushed out.
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Felton roared, yanking her away effortlessly like a doll.
His voice shook everyone, prompting instant silence. He glanced over to Alex.
“I think you should leave.”
He scoffed, checking his nose again. As he turned to leave, he gestured the “cuckoo sign” to Carol, who responded by tossing up the bird. Once he was gone, Felton turned his attention back to the two.
“So, is anyone gonna tell me how the hell that thing got in here?” he said, gesturing to the bathroom.
“Dad… maybe Carol is right. Maybe we need to leave.”
“Ruthy, I am not gonna entertain that thought at this moment. Right now, I wanna know why there’s a damn ‘scarecrow’ in the bathroom? If this is your idea of joke… it ain’t funny. Everybody’s already on edge and the last thing we need are tasteless pranks to set us off on each other.”
“You’re not listening, Felton,” Carol chimed-in, “We need to leave. There’s something here….”
“No,” Felton replied, gritting his teeth, “it’s too dangerous.”
“Dad,” Ruth continued, “we could lead everyone down. You and I know more about this mountain than any of them.”
“I said no.”
“Hell, I haven’t forgotten what you taught me. If you want, I could lead them myself—”
“And risk losin’ someone out there with you again? I said, no, Ruth!” he snapped. He instantly regretted his words. Ruth’s face grew bright red, tears streaming down it. “Ruth, I didn’t mean…”
“I knew it. I f****n’ knew it,” she stated softly, “You do blame me.”
Before he had time to say another word, she bolted off. Confused, Carol glanced over to Sam who shook his head solemnly.
“Felton…?” Sam started.
“No…” he interrupted, “not right now, Sam.”
“Listen you, two. I need a minute alone. Please.”
“Take all the time ya need,” Sam said, leaving.
Carol glanced at Felton. She wanted to apologize, but opted not to and followed Sam. When she reached the diner, Sam disappeared inside the kitchen. She could hear Ruth’s soft cries nearby. She followed them to find her sitting at the foot of the stairs. She was playing with the snow in her hand, before tossing a ball of it across the lobby into the wall.
“That was a real s****y thing you did back there,” Carol remarked. “You made me look like a nut.”
“F**k off,” Ruth shot back, wiping her eyes. “I told you to just drop it.”
“Yeah, well I wanted answers, Ruth. After all, it’s not normal when Satan’s f*****g daughter appears in board daylight. So, excuse the f**k out of me if I wanted to bring it up.”
“Yeah, well, it’s none of your f****n’ business anyway.”
“It is when I get dragged into it!”
Ruth kept her eyes forward. “Are you finished?”
Carol gritted. She was ready to wring the little brat’s neck. She decided it was best for her to leave when a thought crossed her mind. “In the dream, you mentioned it wasn’t the first time it happened?”
“Yeah, what of it?”
“How many times has it been?”
Ruth didn’t answer.
“You don’t have to do this alone, you know? If you just open-up to me maybe I can help.”
“You don’t what you’re talking about. If you knew… if you really knew, you wouldn’t want to get involved. I can handle it by myself.”
“Really…?” Carol was stunned. “I swear to God, you’re the most stubborn, foul-mout—heh—You’re a tough little brat, I’ll give you that. Wish I could say the same for myself.” She winced as the pain from the earlier punch was finally settling-in.
Ruth noted this. “Yeah, well, that was a hell-of-a-right on that jerk. Don’t think I can top that.”
“Yeah? Hurts like a son-of-a-b***h though. I’ve heard of hard-headedness for some people, but goddamn, he takes it to another level…” She rubbed her hand.
This prompted a light laughter between the two, which eventually eased into silence for a few seconds.
“What is it?” Carol asked, finally breaking the stillness. “What is that thing and what does it want?”
Ruth didn’t respond. Carol was ready to give-up until she sighed: “It… she wants me.”
Ruth glanced back at her. “You’re not gonna ever drop it, will you?”
“Nope. You’re not the only one who’s stubborn, kiddo.”
She exhaled again. “You asked me yesterday if it was just my dad and me when we came up here. It wasn’t… my mom would come too. Used to come here for as long as I can remember. They taught me all kinds of nifty tricks to survive in the wild: Map-reading, pace-counting, you name it… I used to love exploring with them.”
A smile was pressed across her face, but it didn’t last long.
“Everything was fine until that day. It was six years ago…”