A Winter Wonderland

On the second morning, the Sutton family awoke to beams of sunlight streaming in from small windows below the cabin’s roof; snow had risen over the remaining windows and doors during the night. The cabins were only twenty yards apart, but now they were snowed in, and Chase and Emma weren’t sure they could reach the children. Chase scrambled back into the bedroom for the walkie-talkie.

“Miles? Miles? You guys ok over there? Over,” Chase said.

“I know Miles is 19, but what were we thinking, leaving him alone to watch his brother and sister?” Emma said, wringing her hands nervously.

“I’m sure they are fine; he’s probably in the bathroom,” Chase said to his wife. “Miles? Clara? Robbie? It’s Dad; you guys awake? Over.”

After ten nerve-wracking seconds, the walkie squealed in reply. “Hey, Dad,” Miles said, groggily. “Sorry, we were in the main room; we’re snowed in! Robbie wanted to open the front door, but I’m worried all the snow will fall in. Over.”

Emma grabbed Chase’s arm, sighing in relief. Chase knew that losing the sightline to the kid’s cabin put his wife on edge, but the kids would be fine. Miles was in his second year of college, and surprisingly, hadn’t seemed upset at all about playing guardian to his younger siblings in the cabin. Robbie was an extremely self-reliant 9-year-old, and Clara, 7, was tough as nails; growing up with two older brothers will do that. They had food and water in their cabin, and even if they were stuck inside for a couple days, they’d be able to communicate; there was no reason to panic.

“Leave it closed for now,” Chase replied. “Your brother and sister ok? Over.”

“Hi, Daddy. It snowed a lot!” Clara’s voice.

“Hey Dad, are we stuck?” Robbie’s voice.

“Hey, you two! Don’t worry, I’m going to work on clearing a path between our cabins. Mommy wants to say hi.”

“Hi, my babies, how’d you sleep?” Emma said.

“Good,” Robbie and Clara replied.

“Maybe your big brother will make you some breakfast. We’ll get over to see you as soon as possible; sound good?” Emma said.

Miles would typically have scoffed at the added responsibility, but instinctively he knew this was not the time.

“Ok, Mommy,” Clara said. “Love you.” Robbie nodded enthusiastically at his older brother as if to say, “get on with the cooking.”

Chase took back the walkie. “Miles?” he said.

“Yeah, Dad?”

“You guys hang tight. I’m going to see if I can get out. Walkie your mom if you guys need anything, ok? Over.”

“Sure thing. Over and out.” Miles set off on his duties.

Knowing his wife wouldn’t relax until she was back in the same room as her children, Chase rushed off to bundle up and get to work. The family wasn’t accustomed to snowstorms of any kind, let alone a blizzard dumping ten feet during the night, and as Chase dressed, he wondered why the rental company hadn’t warned him of the storm. He wasn’t used to feeling so ill-prepared and ill-equipped. As he waddled to the front door in full snow gear, Chase noticed the sunlight beaming from the small windows was now dull, muted, and he briefly considered contacting mountain rescue with the satellite phone the rental company had provided. There wasn’t a chance of cellular reception in such a remote location, which was part of the appeal of the trip. An unplugged, offline getaway.

Emma looked up from a steaming cup of coffee. “Be careful, honey.”

Chase nodded, looked through the small fan window on the front door, and held his breath as he swung the door open. Relief washed over him. The overhanging roof had kept the snow a foot beyond the door, and very little spilled inside the cabin. Still, the snow was seven feet high, and he wasn’t even sure how to begin attempting to clear a path to the kids. “You eat an elephant one bite at a time,” he muttered, grabbed the snow shovel, and began his impossible task. It was 9:11 AM.

Any hope of the sunshine helping melt the snow had faded within the hour. Chase was working under a canopy of dark, foreboding clouds, an intermittent breeze sweeping over his snow tunnel. By 11 AM, he’d cleared a four-foot-wide path a mere six feet from the front door. Sweaty and panting from exertion, Chase returned inside for a glass of water. As he shut the door, the walkie squelched, and Emma flew into the room.

Miles: “Mom? Dad? You there? Over.”

Emma: “We’re here, everything ok? Over.”

Chase shed his thick coat and joined his wife at the small kitchen table.

Miles: “I… Umm… hold on…” Miles peeked into the living area to see Clara and Robbie happily involved in a game of Chutes & Ladders. He quietly closed the door to his room and returned to the conversation in a hushed voice. “I heard strange noises outside, like something moving inside the snow…”

Chase: “I’ve been outside shoveling a path for almost 2 hours, flinging snow every which way; you sure that’s not what you’re hearing?”

Miles: “No, Dad. I can hear you working; this is something else. I saw the snow shifting and vibrating down the windows too.”

Chase realized he’d also heard some strange noises outside, yet most sounds were drowned out behind his own grunting and flinging of snow. “I’m sure it’s just the snow settling; the wind has been blowing off and on, too. Don’t worry about it, Miles.”

“Are Clara and Robbie doing well?” Emma interjected.

Miles: “Yeah, they’re playing a game. How much longer till you get the path done, Dad?”

Chase: “I’m not sure. Why don’t you bundle up, get the shovel from the utility closet, and get outside and start digging my way? We can meet in the middle.”

Miles: “You sure I won’t create an avalanche into the living room when I open the door?”

Chase: “Very little spilled in over here. You should be fine. Just turn a few degrees left with every foot, the path curves between the cabins. We should be able to call out to each other outside to stay on track.”

Miles: “Ok, I’ll be outside in a few.”

Emma: “And, Miles? Please show Robbie and Clara how to use the walkie while you are outside, ok?”

Miles rolled his eyes. Lots of instruction needed to press one button, he thought. “Ok, Mom,” he said.

By the time Miles was dressed, marveling at the wall of snow outside his front door, and feeling sorry for himself at the extreme effort he’d need to put forth, Chase had lengthened the path by another foot. It was almost Noon. Chase was daydreaming that an Old Testament Jehovah would part the snow like the Red Sea when something appeared to rush through the middle of the snow directly ahead of him. He dropped the shovel and fell backward with a start. “SHIT!” His heart was suddenly in overdrive.

“You ok over there, Dad?” Miles yelled from his side of the mountainous snow partition.

“Yeah, yeah, I just slipped,” Chase replied. “You good?”

“This is gonna take all day!”

“Slow and steady wins the race, son.”

Miles groaned, and the sound of his shovel soon returned. For another moment, Chase remained on the ground, listening carefully. He didn’t want to believe what he thought he’d seen. Behind Miles’s grunting and flinging of snow, Chase discerned a faint buzzing noise. He put his ear closer to the wall of his path. The snow sounded as if it contained a succession of vibrating plates. Dismissing any outlandish ideas, Chase stood and resumed his labor.

The sky had darkened, and both Miles and Chase now feared a fresh storm would undo their progress. Considering the Herculean effort already put forth, both were becoming very anxious. Chase even more so. After the real or imagined movement he’d seen in his slowly retreating wall of white, Chase had cut into some type of tunnel within the snow. It had quickly deteriorated as the surrounding snow crumbled, but what he saw gave him the estimation of the tunnel being thicker than a telephone pole. The small portion of the tunnel wall he could see was etched with peculiar swirls, the snow glossed as if it had slightly melted and refroze. Some kind of burrowing critter, that’s all, Chase thought.

Abruptly the distant reverberation Chase had noticed rose in volume, and he spun around. The wall of snow to his right was vibrating, and snow avalanching down toward the path he’d fought so hard to create. Chase moved closer, closer, closer…

A dark reddish hole surrounded by a milky opaqueness suddenly burst through the wall, stopping inches from Chase’s face. For one horrifying second of paradigm-shifting silence, the patriarch of the Sutton family appraised the eyeless creature jutting its freakish maw of nubby teeth back and forth in spastic, jerking movements. The thing was some unearthly mixture between a Graboid from the Tremors movies, a tunnel boring machine, and a giant tapeworm. Chase opened his mouth to scream, and at the moment the first hint of sound fell from his lips, the tunnel-boring monster lashed forward, its round, toothy mouth latching over Chase’s head and quickly working down his body like a snake swallowing its prey at super-speed.

“Dad? Dad?” Miles swore he heard the beginning of a scream behind his thrashing against the snow. When he got no reply, he shrugged it off, thinking his dad had slipped inside for some water. Miles returned to his work.

Around 2 PM, Emma opened the cabin door to assess her husband’s progress and see if he wanted a sandwich. Robbie and Clara had walkied to say that Miles hadn’t come back inside and that they couldn’t see him from the small window on the front door. “Honey? How’s it going? You should eat something, take a short break.” All she could see was the curve of the path cutting into the walls of white. She slipped on her boots and jacket and walked outside. Taking four steps forward, she gasped at the sight of Chase’s boot around the corner, thinking he had passed out from exertion. One more step, and she saw the boot was attached to nothing; a mangled stump of leg protruded from the boot, pooling blood upon the snow. Emma screamed. Above Chase’s remains, a three-foot-wide crimson-stained hole cut into the snowy wall.

In complete shock, screaming bloody murder, Emma rushed to the end of the path and began scrambling up the crumbling snow, sinking and climbing, sinking and climbing. She didn’t feel her ungloved hands go numb, she didn’t hear her own strangled sobs, or feel as her tears froze upon her cheeks as the wind picked up and the storm began. She focused on reaching her children; it was all that mattered.

Miraculously, Emma tumbled down into the path Mile’s had been forging after only ten minutes of struggling against the snow. She rolled face down, inches away from the edge of a discarded snow shovel. Slowly, she pushed herself upright, searching for signs of Miles. His knit cap lay amidst a splattering of red by the shovel’s handle, another red-ringed circle cut into the snow wall inches away.

Emma scrambled to her feet and bounded toward the kid’s cabin’s front door, unaware of her chattering teeth and guttural wails. “Clara? Robbie?” She screamed, crashing inside.

“MOM?” They said with a start, looking up from cups of hot cocoa and a game of checkers. “What happened? Why are you covered in snow?”

Emma Sutton rushed forward and embraced her children, her frazzled mind attempting to formulate a response and coming up blank. A heinous noise rose beyond the front door, and Emma suddenly leaped to slam the door shut. Staring through the small front door window, Emma watched as a flurry of massive milky oblong shapes shot back and forth across the short path Miles had shoveled, collapsing the snowy walls in on themselves, undoing all of the progress.

As the wind howled and the snow fell, heavy and thick, Emma fully internalized two terrible truths. First, both her husband and oldest son were gone, taken by some creatures intelligent enough to destroy the partially complete pathway. Second, Chase had his satellite phone and the emergency contacts safe in his winter coat. The only chance of Emma getting help would be by laboriously scanning the walkie-talkie bands and praying someone would hear her pleas for succor. To escape their winter wonderland, Emma, Robbie, and Clara would need a miracle.

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