The Spin Cycle.
The most famous slope in the Crystal alps. Five miles of mountain range with an array of violent turns that gave the slope its name. For an experienced skier, it wasn’t particularly dangerous, but it was difficult. Relaxing for even a second would send you flying into the snow.
Dario was plenty experienced, having done the circuit many times. He often came to the alps on the weekends, hoping to relive the adrenaline rush of his first run. This particular Saturday evening, his mother volunteered to drive him out. His six-year-old brother, Michael, tagged along. After reaching the top, the three of them paused to digest the view.
A vast woodland covered the mountains. Looking downwards you could see thin clusters of spindly trees begin to disappear. In their place sprouted a forest of shaggy evergreens. The rays of the setting sun laced around them and onto the glistening snow. A beautiful quilt of green and lavender blanketed the sierra.
Dario didn’t waste too much time gawking and began to unpack. Wearing proper gear was important, regardless of experience. A sturdy helmet, compact goggles, as well as a thick jacket and pants. In the trunk were his pair of skis. They were sleek and elegant, painted a deep blue with thin yellow zig-zags. The edges were smooth but sharp, providing excellent speed and control. It was perfect for navigating the narrow slope.
"Don't wolves hunt during the evening?" Dario joked, trying to rile his family.
“We'll just give them some of our meatloaf,” his mother took it in stride. “That way they’ll leave us alone.”
"Why did you bring dinner anyways?"
"Knowing you, we're going to be up here a while."
“Don’t worry Mommy!” Michael exclaimed, hopping around eagerly. “Mr. Cuddles will protect us!”
Mr. Cuddles was the name of his stuffed bear. Hardly intimidating, it donned three cute buttons stitched to its chest. The trio of round, shiny clasps reminded Dario of Oreo cookies.
Their mom smiled. “I’m sure if we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice back,”
“This isn’t a storybook Mom," Dario chuckled. "When the wolves do come, don't expect Mr. Cuddles to save us.”
Wolves didn’t actually roam these areas. Even if they did, being nice wouldn’t stop them from attacking. If only it were so simple.
He returned his attention to his skis, bringing them to the edge of the slope. The first ski snapped onto his right boot. He checked to make sure it was secure, then began to put on the other one-
It all happened in slow motion. Dario heard Michael’s cry and spun to see the stuffed bear fall off the edge. The strong wind carried it down the slope. In a hurry, he snapped the second ski on and grabbed his ski poles.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get it!” he yelled. With confidence, he tilted forward.
Skiing down the first few hundred yards was effortless. Dario used it as a chance to spot Mr. Cuddles. The furry brown toy was distinct in the flurry of white. About five-hundred yards away. Now came the difficult part.
The sharp skis dug into the tightly packed snow, allowing him to maneuver beyond the first turn. A second, narrower turn was up ahead. Shifting his weight sideways he avoided crashing, then vaulted himself back upwards with his pole.
Snow sprayed across his face. His goggles were blurred. He wobbled around the third turn, then staggered past the fourth. After each twist his heartbeat grew faster. The thrill of skiing was like no other sport.
Ahead was Mr. Cuddles, flailing through the air. Dario needed to snag it before the run was over. As the gap between him and the teddy shrunk, he twirled his pole around. Using its pointy end, Dario tried to skewer it. He missed by an inch.
That’s when it happened.
One of Dario’s skis flew off, leaving him to totter on the remaining ski. His leg shook under the pressure of his own weight.
He cursed himself. He knew better than to put skis on in a rush. With two skis, the slope was a walk in the park. With one, the park became a minefield.
Dario thrust his pole at the teddy bear a second time. He impaled it. A small bump of snow jolted him, forcing his attention to the steep turn in front of him.
He attempted to steer around it. It was too late. His balance was shot. His legs buckled. He could only flounder as he was thrown off the slope and into the mountain depths.
Dario’s eyes fluttered open. He was alive! That was a nice surprise. His head felt light and warm, his body was cold and sore. With a strained effort, he lifted his hand to his head. A slippery, sticky substance trickled onto his fingers.
Blood. Lots of it.
If he didn’t get help soon, blood loss would kill him. The sky was coal-colored, indicating night had fallen. He’d been unconscious for roughly two hours. The deep, intense ache he was feeling came from his broken bones. It was a miracle he could still move. Dario sat himself upright against a tree and took a deep breath. After a few minutes, his eyes adjusted to the darkness. In the distance was one of his ski poles.
The pain grew vigorous as he forced himself to stand. He was no better than a baby taking it's first steps. As long as his legs weren't completely shattered, he would walk. He had to. If a search-and-rescue team hadn't found him yet, chances were they wouldn't until it was too late.
Dario shuffled towards the single pole. Still attached to the bottom was Mr. Cuddles. Dario slid it off and observed the skewered bear. It was in poor condition. Cotton was pouring out from the front and back. The fibers of it's synthetic fur were now wet. Of the three glossy buttons, only two remained intact. The other button was lost, all alone in the snow.
He'd almost died for a toy. Mr. Cuddles was replaceable. Why did he jump to save it? Was it the challenge of doing so while skiing down the circuit? No matter how much exhilaration he desired, it was foolish. Swearing silently, Dario crammed the stuffed animal into his ski jacket. If he did survive, he wanted something to show for his broken bones.
The trek up the slope began. If he could make it to the bleaker parts of the mountain, a helicopter crew might see him. The snow was brittle in the forest. Each step Dario took was greatly resisted. The ski pole made life a bit easier. It was a great substitute for a walking stick, relieving the tension on his frail bones.
Around the twenty-minute mark, it became hard for him to stay conscious. The cold air burned his throat. Blood oozed from his head like lava from a volcano. His body was on the verge of collapsing. It seemed like this was where he stopped.
A shrill howl pierced the air. Dario swiveled his head. Where did the sound come from? A shiver crept up his spine, and a sense of urgency kicked in. Despite his limited physical state, he moved faster than before.
The strong winds screeched. Scraggly trees swayed up and down. It was a scene straight out of a horror movie. It didn't faze him. He was in too much agony to care.
Thirty minutes passed. Layers of darkness began to peel away, and the moonlight shone brighter. Dario had escaped the heart of the forest. He took a moment to catch his breath. A startling crunching noise came from behind him. He swiveled around to see what it was.
Green eyes. Razor-like teeth. No doubt about it.
It was a wolf.
Dario instinctively took off, although not very quickly, veering into a maze of trees. He weaved around them, attempting to put as much distance as possible between him and the animal. Tree stumps littered the path. Branches grazed his face.
A familiar howling noise reached his ears. Then came a dozen more.
There was no point in looking back. He knew he was being chased. If it came down to speed, he stood no chance. Up ahead was a small cliff. A step away from it was a burly log. A plan formed in his mind.
Dario bustled towards the log and dropped onto it, hugging it tightly. He pushed until it teetered on the edge. It was heavy, but he had no choice. One last shove, and it tipped over the brink.
The log started sliding, building momentum heading down the short cliff. He held on for his life. Face first, he crashed into a bank of snow. Curling into a human-sized ball, Dario stayed hidden. A small crack allowed him to peek at his surroundings.
A band of wolves scampered down the hill. Beautiful silver fur covered their bodies, save for their white manes. Marbles for eyes, blue, orange, and green. Wolves were said to be relatives of dogs. He could see it. They were panting as if they'd seen a bone. A six-foot, human-sized bone.
Dario began to pray. His family wasn’t religious, but in case there was a higher power, he wanted to send some final requests. He prayed that his mother would stay strong. He prayed that Michael would grow up knowing it wasn't his fault. He prayed for himself. All he'd wanted to do was save the teddy bear-
Dario felt around his jacket. The toy-sized lump was gone. Perhaps it was better this way. Mr. Cuddles could be still salvaged, along with his dead body.
He closed his eyes and waited. His body was so numb that he probably wouldn't feel the wolves' sharp teeth cutting into him. The possibility offered some consolation.
The panting noises grew louder. Louder. Louder. Then they faded- replaced by the vibration of a loud, resounding growl.
Dario’s eyelids parted. From the tiny gap in the snowdrift, he could see a large creature with creamy, brown hair. It had stocky legs, a long snout, and a short, round tail.
The majestic beast approached the wolves, grumbling. The gang held their ground. The creature unleashed a thunderous roar that threatened to start an avalanche. The pack didn't think twice and scurried away, frightened.
Dario lay in shock. By the time he registered what happened, the creature was gone. Snow began to fall, erasing the evidence that it was ever there. He began to believe it never was.
Unable to move, he focused on staying conscious. Blood trickled down his face and into his eyes, blinding him. He could only wait and pray that he would be rescued. Each passing minute felt like a decade. And for each era he passed through, his sentience weakened.
Finally, a whirring noise filled the sky. A helicopter had arrived. The whirling vanished, and in its place came the shouting of paramedics. Warm hands touched his neck and chest, checking for pulses and breathing.
“He’s alive!” someone yelled.
“Bring the stretcher!” another called out.
Dario was placed on the stretcher and carried into the helicopter. His mother was screaming and crying. Michael pulled at her sleeves telling her to look.
"M-Mom...I'm OK," Dario croaked, offering a weak smile. "M-Mr. Cuddles...Mr. Cuddles...saved me."
The last thing he heard before passing out was his brother's voice.
"I told you so."