It was still alive, twitching and squealing in its trap, its broken leg twisted at an unnatural angle. I looked into its dark, bulging eyes, feeling nothing but pity. Killing it was as effortless as twisting open a bottle cap.
“There we have it! The chalet is officially mouse-free!”
“You better wash your hands!” my wife yelled from the open doorway, peeking inside, “And get rid of it!”
She was wearing her outer jacket that made her look like a puffy canary bird, flustered face peaking from underneath her beanie. She was bringing two large bags inside, propping the door open with her foot.
“What will be next? Cockroaches? Bedbugs?” she huffed and made a disgusted face as I carried the dead mouse past her.
“It’s an old lodge. All kinds of critters could get in.”
“Better be the last of them,” she said and shuddered.
Outside, heavy gray clouds hung above me, a gentle cold wind tickling my bare skin. The snow crunched under my boots as I walked, searching for a good place to dispose of the tiny invader. Outside of the narrow road leading in, our little lodge was surrounded by dark pines and spruces, heavy lumps of snow weighting them down. I threw the mouse at the edge of the forest, hoping some scavenger would appreciate its dinner. For a moment it looked like it still twitched, droplets of blood staining the snow.
“No wonder about that mouse. Did they even clean here?” my wife said after I got inside and washed off. Under the all-encompassing smell of wood and resin, there was a lingering, musty smell. I tried to ignore the dust bunnies that had gathered in the corners.
“It was a good deal.”
“Cheap, you mean,” she said and threw her jacket on the worn red couch, then plopping down herself. The old CRT TV that was placed above the fireplace admittedly didn’t help my argument.
“At least we have the mountains waiting. All that snow and the views… Give it a day and you will start loving it,” I said, placing a kiss on her forehead. She gave me a tired smile, brushing my cheek.
“I know. I shouldn’t complain.”
“Save those complaints for tomorrow,” I said with a grin. “I’m going to finally make you learn snowboarding, no matter what.”
“You know I’m the undefeated master at not keeping my balance,” she said.
“Not for long,” I smiled. Suddenly, a loud knock at the door caught my attention.
I opened the door, and there stood a figure of a man, a hood covering his face. A long and thin snout of a fox peaked out, dark eyes glistening in the shadow of the hood.
“The storm is soon upon you. Don’t look.”
“Honey? Who is it?”
“Oh, it’s just the man from reception,” I said, and turned to the old man, who smiled.
“Ye, just came to tell ya that a big storm’s comin’. Heard ‘t on the weather channel, wanted to make sure everyone knows, ya know? I’d recommend ya keep inside for that. Don’t want anyone trapped in it, ya know?” the old man said, giving a wrinkly smile.
“Thank you. We’ll make sure to stay inside.”
“Good, good. Well, good evening to ya,” the man said and tipped his beanie.
“You too,” I said and watched the old man go. I glanced up, the heavy veil still hanging above.
“He came all the way here just to tell that? I don’t remember any storm being mentioned on the radio,” my wife said.
“That’s probably why he came. Making sure people stay safe. But we have other things to worry about. Like unpacking.” She groaned.
Time passed, and by the time we were done with our bags and cleaning up, it was dark outside. I looked out through the large windows, barely distinguishing the cloudy sky from the silhouetted trees. My reflection stared back at me as I followed the flurry of snow that danced on the other side.
“Are you really going to leave the curtains open?” my wife said, preparing hot drinks in the open kitchen.
“Why not? I want to see outside.”
“It’s creepy!” she said, and I followed her reflection as she moved towards me.
“Fine.” I grabbed the curtains, their little wheels squeaking as I drew them. Much like the rest of the place, they looked old, the painted pictures of sunflowers on them faded. I listened as the wind outside was picking up, playing the wind chimes.
“It smells so good,” I said, and leaned against the kitchen counter, watching her stir the hot chocolate.
“I might have added something special to it,” she said with a wink. “It will blow your mind.”
“You mean hot pepper?”
“You really don’t get surprises, do you? Oh, I just remembered, didn’t we bring those mini-marshmallows with us?” she said, preparing the mugs.
“I’m pretty sure. I’ll go check the car. Probably threw them on the back seat,” I said and went to put my boots on.
“Don’t go outside.”
“Why not? It’s not storming yet,” I said and threw on my jacket.
“Hmm?” she said, a spoon hanging from her mouth, giving me a questioning look. I stared at her.
“Nothing,” I said and shook my head.
The door refused to open on the first try, giving a defeated creek when I finally pushed it open. The lamp outside lit up as I walked past it, its white light illuminating the yard. For what had seemed like light snowfall, it really had done its job. A thick blanket of snow covered our earlier tracks. In the dark, you could barely see where the road was.
“Where did I put the keys…” I muttered to myself and patted through my pockets. It was much colder now, the freezing wind and snow needling my face and bare hands. From the edges of my vision, I could see the door open, my wife coming out.
“Hey, did I leave—” I said, but stopped when I saw the closed door and no one there. I rubbed my eyes, feeling a slight pounding in my head. It had been a long day. Finally, I found the keys from my back pocket and got to searching the car.
“Hah! Knew it.” I picked out the bag of marshmallows when a loud clatter and clinking made me jump, hitting my head on the door frame of the car. I cursed and rubbed my head. Glancing back, I could see the wind chimes scattered on the snow, reflecting the lamp’s red light.
“It wasn’t that cheap of a place…” I mumbled and stopped by the door. I stood there, staring at the twitching body of the mouse, mangled within the bent wind chime.
I slammed the door shut behind me, welcoming the warmth inside. I swallowed and wiped my nose with a trembling hand.
“Was it that bad outside?” my wife glanced at me from the couch, the old TV on, somehow still working, “Can we now officially say we are snowed-in?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I said and stomped the snow off my boots. Pain was still beating at the back of my head when I got to the counter. I ripped the bag open, looking at the mug of hot chocolate left for me. Its dark surface rippled and moved. I plopped a marshmallow in, and it sank into the oozing flesh, swallowed whole. I licked my lips and took a sip. If there was any pepper in it, I didn’t taste it.
I sat on the couch next to her, staring at the TV as she surfed through the channels.
“The marshmallows,” she said quietly.
“Oh. Yeah.” Before I stood back up, the lights flickered. The TV gave out a crackling sound, and a black and white static filled the screen.
“There goes that,” she sighed and got up, giving me the remote.
“—and for today’s weather report. A snowstorm is seen approaching from the north, bringing with it the end of the world. It might look friendly at first—“
I stared at the newswoman, who sat in front of a poorly set-up green screen, a white flurry projected behind her. My wife slammed the side of the TV.
“This is how my father always fixed it,” she said and gave it another slam. With each hit, the newswoman swayed like a lifeless mannequin.
“—above anything else, don’t—“
The lights flickered again, and with it, the power went out.
“Come on,” she gave another exacerbated sigh.
“We should light the fireplace,” I said and threw away the remote, practically jumping up. I could hear the wind howling outside, rattling the walls of the lodge.
“If we can get even that to work…”
She piled up the wood in the light of her phone while I searched for the matchbox. Thankfully, it conveniently sat on top of the fireplace.
“You think the heating went off as well?” she said quietly next to me, hugging herself as we sat on the floor.
“All the more reason to light this, if it did,” I said, scraping the matchstick until a small flame sparked to life. From the edges of my vision, I could see a light flicker. It came from the outside through the slit in the curtains. It flashed on and off, almost like a heartbeat that kept getting quicker and quicker.
“You’ll burn yourself!” she cried out.
“Ah!” I dropped the matchstick, its charred remains shriveling up on the floor, nothing more left of its flame than a glowing spark inside its head.
“We still have more,” I said and pulled out another. There was a loud noise against the window, screeching like nails dragging down on it. We both sat there silent, listening so quietly that I could hear my own shallow breathing.
More than that, there was a low mumbling, almost like the ramblings of a madman. It became clearer the more intently I listened. I could almost hear what it was saying, but the words seemed like they were avoiding me. If I only listened, I—
“Stop it, please. It’s not funny,” my wife said, staring at me with eyes glistening in the light of the phone. I looked down at the pile of curled black matchsticks, one still lip up between my fingers.
“Shitty matchsticks,” I muttered and lit up the kindling. We watched as the fire caught onto the wood, which crackled loudly, sparks flying off. A rank smell filled my nose.
“Maybe next time we could get the more expensive chalet,” I said, while she scooted next to me, holding her hands to the fire.
“Maybe,” she said and gave a nervous laugh. “At least we still have a roof over our heads.”
I glanced behind me, feeling a prickling sensation at the back of my neck. There was nothing but the darkness of the room. It hung heavy over us, as if the walls themselves were curling up from an invisible fire. The ceiling shuddered, soaked by something dark that gleamed and undulated in the light of the fire.
“Yeah. I’m sure it’s sturdier than it looks,” I said, licking my dry lips and turning back to the fire. We sat there in silence as the storm outside raged, screaming like a dying animal.
“You think it will go away?” she said quietly as she stared at the fire. I opened my mouth to say something when there was a knock at the door. We both sat there frozen.
“Must be the wind,” I said.
“Branches falling off.”
Another knock, then another, each louder than the previous.
“What if someone got caught outside?” my wife said with a wavering voice, turning to face the door.
“Who would come here, of all places? We are in the middle of nowhere,” I said, my eyes glued to the fire.
“But I can see him.”
I jumped up, my heart pounding against my chest. The curtains were half drawn open, revealing a sliver of the dark outside. I rushed to close them, almost ripping them off entirely. I saw nothing but my reflection in the dark window as I drew them.
My wife stood up, hugging herself. I could see tears welling up in her eyes.
“What is going on,” she said. I grabbed her by her shoulders, pulling her into a hug.
“It’s just a snowstorm. It will pass,” I said.
“It said to go outside.”
I said nothing and held her tighter.
“That it will all make sense. That it would stop. I can feel it. It’s—it’s gnawing at my mind,” she struggled to say. I could feel her shaking, “It’s—It’s saying things, but I don’t—“
“It’s just a snowstorm. Believe me,” I said, forcing my voice to me firm, despite the stinging in my eyes. I buried my face against her shoulder. “It’ll be fine.”
“Then why did you go?”
I took a step back, feeling wet snow under my feet. A flurry of needling snow hit me, the cold like a slashing whip against my skin. Around me was nothing but darkness.
“Anna!” I screamed, grabbing my arms and bracing myself against the freezing storm. “ANNA!”
With each shallow breath, panic rose within me. I ran, stumbling forward in the dark, feeling the wet and the cold sinking its teeth deeper into me with each painful step. My teeth chattered, a terrible trembling taking hold of me. I narrowed my eyes against the sharp gusts, belting out calls that were lost in the wind.
“What—?” I looked up, seeing the flurry of snow swirling, each snowflake dragging the darkness into its furious dance. The raging cloudy wisps amassed above, churning and rippling, until it was an eye. A single, dark eye staring at me.
“ ,“ it said. Its words passed through my mind, slithering into its creases, taking it away piece by piece.
“ ,“ it said. My hands moved on their own, grabbing onto something, but I couldn’t understand what. The world around me was a puzzle fallen apart, each piece lost somewhere far beyond my reach.
“I—I just—want to—to go back.” I said. The words struggled through my lips, desperate, starved animals clawing their way up from the pit that was my throat. I could see them. Their putrid shriveled bodies oozing out of my mouth, miasmal stench filling my nose.
“ ,“ it said.
My leg twisted, ripping a muffled scream out of me. I could hear my bones shatter, their pieces grinding against each other, tearing at my skin and flesh. I fell to my side into the snow.
“ ,“ it said. Through my pained tears, I could see the sky churning once more, and another eye appeared. Then another, then another, until it was like bubbling, boiling dark water. One eye popped with a sickening sound and another took its place. It moved, its lurching, sloppy words curling around my mind. I was close. So close to understanding.
“ ,“ it said.
“You fell asleep.”
“Did I?” I sat up on the bed, my head pounding and groggy. I reached for the glass of water. A dark eye stared at me from the bottom of the glass. I wiped the sweat from my brow with a shaky hand and took a gulp.
“It’s alright. You should rest anyway if you want that leg to heal up,” my wife said, stretching next to me on the edge of the bed. I looked at my plastered leg. I opened my mouth to say something, but swallowed my words instead.
“It was just a snowstorm. Just like you said,” she said quietly, not turning to look at me. I stared at the eye at the bottom of the glass.
“It will be easier that way,” she said.
“Just a snowstorm,” I agreed, and gulped down the rest of the water.