Authors: Lance Horton
Copyright © 2012 Lance Horton
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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ISBN: 978-1-4620-0765-3 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4620-0767-7 (e)
ISBN: 978-1-4620-0766-0 (dj)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012902217
iUniverse rev. date: 4/23/2012
To my mom
Jake Holcomb rocked and lurched in his seat as the snowcat churned its way through the dark line of trees. Even with the lights on, it was hard to tell if he had lost the trail again. On the radio, barely audible over the roar of the cat, the morning DJ droned on, “And finally, the cleanup efforts continue as emergency crews work around the clock to restore power and clear the highways after five straight days of record snowfall in northwestern Montana, adding to the stress of local residents who are suffering through one of the harshest winters on record. State officials have announced that Highway 2 between Columbia Falls and Glacier National Park, which has been shut down due to the heavy accumulations, should be reopened in twenty-four to forty-eight hours, provided there is no further snow. Now, back to the hits on Classic 93—”
Jake grabbed the thermos wedged between the seat and the center console. He spun the lid off and took a big swig of the Kahlua and coffee.
“Ahhh.” He wiped his beard on the sleeve of his snowsuit. He didn’t usually drink on the job—at least not this early in the morning—but he had been putting in sixteen to eighteen hours a day for the last three days, repairing downed power lines in the freezing snow and ice. He deserved a little reward. Besides, it wasn’t like he had to worry about running over anyone in the middle of the damn forest.
He was almost on it before he spotted the top of the sign for Graves Bay sticking out of the snow. Ahead of him, the ground disappeared. He turned sharply to his right, following the ridge for a short way before making a hard left. The cat tilted perilously as the trail doubled back on itself and then slanted downward into a small clearing. Jake hit the brakes and knocked the cat out of gear. Somewhere out there in front of him was the lake. He sure as hell didn’t want to end up in there. He wiped a circle into the fog-shrouded window and peered out at the cabin to his left. There were no lights on inside.
Grumbling to himself, he grabbed his tool belt from the passenger seat and then hopped from the cab into the waist-deep snow. He pulled out his Maglite, flicked it on, and began trudging around the south side of the cabin.
When he found the utility meter, he brushed the snow from the glass lens, but he still couldn’t see if the dials were turning. “Fuckin’ ice,” he muttered, scraping at it with the butt of the flashlight.
sounded in the forest behind him. Jake spun around, sweeping the light back and forth among the trees. Ice crystals sparkled in the dark, but nothing moved.
He turned back to the meter, and this time he could see that the dials weren’t turning. He decided to check around front.
To his surprise, an SUV sat out front. It was buried up to the door handles, its windshield and roof blanketed with more than two feet of snow. Behind it was what looked like a trailer. Whatever it hauled was completely buried. He approached and raked his arm back and forth, clearing away the powder to reveal the handlebars and cowling of a snowmobile.
Jake tromped up to the front porch. He wondered if people had been stranded here or if they had just left the vehicle behind when the storm hit. He tried looking in the large picture window facing the lake, but the curtains had been pulled closed.
“Hello?” he called out as he knocked on the front door. “Is anyone here?”
He pulled back the hood on his snowsuit and listened for sounds of activity within, but the cabin remained silent. Around back, the idling cat was the only sound to be heard.
He jerked back, looking over his shoulder.
What the hell was that
? He shone his light on the Jeep, thinking an icicle might have fallen on the hood, but the snow there was undisturbed.
There it was again. Only this time, he realized it had come from the other side of the cabin. He stepped back off the porch and trudged around the corner to the north.
There was another door on the side at the back corner. As he approached, he noticed the door was ajar, slowly swinging back and forth. The trees whispered as a breeze passed through their upper reaches. The door blew inward to the left.
It came from the other side. Cautiously, Jake stepped inside, shining the light into the room. The circular beam revealed a table with three chairs around it. A fourth lay on its side on the green linoleum floor. A bowl of pretzels and four Budweisers sat on the table, surrounded by a pile of scattered playing cards and poker chips.
He pushed the door shut behind him and found an old washer and dryer in the corner. The dryer’s metal hull had a circular dent in it where the doorknob had struck it repeatedly.
Jake crept on through the kitchen. The brittle linoleum crackled with each step, which sounded unnaturally loud in the silence.
In the front room, a sofa faced the large window across from him. In front of the sofa, a small coffee table had been knocked over. A foamy puddle of spilled beer had frozen into golden crystals. Next to it was another frozen pool of something dark and thick like motor oil. As he continued to pan across the floor, the light spilled over something that glimmered faintly. He stopped, trying to make out what it was.
The flashlight trembled in his hand.
Shit … shit … shit!
A part of his mind yelled at him to run, but it was drowned out by the part that was screaming in terror. He stood transfixed, staring at the man’s head in the pool of frozen blood, the vacant, milky-white eyes gazing into nothingness. No body. Just a head.
A low, moaning cry escaped him. Legs trembling, he turned and ran. His breath came in short, ragged gasps.
Outside, he turned the corner and raced for the cat, but he stumbled, falling face-first into the snow. The flashlight flew from his hand and vanished into the deep powder with a soft
Looking up, he saw a hand in front of his face, its fingers frozen in the semblance of a claw.
Jake pissed in his pants.
Screaming, he scrambled backward, struggling to get out of the thing’s reach. His breathing came faster, racing in time with his heart. Spots swam before his eyes. His legs went numb; the corners of his vision went dark. Unable to stand, he clawed his way across the snow, desperate to reach the cat.
He grabbed the metal treads and managed to pull himself up enough to clamber into the cab of the big rig. He slammed the door behind him and grabbed the microphone of the two-way radio.
“Gladys, Gladys!” he screamed. “They’re dead. They’re dead. Oh God, they’re dead!”