Finally, I’m at the front of the queue, after an hour standing at the freezing mountain base. Lucky too, as my toes are starting to go numb standing on the snow.
Lining myself up for the chair lift, my boots make the familiar crunch sound through the snow, hardened by the dozens who went before me. I jolt forward as it picks me up and I lock myself in place as best I can. The excitement of the hike to come and the brisk breeze on my cheeks leaves me feeling refreshed after standing in line so long.
It’s busy on the mountain, I see people dotted beneath me. Some walking, some streaking down the ski slopes, all far below my dangling legs.
I pull out the map to study my trail before I get to the top, but before I even have a chance it’s whisked out of my gloved hands, stolen by the biting wind. This is a problem. If they don’t have spares I’ll try to follow the path of other hikers.
Leaden clouds drift over the sun like a menacing warning, more snow is coming. I hope it holds off.
The chair lurches as it drops closer to the lofty pines. My feet ever so slightly brush the top-most needles, shifting the settled snow. I look down, the criss-crossing of the branches obscures the snowy ground below.
Then I feel it, a slight tug on my ankle. Before I can reposition to see what snagged my leg, I feel it yank hard. My body is ripped from it’s seat in the lift and I drop, hurtling toward the earth.
I feel the surge of adrenaline as terror pulses through my body. Before I can brace myself, my fall is broken by a pile of untouched, powdery snow. I stand, stunned yet unscathed.
While I collect myself, my mind is a whir of confusion. I was certain something grabbed me and pulled me down, but it must have been an errant branch, hooking itself around my hanging leg.
The gloom around me feels ominous, but surely it’s my vivid imagination combining the shock of my sudden descent, the darkness created by the shadowing trees and the dying embers of adrenaline leaving my system.
The crunching of snow to my left alerts me to movement, and my heart races again. I attempt to reassure myself, there are small animals everywhere, but my mind conjures more sinister possibilities.
More movement, more heavy crunching. The noise sends chills down my spine like nails on a chalk board. The previous reassurances feeling hollow.
My instincts urge me to work my way down the mountain, but shadows move around me, encompassing me.
More movement, the noises getting louder by the second.
The feeling of hands, cold as ice creep over my body. I try to scream but as I open my mouth the cold steals inside, smothering all sound.