Excerpt from Monster on the Mountain
“…Sylvia and I…stuck…last hotel room…” Addy pressed the button to make the volume of her cell phone go all the way up and squeezed it tightly to her ear, but her brother still sounded as if he were swimming underwater as a hurricane blew in the background.
“Bruce, you’re breaking up.” Her voice was loud in the silence of the lodge, but her brother seemed not to be able to hear her.
Addy heard those words distinctly, despite the crackling reception. Outside of the thick-paned window next to her shoulder, fat snowflakes swirled and raced in a howling wind, so it wasn’t surprising that Bruce and Sylvia wouldn’t be able to travel through the storm. It was sheer dumb luck that she’d somehow made it just before the bad weather really started. Still, she felt her heart sink with disappointment, which she covered with what she hoped was a bright voice.
“Of course! You and Sylvia need to stay safe!” she yelled, trying to be sure that he heard her.
“…want to see you…told us maybe we can get through in a few days…be okay?” Bruce’s reply came dimly into her ear, but she could still hear regret and concern in his voice. Addy understood. She and her brother had always been close, and her sister-in-law, Sylvia, had quickly become her best friend. It had been difficult but they still managed to keep in close contact even after he’d moved a thousand miles away to take his dream job. The three of them had been planning and looking forward to this trip for months.
“I will be totally fine! I can handle a few snowflakes—I have plenty of supplies and I’ll stay close to the lodge until this blows over!” she bellowed, feeling silly when her voice seemed to echo off the high ceilings.
“…know, but I don’t like it.” Bruce’s voice was suddenly clearer, and she heard the affection and worry in his tone. “Addy,” he continued urgently, “everyone here warned us about a monster…”
“Bruce? What? A monster what?” Addy yelled louder, pacing to see if she could hear more in another part of the room, but the phone beeped and the line went dead. She moved again to another corner and hit the button to call him back, but each time she tried, her phone just flashed the message that it couldn’t connect. She realized the storm must have knocked out the cell tower entirely, and she hadn’t seen a landline in her earlier exploration. With a sound of frustration, she put her phone down on a side table and tried to ignore the cold frisson of unease that slithered down her spine.
Her brother could have been about to say anything. “A monster storm” or “A monster wind” or, well, anything. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t think of anything else off the top of her head. “Monster” was a common adjective. Surely he hadn’t meant a monster monster. That was just silly.
With that bracing thought, which she almost believed, she turned back to the great room to take stock. It was two stories tall with beautiful exposed logs and a rustic décor to match. A fire flickered in the large fireplace, warm and comforting, and she’d noticed that there was a giant stack of firewood in the covered hutch right outside the back door, so she certainly wouldn’t run out of wood even if she lost power.
She padded to the open kitchen in her wool-sock-covered feet and swung open the door of the modern fridge, surveying its contents. Since they had planned to be skiing and snowshoeing, she had brought quite a bit of food that would be easy to prepare and pack up to take with them: sandwich meats, cheese, bread, salad, potato salad, pasta salad, cans of soda. Then she’d brought ingredients for some of Bruce’s favorite meals that their father used to make, including beef Stroganoff and Granny Ritzmann’s famous meatloaf. Still, she could put most of those items out into the snow to keep cold until the power came back.
The town where she and Bruce had grown up was a small dot on the map of western Wisconsin, and their little gray farmhouse had frequently lost electricity during blizzards, thunderstorms and tornadoes. It had been a long time, but she remembered how to prepare for a storm, although the mountainous Colorado landscape around the lodge was much wilder in a storm than anything she’d ever seen. Wisconsin’s rolling hills and bluffs seemed pretty darn tame in comparison. Still, she figured the best steps for preparation were probably similar. She opened cupboards until she found a stash of candles, along with matches and a lighter, which she put on the coffee table near the fireplace. There was a lantern-style flashlight, too, which she set next to the door, along with her heavy winter boots. She grabbed all of the fluffy blankets and pillows from the two upstairs bedrooms and piled them all on the orange plaid couch in the great room.
By the time she finished, it was decidedly dark outside from the increasingly ferocious storm, so that she had to turn on several lamps. The wind moaned and whistled, sounding almost like something alive. Something angry. Addy shivered and ran upstairs to grab a thick sweater to pull on over the thin, stretchy one she already wore. When she got back downstairs, wanting to curl up under the blankets and read, she noticed that the fire was burning lower and needed more wood. She flipped open the small brass wood box near the fireplace but, apart from a few musty twigs and pieces of crumpled up newspaper, it was empty.
“It just figures,” she grumbled, but realized that it was lucky she’d needed to check since it was actually probably better for her to go out sooner rather than later, before the storm got any worse.
Groaning at the thought of how cold and windblown she would be shortly, she slowly pulled on her thick boots and long puffy coat, along with a hat that had earflaps and tied under her chin, and heavy woolen gloves. Addy was glad she’d chosen to pack her most sensible, if not her most fashionable, winter attire. She just hoped it would be enough. She flicked on the back light, which cast a thin pool of illumination over the back door and lean-to. She took a deep breath, hoping the light would last at least long enough for her to finish bringing in some wood before the storm knocked out the power. She picked up the clunky flashlight lantern and pushed open the heavy door.
The frozen wind that instantly buffeted her seemed to blow right through her clothes and boots, stabbing into her flesh and piercing her bones with shards of ice. Even as a girl, Addy had never felt anything like it. The firewood was going to run out soon, though, if she didn’t bring some in, so she steeled herself and clomped the few steps to the scant shelter of the lean-to where the large mountain of firewood was stacked.
She gathered an armful and struggled back inside with it. She had trouble pulling the door open in the powerful wind, even though she’d left it slightly ajar and unlocked for ease when she’d gone out. She dropped the load unceremoniously onto the tile floor to the side of the door to the mudroom and looked around again, wishing there was a firewood basket. There wasn’t even a box light enough to carry wood in, and she sighed, the sound muffled by her coat, zipped up to cover the bottom of her face. Firewood basket or not, the armload she’d brought wouldn’t even be enough to last the night, so she turned back and faced the icy blizzard again.
As she stepped out something caught the dim light from the backdoor lamp. She realized it was the firewood basket, which had a little bit of brass inlay that shone even in the dim light. Someone must have left it a little farther from the door. She inwardly cursed them. She mumbled an apology almost immediately, though. How were they to know how far away the short distance would seem in a darn blizzard? She hated the idea of going any farther from the door, but having a basket would make the process go much faster. Wiggling her toes, which already felt like little toe-shaped popsicles inside her boots and socks, she made a quick decision. She would get the basket.
There had already been at least a foot and a half of snow on the ground when she’d arrived, from earlier storms, but a good amount of fresh snow now lay on top of that, and it made for slow walking. She pushed her feet heavily through the thick layers, cutting a clear path to the basket. She smiled ruefully, thinking that at least it would be an easier return trip. She froze as a new sound caught her attention. Like a roar. Dull at first, it quickly rose in intensity until it felt like it was shaking the ground. Even the wind around her seemed to still and then vibrate. It sounded like…a train. A freight train, bearing down on her.
Her throat nearly closed as she realized that she might be hearing an avalanche. In her terror, she tried to pivot quickly, but she fell instead, landing squarely in the heavy snow. As she twisted, craning her neck to see what was now behind her, she gasped at what she saw.
At first the form was indistinct. The figure looked like a giant, and it was sprinting directly toward her. It was huge—too large to be human—but it moved too gracefully to be any animal she’d ever seen before. And it was running on two legs, not four. She screamed, a full-throated sound that rang through her body, and the figure seemed to wince, but it kept coming. She scrambled and managed to get to her feet again, but she could barely move in the deep snow. She looked over her shoulder again and the creature was almost upon her.
Her heart thudded so hard she thought it might just bounce out of her chest, and she willed her arms and legs to move as fast as possible. Even over the roar, she could make out the heavy crunch-crunch of the creature’s footfalls. One part of her brain was almost disconnected from the rest of her. That part of her brain marveled at the realization that the legends about Bigfoot and the yeti were real. It was amazing, and she was seeing living proof. It was too bad she wouldn’t live long enough to tell anyone. Especially Bruce. He would have loved this. Her heart sank. And then suddenly she was flying through the air.
The giant yeti-like creature had reached her and tackled her, its momentum carrying them both several feet toward the house. Incredibly, it twisted in the air and made sure that she landed on top of it, breaking her fall. Addy didn’t have time to analyze what had just happened because its huge arms closed around her. She braced for an attack and struggled wildly. One of her blows must have hit something tender since she heard the animal grunt. Still, it held firm, and she felt the strange sensation of weightlessness as it flipped her over its massive shoulder and leapt toward the back door of the lodge. They sailed through the door together, and the creature grunted in what sounded like pain as they landed on the hard floor. The door slammed behind them with a crack that rang out like a shot and Addy heard glass cracking and the wood logs of the lodge creaking and bending all around them.
She squeezed her eyes shut, certain that the lodge was going to implode around them. Instead, amazingly, the creaking stopped and the house seemed to have held, more or less. An eerie muffled silence surrounded them as the roaring and howling wind cut off abruptly. The sudden stillness was broken only by a whimper of pain.
She opened her eyes and looked at the creature. It was huge, just as she had thought. It must have been nine feet tall. Its fur was a sort of mottled white, striped with gray in some areas. Its arms, legs and chest were massive and looked heavily muscled. But its head was what caught her attention the most. Its face was like a cross between a polar bear and a white Siberian tiger, but its eyes…its eyes were filled with pain. One dark brown, one glacial blue, and both held a deep intelligence that told her this was much more than a simple animal. And it might look like a monster, but it had, she realized, just saved her from an avalanche. An avalanche that had surrounded the lodge. It whimpered again and Addy noticed a trickle of bright crimson blood dripping from behind one of the creature’s furry white ears. She rolled into a low crouch, wincing at the pain in all of her muscles. She slowly approached the animal with her arms outstretched, hoping that she looked non-threatening.
“Thanks…for saving my life. Can I help you?”