When you're alone in the forest, who can you turn to for help?
The Cold swept around the forest carrying its chilly hand over every branch on every tree. Her long, wicked fingers ran through the leaves, leaving a layer of frost as her trademark. Below the frozen canopy and lying on a thick tree root, slept a young woman. Her breath created white miniature clouds in the air. The cold reached down and pressed her icy finger on the woman’s nose, breaking the dream that she was having.
The woman’s eyes snapped open and she quickly wrapped her arms around her little body. Her long hair had a layer of snow on it; the cold had carefully left a beautiful trail of snowflakes on the dark brown strands for the abandoned woman. She watched, from the top of the tallest iced tree, how the woman struggled to get onto her feet. The deep snow reached the woman’s bare knees and the woman trembled with cold and fear.
From around her, the frozen forest seemed like a blanket of white. All untouched and perfect apart from the area where she had been lying; ruined by the human hand. Even though it was serene and peaceful, the cold was nipping at the woman’s bare toes. After a few long minutes of hesitation, the sun slowly set and the frozen forest was now covered by darkness. What once seemed like a frosted flower, now appeared as a shadow trying to get a bite into the woman’s flesh. She started running. She didn’t know why but she couldn’t stop her legs from carrying her away from the shadows behind her. She turned around and looked back; they were following her.
Her nimble feet, now frozen to the core, darted between trees. The crunching of ice behind her made her run until her lungs were as cold as the frozen forest around her. The shadows copied her every move. They all travelled as one being, slowly closing in on the target. Through the thick damp trees that acted as obstacles, she saw a dim glow. That light shone on all her fears surrounding her, as if their darkness was scared of the brilliance of a tiny glow.
The mere thought of being warm and safe made her legs move ever quicker; they screamed with pain but the agony only fuelled her to run faster. The sounds behind her had diminished but she could still feel the presence of animal-like beings, hungrily waiting to dig their teeth into flesh. When the woman saw that the light had brought her to a dark log cabin, she didn’t hesitate before opening the door.
The warmth of the fire greeted her, unlike its owner who jumped out of his rocking chair with his shotgun ready to kill.
“Help,” she managed to croak out before the darkness enveloped her. When she opened her eyes again, she noticed that she was laying down on a sofa. Her once naked and cold skin was now covered by a blanket. The cabin was warmly lit by the glow of the fire, multiple animal skins decorated the room and hung over the furniture. The calm atmosphere of the cabin contrasted the cold exterior of the frozen forest outside.
“Here,” a rough voice said and handed her a cup of warm milk.
“Thank you.” She coughed through a dry throat and took a sip of the liquid. The warmth of it filled her insides and made her sink lower into the comfortable sofa. The warm fire calmed her down and the Cold watched from the outside, wishing to nip the woman’s flesh. But as if the tranquillity inside the woman snapped, she suddenly jumped out.
“Where are they? Am I safe? Is the door locked?” Her gaze darted around the room, searching for the shadows that were chasing her.
“You’re in my log cabin. You’ll be safe in here.” The stranger gave off a strong presence: a lonely but intimidating one. His shotgun was on the chair next to him. Not close enough to appear threatening but still on display, like a warning.
“Daddy,” a soft voice appeared behind the hunter, “what’s going on?” From the dark hallway behind the man, a young girl appeared. Her long blonde hair was tussled and she rubbed eyes with her tiny fists.
“Go back to bed, everything is fine,” he demanded.
“Mummy is asking for you, she wants her medicine. I think she’s crying again.” As if a word spoken by the girl was a trigger to the start of a race, the man darted off into the dark hallway. Blinded by the love of his wife, he left his girl with the stranger.
“Hello,” the woman said, “Sorry to intrude.” The young girl sat on the sofa and looked at the woman. Her soft blue eyes meeting dark brown ones.
“It’s all right. I woke up because I had a nightmare,” she softly said, almost trembling with fear.
“That sounds horrible, what happened in it?” The woman sat next to the little girl, both wrapped up in blankets.
“I was out in the forest by myself. I think I lost Daddy. I didn’t know where I was going because it was really dark. When I turned around, there was this shadow.” The little girl’s voice trembled thinking of the event again.
“I didn’t know what to do so I ran but I tripped and fell. The shadow came towards me and then…”
“And then I think it ate me. A few seconds after, I became the shadow and was chasing someone else.” The woman’s heart beat was so loud that she was surprised the child couldn’t hear it.
“You became the shadow?” Even though decades apart in age, they felt the same amount of fear. The little girl nodded in response and looked around the room. When her blue eyes reached the curtain, she gasped. Even through drawn curtains, the shapes outside were still visible. The woman saw shadows darting outside; waiting for their cue.
“What do we do?” The woman sat up, instantly panicked.
“We’ve got visitors, we let them in.” They both looked at each other; the smile that was once warm towards the woman, terrified her. The little girl grinned from ear to ear, showing all of her teeth.
“We can’t let them in, they’ll kill us!” the woman nearly screamed.
“Yes, we can. Daddy always said to be nice to everyone.” The child shuffled towards the door. With every step she took, something changed about her. Her long hair slowly fell onto the floor as if she was shedding. Her back curved and her limbs extended. Her pale skin started to bruise, looking almost black. Her now long fingers were on the door handle and the child turned to look at the woman. Her toothy smile had been replaced by black gums and her once blue eyes were now black and hollow, holding no emotion.
“We let them in,” she repeated, slowly turning the handle. Panic controlled the woman and guided her hands to the first thing that she saw: the shotgun. She had never used a gun before but before she knew it, her instincts had already pulled the trigger. The bullets flew out of the shotgun and connected with the creature. Dark liquid splattered all over the woman before the creature fell on the floor. More dark matter oozed out of the bullet holes. Too late. The door was already open. The cold from outside greeted the fire and a gust of wind blew it out. The creature screamed. A high and cruel shriek that penetrated the woman’s ear. From behind the woman, something answered. This time it was lower and rougher, sounding like a demon from hell.
Her legs carried her outside again and she jumped over the little creature; its long claws tried to impale the woman’s warm flesh. Outside once again, she ran. Her long bare legs jumped over thick tree roots and helped her abandon the scene. The cold filled her lungs and made it hard to breathe. After what seemed like hours of running, she caved in by a fallen tree. The frozen forest around her mocked her again; the snow was now higher than ever, and even the snowflakes falling on her pierced her naked skin.
The Cold watched the poor woman again. She watched how the woman cried and cried and then cried again. The woman would try to get up but her knees would buckle and she would fall to the icy ground again. Even though the cold was filled with no warmth, she felt pity for the woman. She reached down with a long finger and touched the woman on the back. The woman screamed and turned around. In front of the poor woman was something that could only be seen in that magical frozen forest: millions of snowflakes flew around in the shape of a person. That figure flew down towards the woman and extended her cold hand towards hers. The woman had never seen anything like that before but she took the figure’s hand: she somehow knew that the figure wished her no more harm.
They walked for hours, hand in hand. The figure leading the naked woman through the frozen trees of her forest. The darkness was still heavy around them and weighed down on the woman but she didn’t feel scared; the power that the figure had flew through their connected hands and into her body. The more that they walked, the more that the trees thinned out. However, in the distance, the woman could see a warm light that invited them both. The figure started walking quicker and quicker, until they were both running towards it. When the light was at its brightest, the figure’s snowflakes disconnected and flew away, becoming the cold once again. The power of the figure left with it and the woman fell into the darkness. The bright light beamed towards her but it didn’t seem so inviting when she was by herself. The light suddenly turned off and the woman screamed when she saw what was behind it: shadows. All at once, shadows attacked her from every side and angle. They all bared their sharp, knife-like teeth and sunk them into her flesh, drawing blood. She screamed with agony until her throat felt raw and was trickling with blood. They had caught her. They had won. As the shadows devoured her, she looked up. The Cold was watching her from a tree branch. Watching her as the hunter was eating its prey.
“Is this the woman?”
“Yes.” The hunter cried and looked at the naked woman now on a stretcher. He watched her as she screamed and tried to claw at the men helping her.
“We think that she’s taken some sort of narcotic drug. It seems like she’s been heavily hallucinating. I’m terribly sorry about your loss.” The police officer gave the hunter her most comforting smile but it didn’t aid the man in any way. Hot tears still streamed down his face and he struggled not to match the mad woman’s crazy screaming. He watched her being carried away, her body stained with his daughter’s blood.