Cassie carved through the snow with ease, hurtling through the dense woods, with thick trunks blurring around her, and wiry branches whizzing past her ears. She felt alive, for the first time all day, she felt alive. One wrong movement, one hidden root, that’s all it would take to send her tumbling to her doom, but that’s what enticed her, the near, impending threat of death. That’s what set her pulse racing. It was an addiction, just like any other, the adrenaline ran through her veins just as sweetly as crack.
She cascaded through the tree lines as naturally as water running down a hillside, adapting to the ebb and flow of the mountain beneath her. She was like an artist, with her white, blank canvas laid out before her, ready to be painted with the trail of her existence.
Cassie had longed for this moment all day, as she did every day. She had worked as a ski instructor for the past five years now, arriving to Canada from England in 1972. She had nothing against the beginners she was forced to herd each morning and afternoon, after all, she was once as novice as they were, but that didn’t make it any less tiresome and tedious for her.
She was an expert in her field, living out her days teaching the ignorant and inept of her sport. It pained her inside as the trail of ten or so students followed her slow, winding path down an almost level ski run, tumbling down into the snow at any given chance. It was like a Nobel Laureate teaching a kindergarten English class, or the head of the FBI issuing parking fines. Cassie didn’t think that the work was beneath her in any sense, it just wasn’t what she dreamed of doing with her life. Maybe that said more about her own personal flaws and failures than those of her beginner classes.
Either way, slogging through the hours and hours of teaching would be near impossible without the comforting knowledge that she would have at least sixty minutes to herself before light fell, and even longer if she was feeling brave.
Cassie threw her body weight to her left-hand side, slicing through the snow and narrowly missing a heft tree trunk in front of her. She weaved her way through the forest, throwing up white powder in her wake. It was beautiful, like discovering uncharted territory, carving the first lines onto an empty map. In truth, Cassie had completed this off piste run hundreds of times, but the fresh blanket of snow seemed to reset the clock, and the patterns she left behind were never identical.
The light was beginning to fade around Cassie, as the thick expanse of foliage enhanced the darkness. She was nearly at the end of her run, which saddened her. These moments alone on the mountain always seemed more like a race against time than the paradise it could be.
Cassie lowered her pace, as she continued to thread her way through the trees in the decreasing visibility. She was only ten minutes or so from the base of the mountain when a baby marmot scampered into her path.
Cassie instantly snapped her legs to the side in an attempt to swerve away from the incoming animal. The marmot zipped past the edge of her left ski as Cassie flew into an uncontrollable skid. She smashed her elbow on the side of a hefty trunk, sending her into a spin, which finally ended as her skis clipped a rooted plant.
Cassie flew through the air, her limbs flailing uncontrollably as she hurtled down the mountain. One tree whizzed past her, then another, a third, a fourth, then Cassie’s luck ran out as she crashed into a trunk with a sickening snap.
She didn’t know whether it was the cracking of bone, or the sound of her skis breaking in two, as the searing pain swallowed her whole existence. Her chest was on fire, and she winced in agony at a feeble attempt to move her right foot. There were so many stinging screams coming from her battered body that it was hard to pinpoint the sources, or any kind of diagnoses.
The beautiful white canvas surrounding her was now well and truly painted, with a bright red seeping into the snow like ink.
The last thing Cassie heard as she lost the battle to an unrelenting darkness, was the soft crunching of approaching footsteps
Cassie’s eyes fluttered open delicately, as her pupils adjusted to the blinding light of natural life. Once she took in her unfamiliar surroundings, her eyes snapped open fully, and she let out a fearful scream, almost like a delayed reaction from her crash.
“Calm down, calm down,” a soft male voice cooed from across the room. “You’ve had an accident, but you’re okay.”
“Where am I?” Cassie cried, her eyes still drenched with panic.
The stranger shuffled over to the bed in which Cassie was now sat bolt upright in, and perched himself on the end.
“We’re in my cabin, a little way up the mountain, don’t worry,” he comforted, his eye contact and tone diffusing most of Cassie’s worry. “I’m Bob by the way,” he added, with a Canadian twang.
Cassie’s mind was put at slight ease, but her memory was still a little groggy.
“W-What happened to me?” she stumbled.
Bob puffed out his cheeks, and gave a wry shrug of the shoulders, “Hard to say, best I could guess would be that you lost control and had a pretty close encounter with a tree out there.”
“You didn’t see?” Cassie asked.
“By the time I arrived you were spark out. I just brought you and your gear back here as fast I could, with the storm coming and all,” Bob explained.
“You haven’t heard? I figured that’s what had you in such a rush to get down the mountain. Worst storm in years they’re saying.”
With all the drama and confusion, Cassie had filtered and the rumbling and whirring wind coming from outside.
“Oh god,” Cassie exclaimed. “I had no idea! How bad is it,” she asked, rising from her bed, with her eyes fixed on the nearest window.
“They’re all battened down already I’m afraid. Can’t be opened or else they’ll tear off their hinges,” Bob interjected.
“How long is it supposed to last?” Cassie queried, slumping back down into the comfort on the bed.
“Impossible to say I’m afraid. The news lady said it could be an all nightery, but I lost signal long ago. We’ll just have to wait it out I’m afraid. It goes without saying that you’re more than welcome to hunker down here for a while.”
“Thank you so much!” Cassie said. “I could have died out there if it wasn’t for you!”
Bob chuckled, “Yeah, well, you’re just lucky this sad old man enjoys his walks.”
“Serves me right for going too fast, as per usual,” Cassie grinned. “Shit! I’m Cassie by the way! How rude of me!”
“Don’t be daft,” Bob scoffed. “I think you can be excused the lapse in concentration, with that shiny lump on your head and all.”
Cassie patted the top of her head gently, feeling her way to the source of the pain before settling on a large, sore bump on the front and centre of her skull. She winced in pain and retracted her fingers immediately.
Bob laughed, “I figured as much. There’s pain killers and water over there,” he offered, pointing towards the bedside table.
Cassie plucked up the tablets and threw them to the back of her throat, before downing the water.
“You’re too kind,” she smiled. “I owe you a free meal after this is all done!”
“I’ll take you up on that,” Bob smirked, rising from his position at the foot of the bed. “Talking of which, I was just about to get some supper on, shouldn’t be long.”
Cassie got to her feet, “Would you like some help?” she asked.
“Oh, don’t be silly. Please, have a lie down, you need the rest. Make yourself at home.”
Cassie nodded and smiled, taking in her host for the first time since she came too. He had a warm and caring smile, with equally welcoming, cool blue eyes.
His entire appearance and demeanour echoed an exact stereotype of the Canadian lumberjack, from the bushy grey beard, down to the red check shirt and braces.
His age showed slightly in his awkward shuffle as he exited the bedroom to make dinner.
From his remarks, Cassie assumed that he lived alone, and she saw no family portraits or photos decorating the wooden walls.
The cabin itself was impressive, made up of thick logs on every side, bulking to look at, but smooth and varnished to touch. The floor was covered in wooden panels, and beams arched up to form a support for the triangle roof. A small, but toasty fireplace crackled in the corner to complete the rustic look.
Bob seemed like the kind of man who had probably built this place himself.
Cassie stepped towards the window on her right, but her head started to spin at the thought of any movement. She sank back down onto the bed with a creek, and rested her throbbing bump on the pillow.
“Wakey wakey,” Bob whispered, nudging Cassie gently on the shoulder. “Dinner is served.”
Cassie yawned, “How long was I out?” as she stretched her arms high into the air, the pain dulled by a feeling of dazed numbness.
“Not long, only half an hour or so,” Bob replied. “I’m afraid dinner isn’t much, bacon sandwich and chips is about all I could muster up.”
“Bacon and chips sounds perfect to me,” Cassie chuckled. “I’m starving.”
Bob led his guest through into the living room, kitchen area of the cabin, which continued the rustic theme of the rest of the place.
An animal skin rug was draped across the floorboards, surrounded by a sofa and two arm chairs. They were all pointed towards a small television, with another crackling fire sat in the corner of the room.
The walls were largely empty, except for the odd light fitting, and one looming bears head, mounted above the TV.
Bob was cooking over a little gas stove, scraping the bacon from the frying pan and ushering it onto pieces of buttered bread. He placed the plates down on a small dining room table, just enough space for the two of them, then pulled up a couple of chairs.
“Please, take a seat,” he offered, pulling a chair out specially for Cassie to plonk herself down onto.
“Why thank you,” Cassie said.
“So, tell me, what brought you up to the slopes so close to darkness?” Bob enquired, as he tucked into his sandwich, the grease dribbling down slightly into his thick, bushy beard.
“I’m a ski instructor,” Cassie explained. “The evening is the only real chance I have to ski on my own unfortunately.”
“Well, I must say. You picked a rather dangerous route,” Bob snorted.
“Well, I must say, I’m rather a good skier,” Cassie retorted cheekily.
The pair shared in laughter as they continued to wolf down their meal.
“Do you ski much?” Cassie asked eventually.
“I can’t say I do, Cassie. I don’t have the body for it anymore,” Bob chortled. “I’m a keen huntsman though.”
“I can tell!” Cassie replied, pointing a finger towards the mounter bear head. “Talk about the elephant in the room!”
“Ah yes,” Bob beamed. “I’m rather proud of that one.”
“Is it mainly bears that you hunt?”
“I’ve tracked all sorts in my time. Moose, wolves, bears, you name it.”
“Is it not dangerous?” Cassie asked.
“Is skiing down a tree infested mountain at seventy miles an hour not dangerous?” Bob responded.
“I guess we’re both just thrill seekers,” Bob smiled.
“I guess so,” Cassie agreed.
The two of them sat in silence for a few moments, without breaking eye-contact, before Bob clapped his hands and stood. “Well, I’m sorry to be a poor host, but I think I need some rest of my own. I’m getting old I’m afraid.”
“I don’t blame you,” Cassie smiled. “Must be hard work saving lives and all that.”
“Ah, but very worth it. I’ll just go grab some blankets from the bedroom, then retire to the couch.”
Cassie stood in protest, “No, no, please, take your bed. I insist.”
“I think you need a good night’s sleep more than I, young Cassie,” Bob replied. “No arguments,” he added.
Bob’s determined look convinced Cassie to back down, instead following him through to the bedroom to help him carry his bedding.
“There are books on the shelf if you get bored,” Bob instructed. “Try to get some rest.”
And with that, he was gone, retreated to his uncomfortable looking spot on the sofa.
Cassie placed her book onto the bedside table, and switched off the lamp, rolling over onto her favoured side for sleeping. The wind was still howling and swirling, just the other side of the thick logged walls surrounding her.
The wood creaked under pressure from the breeze, as it hammered into the cabin. Even the floorboards beneath her seemed to shift and groan in submission to the elements.
The squeaking quickly turned to a scratching kind of noise, as if a wild animal had somehow gained access to the ground beneath Cassie.
She tossed and turned at the orchestra of cabin noises, before they finally ceased, replaced only by an extremely soft draught, almost like the rhythmic breaths of the trees.
A t one point, Cassie could swear she could even hear them cough.
After a night of restless sleep, Cassie finally awoke to the blissful sound of silence. The wind had ceased its siege on Bob’s cabin, and the sunlight shone through the now open windows.
Cassie hauled her aching limbs from the bed, and trudge through into the kitchen.
“The storm finally gave up then,” she joked, startling Bob who was reading a book in the comfort of his favourite armchair.
“Jesus, you’ll give an old man a heart attack,” he wheezed, but his kind eyes conveyed the light-heartedness of his comments.
“Sorry,” Cassie smiled, taking a seat next to her host.
“The phone lines are back up by the way, if you need to call anyone. I expect your family are worried sick about you!”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. I doubt anyone has even noticed I’m missing,” Cassie sighed.
“No one at all? Surely your friends or co-workers at least?”
“I live along, and I don’t work on Saturdays, so unfortunately not.”
“But you must have told someone where you were going last night, in case you had an accident…?” Bob suggested.
Cassie laughed guiltily, “I’m afraid you think I’m far more responsible than I am, Bob.”
“Well, make sure you do next time, ay,” he grinned, wagging his finger and tutting sarcastically.
“I definitely will. By the way, have you got anywhere I can freshen up before I get out of your hair?” Cassie asked politely.
“Of course,” Bob said. “The shower isn’t much but you’re more than welcome to use it while I go and collect some firewood.”
Cassie slipped out of her clothes, which, by now, threw up quite a pungent whiff of body odour. She placed the towel Bob had given her on the hook next to the shower, and stepped into the cramped cubicle.
The water was just about warm enough to be pleasant, as Cassie gave herself a well needed scrub down with soap.
Just as she was rinsing off the last of the suds, she heard that coughing sound once more, coming from directly outside the shower.
Cassie switched the water off, before opening the shower door and stepping out onto the cold wooden floor. There was no one there.
“Bob, are you out there?” Cassie called through the bathroom door.
No reply. Although she could have sworn that she heard the light, panicked pattering of footsteps, followed by the opening and closing of a door.
Cassie slipped on her knickers and wrapped the towel around herself, easing the bathroom door open to investigate. Bob was no where to be seen, but there was a chilly draught in the air, almost as if the front door had just been opened.
Cassie had seen Bob leave before she entered the bathroom, so why would he come back and then leave again almost immediately? Did he forget something? Something didn’t seem right.
Cassie double-checked every room in the cabin one last time, to make sure that Bob hadn’t slipped past her somehow, but she was definitely alone.
She had assumed that the coughing noise was a trick of the wind, or even an animal last night, but this time it was certainly human, and it was in the room with her. It felt close.
But there was no one else here, so how could that be?
Cassie circled confusedly around the living room, desperately racking her brain for a logical explanation. Maybe it was all coincidence, maybe Bob simply came back to get his woolly hat, coughed and the noise just carried through the thin bathroom wall. Cassie tried to explain it away in her head, but a little nagging feeling wouldn’t go away, and that’s when she saw it. A door.
To the left of the cooker, almost blended into the wall, there was a wooden door, with no handle, but the seems were just about visible.
What was even odder was that Cassie knew that the bathroom was the other side of that wall, so how could there be an extra room in between? There simply wasn’t room for one. Maybe a small cupboard or something, but why go to such lengths to hide something so mundane.
Cassie edged towards the door, feeling the seems with her finger tips, until the found one little opening for her to dig her nail into. She eased the panel open, and peered inside.
It was dark, and almost completely empty, apart from a shelf on one side, and a panel on the floor. Cassie’s eyes quickly settled on the shelf, on which polaroid photographs were stacked in piles. Her trembling fingers plucked up the nearest set, and fumbled through them in horror, as she stared at her own body; her own naked body.
She was spread out on Bob’s bed, completely nude, but completely passed out. She continued to sift through the pictures; close ups of her breasts, her legs, her-
Cassie threw the photographs down, she couldn’t look at them for another second. She couldn’t bring herself to see what else he had pictured.
What was even more harrowing was that Cassie hadn’t slept naked, and surely she would have awoken to him stripping her.
The pain killers.
He had drugged her.
Cassie slowly sank to her knees and slid the panel from it’s position on the floor. Beneath it sat a tape recorder.
Cassie hit play, and began to cry as she was met with the sounds of wind, rain, and storms.
None of it had been real.
She peered down into the gap beneath the floorboards. A thin tunnel ran straight from beneath her towards the bedroom. She didn’t need to investigate further to know where it led.
If there was no storm last night, then the wind wasn’t making her floorboards creek. It was him. It was Bob beneath her. Listening to her sleep.
Cassie crawled out of the secret room and scrambled towards the bathroom, desperately trying to pull her clothes on. She was a trembling wreck.
Her heart was beating out of her chest, and fearful tears streamed down her face as she zipped up her coat.
She ran out of the bathroom, and flung her hand towards the handle of the front door. It turned, but she wasn’t turning it. She backed away slowly, sobbing uncontrollably as Bob stepped back into the cabin.
“Cassie, what’s wrong my d-” he began to ask, before he spotted the open door, and the fallen photographs.
“Oh, Cassie,” he said.
Cassie raised her hands in front of her, awaiting Bob’s attack. Her bloodshot eyes were overflowing with the most uncontainable terror. She was petrified.
Her entire body shook, as she pleaded with him to let her go.
“You weren’t meant to see any of this,” Bob continued.
“Please…p-p-please, just let me go! I would t-tell anyone! I swear!” Cassie screamed.
“I think we both know that I can’t do that,” Bob sighed.
Welcome to the 6 o’clock news, bringing you all the local stories in your area!
Our top story this evening. Local hero Bob Hilton will receive special commendation, as he fought bravely to save ski instructor Cassie Dean from a black bear attack last week. Although Mr Hilton managed to kill the bear, he was unable to get Cassie to a hospital in time.
Mrs Dean died due to severe blood loss from her wounds.
The post mortem was completed this afternoon, and Cassie’s body will now be returned to her family.
Mr Hilton had this to say:
“I just wish I could have gotten there sooner! I did all I could, I was just too late. My thoughts are with her family.
“I’m honoured to be receiving this special commendation, and would like to dedicate it to Cassie Dean. I’ve always strived to help anyone I can…and will continue to do so.”