I wake up sweating, which is weird as the room is cold. The sweat sticks my hair to the back of my neck and I screw up my face as I peel it off and tie it up.
Jacob is snoring beside me. He wouldn't wake up even if there was an avalanche.
I should curl up beside him and go back to sleep. The coach was coming early in the morning to take us back up to the slopes - coming down to this cute local town for the night was my idea.
Instead of sleeping, I slip out of bed. I don’t even know why.
The room is dark and quiet, the air stale with Jacob's beer-breath. I cross to the windows, take hold of the checked curtains and throw them back as if expecting something to surprise something on the other side.
Nothing's there. As if there would be. What did I expect, a polar bear pressing its nose against the glass? We were one floor up.
The night sky is clear and dark, the moon a white eye winking at me in a scattering of star freckles. The whiteness stretches away from the inn into the horizon, where snow and sky merge into an indistinct blur. It is flat and peaceful, and even though it seems harmless, I know it is anything but. Before our holiday, I had done my research - the sea ice was not somewhere you wanted to be.
I yawn and my hand moves to close the curtain.
A woman is standing out on the sea ice.
Her tall body is covered in a snow white dress, her hair platinum blonde and wisp thin.
Her eyes are focused right on me. I can feel the freezing burn of her blue eyes, even over the distance that separated us. I feel fear clawing up my throat, making my breath stick as if it were lumps of ice.
She just stares.
“Jacob!” I hiss without turning my head. He continues to snore.
I take a step away from the window, turning to glare at his sleeping form in bed. I take a balled up sock that was lying on the dresser to throw at him. My hand raised, ready to throw, I glance back at the spot.
The woman is gone.
I frown to myself, letting my arm fall softly to my side. My eyes roam the edge of the sea ice, looking for the spectral form that I swore I saw.
“You’re tired,” I say quietly to myself, moving closer to the window to pull the curtains together. “You just had a nightmare, and…”
The woman is standing below the window.
My heart gives a painful, startled jump. My mouth opens to scream, but nothing comes out. Her face as white as the moon as she stares up at me, and her eyes capture me.
I can’t tear my gaze away. I see her more clearly - her eyes are the cold blue of the compacted ice in a glacier’s heart. Her long hair is as insubstantial as snow-laden winds. Her dress sparkles like individual crystals of ice.
She is beautiful.
Her eyes break the connection between us, and she moves away from the inn. Her feet leave no marks in the snow. She walks slowly towards the sea ice. I suddenly realise that she’s waiting for me to follow. And in that moment, with her eyes still burning through my skull, I want to follow her. I have to follow her.
I have my boots and coat on in a moment and stomp down the wooden stairs of the inn.
The woman is standing at the door.
I skid to a stop. She is so close to me I smell the cold on her skin. I hear the snow dripping onto the wooden floor, even though no puddle gathers beneath her bare feet. Snowflakes perch perfectly intact on her fine eyelashes. Her mouth is the blue hue of a frozen corpse.
She doesn’t smile, or talk, but simply turns and walks towards the door. The cold doesn’t even cut me as the night air blows through the inn. She steps out onto the snow, gliding forward as if on her own personal cloud, moving quicker this time.
Soon I heard the faraway groan as I step onto the sea ice. The woman’s presence makes no murmur from the sleeping beast below us. She must have no weight at all, like a snowflake.
I want to talk to her. I want to ask her who she is, what she is doing here, what she is showing me. But my tongue is a lead slab in my mouth, and I can say nothing.
The light dusting of snow over the ice stirs around her feet, and my eyes are drawn to the delicate patterns they weave. By the time I look up, the snow is swirling over her whole body, angry now, lashing, biting my cheeks and stealing my breath.
“Wait!” I call.
But she is gone, dissolved into the roaring blizzard that fills my ears.
I spin on the spot, looking for a flash of movement, a spot of colour. The inn’s windows are covered, the fires extinguished - there is no lighthouse to lead me back home.
But I don’t want to go home, do I?
“Where are you?” I call.
I hug my coat around me. I am so cold I don’t even shiver.
The whiteness is everywhere. I spin in circles and don't see anything different.
I need to move. To find my way back. But I could walk in the wrong direction.
Either definitely die, stuck to the spot like an icicle, or maybe die wandering through a blizzard.
It's an easy enough choice.
So I force my legs to work. I stagger one way, then change my course, veering off to my right instead.
The woman stands before me. Her eyes are cold and sharp as icicles. She bars my way.
She drifts into the snow again, the hurricane that whirls around me. My eyelashes are crushed with snow, freezing my eyes together.
As I walk, she is there again. When I turn, she dissipates.
She's blocking me. She's blocking the way home.
She appears, but I run through her as if she is nothing but snow. I feel the suffocating coldness of her body, but nothing substantial stops me.
I laugh as I run, my throat cracked and painful, and it hurts. And yet I can’t help but laugh as I escape the tangled memory that fades and fades the further I run through the storm.
My name drifts through the air, and I gasp and stumble to a halt. The wind bends the words, throwing them at me from different directions, confusing me, making me spin in a circle.
“Jacob!” I scream, my voice tearing from my lips and ripping into little, indistinguishable pieces.
I start to run again, but I’m lost. I can’t remember the direction in which the woman had barred my path. I spin around, searching for something. Anything.
The woman stands before me again. I scream.
She is not beautiful anymore. Her skin is as white and waxy as a corpse, her hair moulting from her skull, her eyes dull and dead. Her face is curled into a snarl as she pushes me back.
I fall with no time to catch myself.
I land hard on the ice, my head snapping backwards, my back flaring in agony, my ankle twisting and snapping. I scream, my pain being diluted by the shrieks of the blizzard.
I lie winded. My back throbs, my ankle spearing through all of my thoughts.
I can’t focus. I need to get up, to find Jacob.
I'm too cold.
I need to get up, I need…
I don’t have the strength. It is seeping out of me. I struggle to sit up, but my body isn’t cooperating. All I manage to do is turn my head to the side.
Red is a knife cutting through the whiteness of the world around me. It is a jarring sight lying on the snow, and it unnerves me more than the whiteness, the woman, the screaming blizzard.
The patch of red grows bigger, seeping away from me, mixing with the snow and melting it.
From my sideways view of the world, I see the woman standing at the end of the red sea.
My vision blurs, white like the storm, and I see nothing.
I need to wake up. I'm too cold. I need to get up. I need Jacob.
But there is only the redness of my blood as it seeps out onto the snow.
And then it's just white.