When I was a sophomore in college my friends and I went on a ski trip over Christmas Break. I’m not sure if ski lodges and ski lodge parties are popular anymore, but they were the thing when I was younger. That was back in the ’80s. But after 1989, ski lodges were never the same for me and several others.
The first thing that comes to mind about that weekend isn’t death, fear, or even sadness. It’s cold. It was bitterly cold that weekend. So cold it was like the ice sliced through the air and attacked every inch of flesh it could, just like a knife would.
But no matter what came after, nothing will ever ruin that view of the mountains. The majestic stone ridges, plush white mounds of snow, and the velvet green pines were stunning to see. They were a dangerous place long before we even got there. No telling how many lives had been lost over the centuries on those cliffs. By that standard, what happened to us was just another little footnote.
We all arrived a few days after Christmas on December 29th. After spending Christmas with our respective families across the country, we had made plans months in advance for this little vacation. I was beyond excited for it. We all were. Our group was spending the days leading up to New Year’s Eve at Spruce Ridge in Colorado. Justin’s parents had chipped in for our vacation as a Christmas/Birthday gift since Justin’s birthday was December 27. The cabin we were staying at had been in their family for decades. While there was technically a ski lodge about 10 minutes away or so, the place was more like an exclusive getaway since the cabins were so far away from each other.
While I arrived via plane from Cincinnati, my best friend Jill Conroy had arrived earlier from Tampa. Justin, who was Jill’s boyfriend, came by way of Minneapolis and his roommate Peter was coming in from Charleston with his girlfriend Yvonne. But the person I was most eager to see was Charlie Hightower, the guy I had a crush on since I first laid eyes on him in Psych 101. He arrived from Indianapolis about the same time as me and I had just picked up my baggage when I laid eyes on the handsome athlete with deep hazel eyes and a superb jawline.
“Hey Trisha,” he greeted me with a smile. “Hope you had a good Christmas. Can I help you with your luggage?”
“Thanks, it was nice. I’ve always loved Christmas. Hope yours was good too, and I got it all pretty much taken care of, except this one bag,” I gestured to the small tote. “Could you grab it for me?”
“Sure thing,” he said without hesitation. “Shall we share a cab?”
“We’d sure save money that way,” I felt a rush of excitement at the prospect of time alone with Charlie.
“Then on our way it is.”
We walked out of the terminal and found a cab to take us to the cabin. On the drive out of the airport, we talked about our respective Christmases until we fell into a comfortable silence.
“I can’t believe the ’80s are coming to an end,” he said eventually.
“I know what you mean.”
“Not just a new year, a new decade. A whole new ball game.”
It was a surreal thought. My friends and I had all grown up and come of age in the 1980s. I had some fleeting memories of the ‘70s, but the ’80s were the only decade we really knew. The ‘80s weren’t just a decade, it was an attitude. Like an item of clothing that seems to become a part of you. Pac-Man, MTV, Ghostbusters, Miami Vice, and Star Wars were all milestones to us. Some people love to poke fun at the fashion back then, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Especially considering some of the trends that have come and gone since.
“It was a great ride wasn’t it?” I smiled at him. A grin he returned.
“Yes it was.”
At that moment I noticed we had arrived at the cabin. But calling the building a cabin was an understatement. It was more like a chalet. Large wooden beams, cobblestone structure, and tall, narrow windows on the second floor looking out over the dense trees that were sagging with snow. Despite the intense snow, everything looked immaculately shoveled and salted. The sight was stunning.
Charlie gave the guy driving us a generous tip and we hauled ourselves out of the cab and into the house. Once inside, I felt immediately at home. The wooden entryway led to a massive great room with a stone fireplace that looked big enough for me to stand up in. A large pine mantelpiece displaying a set of deer antlers was set in the fireplace at my eye level. When I saw the large fire crackling in the grate, I had to fight the urge to sit down in one of the massive leather couches clustered around the fireplace. I could almost feel myself sinking down into the worn leather cushions.
But then everyone came rushing in to see us when they realized Charlie and I had arrived. In an instant I was swept up in a flurry of greetings and hugs. At some point Peter introduced Yvonne, who I had never met before, as she and Peter were in a long-distance relationship. She was pretty, with thick curly black hair and elegant blue eyes.
“I thought we’d go to the video store for some movies,” Justin said at one point. “Keep us entertained and all that.”
It was a good idea and once Charlie and I got our stuff put away, we headed out for the video store in the rental car Justin and Jill had on hand. When we arrived, we browsed up and down the aisles until we all picked out a few movies. My selections were The Terminator and Aliens.
By that point it was already getting dark, so we headed back to the cabin and Jill, Yvonne, and Peter all went to the kitchen to get dinner started while the rest of us watched Back to the Future, one of the movies Justin had picked out.
Dinner that night was delicious. A big spaghetti dinner complete with homemade meatballs and garlic bread. It was followed by a surprise for Justin, as we had prepared a belated birthday cake for him, complete with 20 candles. Once we had all sung to him, Justin blew out the candles in one breath and we all had a piece of cake. It was his favorite. Yellow with chocolate frosting.
After dinner, we all headed into the sitting room to watch another movie we had rented. Good Morning Vietnam. When it was over, Jill went to the kitchen and took out some chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows from the cupboard. Then she grabbed some metal roasting sticks from a drawer somewhere so we could make s’mores over the still crackling fire. In the end, they were so good we all had at least three.
Then we all sat there, lazy and content in the amber glow from the fire while the wind rattled outside on a pitch-black night. Some time passed before Justin sat up, an eager grin on his face.
“Well,” he rubbed his hands together. “We’re in a cabin in the country. It’s nighttime. We have a fire and we just had s’mores. I think now it’s scary story time.”
The mention of scary stories had given the room a slight buzz of excitement. There is nothing like a scary story by a fire at night.
“It’s your cabin Justin, so I guess you get to go first,” Peter said as the rest of us sat up straight and prepared to listen.
“Alright. I don’t have many good stories to tell, but there was a couple that was killed out here last year. About 15 minutes from here in another cabin. Shot to death in their bed. They never caught who did it.”
This was met by complete silence. The rest of us all looked at each other, uncertain of what to say.
“Ok, so who’s next,” he looked around eagerly. Jill gave him a look.
“Sweetie, you’re joking with us, right?” she asked.
“No I’m completely serious. A wealthy couple that comes out here every year was found dead. My dad said no one has a clue about what happened.”
“I can’t believe you never told any of us,” she said in that tone that meant she was not happy at all.
“I’ll tell the next story Justin,” Peter interjected to head off an argument between the two. Good move. As much as Jill and Justin loved each other, they could argue like nobody’s business. The rest of us took turns telling the corniest stories we could. Then we watched another movie before Jill, Justin, Yvonne, and Peter were so tired they could barely keep their eyes open.
“Hey Trisha, guess it’s just you and me now,” Charlie said after they had gone up to bed. “Care to join me in the hot tub?”
“Cool, I’ll go get it ready before I change.”
While my heart thudded in my chest, I managed to say something about going to put on my bathing suit before I headed upstairs to get changed. I had been instructed to bring a suit for the hot tub, but I never imagined I’d share it with Charlie alone. As I walked downstairs with a towel around myself, I was simultaneously nervous, excited, and self-conscious. What if Charlie didn’t like the way I looked? What if he did? Ignoring the frantic thoughts racing inside my head, I pressed on and eventually found the door to the glass encased patio and stepped inside.
The hot tub looked spectacular. The heady smell of chlorine hit me the instant I stepped inside the patio. The steam rose from the hot tub in thick plumes, billowing at my eye level. The dense bushes outside the glass walls were covered with beautiful blue lights, which sparkled against the glass. Despite the steam beginning to fog up the dense glass walls, there was a clear view of the backyard, the mountains, and the massive white and clear icicles hanging from the patio roof. It was like we were in our own little snow globe, watching the snow glistening and blowing just beyond the glass.
Charlie wasn’t there yet, so I took off my towel and decided to get comfortable. Sliding down into the hot tub felt amazing. A hot shower is nice but sinking into a pool of hot water is beyond comparison. I leaned back, sighed with contentment, and waited. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long, as a few minutes later Charlie walked in and gave me another million-dollar smile.
“Don’t you look comfortable and in need of company.” Then he dropped the towel he had on and my jaw almost fell to the bottom of the hot tub.
I knew Charlie was a swimmer, but I had never seen him in a swimsuit up close before. He looked amazing and I did everything I could not to stare. I was grateful that I could blame the water for already being bright red in the face. But even for someone who swam regularly, I thought I could feel a flicker of nerves on his part as he climbed into the hot tub. Thank God it wasn’t just me.
But that was nothing compared to what happened next. He didn’t sit on the opposite end of the tub. No, Charlie slid over and sat right next to me. Now the heat in the room was feverish, like a sauna.
“Is this ok?” he asked with a shy smile.
“Yeah.” I managed to say.
Neither of us said anything for what seemed like a long time. But at some point, I felt myself move closer to Charlie and he did the same right before our lips touched. It felt amazing. Slow and warm. Affectionate. Everything a kiss with someone you’re attracted to could be. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but it felt like an eternity.
Then Charlie slowly pulled away. “I’d hate to stop, but if we stay any longer, we’ll be dehydrated.”
I knew he had a point, so I let him get out before I followed. Feeling blissfully tired, I eased myself out of the hot tub and grabbed my towel to wrap around myself. As I glanced around the room, I noticed something. On one of the thick panes of glass, there was some sort of imprint. At first, I thought it was just condensation from the heat and water against the cold outside, but then I took a closer look. Standing with my nose close against the glass, I thought it looked uncannily like a handprint. But a handprint of someone wearing gloves, as the digits were all wider and thicker than a normal hand. Thinking it was nothing, I toweled off and caught up with Charlie in the hallway. His hair was adorably wet from the hot tub. We made sure to be quiet because everyone was already asleep.
“Let’s do that again sometime,” he whispered. “If you want to, of course.”
“Sounds good to me. But now we need to shower and get to bed.”
“I suppose we could always save water and do it together,” he winked at me.
“I wouldn’t mind that, but the big shower is in the master bedroom. And that’s currently occupied. Our rooms have tiny showers which are barely big enough for one.”
“You’re right. But rain check?”
“Consider yourself scheduled.”
He gave me a quick kiss before he was in his room and out of sight. Feeling giddy, I hopped in my bathroom’s shower quickly before I went to bed and fell asleep in good time.
I woke up to sunlight streaming in through the windows. I could see the sky was a bright cold blue. Time for breakfast. When I threw on my bathrobe and headed downstairs, I found everyone else had the same idea. Cereal sounded good, so I made my way towards the boxes already set out on the counter. As I grabbed the Cheerios, I saw Charlie was sitting at the kitchen table eating scrambled eggs and toast with Justin. I caught his eye and gave him a smile. Jill, who was standing near the coffeemaker, saw it and gave me a knowing smirk.
“Hey, did any of you guys step outside last night for some reason?” Justin asked while I was pouring the cereal into one of the white porcelain bowls set out for breakfast.
We all looked at each other and shook our heads in turn.
“Weird, because there are footprints in the snow leading to the cabin,” he said.
“Someone probably got lost or something. It happens. Especially with the snow everywhere,” Jill reasoned.
We didn’t know it at the time, but footprints in the snow would be our warning. It’s the biggest difference between our situation and one of those scary summer camp movies. Snow, much like blood, never lies.
After breakfast we all got ready and headed to the neighboring ski resort. I had some skiing experience, so I wasn’t brand new to it like Jill, Peter, or Yvonne. There’s nothing like flying through the cold air while heading down a hill or mountain. It’s what I imagine riding a motorcycle would be like.
The time went quickly and before long we were having lunch at the lodge’s local restaurant. We all had burgers and fries while the greatest hits of the decade flowed through the restaurant stereo system. Duran Duran. Billy Idol. Madonna. Pat Benatar. Our lunch that day was one of those moments in time I wish I could bottle.
Once we were all done with lunch, we headed back to the cabin since our muscles were now sore from our time on the slopes. We limped back into the house, changed into something more comfortable than our brightly colored ski gear, and crashed in front of the TV where we watched The Terminator. But instead of sitting next to Peter like he had last night, Charlie wasted no time in grabbing the spot on the couch next to me. As he sat down, he gave my hand a gentle squeeze. From across the room, Jill gave me another knowing grin.
As the movie ended, the sun was beginning to fade. The setting sun looked beautiful on the snow, which was still immaculate and unbroken in spots. Charlie, Jill, and Yvonne had nodded off during the movie and were stretching as they got off the couches. As Charlie had fallen asleep halfway through the movie, he spent the other half sleeping while pressed right up against me. I can’t say I minded at all.
“Hey, I left something outside in the car,” Yvonne said. “Something fell out of my purse on the way home. I’ll go grab it now.”
“Bundle up,” I said as she hustled towards the hallway closet to get her coat. We all heard the door slam shut and went about our business. A few minutes passed. Then a few more. Yvonne still wasn’t back yet.
“I’m gonna go check on Yvonne,” Peter said after 15 minutes had passed. “Make sure everything is ok.”
This time we all followed him into the hallway and watched him bundle up and step outside. But when he did, there was no sight of Yvonne. Not by the car, not in the driveway, or anywhere else. So naturally, we all took a step outside as Peter walked out into the driveway and called for his girlfriend. Then when he noticed there were footsteps in the snow leading away from the garage and towards a wall of pines, he began heading that way. But Peter had only taken a few steps when his girlfriend emerged from the trees and began running towards him. When she was halfway to the cabin, she suddenly fell waist deep into the snow and Peter ran out to help her. But then I noticed there was someone else right behind her.
It’s ironic really. The sight of someone in a black ski mask in literally any other setting would set you on edge, but at a ski lodge in the mountains it would be not just appropriate but encouraged to protect you from the elements. The figure was wearing a black coat, black pants, and black combat style boots to match. The only thing that didn’t match was the knife. It was gleaming silver.
I was vaguely aware of Yvonne telling Peter to run and get back inside the house. I also slowly became aware that Yvonne was clutching her side and was bleeding. But before Peter realized what was going on, the stranger was right on top of them, knife in hand. Despite a valiant attempt by Peter to fight the stranger off, he was no match, as the stranger was well over 6 feet and must’ve weighed 230. With a few deft slashes, the stranger silenced a screaming Yvonne and a shouting Peter.
Seeing someone meet their end like that is nothing like you expect. The sight of someone hobbling through the snow, clutching themselves, blood leaking everywhere, it almost puts you in a trance. Even when the figure with a knife showed up, it didn’t quite seem real. At least at first. For a moment we all just stood there, unable to move. The only thing I can compare it to is watching a movie in a language you don’t understand with no subtitles.
But then the fear set in and reality came crashing back in a split second. I tend to think of fear like alcohol. It comes in a million varieties and no two people have the same tastes. I had been afraid before but seeing that happen to Yvonne and Peter was my first taste of true, unadulterated fear. Moonshine level fear. Fear that reaches out, grabs you by the throat, and rips at you.
That’s when we realized the stranger had turned and was coming towards us, so we scrambled inside and locked the door with no clue of what the hell was going on.
“What do we do?” Jill whimpered out. “Call the police?”
Without waiting for a response, she hustled over to the phone in the sitting room and picked it up. She held it to her ear for a second before tossing it back down.
There was so much in those four little letters.
“Ok,” Charlie took a deep breath. “We need to stay calm and think. He’s out there, and we’re in here. Unless he breaks in, he can’t get to us. And if he does, we need to be able to fight back and subdue him. There are no windows big enough on the first floor, and the front door has a deadbolt. So the only way in is through the glass walls of the patio. Barricade that door and we should be ok.”
Without saying a word we ran to do just that. We shoved a bookcase, some chairs, and a table in front of the door to the patio. It was completely silent both inside and out. The adrenaline of everything began to register. The sudden strain on my body which was already aching from skiing was not pleasant.
“Alright,” Justin whispered. “We’re safe in here for now. But let’s not kid ourselves. Whoever this is has probably been watching us since we got here. If he really wants to get in, he will. But I suggest we all go hide in the attic and pull up the trapdoor. That’s the only way in or out. Is everyone alright with that?”
We furiously nodded our agreement. It was a good plan.
“Oh, and I suggest we all get ourselves some weapons. Some knives or something. There are no guns here. So I’ll run to the kitchen and get some knives. Charlie, go get a fireplace poker or two.”
Charlie did and came back what seemed like seconds later with one of the thick black antique pokers. Justin did the same with several large kitchen knives, handing one to Jill and me. Now we were all armed. It made me feel better.
“Let’s go,” Justin said before leading us up the wooden stairs to the second floor. We crept up in silence, which was unnerving. Each step made me nervous, as if the stranger in the ski mask was going to be right around every corner or was hiding in every shadow. After what seemed like a painfully long time, we arrived at the trapdoor to the attic. Justin carefully pulled it down, revealing the narrow step ladder leading up.
“I’ll go first, just to check,” he said bravely. With a knife held out in front of him, Justin slowly ascended the steps and vanished out of sight. Then there came a flash of illumination from above. One of the light bulbs dangling from the ceiling.
“Ok, come on up.”
“Ladies first,” Charlie nodded at the two of us.
Jill went up before I did, and then Charlie was last, bringing up the trapdoor as he did. Once it was firmly in place, he and Justin managed to barricade it with some of the countless things stashed in the attic. It was the most packed room in the house, with boxes on top of boxes everywhere you looked.
“What do we do next?” Jill asked.
“It’s cold out. It’s not like it’s a warm summer evening and you can just stay out there all night long. If he can’t get in here, he’ll eventually have to go somewhere to warm up,” Charlie said.
Justin nodded in agreement .”That’s right. And if he does get in through the patio glass, we barricaded the entrance. On top of that, we’re up here, armed, where he can’t get to us.”
“Which is great,” Charlie continued. “But we can’t stay up here indefinitely. You got the keys to the car?”
“Sure do, But I’m not even considering making a run for it. I’d bet money the tires are already slashed. Fortunately, I made an appointment for us to go into town and have some fun. Since tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. I even rented a car for us. A limo. With a phone and a driver. Who will be here in the morning.”
“I knew I loved you for a reason,” Jill gave him a quick kiss. “So we just wait until morning?”
“That’s the plan. They’re supposed to be here at 9. I was gonna tell you guys tonight. We can sleep in shifts if you like. Charlie and I both have on watches.”
I muttered a feeble yes before fumbling around in the boxes up here and pulling out some old blankets and pillows to put on the floor. Charlie was nice enough to cuddle with me to help me relax, but it was all pointless. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw what happened to Yvonne and Peter. And any moment I expected to hear the shattering of glass or the splintering of the front door. Eventually I gave up and sat upright so Justin and Jill could try the same thing. We spent the next 12 hours or so in a state of frazzled nerves and tense moods. I sat with my arms holding my legs, making sure to try to stretch my limbs occasionally so they wouldn’t fall asleep. The others did the same. By the time morning came we were beyond exhausted.
Justin got us ready to head downstairs at exactly 8:57 am. After he and Charlie moved the barricade on the trapdoor, he turned to face us.
“Let’s move as a group, facing different angles so we don’t have any surprises.”
With that, he gingerly moved the trapdoor down and one by one, we walked down the stairs. I gripped my knife tightly in hand as I did. This was even worse than the walk up the stairs. Each footstep seemed far too loud. I was expecting the stranger to leap out at us every step we took.
We made it to the front door after an eternity and waited. And waited. When it was 9 am precisely, Justin gingerly slid open the peephole and looked.
“The bodies are gone.” he whispered. “But apart from that it’s all clear.”
Then we heard the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. The sound of a car pulling up to the house.
Justin undid the deadbolt.
“Let’s get his attention and make sure we get the hell out of here,” he said before he flung the door open and we ran into the blinding white morning towards the massive black limo.
I don’t remember all of what happened next. But I faintly remember my heart pounding in my ears while I screamed and waved my arms. I think the other three did the same. The poor limo driver bolted out of the driver’s seat and looked like we were something out of his worst nightmare. But the guy, who looked just a few years older than us, heard us out. Especially when we pointed out the human sized imprints in the bloody snow and the signs that whatever made those shapes had been dragged towards the woods.
The driver, who’s name turned out to be Steve, called the authorities for us on the car phone while we waited. And waited vigilantly with our backs to the limo facing the scenery, the fear and tension somewhat lighter but still there, just as cold as the air. After that, we got into the mercifully warm limo before we heard police sirens screaming towards us. By then we were calm enough to explain what happened and walk them through everything. But about halfway through Justin’s explanation, one of the cops standing by the rental car called out to his colleagues.
“Hey boys come here,” he said before drawing his weapon.
The other officers did the same and he gestured for them to peer underneath the car, which they did. There was some brief shouting and a commotion before they pulled the guy in the ski mask out at gunpoint. Then they snatched off said ski mask and he became an ordinary person. No scars, lost eye, or anything out of the ordinary, Just a normal looking guy. That made him even scarier to me.
After they carted him off in a squad car, they found the bodies of Yvonne and Peter, which were hidden away in the trees. By that point we were calling him The Abominable Snowman.
The next few hours passed in a haze of questions. Cops asking us questions about what happened. Doctors and nurses making sure everything was in order. Eventually we were free to go and we headed over to the hotel rooms Justin’s parents had arranged for us when he called them and explained what happened. It was a cozy place downtown.
It was late afternoon by the time we checked in and limped up to our rooms. Despite the warmth of the hotel, the cold from the last 12 hours had seeped into my bones. But we couldn’t have asked for better arrangements. Two massive bedrooms with separate bathrooms connected by a massive sitting room, which contained another bathroom. But after I put my things down and sat on a couch in one of the bedrooms, I felt something inside me shift and I started sobbing. Charlie immediately came over and quietly held me in his arms. I don’t know how long I sobbed for, but I felt a lot better when I was finished. Next door, I thought I could hear Jill doing the same thing.
We had just settled in and changed into our pajamas when there was a knock at the door. It was Chauffeur Steve, who was holding an expensive looking bottle.
“I’m truly sorry about your friends. But me and the cops chipped in and got this for you. You’ve all earned it.”
Without a word we all buried Steve in a group hug before cracking it open with him. It was Champagne. Dom Perignon. By now we were all too wired to sleep so we relaxed until it was time to ring in the New Year. With glasses from our mini bar holding expensive booze, we toasted.
“To Yvonne and Peter,” Jill toasted somberly.
We all sipped.
“And to survival,” Charlie added.
We all sipped again.
Somewhere in there, we had some food and watched a few movies we had retrieved from the cabin. Steve was more than happy to join us. Then we tuned in to Dick Clark to watch the end of 1989. It was a far easier wait than our time in the attic.
“Happy New Year!” We all managed to yell out when the moment arrived. Then Charlie and I kissed. From the corner of my eye, I saw Jill and Justin do the same.
“Happy New Year babe,” Charlie whispered.
“Happy new decade, babe.” I said affectionately.
That moment is one of my favorite New Year’s Eve memories. Mere hours before it seemed like we might not make it to the next year. But we did.
While everyone on TV sang Auld Lang Syne, Chauffeur Steve bid us good night and we went to our respective rooms. Right before I went to sleep, Charlie wrapped his arms around me.
“Do you have a New Year’s Resolution?” he whispered in my ear.
“Get out of here, go somewhere warm, and never come back.”
He laughed. “What a way to end the ’80s.”