Hey guys! I wrote this one over a period of three days with my mock examinations going on, so probably not the best use of my time! However, this chapter is 4,309 words long! It was 10 pages when I wrote it out in Word, so I'm incredibly excited!
I know Emily may not be many people's favourites, but I hope you'll enjoy this chapter, even if it's only the second half!
33. Dead of Winter
Emily had been in deep thought since the night prior. The stones were enigmatic by themselves, but Nova? She was an anomaly. Emily couldn't help but feel like she was betraying her friends by keeping the stranger's secret, but then again, she wasn't a snitch.
And so, Emily was left awkwardly trying to dodge around the situation as she described a dream which had taken place less than an hour after she had found the stone. Jessica and Matt were sat opposite from her, both leaning forwards in interest, mugs of hot chocolate grasped tightly in their hands.
"It was just so…weird, you know?" For once, Emily was at a loss for words; her dream was pretty much indescribable, despite how vivid it was in her mind. "I was on the mountain, and it was pretty freaking cold – like full on real snowstorm, right?" She waited for the interested nods of Jessica and Matt, who were listening with baited breath. "And then I was at this massive fucking building, it was, like, huge. And I'm pretty sure that it was that weird-ass sanatorium, but like, I've never been there, I've never even seen that place up close, but it was, like, so detailed, as if I'd been there before."
Her story wasn't over yet, but Emily wanted to know what her companions thought so far, shrugging her shoulders as indication that they could speak.
"Jesus, Em," Matt murmured, leaning back and wiping one hand over his eye in an arc, as if he were still trying to take in the story, "I mean, are you sure you're not just freaking out a bit because we're all back up here?" His suggestion made sense; she had been stressed out about coming back to the lodge, but normally tension manifested itself in nightmares, but this dream had been far from it.
"No, no, that's not it," she waved him off and shook her head quickly, leaning forwards, her elbows balanced on her knees so she could gesture with her hands. "Listen, in the dream, I went inside the sanatorium, and it was completely trashed, like, bricks and walls just strewn everywhere." Her fingers pulsed outwards as she tried to explain, expressing herself more clearly. "But, as I said already, it was fucking freezing outside, so I kept going in, right? And I ended up in this weird big chapel room, but there was barely anything left inside it, and the ceiling was falling in."
Jessica was still leaning in close, fingers still closed tightly around her mug, as if she was too enraptured in Emily's story than her drink.
"But then, in like, the centre or whatever, there was this little set of chairs and a radio and a small TV. Of course, I wondered 'What the hell is that doing here?', so I went to investigate." A frown moulded itself onto Emily's features, and she found herself staring at the wooden floor, eyes distant. Her hands were curling in on themselves as she tried to recall the memory.
"There was a small table too." Her voice seemed far more distant now, causing Jessica and Matt to watch her with concern, "And there was this little book on the side next to this huge pile of all of these weird blank stones. So, I reached out to take the book and read it…" Emily trailed off.
"And then what?" Jess' head tilted as her eyes narrowed in confusion, "What happened, Em?"
Emily looked up hopelessly. "I couldn't make out the words. As soon as I tried to read it, I woke up." A heavy sigh escaped her and she stared at Matt and Jess, looking lost. "Any ideas?"
"I think Matt might be right, Em," Jessica began cautiously, careful not to say anything that might enrage or annoy her friend, "I mean, it does seem really specific – with the stones and everything…" Her face scrunched up as she tried to figure out what to say. "I don't know, but it does kinda sound like you're freaking out just a little bit because we're back here."
Matt cringed. He knew that Jessica had moved too far with that one. Emily had very strict lines on how she and people who knew her should conduct themselves, and they were extremely thin. More so than usual, thanks to her ordeal last year. Emily seemed to be on edge every moment – now even when she was asleep, it appeared.
"I'm not overreacting!" Emily recoiled from Jessica, fixing her with a glare. "I'm not stressing out! And even if I was, which I certainly am not, I would have perfectly good reason to! It's not like you were almost shot in the fucking head anyways!" She was livid. Seething, Emily tried to blink away the tears that had welled up in her eyes as she yelled.
Matt and Jessica looked taken aback. They'd both experienced this before – everyone had experienced Emily's wrath in some from. But this was not the same selfish, motivated anger that had once possessed Emily, no, this was a resentment driven by sadness. Anger and intimidation – that was what Emily had always fallen back on. No matter where she was or what ailed her, her relentless screams would always get her what she wanted…
But not now. Not this time. Her anger was empty. Driven by nothing but painful memories and a deep, crushing melancholy. She felt it in her chest like an empty pit. Where her words had once dripped with venom, her mouth now felt try, as if the toxins had been sucked right out.
Her head was pounding; she could hear her blood rushing all around her brain, she could feel her heartbeat in her wrists. Emily lent against the back of the couch and stared up into the ceiling, inhaling much needed long breaths.
A minute or so passed before Emily sat up again, breath still slightly shaky, and hair flying in all directions. She stared at Matt and Jessica who's gazes flickered from her to between themselves, as if they were having a silent conversation. "Guys, I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to go off like that, and I-"
She was cut off by Matt, who stood and raised a hand. Jessica stood beside him. "It's alright, Em, we get it." For the first time, Emily realised how tired his voice sounded. Not the type of tired derived from a lack of sleep, but he was emotionally exhausted. "We're going to, uh, give you some space for a bit, alright?"
It wasn't really her choice either way, she knew that. And so, with her throat tightening, Emily watched as her two friends slowly left, making their way up the stairs until they were out of sight.
That only left herself and Ashley in the room…oh, right, and Josh. Ashley had moved from her position by the television to one much closer to the wendigo, and even from here, Emily could see that Ashley was watching Josh very closely. Freak… she thought to herself, before immediately grimacing at her own ideas. Jeez, no wonder no one wants to hang out around you.
Completely devoid of energy, Emily let her head hit the couch again, pulling her feet up under her. Feeling rather small, she closed her eyes, but sleep evaded her. Too many thoughts rushed around her head, and the small growls coming from Josh's direction didn't act as much of a lullaby.
Ugh…how could I be so stupid? Emily felt hollow, as if someone had reached in and taken out all of her internal organs, leaving her as just a shell. She felt disembodied, and she could feel herself dissociating, slowly drifting away from where she sat, lost in thought. How could she have treated Matt and Jess in that way? They were trying to help her, and she threw it in their face, along with a guilt-trip and a pity story. Pathetic… She couldn't stop the word from cropping up in her mind, causing her to shrink away, wishing that everything would just stop for a second.
In a way, it did feel like she was missing some part of her…a lot of her, in fact. She, Matt and Jessica, they made a really good team – but they were more than that. They say that a person is made of the body and the soul - that was Matt and Jess all right. Matt, the strong rock upon which they all stood; a pillar of certainty and trust throughout hard times, physical and real. And Jessica; lively, spirited and pure, always there to offer guidance and help. But where did that leave her in their body? Perhaps that's why they say 'three's a crowd', Emily mused, her thoughts cloudy.
But all the same, Emily knew where she fitted in into the body. She was the brain; analytical, calculating and clever, offering facts and the cold truth when no one else would. Huh…Compared to the support and love Matt and Jessica offered respectively, she could see why she may have been the weak link of the group.
Did she have any strengths? Any at all? Did she help anyone in any way? Ever?
Questions bombarded Emily's mind, causing her head to throb. With the sudden sensation of pain, she was snapped back into reality, blinking repeatedly to clear the black spots from her vision.
Her chest was heaving slightly, and she looked around in confusion, only to see Ashley staring at her from where she was sat, a small, sympathetic smile on her face. Emily just about managed a weak smile back before Ashley was distracted again by another clink of the chain and another series of growls following the noise.
"Huuhhh…" Emily breathed, pushing herself down into the couch so that her head rested between the back of the seat and the armrest. This time, exhausted, sleep overcame Emily easily and she soon drifted off into a slumber with coarse snarls and the tinkle of a chain to accompany her.
Emily was shaken awake by a firm hand on her shoulder, causing her eyes to fly open, her gaze darting around wildly. "Matt?! What's wrong?"
…That was not Matt. That was most definitely not Matt.
Emily scrambled to the other side of the sofa, heart thumping as if it was threatening to burst through her skin. Mike was stood at the other end of the couch, a pained grimace spread across his face as he stared off to the side rather than at her. "Hey, Em."
Emily sucked in a deep gulp of air, about to scream for help, panic flitting in her stomach, when Mike raised his hands in a frantic 'STOP' motion. "Hey hey no no. No. Don't do that. For the love of Christ please don't do that." He seemed agitated. Although it was nothing compared to what she was feeling right now.
She had been deliberately avoiding contact with Mike for the duration of the stay so far, and for damn good reasons too. Having contracted what looked to be a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after her near-death experience at the hands of Michael, she had all the rights in the world to stay away from him. Unfortunately, it appeared that Mike didn't quite grasp the gravity of the situation.
"Could you just listen to me, for one freakin' moment? Please?" Mike rationalised as Emily looked like she was about to scream again.
It took Emily a moment to collect her thoughts, and to stop her mind running away with her emotions. Finally, she mustered her voice; "What do you want, you fucking psycho?" It wasn't a pretty insult, and it wasn't a good one, but in this state, it was the most Emily could manage.
Mike made a move to sit on the arm of the chair, but seeing Emily's wild flashing eyes, he quickly collected himself and remained standing, shoving his hands into the worn pockets of the green jacket. "Listen, you know about Nova, right?"
The words caught Emily off guard. How in the world did Mike know about Nova too? Thoughts raced through her mind in a second, flooding her brain with barely enough time to process them. Frowning, she stared up at Mike, her eyes unblinking, "Yeah, we've met." She tried her best to stay distant and cold – like the old Emily. Of course, she hadn't been 'the old Emily' in a long time.
Mike made another regretful expression, wiping his hand up through his hair as his eyes darted around the room, clearly nervous. "She wants us – yeah, you and me," he broke off as Emily glanced between the two of them sceptically, "to go, I don't know, meet her outside in like, fifteen minutes." He was clearly struggling for phrasing that wouldn't cause Emily to refuse to accompany him.
Fortunately, Emily's response was only one of curiosity. "Why?"
His hands were thrown up in exasperation, "I don't know! She just climbed in through my window, yelled at me a little, told me to bring you and meet her out by the path to the sanatorium at midnight. It's kinda blurry to be honest."
Emily wasn't quite sure why, but she could feel a small smirk coming onto her face. "She sure does love climbing through windows, huh?" The comment she made was muttered half to herself, causing Mike to tilt his head slightly in wonder.
Emily's mind worked faster than the average person's would. Where they would have deliberated their options for a while, Emily weighed up the pros and cons in seconds.
Pushing herself up from the couch, trying to stop her legs from shaking with nervousness and lack of use, she nodded to Mike, a small pool of dread swirling in her stomach. "Alright. Let's go."
She followed Mike out, grabbing her coat and shrugging it on, making sure to do it up right to her neck. Part of her was only now just processing the deal she had made. Why had she agreed to go out into the freezing cold forest in the middle of the night with Mike of all people? Perhaps it was for nostalgias sake. Emily couldn't really be sure. She wasn't in touch with her inner feelings enough to be certain.
Slipping out into the night, Emily felt the cold wind blast against her face, chilling her to the bones in seconds. It was then she wished she was wearing more than some leggings, fur boots and a coat. She shivered constantly, teeth chattering uncomfortably. Mike looked to be in the same boat, his arms crossed and legs drawn together in a poor effort to conserve heat.
Sighing, Emily pulled out her phone and flicked on the torch which lit the white ground almost blindingly. "Fucckkk it's cold." She heard Mike's complaints and rolled her eyes. Men.
"So, uh, where's this path?" She queried desperately wanting to move to at least create some form of warmth for herself. Her legs already felt like icicles, and her fingers weren't far behind, clasping to the phone as if they were frozen to it.
"That way." Mike breathed, raising a gloved hand to point into the shadowed distance.
Grimacing, Emily began to walk forwards, her feet making quiet sounds in the snow as she trudged along. "I really do not like this."
Her phone lighting the way, Emily and Mike walked side by side in silence, except for the occasional grunts and chatters that would be expelled from their mouths as an instinctual reaction to the cold. Emily's mind was running rampant at that time, calculating every way she could possibly die in this scenario, and god, were there a lot.
It was weird, right? That she was walking through the woods at midnight, freezing to death, with someone who had tried to kill her…right? And she was going to meet a deranged skull-wearing stranger who had previously climbed through her window in the dead of night. This is so messed up. The last situation she had been in that was like this was exactly last year, but her journey had been a little more rushed thanks to a certain monster trying to tear her limb from limb. In fact, there had been another weird stranger then, too. The parallels were nearly endless the more Emily began to think about it. She was lost deep in thought, unconsciously following Mike before he suddenly stopped in his tracks. "This is it."
Emily shone her torch upwards to see a small directional sign pointing down a rather abandoned looking path with the words 'Blackwood Sanatorium' written on in white lettering. Frowning, she looked around the area, shining the flashlight around through the trees that had quickly surrounded them, looking for someone in the darkness. "Well? Where is she?"
Mike was looking equally confused. He scratched the back of his head thoughtfully, squinting down the path, into the darkness in an effort to see if Nova was there. "I, um, I don't actually know. Maybe we're early?" He suggested, avoiding catching Emily's eye. "I mean, we did kind of come early – I was expecting you to put up more of a fight and…" Mike trailed off, cringing at his own words.
Emily's only response was panic. "Oh. My. God. You did come here to kill me! I knew it, I freaking knew it!" She took a step back from Mike, fixing him with an icy, and equally terrifying glare, "If you take a step near me Michael…" Her threat was left empty, but she didn't care, it did the job.
"Em! I wasn't trying to kill you!" He tried to reason, but Emily's folded arms and piercing gaze showed she was having none of it. "Jesus, do you really think I would kill you?" The reality hit him like a stone, so hard it was visible, his face morphing into one of sudden understanding.
It was too late, however; Emily could already feel her sour expression contorting into one of rage. "You didn't seem to have a problem with it last year!" Her retort was scathing - a low blow which Mike clearly felt. He looked as if his legs were about to buckle.
"I- I didn't want to Em! We were fucking scared, it wasn't my-"
"Would'cha look at that; these two ain't really a happy family, are they?" Nova's voice cut through the air like a blade, and the pair immediately whipped round to face the trees, Emily shining her torch into the thickets, squinting to see through the falling snow, previous thoughts completely abandoned. "Boo."
Nova appeared beside them, deer-skull once again adorned. Her hands were shoved deep into her pockets, as if even through her thick layers of protection, the cold still bit at her bones as it did Emily's. Of course, Emily couldn't read Nova's expression, but by the tone of her muffled voice, she guessed it would be a crooked grin.
"Mm, lovely to see you, too." Nova replied bitterly as neither Mike nor Emily replied to her snide greeting.
Mike was the first to respond, jump-started by Nova's prompt. "Uh, sorry about that, but could you really not have picked someone else?" Emily bit her tongue. That was harsh. She narrowed her eyes at the pair but didn't utter a word, the corners of her mouth being pulled down in a tight grimace to stop another outburst.
Nova scoffed, scratching the back of her neck, "If I would I could, Mikey. But unfortunately, you two are stuck together. So you better get fuckin' used to it fuckin' fast." Tonight was clearly no time for games, Emily realised gravely as Nova's voice turned darker and more annoyed than she had heard it. "And could ya stop shining that light in my face?" She growled, causing Emily to switch of the torch instinctively.
"Now," Nova said, her voice normal again, "I've got some stuff stored up in a cabin up here that I'm gonna need to give you for your, uh, Josh." She seemed unsure of how to refer to the wendigo. Of course, Emily would have preferred to term 'freak', but that had been frowned on by the rest of the group. Mike only nodded.
Before either of them could say anything else, a shrill whistle echoed out of the skull, only amplified by the hollow bones. The pair frowned at each other – what now?
All of a sudden, she heard a thumping noise coming up the path behind them. She only just turned in time to avoid being bowled over by a huge white wolf, which went charging straight to Mike. He was nearly thrown backwards as the canine jumped up on its hind paws, reaching up to Mike.
"Jesus, Wolfie!" Came the delighted voice of Mike, "You've grown." The wolf only responded with a thorough wag of his tail, before jumping down, his mouth agape as if he was smiling.
Nova was watching with interest. "He sure likes you."
Mike was wearing a beaming grin on his face – wider than any one Emily had seen in a long time. He was crouched down beside the wolf, rapidly scratching behind his ears and patting him gently. Emily even swore she heard a 'Who's a good boy?' being cooed at the wolf.
Emily was still taken aback; "What the hell is this?" She gestured at the wolf, turning to Nova with a bemused and annoyed expression. Wolfie glanced at her for a second, tail wagging before turning his attention back to Mike, who was still completely smitten at having found his best friend again.
"'S my wolf." Nova replied simply, "I assume that Mikey here had some dealin's with him last year, right?"
Mike nodded profusely, whilst Nova only shrugged. "Yeah, he won't forget a friend. Millie's got a great taste in character, to be fair."
Michael stood up quickly. "I'm sorry – 'Millie'? What type of name is that for a wolf?"
Nova only chuckled, beginning to walk down the path that lead to the sanatorium, clicking to the wolf which obediently followed at her heels, although not before he paused to sniff at Emily curiously. "I'll tell ya while we walk, all right?"
Mike strode in tandem with Nova – something which proved quite a feat considering how fast she travelled with a considerably shorter gait. Emily trailed along behind, still freezing half to death.
"Y'see, 'Wolfie' here – real creative name, by the way, didn't always have a name," Nova began, her voice still muffled by the deer skull that rested on her head. "Nah, not until y'all came to the mountain last year." This caused Emily to frown – if this was her wolf, Nova must have been here last year, when the flamethrower guy had.
"Your friend Josh put up those fake wanted fliers all around the goddamned mountain – 'Victor Milgram', they read, I believe. Anyways, my-" she quickly broke off, shaking her head before picking up her words where she left off. Emily squinted at her – what was Nova going to say? "I thought that was pretty funny, to tell the truth, so this here," she gestured at the wolf, "Is Milgram, or Millie as I like to call him."
"Nah, he's Wolfie to me." Mike replied, affectionately stroking the wolf that walked alongside him.
By the time that the trio had finished conversing – or rather, by the time Mike and Nova had finished conversing, and when Emily had stopped listening in – they had reached a small shack on the way to the sanatorium. It was clearly no form of living accommodation due to the lack of one wall and blown in windows, but it evidently sufficed as somewhere to store things that one might want to keep hidden.
Nova proceeded inside before emerging a second later with two bags. One was more of a large burlap sack which could be hoisted over the shoulder, whilst the other was a satchel that was designed to be worn. She tossed the satchel to Emily, who barely caught it with shaking hands, and passed the sack effortlessly to Mike, who groaned under its weight as he slung it over his shoulder.
"That in there," she gestured to the bag that Emily carried, "has some stuff you'll need to help keep that there wendigo spirit at bay. The original stuff I had up here wouldn't work indoors, so I've modified the rituals a bit and hopefully they should work for ya. Just hang 'em up around the lodge." Emily peered inside, seeing a small selection of items that were crafted of carved beads and feathers, reminding her vaguely of dreamcatchers.
"And that," Nova moved to motion at Mike, "Is raw deer meat."
Emily almost gagged and Mike looked disgusted, "It's what?"
"Hm, didn't take you for the squeamish type," Nova commented offhandedly, before continuing her explanation. "See, you can't just starve a wendigo, otherwise after a while they'll die, and a wendigo dyin', as I'm sure you know, releases its spirit back into the air. But you also can't give it human flesh, for obvious reasons." Nova shrugged again, "So you give 'em deer meat. Enough to sustain the body, but barely enough to supply any energy to the wendigo spirit. You just hack that up and feed it to your friend, and he'll be…well, he ain't gonna be any better, but he'll be manageable."
With that, Nova waved a hand in farewell and made her way off up the track towards the sanatorium, clicking with her tongue so that Wolfie followed.
Mike and Emily were left staring at each other. So many questions and theories rose up in their minds unanimously about what had happened on this mountain over the past year. But Mike summed up what both of them were feeling very concisely:
"What the fuck?"