When Christa and Kiernan set out on their tour of the Rockies, Christa’s anxieties are finally seeming calm. Two weeks of exploration with Kiernan at her side sound like the perfect balm for agitated nerves. But then the tour bus breaks down in the bitter cold… and the group of tourists must make their way to an abandoned cabin… where they’re all trapped as people start to go missing.
Darcy Coates is back with an utterly chilling thrill ride—and Creepy Crate recipients can receive a copy of Dead of Winter before its official release date! Get the deep freeze of winter without turning on your A/C this summer.
Read on for an excerpt of Dead of Winter, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy.
Snow in my mouth. In my nose. Burning my eyes as winds buffet me about like a scrap of cloth tangled on the mountainside.
Kiernan screams for help. His voice is raw, cracking. He holds my hand with a grip so tight it hurts. I suspect it would hurt more if I weren’t so numb.
“Stay with me, Christa,” he repeats, and his words are dragged away by gale-force winds. “Don’t leave me.”
Snowdrifts rise up to my knees. We’re struggling, clawing our way across a landscape we can barely see. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t think Kiernan knows either, and that thought is terrifying.
Nothing around us is familiar. I can no longer see the sun or which way the summit is or whether there was ever a path under the snow we’re stumbling through. All I can see is white, interrupted by pockets of black rock jutting out of the empty void. The landscape is inhospitable. Jagged and harsh, inhumane. Not even the wildlife wants to live here.
My black jacket has turned gray under a coating of snow. My heart thunders, each pulse bruising the back of my ribs. I can barely breathe. My scarf keeps sliding down to my chin, exposing my face to the brunt of the snowstorm. My nose burns. I imagine blood vessels bursting and spreading a web of red lines across my skin.
I pull the scarf up again, trying to hold it in place, but then my footing slips on the uneven terrain and I stumble. Kiernan clutches at me. He tries to pull me back up, but we’ve been fighting the snowstorm for too long and we’re both exhausted. Instead, he drops to his knees beside me.
Not much of his face is visible, just a slim line between his neck gaiter and thermal hat, revealing squinted eyes and pale skin. Ice flecks cling to his brows and lashes.
“It’s not far,” he says. The wind howls around us, deafening, and he bends close so that I can hear his voice. “We only need to go a bit farther.”
He’s said that before, nearly an hour ago.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No one had expected the storm. Or how rapidly we would lose the path once visibility dropped.
Kiernan tugs at me, his gloved hands slipping off my jacket as he tries to pull me up. “Come on, Christa.” Another pull. “Not far.”
I’m so exhausted. My exposed skin is either numb or burning. I scramble to rise, and Kiernan pulls me against himself. “There we go,” he says, or I think he says, under the gale. His hand runs down my arm until it finds my hand, then he grips it, and I grip back as fiercely as I can.
We’re perhaps a hundred miles from civilization. My view from the tour bus window showed sparse hiking trails, but no houses. No shelter. Nothing but endless stretches of unforgiving wilderness: craggy, dark rocks and infrequent, anemic pine trees. The mountain range rose ahead of us and cut across the skyline like a broken knife. We are truly, unbelievably alone.
We’re going to die out here, I think, and the fear turns to acid on my tongue.
“Hello!” Kiernan yells into the void. “Hello!”
I’d screamed with him at first, pushing my voice to rise above the howling winds until it cracked in the cold air, and I couldn’t even hear myself. Now, it’s all I can do to stay on my feet. Stay moving.
The scarf slips again, and it feels like my skin is being scraped off by sandpaper. I turn my head away from the gale and Kiernan notices. He tugs his own scarf off his neck. Out of the two of us, he was the better dressed. The better prepared. He’d grown up in an area not too different from here; he’d known how temperamental it could be.
He reaches the scarf toward me. I shake my head. You need it. His hand finds my jacket lapel and pulls me closer as he loops the thick merino wool around me.
“Don’t fight me on this,” he says.
The scarf doesn’t just sit around my neck but covers the lower half of my face, almost blocking my eyes. It smells of damp and Kiernan’s breath and sweat. My own hot breath blows around my cheeks with every exhale.
Kiernan bends to put our heads at the same height. He’s still wearing his neck gaiter, pulled up to cover his nose, but it looks too lightweight without the scarf. Crystals have formed around the corners of his eyes and I can’t tell if it’s an effect of the sharp wind or whether he’s fighting back tears.
“We need to stay together,” he says. “This way.”
The landscape is changing around us, growing up vertical, the jutting black shards of rock rising high past our heads. The snowdrifts are deep around them, and every step is a fight. A horrendous sinking sensation forms in the pit of my stomach. This isn’t even remotely like the area where the bus was forced to halt. We’re moving in the wrong direction. I try to call to Kiernan, to tell him we need to turn back, but my throat is stripped raw and my voice escapes as a reedy whisper, inaudible even to myself.
Uneven walls rise to my left, crusted in ice. An endless expanse of white stretches to my right. Clumps of snow tumble away from my boots and vanish into it. I press back, pushing closer to Kiernan, grabbing at his arm to warn him we’re on the edge of a ravine. He sees my gestures.
“It’s okay,” he calls, and his voice sounds thin and broken under the wind. “We just need to get around this. Stay close to the wall. Don’t let go of me.”
I’ve never seen Kiernan terrified before. It feels like an alien emotion for him. Something unnatural, something that doesn’t belong.
But still, he’s moving forward.
I grasp his hand and try to pull him back. It’s too dangerous. We need to retrace our steps. See if we can find out where we turned wrong and which path will lead us back to the tour group.
He calls something to me and leans forward again. I shake my head, but he doesn’t see it. His shoulder brushes along the rough stone as he moves close to it, holding himself as far from the ravine as he can.
I can’t get him back. Which means I have to follow.
The ground feels uneven, though it’s hard to be certain with the snow as thick as it is. I mimic Kiernan’s motions and press against the bare stone face, my glove running across the rough surface to guide my movements. The snowstorm is so thick that I can’t tell how close the cliff’s edge is. I can barely see the snow around my legs, white and blurred under the flakes funneled in by the wind. At a certain point, I can’t see the ground at all any longer. There’s no clear edge. No sharp line to warn me how close I am. Just a fade into nothing.
Kiernan is moving fast. I can feel the desperation in the angle of his shoulders and the thought returns to me: We’re going to die here. I wonder if that idea has occurred to him yet. Whether he’s dwelling on it.
Hot air gusts out of my mouth, trapped in the scarf, and brings pins and needles to my damaged skin. I feel as though I am suffocating, but pulling the scarf away won’t bring any relief.
I still can’t see the edge of the ravine to my right, but the ground under my feet is tilting toward it. I press hard against the rocks to my left. My boots are slippery on the ice. Kiernan is pulling ahead. I try to call to him to slow down, but my voice comes out as a whistle.
The wind races across the bare rocks, trying to pry me away from them. My heart is pumping ferociously, and I’ve never been so hyperaware that the heart is a muscle because it feels like it’s on the verge of snapping.
Kiernan turns to say something. I catch a vowel, but the rest of his words are torn away.
I’m watching his face, not the ground, as I step forward. My foot plunges into the snow and fails to find anything solid beneath.
If I’d been less exhausted—if my reflexes had been sharper, if I’d been more prepared—I might have been able to pull back. Instead, I plunge down, my mouth open in a gasping cry that never quite materializes. Snow gets into my mouth. My arms stretch out, fingers reaching for any kind of purchase, but they only find fresh snow, crumbling and delicate.
I feel myself sliding away. Toward the edge, toward the void. I claw and kick but it’s like grasping at air.
A hand catches mine. Kiernan, his eyes huge and wild, clutches at me.
It’s not enough.
Pain arcs up my arm as I slip out of his hold. He grasps for better purchase, taking the glove and a strip of skin off the back of my hand before I fall away.
I don’t even have the breath to scream. My face is to the sky, my back to the empty white void beneath me as I plunge, carrying a wave of snow in my wake.
Want to keep reading? Subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance at an early copy of Dead of Winter.
This post is sponsored by Sourcebooks. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Lineup to continue publishing the creepy stories you love.
Feature image: Justin Kauffman / Unsplash