Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Walter had felt cold before, but nothing like this. In the hours since sundown the temperature had dropped steadily, but in the last hundred yards it had been dropping twice as fast.

He had to find shelter quickly or risk freezing to death.

Cresting a small hill, Walter came upon a door stuck as if by accident in the side of a tall snow drift. A smooth metal oval was clearly cut into the side of a wall buried in the ice. Walter, too cold and desperate to be cautious simply pushed on it, and when it retracted out of his way, he fell in a heap to the floor inside.

Walter struggled to regain his footing, and with difficulty managed to stand. Turning, he realized the oval shape had closed behind him, sealing him off from the cold and the wind outside.

Before him a round tunnel stretched away, smooth walled and featureless.

Walter cleared his throat noisily and was startled by a voice.

“Come, come, bring it to us please.”

The sound was nothing if not unnerving.

Realizing there was nowhere to go but on, he walked slowly down the passageway until it emptied out into a large squashed spherical chamber. This space, unlike the stark emptiness of the hall was filled with clutter. Quilts of earth toned fabric hung in sheets from the walls and ceiling, thrown over climbing rope that was looped through pitons hammered haphazardly around the room. Carefully sorted piles of canned goods, glass and other equipment decorated the floor. In the shadows of the perimeter he could make out what looked like long bolts of cotton.

Something moved, and Walter’s attention snapped to it, heart pounding.

“Warm, warm, it comes to us warm.”

The speaking shape resolved into that of an old woman, only the sagging skin of her head and hands were visible from a cavernous patchwork gown. Her hair was filthy and drawn back in a long ponytail, her forehead expansive above brow-less eyes.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Walter spoke slowly, “but it’s bloody cold outside and I was afraid I might freeze to death.”

The strange woman tugged at her forearms through her sleeves, the skin of her hands pulling taught and then falling slack again as she let go.

“Cold outside, cold inside, we takes the heat from where we can, far away and far below,” the woman smiled, her mouth a black toothless gash in her face, “we’re so happy you’ve come.”

Walter felt his stomach turn, empty though it was.

Walter began to back towards the mouth of the tunnel as the woman dropped her arms to her sides. One of her hands fell away, and Walter realized they weren’t hands, but rather gloves made of skin. Turning to run, he tripped over one of the bundles on the floor, falling hard and hearing the sound of breaking bone. When pain didn’t follow, he looked to see broken bone protruding not from his leg, but from the white mass on the floor.

“All the warm stays with us.” Walter whipped around to find the creature standing over him, the braided wig slipped sideways now at an impossible angle. The face was that of a woman, but pulled over something else as a mask. It moved impossibly fast as he tried to scramble for the tunnel, the arms  clamped onto him, pulling him toward it. He screamed as it reared up on it’s hind six legs and spun him round and round into a long bundle of sticky silk. By the time it bound his face, his voice had left him.

Walter could feel it drop him and skitter away across the floor. He only hoped he could freeze to death before it got hungry.

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