Jack Forrester winced as the biting wind from the mountain top assaulted his skin and caused his bones to ache. He hated the cold; his arthritis was beginning to act up worse every winter, and when he was called to the Ten Pines Ski Resort up on Mt. Pirih to investigate an incident, he knew it was going to get real bad.
There was one way to warm the bones, though. Jack took a swig from his canteen full of steaming hot coffee, with a shot of Jack added for flavor. He and his partners would be staying at the resort over night. It was a convenient way to squeeze a vacation into the middle of their work week. The body, or at least what was left of it, had been taken away the evening before. The area had been closed off from the public. Jack had all the details, and a dossier packed full of photos; photos that would have given a lesser man nightmares.
It had been a busy week for skiing. With fresh snow thick on the mountain, and the long first long weekend of the season, the tourists had come in droves. The town of Speers at the base of the mountain was a tourist joint first and a town second. Jack had never seen so many novelty souvenir shops in his life.
"So this is where it happened." A soft voice said through the piercing wind.
It was Evelyn Foster, his long time partner. She was a good kid; married young, fresh back to work after a long and difficult pregnancy. It hadn't worked out; the baby never made it. But Evelyn was tough as nails, or at least that's what she claimed. She was back to work two weeks later, and she wouldn't hear a word about it.
She was a tough woman. If Jack had been a few years younger, he would have gone after her himself. But at 52 years old, he was just an old man to her. And he could feel his age upon him as the aches from the cold really started to set in, and his hand began to cramp around his canteen.
"Most people don't come down this far." Jack said, pacing through the snow. "The trees are thick and it's easy to get lost. A guy got killed last year, slammed into a pine. His wife and kids were waiting at the top of the lift and when he finally came back, he was in a body bag."
Evelyn pulled a lock of blonde hair out of her eyes and pulled her green wool scarf up to protect her face from the wind. "People come here to relax, have a nice weekend; pretty tragic when it turns out this bad. Crashing into a tree, or getting torn apart in the middle of the mountain. Pretty nasty stuff."
The victim was twenty three, and was training for the Winter Olympics. He had won several competitions locally and abroad, and even Jack had seen him on the news once. Now all Jack could see were the photos; photos of a carcass ripped to shreds and scattered all over the mountain side. It sent a chill up his spine when he thought of the poor kids that had went too far down the mountain and found him in that state. They wouldn't forget it for the rest of their lives.
Suddenly, a crack shot out from the trees just beyond where they were standing. Evelyn and Jack both jumped, and peered down into the woods.
"What was that?" Evelyn said, turning to look at Jack.
"I dunno." He replied, scratching his sparse, rugged beard. "Let's go find out."
They moved slowly through the powder, the wind whistling with a deep rhythmic hum. From where they were, they could barely see the resort towering high above, so distant it was barely a speck. And as they made their way down toward the trees, the fog of the mountain clouds obscured their vision completely.
It felt isolating and lonely, even with Evelyn at his side. But since Maria's death, he always felt that way. The kids would seldom visit or make the time, blaming their lack of interest on Jack and his career. It was something his first partner warned him about when he was a beat cop, a rookie as green as Evelyn's scarf.
"Don't drag a family into it, that's all I can say." John had said to him in that thick British accent. "I left mine back home which is where they belong."
Jack hadn't listened, of course. Those first few months with Maria before he got accepted into basic training were a hard, fast living dream. She was such a classy woman.
Christ, he missed her.
"Did you hear that?" Evelyn asked, reaching an arm out to stop her partner.
Jack had been too lost in thought, but he caught the next one. It was like the bark of a dog, and it echoed all around them. Another snap followed, and then another. Jack looked around and realized how deep they were into the trees now. If they were to scream, nobody would hear them.
Evelyn watched Jack as he slowly reached for his pistol.
"Is that necessary?" She asked with a nervous smirk.
"I sure as hell hope not." He replied, keeping his eyes on the woods in front of them as he drew his Beretta and carefully aimed it in front of him.
The thing came out of nowhere, and all Jack saw was a flash of grey before he was hit so hard it nearly knocked his damn teeth out. He was thrown into snow and felt the powder mist his face, the gun flying out of his hands, and the terrified scream of Evelyn apparent through the chaos all around them.
He righted himself on the palms of his hands and darted his head around. He saw Evelyn a few paces away laying face down in the snow, and quickly rushed over to her.
"Hey are you al-"
As he turned her onto her back, his gut twisted in horror. Where that pretty face had once been, there was nothing but a pool of forming blood melting through the snow; whatever had rushed them had taken her head clean off.
"Oh sweet Jesus, no!"
Jack leapt to his feet, cupping a hand over his mouth. He could feel his heart racing as he twisted his head to look around, to see whatever the hell it was had done this. It dawned on him that he had dropped his gun, and he instantly felt defenseless, weak, like a child without his mother.
He raced over to the place he had fallen, an imprint of his body left in the snow there. He heard another terrifying crack from the woods, and he reached down to grab his gun.
Just as he was wrapping his frozen fingers around the handle, he heard the rush coming at him again. He pointed the gun in the direction of the grey, abnormally fast thing heading in his direction, and found it on top of him faster than he could pull the trigger.
It shoved him hard to the ground with a strength he could barely comprehend, and as he looked up, all he could see were two slanted red eyes staring back at him, and a set of jaws obscured by patches of grey fur. The thing opened it's terrible maw so wide that he could see the back of it's inflamed pink throat, and the bark it let loose nearly deafened Jack completely. Acting entirely out of instinct, Jack felt his grip on the pistol tighten, and despite the crushing weight of the thing on top of him, he managed to pull the trigger one, two, three times in a flurry of a gunshots which shook the silent mountain.
The thing instantly released him from its grip and let out a pained, shrieking howl. And before Jack even had the time to lift his head and look at it, it took off into the woods, and was never seen again.
Jack was forced into retirement the week after the incident, deemed mentally unfit to work. The resort closed the mountain past the slalom course off for further tourism, and although the details Jack gave during the investigation into Evelyn Fosters death corresponded with the evidence found on the scene, the composite sketch of the thing that had taken her life was taken into question.
LOOK WHO CAME: