Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
It’s 3am and I still can’t sleep. Actually, I haven’t been able to relax at all since we got back from our camping trip. My mom keeps telling me that I’m still in shock from everything that happened, but I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, I gag every time I think about seeing Jake’s body, and the thought that Ani could have suffered the same horrible end makes me want to break down in tears. But, that isn’t what’s keeping me up. Before I get ahead of myself, let me start from the beginning. Maybe you’ll be able to see what I mean.
“You’re sure you have everything?” my dad asked as he helped stuff the last of my bags in the car, being careful not to drop anything in the snow.
“For the one hundredth time, yes” I answered, slightly irritated. My mom reached into her coat pocket and pulled out the car keys.
“We’re just worried, Kate” she said handing me the keys, “camping during the winter is a whole lot different than spring or summer.”
“Mom, It’ll be fine. We’ve all done our research and are beyond prepared.” My mom smiled and gave me a hug.
“Just use good judgement and always make sure your phone is charged” my dad instructed “you remembered your portable charger right?” I rolled my eyes.
“Yes dad, I got it. Along with five back ups just incase”
“That’s my girl!” he chuckled.
After going over my checklist one final time, I said goodbye and drove off.
I started going camping with some friends from my high school back in ninth grade. Our group consisted of the nature loving power couple, Steven and Margaret, myself, and our friend Jake. Up until now, we had only gone on short weekend trips at nearby campgrounds. Steven and Margaret were the ones who planned everything down to the very last detail. Actually, they were the ones who started the whole camping thing to begin with. I was pretty stoked when they first had the idea, but lost some interest when they told me Jake would be joining us. I didn’t necessarily hate the guy, after all he was always nice to me and my friends, but it was the way he acted around other girls that just rubbed me the wrong way. I would see how he treated girls in the halls at school, barely showing any interest in what they were saying yet somehow manipulating them into wanting to go out with him, and it just made me uneasy. After going on a couple of trips with the guy, I have to say I got used to him. Then again, it was always just him.
Jake had been dating Ani for a couple of months. The two seemed inseparable, but I wasn’t entirely sold on their relationship. Ani was a sweetheart and Jake always seemed to treat her poorly. She would watch as he flirted with other girls at school and never seemed to mind when he flaked on her. Margaret and I both noticed this after a while and tried to talk to her to see if she was actually happy. Of course, she would always tell us she was fine and thank us for being great friends. Needless to say, it was clear that something was up, but we didn’t want to pry. A couple of weeks before winter break, Jake asked Ani if she wanted to come on our winter camping trip. When Ani said yes, Jake seemed genuinely excited. We thought that maybe this was a sign that their relationship was finally headed in the right direction.
We were all scheduled to meet at Steven’s house at 7am that day. When I arrived, Margaret was already helping him load supplies into his 2008 Chevy Suburban. I parked my car on the street in front of his house.
“Morning guys!” I chirped. I closed the door to my car and opened the trunk. “Are you sure we’ll have enough room?” I asked, quickly glancing at the back of the Suburban which was already pretty full.
“Of course!” answered Steven “she’s never let me down.” Margaret walked over to help be unload my car.
“Yea, it should be fine” she said “besides, I doubt Ani and Jake will bring that much. You know he always under packs.” We both giggled and started loading my supplies into the car.
Jake and Ani arrived about 15 minutes after I did. As Margaret had predicted, they were significantly under packed.
“You sure this is enough for the two of you?” Margaret asked
“Of course!” Jake answered. He turned to Steven and grinned “and if not, we’ll just borrow some of your stuff” Steven laughed. He took Jake and Ani’s bags and neatly packed them in the back of the suburban.
“Hey, Steven?” Ani asked “do you mind if I use your bathroom before we go?”
“Go ahead!” he answered “Margaret, can you show Ani where the bathroom is?” Margaret nodded and she lead Ani inside. When they were out of sight, I asked Jake how everything was going between them.
“Honestly, not great” He said putting his hands in the both pockets of his black down coat “I think this will be our last hurrah before I call it quits.” Hearing this pissed me off.
“Why would you invite her on a week long camping trip if you were planning on breaking up!?” I asked “that’s fucked up!”
“Gotta agree with Kate, man” said Steven “she’s a nice girl, why would you string her along?” Jake started to get a little defensive after hearing both of our opinions on the whole thing.
“Look” he answered “I never said it was definite. If anything, I’m hoping this whole thing can fix everything, you know?” Steven and I looked at each other. We knew Jake was trying to avoid being pinned as the bad guy. We heard the door to the house open and close as Margaret and Ani walked out.
“Just don’t start any drama ok?” Steven whispered to Jake.
“Won’t be a problem,” Jake answered “don’t worry.”
Steven patted Jake on the back and opened the door to the suburban.
The drive to the mountain was long. Since we got up so early, some of us took naps so we wouldn’t be completely wiped out before we even got there. We arrived at the mountain around 10am to meet our guide at the lodge. He went over everything we needed to know about camping on the mountain, as well as gave us some hints on where the best spots might be. He also mentioned that a fireworks show would be taking place later that night around 8pm.
“You lucked out” he said as he walked us to the gondola, “This week is supposed to be beautiful! ” We all laughed. After thanking him, We loaded all of our camping supplies into the gondola and proceeded up the mountain.
“Alright guys” said Steven looking at his map “I think the spot we want is about 5 minutes from here. Should be a pretty easy walk!” We followed Steven down the eastern path leading away from the gondola. The sunlight glistened off the pearly piles of snow, which added a hint of magic to the already beautiful winter scene. Even though it was chilly, the light warmed our faces and gave us the last bit of energy we needed to finally start the day. I usually don’t like the quiet that sometimes comes with being so far away from the city, but there was something about this kind of quiet that filled me with a sense of comfort. I was with my friends on this amazing adventure that not many people can say they have experienced. For this, I was thankful.
When we reached our campsite, I started to get really excited. I wanted to start setting everything up as soon as possible so I could have so me time to explore the area. It took us a little over an hour to set up the tents and get comfortable. After everyone was unpacked, we ate our lunches at the small picnic table next to a sign that read “Campsite 8.”
“This is so cool you guys,” I said between bites of my tuna sandwich. I turned to Steven and Margaret who both had large cups of chili. “So, what do we wanna do?”
“Well, I’m super pumped for those fireworks” Said Margaret, “I was going to go see if I could find a good spot for us to watch”
“Oh awesome! I’ll come with you!” I answered excitedly. It was then that I noticed that Ani had stopped eating and was completely tuned in to our conversation. “Ani, you should come too!” I said with a smile.
“I’d love to!” Ani answered. She turned to Jake “You don’t mind, right?”
“Nope. Knock yourself out” He answered. I could tell that he was becoming indifferent towards Ani and it started to make me mad. I was going to say something, but decided it would be best to let it go. After all, I wanted all of us to have the time of our lives!
After Lunch, Margaret, Ani and I grabbed our chairs and went for a walk to try and find the perfect spot to watch the fireworks. The only information our guide gave us was that they could be seen from anywhere on the mountains long as trees weren’t in the way. After a short walk, we ended up stumbling upon a clearing with a gorgeous view.
“Oh wow” Ani said in awe “you can see the lodge from here and everything!”
“I think we found our spot!” said Margaret triumphantly “It’s not far from the campsite either which is nice, but I’ll mark it on the map just incase.” We set up our chairs and sat down. We took in all that we could while talking about the end of high school and where we planned on going to college. I was the only one between the three of us that didn’t have a clear plan, but I was ok with that. I’ve always been a sort of ‘go with the flow’ type of person. I was however very impressed with Ani. She told us she was looking at Art Colleges on the East Coast. Once she decided on one, she would be moving there after graduation. She also told us that her parents were moving back to Russia after they helped her move.
“Won’t you miss your parents?” I asked Ani. I thought about how much time I spent with my family and how hard it was going to be to move 10 minutes away. This girl was moving across the country!
“Of course I will” she answered “but I know they’ll come visit. Plus, I have family in Boston so it’s not like I’ll be completely alone over there.” Margaret looked at Ani and smiled. “Well, you better stay in touch! We might not be close by but we can still bug the hell out of you on skype!” Ani giggled
“I’m holding you to that!” she said. Now, I’m someone who’s been known to kill the mood. It’s honestly probably one of the reasons why I still don’t have a special someone in my life. After our nice talk about the future, I said something I instantly regraded.
“What about Jake?” I asked ” I just mean, like, do you think you’ll stay together or…?” Margaret frowned and gave me that ‘are you kidding’ look I’m all to familiar with. Before I could apologize, Ani chimed in.
“As much as I’d like to think we’d stay together, I get the feeling we might not even last until the end of the year” Margaret and I looked at one another. We weren’t at all surprised, but we were a little taken aback that Ani was the one to admit it.
“What do you mean?” Margaret asked.
“He just isn’t the guy I thought he was.” Ani responded, her eyes fixed on the distant horizon “I’ve tried not to let his personality bother me, but the truth is…I hate it” I didn’t say anything and neither did Margaret. I could tell that we both wanted to hear more as this was the first time we heard Ani say anything negative about Jake. “He’s not good to me” she continued “but whenever I bring up my concerns, he gets angry. So angry that I’d rather put up with feeling unloved then deal with his attitude.” Hearing this broke my heart and I almost started to tear up. Jake was never my favorite person, but was he really that awful of a boyfriend? The worst part was, Ani didn’t looked phased at all. She just sat there, staring longingly into the distance.
“Why did you come on the trip with him?” Margaret asked, a hint of worry in her voice.
“Despite everything, I still have feelings for him” Ani said with a sad laugh “I was hoping this trip would bring us closer together. But, sadly, I don’t see that happening.” Ani leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. “I’ll get over it though!” She sighed as her positivity returned.
“Of course you will!” I said reassuringly “Believe me, you’ll have no issue finding someone else when we get back. I already know several guys who have major crushes on you already!” Ani laughed and shook head. After our serious talk, the conversation shifted to my pitiful love life, giving us all a much needed laugh.
When we got back to the campsite, Steven and Jake had already broken into the beers Jake snagged from his fridge.
“Is that really all you guys brought? Thanks a lot! I hate beer!” I complained “there’s nothing worse than being the sober fifth wheel..”
“It’s cool!” Ani chirped “I don’t drink, so I’ll be sitting this one out too” I felt relieved.
“Thank god” I said “have I mentioned yet how much I love your girlfriend, Jake?” Jake didn’t respond right away. He was already pretty gone so I wasn’t expecting much. “Hello?!” I exclaimed “anyone there!?”
“It’s suuuper lame” He slurred “she’s such a buzzkill” I felt myself getting protective over Ani. How dare he talk about her like that, especially when she was sitting right there!
“You’re a real dick you know that!?” I yelled. Everyone went silent “she deserves way better than your fucking piece of shit ass and you know it.” Steven stood up
“Ok, ok, let’s all calm down. There’s no need for this.” I sat down in my chair and tried to cool off. Steven turned to Ani “he didn’t mean that.”
“It’s fine” she laughed. I could tell this was just to keep the peace. If anything, it made me angrier.
We managed to salvage the rest of the afternoon despite the drama. Ani and I actually had a lot of fun making fun of our drunk friends. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. It was the alarm I set for the fireworks.
“Hey guys! Let’s get going. We don’t want it getting dark before we head over”
“Yea! Yea, let’s go let’s go!” said Margaret, who was hammered at this point. Steven helped her out of her seat.
“You ok babe? You look a little sick…” Steven looked at me “Is she ok?” I rolled my eyes.
“Seriously? She’s your girlfriend bro…” I walked over to Margaret who was clearly about to get sick. “Ok girly, if you’re gonna puke do it in the woods.” Margaret gave me what looked like a thumbs up and started stumbling towards the nearby trees. I turned to Steven “I’ll stay here with her” I sighed “you guys follow Ani. She should have the spot marked on her map too so you won’t get lost.”
“Thanks dude, make sure she’s ok!” I nodded.
Margaret has always been known to ‘puke and rally.’ After she gets sick, she’ll be back on her feet ready to go. it took a little longer for her to feel better, but after drinking some Gatorade and snacking on some granola bars, she was perfectly fine.
“You’re not human are you” I teased.
“Barely!” She giggled, “Ok, let me brush my teeth real quick and then we can head out.”
The sky was starting to get dark. I knew we would have to hustle if we wanted to make the walk easier. The trees surrounding our camp site started to lose their shape and the path to the clearing started getting smaller.
“Are you done yet?” I asked, urgency in my voice, “walking there in the dark isn’t going to be fun you know!” Margaret poked her head out her tent and spit in the snow.
“All good, let’s-” Before Margaret could get out of her tent, we noticed to flashlights speeding down the path towards us. When they finally reached the site, we saw that it was Steven and Jake.
“What are you guys doing? Did you forget something?” I asked. My eyes darted around the space behind them “Where’s Ani?” Jake and Steven didn’t say a word. Margaret got out of her tent.
“You just left her in that clearing alone!?” she yelled ” What is WRONG with you!?” I studied their faces and was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of fear when I saw their expressions. They looked petrified. Like they had just witnessed something horrifying. My worry started to turn into anger and I pulled Jake’s arm.
“Where is…your FUCKING girlfriend…” I demanded. Jake didn’t answer me. He couldn’t even look at me. This made me lose it “WHERE IS SHE!? WHERE THE FUCK IS ANI!?”
” I DON’T KNOW!” Jake snapped out of whatever spell he was under and crumpled to the ground. “We looked everywhere and couldn’t find her!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could Ani have just disappeared? The walk to the clearing was short, plus she had a map. We all stood there, frozen , for what felt like a lifetime. Finally, Steven spoke up.
“We need to get help” he said in a weak voice. I had never seen him like this. Steven always kept his cool under pressure, and was basically an expert in all things outdoors. For him not to know what to do made me feel completely hopeless. “We need to go to the lodge and tell them Ani is missing in the woods.”
“Ok” said Margaret “it’ll be ok then, right? They’ll find her?” Steven nodded
“I’m sure they will” his voice started to come back to reassure his girlfriend. I, however, saw right through him. He was still just as terrified as Jake, who was frantically wiping away tears. Something was not right. But what I couldn’t understand, was why they wouldn’t tell us what really happened.
The search for Anastasia Morozov continued for the entire week with no luck. Things got worse when a snow storm started to roll in. School would be starting again in a few days and we all needed to get back home. All I wanted to do was see my parents. As we were leaving we saw Ani’s parents talking to the rangers. Her mom was crying and her dad was doing everything he could to comfort her, even though he was clearly losing his mind as well. I wanted to say something so bad like ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘they’ll find her,’ but I was sure I’d only make the situation worse. We started to walk past them when Ani’s dad and Jake locked eyes.
“You!” the man yelled “What did you do to my daughter!” This stopped us all in our tracks. We were sure this was just a typical reaction from a parent with a missing child, but even still, Mr. Morozov approached Jake as if he was convinced he murdered her or something.
“S-sir” Jake squeaked “I-I’m so sorry I-”
“Mr. Morozov” said Steven, rushing to Jake’s defense “I was with him. One minute she was there and the next she was gone. It wasn’t him sir, I promise.” Ani’s dad starred at Steven and then back at Jake.
“This isn’t over” he threatened before walking back to his wife and the rangers. We all looked at Jake who was paler than usual. Without a word, he started walking towards the Lodge exit. Steven hurried after him followed by Margaret and myself. None of us knew what the hell just happened but it definitely shook us up.
None of us said a word on during the car ride home. The storm was getting worse until finally the snow was so bad we couldn’t even see. It was almost like it was following us and just wouldn’t let up. After a while, Steven spotted a rest stop with a gas station. He slowly turned off the highway, being careful not to skid on the ice, and parked by one of the gas pumps.
“Ok,” He said, breaking the silence “I’m not driving in this. Let’s just wait here until the storm dies down a bit.” Everyone agreed.
“I need to take a leak. Does that store look open? to you guys” Jake asked
“Doubt it,” I said “everything is probably closed down due to the storm” Jake grunted and got out of the car.
“I’ll just go behind a tree or something.” With that, he walked off. We could barely make out his silhouette, even though he was still close to the car. As I stared out the window, I begin to drift off to sleep. The sound of snow and wind enveloped my mind like some kind of eerie lullaby. As I approached the gates of dreamland, I was violently pulled back to reality when Jake burst into the suburban.
“DIRVE” He shouted “DRIVE. NOW!” Steven looked at his panicked friend in confusion.
“Woah! We can’t drive, do see how dangerous the road is right now? We’ll be safer is we stay here.”
“NO WE WON’T BE! THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE WOODS! DRIVE! NOW!” We were starting to get afraid.
“Are you sure you didn’t just see a deer? or something?” Margaret asked, “I’m sure what ever it is can’t hold it’s own against the suburban”
“DRIVE THE CAR NOW!” Jake yelled, louder this time. Clearly he was not changing his mind regardless what any of us said. Steven started to get angry.
“Dude, what the hell!? Calm your shit!”
“DRIVE! THE FUCKING! CAR!”
The next few seconds were a confusing mess that is still hard to recall. All I can remember is a struggle between Jake and Steven, the suburban hurdling forward at full speed, and a white light. I don’t even remember the impact of the crash or remember hearing anyone scream. But I can remember what happened when we all came to.
I looked around to scanned the inside of the suburban.
“Guys? Is everyone ok?”
“We’re ok…I think…” Said Margaret. Her nose was bleeding from smashing her face on the seat inform of her. I’m sure it was broken but the adrenaline was so high that nobody seemed to acknowledge any of their injuries. Steven rubbed his eyes.
“Where the hell is Jake?” He asked. A feeling of panic set in when we notice that the passenger side door had been ripped clean off the car. What was odd, was that the crash could not have nearly been bad enough for something like that to happen. Steven shifted over to the passenger side and climbed out the door. Margaret and I followed. The Storm had subsided and the nice weather had returned. It was the same weather we had experienced the first day on the mountain. This made me feel nauseous. It was like some sick joke. No way a blizzard that bad just disappeared. We stumbled around the rest stop looking for Jake for what seemed like hours. No luck.
“We should check the woods” Steve said “he couldn’t have gone that far.” Margaret and I nodded.
“One of us should stay here and call 911” Margaret suggested.
“You stay here then and call them” I said “it will be good if someone is by the car incase Jake comes back too.” With those last few words, Steven and ventured into the nearby woods.
It wasn’t long before we stumbled across a grizzly scene. A frozen corpse was sitting propped up against one of the trees. It’s eyes were gone, it’s hair barely visible, but worst of all was it’s mouth. A lot of the teeth had rotted or fallen out, but you could still see that the corners were turned up in a smile. It wasn’t a creepy smile though, infact, it was almost peaceful. It looked like whoever this was had greeted death with open arms. Steven and I both got sick as we got closer and saw the body had Jake’s jacket on.
“This…this makes no sense…” I said, my voice quivering in fear as tears ran down my face. “He looks…he looks like he’s been dead…for months…” Steven grabbed my hand and pulled my in the direction of the rest stop.
“It’s not him…” he mumbled aggressively “there is NO WAY that is him!” When we got back to the car, the police were already there. We explained what we saw and a team of police officers went in the forest to investigate.
We didn’t stick around long enough to see the officers bring the body out of the forest. We were all taken to the hospital to get checked out, and were later picked up by our families.
It’s been a week since I got home from the hospital. School starts tomorrow and I’m not sure how I’m going to act. My mom was watching the news earlier and I overheard her and my dad talking. It turns out, the body had been Identified as 18 year old Jake Norton after all. Remember how I said that something about this didn’t make sense? I’m not an expert, but I don’t think blizzards can age a corpse that quickly. None of the authorities have mentioned anything about it either and have yet to reveal the cause of death to the public. What’s also weird, is the car door that was just ripped off like nothing- it was like the hinges were made out of clay… Our car crash definitely didn’t cause that, and there’s no way the wind was strong enough to tear it off either. And then there’s Ani. We still have no idea what happened to her. Could she still be alive? Or did she suffer the same fate as Jake. To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse at this point. All I can tell you is that the storm has started back up again in town. It’s not as bad as it was that day, but it was certainly not in the weather forecast…
Ok. I need to go to bed. If I can. Before I do, there is one last thing that I want to mention. I might be going crazy and it’s probably just the wind, but every time I close my eyes, I swear I can hear a voice that sounds like it’s right outside my window. It’s a girl’s voice, and it keeps saying “I’m cold…”
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