A blizzard raged outside, battering the cozy ski lodge. Merry skiers drank hot chocolate and hot toddies, excited about the fresh white powder they’d be conquering tomorrow. Smiling, she took another sip, her eyes briefly wandering from the man sitting before her, to a different gentleman across the room. He was sitting alone, and staring at…

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The wind sounded as if it might rip the roof off the cabin. They had expected snow when they came up for a short weekend vacation, but a blizzard was not on the itinerary. Luckily, the caretaker had left plenty of wood by the fireplace, and Mark had gotten a fire roaring in no time.

With the cable out and few choices for entertainment, Sarah and Mark were playing “Clue,” competing to see who would solve the mystery first. As Mark rolled the die, Sarah took a sip of her hot chocolate and glanced over to where the baby sat in the pack-and-play. Ralphie was eleven months old and quite content to play with his toys most of the time. Something else had his attention at the moment, though, as he stared into the corner between the fireplace and the picture window.

At first, Sarah passed it off as Ralphie watching the flames jump, but each time she looked his way, he seemed to be staring wide-eyed in the same direction giving her an unsettled feeling. “Ralphie, what do you see?” Sarah’s voice startled the preoccupied baby. His body jerked and he turned toward his mama with his lower lip in a pout as he started to cry.

“Aw, come here, sweetie,” Sarah cooed as she picked Ralphie up. He wound his little hands into her sweater as if he was afraid to let go. “It’s okay, baby,” she whispered. She sat back down at the table with the child in her lap and he eventually relaxed enough so that they could finish their game.

After Mark won, Sarah moved to get the baby a bottle and ready him for bed. Mark moved the pack-and-play into the bedroom, and fifteen minutes later, Ralphie was snug in his blankets with a bottle and a dry bottom. Sarah watched as his eyes drifted shut even as she pulled the blankets up over him. She pulled the door closed and rejoined Mark in the living room.

He had laid a plush blanket on the floor in front of the fireplace and had taken pillows from the couch to add to the cozy scene. He glanced up to see Sarah coming back into the room and winked at her. They had only been married three years, and Sarah still felt her cheeks go hot whenever he looked at her that way. They snuggled down in the blanket and were soon making their own fire.

Later, they slept in front of the dying embers, Mark’s arm draped across her body. Sarah was jerked awake by the sound of Ralphie wailing. She was used to hearing him cry in the night, but this was a different type of cry—as if the baby were frightened.

Mark was snoring lightly beside her as she pushed the blanket back and got to her feet. By the time she reached the bedroom door, Ralphie had stopped crying. Then he giggled. Under normal circumstances, the sound would have warmed her heart. Now, in the dead of night, it sent a chill down her spine.

He giggled again as Sarah reached for the door knob. She cried out as she felt something brush against her as it seemed to leave the room. “Ralphie!” She threw open the door and ran to playpen. It was empty. Ralphie giggled again, the sound coming from behind her. Sarah jerked around to see the baby crawling along the floor beside the double bed. He reached for his mama, and she quickly grabbed him up.

“Ralphie, how in the world did you get out of the playpen?” Ralphie gave his mama a big, slobbery grin. Sarah had seen the baby try to pull up on the sides of the pen before, but she had been almost certain that he couldn’t climb out. “Good grief, what scared you so bad, baby?”

Sarah turned on the bedside lamp and crawled onto the bed with Ralphie. She had a momentary feeling that they were not alone in the room, but when she glanced up at the bedroom door expecting Mark, there was no one there. She slipped back out of bed long enough to grab what was left of the baby’s bottle and let him finish it off as they snuggled under the covers.

When she heard the steady breathing of his sleep, she gently picked him up and placed him back in the pack-and-play. Pulling the soft blankets up around him, she once again felt something brush against her arm lightly, causing her to jerk back and quickly look around the room. Laughing to herself about her overactive imagination, she crawled back into the bed, switched off the lamp and was soon fast asleep.

Sometime later, as she dreamed ominous dreams, Sarah thought she heard the word “baby” whispered into her ear. She moaned and pulled the covers tighter. She came fully awake, however, when she felt her side of the bed lifted off the floor and then dropped just as quickly.

She cried out as she sat up, remembering the word whispered in her ear. “Ralphie!” She quickly ran to the playpen and felt her heart drop when she saw the deadly spider crawling up his blanket, the fiddle-shaped marking identifying it as a brown recluse. She screamed as she yanked the blanket away from the baby, then pulled him out of the bed. “Mark!”

“I’m right here,” he said, having been awakened by the sound of the commotion.

After Mark had disposed of the spider, he and Sarah climbed into the double bed with the baby between them. Sarah closed her eyes. This time, when she felt the feathery touch on her shoulder, she smiled.