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  • Writer's pictureHugo Earnshaw-Saran

Cold Blood



The peace of Ulaf brewing his morning coffee was broken by one of his huskies barking. He peered out the window. With the frost and only the faintest Arctic morning light, he couldn’t see anything.


Several more dogs started to bark, a cacophony of alarm. Ulaf put his mug down and went outside to check on them.


“Keggs! What’s going on?” Ulaf shouted at his favourite black sled dog. Keggs was pawing at an object in the snow near one of the pine trees. Is there something in the tree well? He began to feel uneasy and hurried over.


“Keggs! Indy! MJ! OUT!” he shouted as he pushed through to see what was happening.


The wind had blown fresh snow into the tree well overnight, obscuring something. Part of a boot was sticking out from the top of the tree well. As Keggs pawed at the boot, Ulaf caught a glimpse of what was under that snow. With shaking hands, he grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and dialled.


“I’m near the husky cabin, and I think I’ve just found a dead body,” Ulaf said.


One of the dogs started to howl.




— FIVE DAYS EARLIER —



“Are you sure we’re waiting in the right place?” Anne said to her husband.


“I’m sure!” Henry replied. He gestured at the other people close by, “They’re all waiting for cars to the resort too.”


“Even him?” Anne said, looking over at a young man in his early twenties. The man had round blue tortoiseshell glasses and carried a backpack. He seemed to be travelling alone. “Hopea Pilvi is a pretty expensive resort. I’d be surprised if he was staying there too.”


Max Diaz could see a couple looking over at him and talking. He pulled out his phone and checked his emails to look busy. “Congratulations! Saw the article in NewsXpress about you selling Born To Breathe! What’s your next great app invention going to be?” read the first email. It was from an old college acquaintance. He could sense the couple was still staring at him, so he looked the other way to see if the cars were arriving.


His view was blocked by a family of four: a boy, who he guessed was around 11 years old, wearing a blue backpack and scrolling on a phone; a girl reading a book, probably the same age (twins? He wondered); and a man with a brown beard and bushy eyebrows talking to a woman with blonde hair (their parents? Yes, definitely their parents, he thought).


Three black cars pulled up with HOPEA PILVI ARCTIC RESORT printed on the side in white letters.


Anne looked out of the car window and up into the air. The blades of a helicopter buzzed above them.


“A helicopter? Why weren’t we given the option to come to the resort in one of those?” She didn’t remember the website mentioning helicopter transfers.



Anne and Henry checked in first.


“Mr. and Ms. Bergman?” the woman at the counter said.


“Oh, yes! Still getting used to the new name,” Anne responded.


“Congratulations. Please proceed to Igloo 21. We hope you enjoy your stay at Hopea Pilvi.” The woman gestured in the direction of the igloos.


“Thank you so much!” Henry said. He grabbed a resort map from the reception and followed the path to their designated igloo.


Next was Max. His brown wool scarf covered his mouth and nose like a mask.


“Mr. Diaz?”


“Yes,” Max handed over his passport. As the woman checked his details, he said, “This is a lovely resort. I love the carvings and decorations.”


“Thank you! Almost all of this was carved by hand, and it is stunning,” the woman smiled, “please proceed to Igloo 38. We hope you enjoy your stay at Hopea Pilvi!”


Finally, she turned to the family of four. “And you must be the Hafenhaus family! Please proceed to Cabin 79. We hope you enjoy your stay at Hopea Pilvi!”


As Max was leaving the reception building, the wind of a helicopter blew through the area. He covered his face with his elbow. It was black, with the same writing as the escort cars: HOPEA PILVI. He could faintly see an elderly man being helped out of the helicopter. He had to be some sort of VIP, right? He looked vaguely familiar.



Snow was blowing into Conrad Wagner’s face as he alighted from the helicopter. As the infamous founder, owner, and CEO of NewsXpress, one of the largest news broadcasting companies in the world, he had been hoping for a more low-key arrival at the resort. But he could see people staring at him from a log cabin building.


Three people, all wearing the same black snow gear, approached him with big smiles.


“Mr Wagner! Welcome to Hopea Pilvi Resort! It is an honour to have you staying with us,” one of them said.


“Just take me to my room,” Wagner grumbled.


“Of course, sir! We have arranged for you to stay in Santa’s Lodge. My colleague will take you there right away.”


“And my bags?”


“They are already being delivered to the Lodge, sir.”


Santa’s Lodge was not usually available for hotel guests, but of course, they had made a notable exception for him. It was spacious and luxurious; Wagner barely noticed.


“Are there any other guests nearby?” he scowled as he looked out the window. “Who’s in those huts over there?”


“Oh, those are just used for storage, sir,”


He stepped away from the window. “Just leave the bags there. That’ll be all.”





Peter watched Wagner from a distance. Then he turned to his kids. “Have you seen your mother? I need to talk to her.”


“I’m pretty sure she’s inside,” Kate said.


He trudged through the thick snow to get into Cabin 79. Serena was unpacking.


“You’re never going to believe who I just saw,” Peter said, his fists clenched.


Serena stopped for a moment and looked at him. “Who?”


“Conrad Wagner.”


“What? What are the odds?” Serena gasped. She drew a long breath. “You’re not going to try to confront him, are you?”


Peter didn’t respond.


“Even though he owns the newspaper, you know he’s not responsible for what they wrote, right?”


“Not directly responsible.” Peter shot back. “Everyone knows that News Xpress doesn’t care about getting their facts straight. And that's because he doesn’t care. He built his empire on unscrupulous journalism. He just wants to sell newspapers.”


“Please, Peter, don’t do this. The main reason we came here on holiday was to get away from it all,” she pleaded. “Don’t ruin this for the kids.”


“Of course, I’m not going to ruin it for them! I’ll handle it.”


“We’ll sue them, right?” Serena asked. “That’s still the plan?”


Peter sighed. “It will take a long time. But yes, that’s the plan.”


Peter sat on the sofa and stared into the fireplace, trying to put certain thoughts out of his mind.



Anne, Henry and Max had signed up for a Wilderness Survival Hike on their first full day at the resort. Their guide, a Hungarian named István, was full of great tips.


“We’re going to need as much advice as you can give us,” Anne joked. “Henry wants to go on a frozen waterfall hike near Rovaniemi and he hasn’t booked a guide.”


“Really?” István looked at them with concern. “Are you experienced hikers?”


“Well, I am,” Henry said, with some tension in his voice. He reminded himself to relax. “I did that hike with my parents and a guide some years back, and I remember it pretty well.”


“And I am not an experienced hiker at all,” Anne laughed. “So I’ll probably be taking notes while you’re talking, István. I’m probably going to get lost.”


“I would recommend hiring a guide for that walk. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, it takes six or seven hours.” István turned to Anne. “The best thing to do when you’re lost is to keep moving. The activity will raise your internal body temperature. If you stop moving, you could freeze to death.”


“Okay, so no standing still. But what if I need food?” Anne asked.


“There are many berries that you can eat. Even that tree moss over there is edible.” The guide gestured to some moss on a tree branch. A little further along, he pointed out some red berries hanging on a tree. “But never eat these. Red baneberries. They are extremely toxic and lethal to humans.”


“I’ll try the tree moss,” Max said. “If that’s okay?”


“Of course!” István took some and offered it to all three of them.


They kept walking up the hill to get to a watchtower at the peak. From the top of the wooden tower, the view was stunning.


Henry’s arms spread out wide. Most of the time he was used to seeing the skyline of the city, not nature. The last year had been stressful for him. He breathed in the fresh air, exhaled, and his breath was visible in the cold air.


Anne, who had been watching him, took out her phone and asked Max to take a photo of them with the view.



Max and the Hafenhaus family shared a large resort car on their way to the Reindeer Activity Area. It was only 6:30 pm, but the sun had set hours before. They had been given extra warm clothes and blankets for the sleighs.


“The Northern Lights! I can see them!” someone outside shouted.


Max, Peter, Serena, and the twins hurried out and saw a woman having her photo taken in front of a red and white wooden hut. She pointed excitedly at the white streak above her in the sky.


One of the twins, Kate, opened up the camera on her phone and held it up. She gasped. “It’s green! Look!” She showed it to her brother, Sean.


“Okay, let me get a picture of the two of you with it in the background!” Serena grinned as she held up her phone. “And then one with Dad!”


Max used his phone and then his DSLR to snap photos of the green streak. The sky was cloudless, and there were stars everywhere.


“Do you want me to take a photo of you in front of the lights?” the guide approached him.


“Sure!” Max said, handing over his digital camera to Poro, their affable tour guide.



“The reindeer don’t like being touched by humans or being photographed, so be careful when taking photos,” Poro was saying.


It was a great time to relax because the reindeer were pulling them along slowly and they were covered by thick blankets to shield them from the cold.


“Do people hunt the reindeer?” Peter asked, looking off into the trees.


“It is illegal to hunt reindeer in Finland; every reindeer belongs to someone, and they know who belongs to whom because they’re all marked. During the year, all reindeer owners gather and check up on the reindeer,” the guide said.


They got to the top of the mountain and were greeted with a stunning view. Max, Peter, Serena and the twins brought out their phones and captured the moment in silence. Through their phone lenses they saw vibrant green and purple streaks that spread across the sky collided together to make an aurora that was so beautiful it looked like a painting.


They followed the guide into a small hut and sat by a fire. Max warmed his hands up on the fire along with the Hafenhauses.


The guide told them about Finnish traditions, fairy tales, and myths.


“Reindeer are actually quite interesting. Did you know that they shed their antlers every year?” Poro said as he passed an antler around.


“The pointy end is sharper than I expected,” Max said.


“Can I touch it?” Henry asked. Anne watched with great interest as Henry handled and inspected the antler.


By the time they finished it was 9pm. The weather had morphed from negative four degrees to -17° which felt like -24° because there was a lot of wind. Max, Anne and Henry walked back to their igloos, shivering.





Wagner hadn’t been waiting for long - he’d only just finished breakfast - but for him it felt like forever. Finally the car arrived and his grandkids got out, and went charging for him. Wagner knelt down in the snow so he could hug them both.


Then, his daughter got out with her husband. They grow up too quickly, he thought to himself. It felt like only a day had passed since he first held her in his arms.


They raced him to the lodge.


“Come on! Run with us!” Christopher and Angelica cried, stopping and looking back at their Grandpa.


“No, you go! I’ll catch you guys!” Wagner said while trying to speed up his slow walking.






Alone in the cabin, Peter checked his emails. No new emails. He was unemployed. It was all because of the article News Daily Xpress had published last year, which said he was stealing money from clients. They were wrong, of course, but as soon as it came out, the damage was done. Everyone said they knew the article was false, but they didn’t want to take any risks, and after Bernie Madoff and FTX, it wasn’t that hard to believe that an investment manager might be stealing money.


He started reading the newspaper in front of the fireplace and came across an article about Conrad Wagner and one of his business ventures. It had a big photo of him at the top. He ripped it out and crumpled it so hard that his fingers turned red.


He flung the crumpled page into the blazing fire. The reflection of the flame shone in Peter’s eyes as he poked it.


As he was about to put away the fire poker, he stopped and went outside. He stared at Santa’s Lodge, gripping the fire poker firmly. He loosened his grip and went back inside.





“We would like the arctic char, sautéed reindeer meat, and the burger please,” Henry read from the dinner menu to the waiter. The waiter wrote down the order.


“Okay. I’ll be right back with your drinks!” The waiter said and walked back to the kitchen.


Anne picked up her phone and opened her email.


“I forgot to tell you that I got an email from your assistant. Something about life insurance policies?” Anne showed him the email.


“Oh yeah. I forgot to tell you I took out life insurance policies on us,” Henry said quickly.


“How much?” Anne asked, raising her left eyebrow.


“A million dollars.” Henry fiddled with his napkin.


“So if I die, you get a million dollars?” she joked.


“Yes, but you get a million bucks if I die too. Let’s see who will live longer!” Henry joked, as the waiter set down their drinks.


“Remember, Anne of Cleves outlived Henry the Eighth!” Anne smirked.


“Hey, Henry the Eighth outlived most of his other wives,” Henry protested.


“Anne outlived everyone,” Anne said with a smile, as she took a sip of her drink.


Henry chuckled. “Are you excited about the husky safari?” he asked, changing the subject.


Their waiter came over with the plates of food.


“Hyvää ruokahalua!” The waiter removed a silver dome covering a plate covered with arctic char and put it onto the velvet tablecloth.


“Ooh that looks so good,” Anne said, her eyes widened by the deliciousness of the pink, flaky arctic char.


“And here’s your heartberry juice. Thank you for dining here!” Their waiter came over and put a jar of a steaming red drink onto their table.

“Thank you!” Anne said.


Henry took a sip.


“I think I’ll wait until it cools down,” he exclaimed, his tongue on fire from the heat of the drink.


Once they had both finished their respective meals, Henry and Anne drank their heartberry juice. Delicious. They went outside, marveling at the carpet of stars above them.




The next morning, Peter was writing a letter to Wagner while his family were at breakfast. His hands hurt; he was used to typing, not writing with a pen. He fumed as he detailed all the ways that Wagner’s editors had wronged him, and how it had destroyed his life and reputation. He blamed Wagner for encouraging his employees to print these lies.


He put the letter in his pocket and saw the letter opener. The tip of the blade-like tool looked so sharp it could pierce flesh. He grabbed it. He stormed outside. The snow falling was so thick it could cover a body.


Max was walking around the resort, trying to get some good photos on his new camera. He saw Peter marching purposefully in the direction of Santa’s Lodge. It looked like he was holding something in his hand…was it a knife? He took a couple of photos of Peter, and then went toward the river.


Peter continued his silent stepping along the thick snow surrounding the lodge. He took the letter out of his pocket and held it against the door. He raised the letter opener and stabbed the letter into the centre of the wooden door.


Then he heard laughter.


He looked through one of the front windows of Santa’s Lodge. Wagner was playing on the floor with some young children in front of a fireplace. He looked happy, and those kids looked happy too. He remembered Kate and Sean at that age. He didn’t want to scare them.


He pulled the letter opener out of the door and put the letter back in his pocket. Serena was right. Confronting Wagner wouldn’t change anything that had already happened. It would only make things worse. Time to let things go.


Where were the kids? Weren’t they planning to have a snowball fight after breakfast? He turned, and set off to find his family.



Anne yawned and stretched as she lay on the bed in the igloo, looking up at the sky. Henry was at the sauna, and she was enjoying having the space to herself. She was listening to her favourite true crime podcast ‘Serial Street’ while daydreaming. The episode was about a woman who mysteriously disappeared while on a weekend away with her husband. Anne was a true crime addict, so she was not surprised when the police discovered that the woman’s husband was the culprit.


“It’s always the husband,” she murmured. She started to doze off as the podcasters kept talking.


“...I guess the lesson is, if your spouse takes out a life insurance policy on you, time to watch your back!” one of them laughed.


Life insurance policy?


Anne sat up. With her headphones still in, she walked over and took Henry’s laptop out of his bag. She opened it.


What should she be looking for? She ran through a mental list of potential red flags. She pulled up his email and started scanning through them when she noticed an email folder that was innocuously titled “Lake House”. Henry didn’t have a lake house; they didn’t know anyone who did. She clicked through and started reading.


Fifteen minutes later, Anne took a moment to take in what she had learned. Henry’s company was in financial trouble. It looked like he’d taken out loans, was late on paying them back, and was trying to hide it from her. Why hadn’t he told her about this? She was smart and successful - they could have come up with a plan together.


She probably didn’t have much time left before Henry got back.


Anne pulled up his google searches and one from one week earlier stood out:


How long does it take to die of hypothermia?


She closed everything down, put his laptop back and lay on the bed again. She had just started the next episode of Serial Street when Henry got back.



The huskies pulled really quickly. Even though the stars were a blur, it didn’t stop Anne, Henry and Max from appreciating the beautiful show that nature had put on for them.


The stars shone in all directions, and the auroras streaked above them like someone took a paintbrush with silver paint and flung it across the midnight sky.


“No one tells you the lights usually look like wispy clouds,” Max had told Anne and Henry when they were changing into their warm jumpsuits. They looked white instead of the majestic blue and green auroras he had seen online. He held his phone up to take a picture. What looked white to the naked eye was a magnificent explosion of colour on his phone.


They pulled up at a big tent. They went inside and were given a warm welcome from a fire. They sat down on wooden stools and heated their hands up near the flames.


“They have heartberry juice! I love heartberry juice.” Henry said, pointing at the bottle on a table at the edge of the spacious tent.


“I’ll go grab some,” Anne said as she walked over to pour some juice for them.


She came over with the mugs and gave one to Henry. He blew into his mug and took a sip. It tasted more bitter than usual, but he didn’t mind.


“I’ve got to go get something at the igloo, meet me there?” Anne said to Henry, and she hurried off.


Henry and Max finished up, went outside and parted ways.


“I think I’m going to go for a walk and try to get some better photos of the Northern Lights. See you at breakfast tomorrow!” Max called, as he set off East towards the river.


Henry started walking through the forest back towards his igloo. His legs started to tire. He felt nauseated. Then he had trouble breathing. He started to stagger, and then stumble.


And then his vision went black as he fell into a tree well. The snow started to fall, covering his dormant body. Soon, only his boot remained sticking out from the snow.



Back at the igloo, Anne was scrubbing her hands to get rid of any berry stains.




— THE NEXT MORNING —


“Hello Mrs Bergman, how can I help you?” came the voice of the receptionist down the phone.


“My husband didn’t come back last night,” Anne said, sounding panicked.


“I’m sure we’ll be able to find him, Mrs Bergman. What time did you last see him?”


“We had just finished the husky safari, and I came back to the room and fell asleep. I only just woke up and he isn’t here!” Anne sounded increasingly desperate.


“Let me check with the resort staff madam, and we’ll report back to you right away.” As the receptionist hung up the phone, she saw an incoming call from Ulaf.




Word had spread across the resort, and Max and the Hafenhauses gathered together outside the reception lodge. Even Conrad Wagner descended from his ivory tower out of curiosity and “went for a walk to get some fresh air” to scope things out. He had one of his newspaper editors on standby, ready to pounce if there was a good story.


“Do they know who it is?” Serena was asking Max.


“I’m not sure. I heard it’s definitely one of the guests,” he said with a frown.


“Well it’s not Wagner,” Peter said, as he watched the old man trudge across the snow, glancing in their direction.


“There’s that newlywed couple, Henry and Anne,” Max said. “I haven’t seen them yet, but maybe they’ve heard something.”


“Oh! I think the police are here!” The twins hurried over to report this to the group.



“We received an emergency call about a body in the forest. Can you direct us to its location?” The police officer said in Finnish.


“Oh yes, Ulaf will show you the way.” The receptionist nodded towards the husky guide.


“Have you identified the body?” The police officer asked Ulaf as they started off in the direction of the forest.


“Yes sir. We believe it’s one of our guests. An American.” Ulaf went quiet for a moment. “I pulled the body out of the tree well to see if I could revive him…but I think he’d been there for some time.”


“What’s their name?”


“Henry Bergman.”



Anne wept with her head in her hands. She grabbed a tissue.


“How did this happen?”


“It’s very dark in the forest at night. He might have gotten confused and fell while wandering through the forest. When someone falls into a tree well, it’s very difficult to get out.” The officer paused. “Your husband probably suffocated.”


Anne put her head back in her hands.


Then, once she had calmed down enough, she asked if she could take his body back to the U.S. for cremation.


“Of course, we will help you every step of the way.” The police officer handed her another tissue.


Anne sniffled thanks, before tears fell from her eyes like heavy rain once more.



— ONE WEEK LATER —


Anne was on a plane in Helsinki, Henry’s body safely on board.


One of the cabin crew handed her a drink. Anne leaned back and breathed a sigh of relief.


She won. She got him before he had the chance to get her. She had no doubt that he was up to something sinister, with the life insurance policy and wanting to take her on that frozen waterfall trek alone. How long does it take to die of hypothermia? he had asked. No one had even suspected she had dosed his heartberry juice with a lethal amount of red baneberries.


She checked her watch. Ten minutes until take off.


Passengers, please remember to fasten your seat belt during taxi, take-off and landing. We hope you enjoy your flight with Finnair.


Anne closed her eyes as she put her headphones in to listen to “Serial Street”.


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