S - Pakkningin

His weight seemed to make him crumble harder into the soft ground this time. As he tumbled to his side, falling waist deep into the soft snow, he felt a new pain reach his internal structure. Lying for a moment, unable to regain his posture, his eyes reached out to the distance, trying to find some sense of life or light. Nothing. Nothing in this black wilderness. Behind him, the fire lit torches of his trackers had disappeared. 

He flexed out an arm, clawing into the snow for something to grip. Finally feeling some ground, he pushed hard and in a singular strain, he resumed his position, standing, albeit with a wretchedly crooked back and sore neck. His eyelids dimmed, his breath heavy.

His mind raced to a warmer pasture, sunlight gleaming in a dreamy distance. Days when his thoughts were not of escape, but those of the wide pastures of Missouri. Summer days spent sitting under the wide canopy of the sugarberrys that dotted his now acquired farm.

Back in reality, his chest rose as much as he was able to force it. His clothes, a heavy coat, pants that had seen better days and his worn to the heel boots, were sodden with the wetness of his surroundings, forcing another unwanted weight on his body. As he breathed out, his eyelids rose again to face the frosty white in front of his face. His beard had collected cold tears, forming small crusts on each side of his face, like whiskers on a ghostly cat.

He raised a foot, in itself a struggle, and began to trudge forward again. The snow beneath his feet was soft powder and as it floated away into the air with each step, he gained all the momentum he could muster. The pace quickened. He realised that if the memories of previous falls shifted away, his composure and confidence would grow and his footing would become more assured. Like forgetting your past, and solely being in a present. A hellish present, but nonetheless, better than eating a mouthful of snow with another fall.

For what seemed like an age, he battled on, his figure cutting a solitary blackness in amongst the vague moonlight that occasionally danced on the snow field. 

A howl behind him. A reason for concern, he picked up his pace, his breath forming heavier and heavier against the white sheet in front of him. To his left, just up ahead, he spotted a darker vertical line. And another. And another. Yes, his mind told him, the forest. Another howl cried behind him.

His footing became more sure of itself as the snow made way for a softer ground, sheltered by the trees, till finally, his foot reached forward and hit frost. A welcoming frost that under it grew the landscapes of last summer. Another howl, and this time a myriad of small footsteps echoing behind him from the pack of dark greys who had somehow found him in the shallowest of nights.

Without a moments thought, he regrouped his pack on his shoulders and began his dash, unsure of whether he was on their ground, or they had left theirs for a nightly feed. Crashing through the smaller branches at the base of the tall trees, his only guide was instinct and the occasional glimmer from the moon above providing shape to the slender forest. Each scrape or scratch upon his face was paid no heed. Like a warrior from years gone, he swatted away what he could sense, aiming only for a foreign forwards.

The hill wasn’t part of his plan, and as he lost footing under a sudden decline, he tumbled down an embankment, rolling over a variety of ground types, thankfully none rock. However, when he fell into the cold water below, the shock to his system was something that he was not prepared for. It’s chill caused his body to cave under the weight of pressure, cold and frost in a second, and as he rose from the liquid, he both cried and screamed simultaneously, sharply into the night. His body flailed in the cold waters, not yet frozen thanks to the southerly. 

His head darted from side to side, aiming to regain a sense of place in the chilly waters, looking for the place from which he had tumbled in. However, his eyes became fixed, glistening from the reflection of the moonlit water, on a solitary figure peering through a small window from a dimly lit cabin across the river. A women, not yet forty, peering like the Spanish Inquisition. A rock gaze set upon his eyes and he began to plough the water towards his new goal. Even the small glow of red behind her head indicated the warmth of the cabin, much preferred to his current situation.

Behind him, the pack stood at the waters edge. Their captain, head slightly cocked forward, scowling, breathing heavy against the air. 

Win win. Lose lose.

Justin Batchelor