Photo: Sue Vincent
The snow fell softly in the early hours, blanketing a brittle frost with a bridal veil.
She undid the entrance flap and shivered in the chill. Her thin underclothing was not sufficient for the cold. She retreated back into the shelter to don her clothes, lace her cloak, and pull on her boots.
Still when she emerged from the tent, her breath caught in the frigid air. She welcomed it. She needed her wits about her, today more than most.
Her feet crunched over the frozen ground as she hurried to relieve herself by a nearby tree. The warmth leaving her body felt palpable. In it there was relief and wariness, both.
She did not fold the tent but she did not know if she’d return to it. What she did not carry along might not be seen again … and she would not be carrying much. She was warned to bring naught but herself.
“You’d have no need for anything,” were the instructions.
The words could be ominous or comforting. She wasn’t sure which it was and she didn’t think she was meant to be certain about it. Or about anything.
There was some food left in her pack, but her stomach did not feel ready for any digesting. She drank some water instead. It tasted flat and smelled of the container it’s been in, but it would have to do. She didn’t know where water sources might be found and even if she saw some on the path she didn’t think she’d be able to avail herself of any.
She shuddered again. Of fear. Of cold. Of worry. Of expectation. Of trepidation. Of all of the above.
It will be what it will. She had little choice now. She’d given her word, and what follows was not for her to decide on anymore.
She turned her back to the tent and began counting paces. The location for her tent had been marked. The one thousand steps were to be taken away from it, with the rising sun at her back.
She mouthed the numbers, ignoring the breeze as it tunneled under her cloak, the errant twigs that grabbed hold of her hood and deposited wet fluffs of snow on her hair, down the nape of her neck, on her back. No one had said what will happen if she lost count. She did not intend to find out.
The steps became a meditation of intent and tunnel vision. The world receded into the yard immediately ahead. Then the next. Then the next.
Nine hundred ninety nine, she breathed.
She jumped. The sound came from the space her body had just vacated.
She turned only to be blinded by the sun’s glare, rising through the narrow branches of a sapling. The light speared her.
When she finally adjusted, she was elsewhere. The forest was no more. The world as she’d known it, gone.