Winter Night

It’s easy to lose your way in a silent winter night. Two o’clock in the morning, with a fresh cushion of inviting snow wrapped around every shape that usually holds such a familiar feel but is now changed, new and a little fantastic. No light to guide you, except from a feeble and partially clouded moon, as you feel your way down paths unquestioned by day but now made uncertain in their new guise of drift-altered shadows and contours. The expected quiet is pressed into an expectant hush, muffled further by a dreamlike mist which hangs in the air, cold and moist, clinging to your hair, your lashes, the fabric of your nightclothes. Even so, the rustle of cloth as you move seems immense, abnormally loud, surely it will be heard? And then what…? But who is there to hear? On unremembered land, among the snow-softened trees, hemmed about by indifferent peacefulness, you are alone. You exhale, long and slow, and feel the tension leave your body. You can barely see the languid breath steal away to become one with the mist but that part of you merging into the scenery makes you feel as though you, too, might disappear, forget where your body ends and winter starts.
Fingertips start their inexorable journey into numbness, naked toes long since too cold to perceive, ears and nose are tainted with an impersonal chill, and a freezing breeze greedily caresses all the skin it can reach.
IciclePerhaps becoming a part of winter might not be so hard after all.
You keep walking, though, creating deeper and deeper ruts in the pristine surface as your feet become more unwieldy, less inclined to lift. You try to remember why you’re here at all; surely, you never intended to come outside, under-dressed and over-anxious, pushing your weary way through concealed undergrowth? Are you even still on a path anymore? You cannot see one, only the long, winding, uneven trail you leave behind you, like a warning to others – or a map.
Forge ahead regardless. You no longer care why you push through merciless frozen water, you only know that you must: a half-remembered impulse that drives the weakened shift of your legs, past each other and past again.
Is there a noise? In your wake, closer, closer… Or is it you? Constant shivering makes it troublesome to separate the swish of your clothes from the stealthy whisper of pursuit. When you hesitate, there is silence. It is nothing, after all. It can only be nothing – there is only nothing out here, the trees, the ground, your limbs… None of it is real. An unreal branch catches on your unreal sleeve and you pull yourself free with effort. Surely being unreal should be easier than this? But there was something, you were going to have all burdens removed. Everything would be easy after that, no decisions, no choices. So why did you leave?
Still asking such useless questions when you know the only thing that matters is to keep moving. But abruptly you cannot. Another branch has caught you, stout and unyielding. It wraps around your upper arm and clings, halting your progress, making you stumble. You reach out to grasp at an anchor, to avoid plunging headlong into that wet, frigid expanse, but are yanked, suddenly, back the way you came. You lose your footing but do not fall. The branch has you firmly in its grip, holding you upright, your toes only barely touching the ground. Your head spins a little and as you look down past your shoulder, you see that it is not a branch after all but a large, solid hand. You feel a matching one clamp around your other arm and easily subdue your feeble struggles. Still you wriggle and writhe in a vain attempt to shake off your captor. You were right after all, the noise in your wake has snared you. You grope for the reason you sought to escape its clutches but cannot recall – only that you must break free and not go back!, whatever else, not go back!
The cold battles with the adrenalin coursing through your body, vying for mastery of your senses, the one seeking to pull you further into unresisting sleep while the other screams inside your head. In the end, the choice is not yours, just as it has not been all along. A soft, dreamy numbness settles in every limb, no distinction now between frost-numbed flesh, and the pressure of constraining fingers, and the scratches from your short-lived wanderings, and the voices in your mind, confused, babbling.
One last, useless bid for freedom and you are done.
The quiet descends on your body hanging limply in the embrace of your captor. As you are carried back the way you came, snow falls, thick and fast, concealing with unseemly haste all signs of your passing. No-one sees, no-one hears.
It’s easy to lose your way in a silent winter night.

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