It rained down on us. White flurries of frosty fury. Tiny morsels that, alone, meant nothing. But together?
They covered everything.
And it was in this blanket of quiet that I went searching.
Because the cold would only keep away for so long.
It threatened me, with every flake that fell.
I will freeze you.
And I knew it wasn’t a bluff.
Even with my double-layered gloves hiding under my snow gloves, I could feel it biting at me. A thousand minnows nibbling away the warmth under my fingertips, at the ends of my toes.
The cold was hungry.
And I was out in the open, wandering though the snow.
The stupidest kind of prey.
But I had to keep looking.
Had to keep searching.
It was my fault he’d run off. All my fault.
I had to get to him before the cold did.
As I moved through the white abyss, there were outlines. Trees trying to breathe from under the snow. Animals that scurried away, unsure of where to hide now that they were in the throes of this unrelenting horror. The plants under my feet gave in entirely, allowed themselves to be swallowed up under the white blanket. Succumbing to the cold until they gathered enough strength to fight back. To bring about Spring.
But that wasn’t for a long time now.
Spring was too far.
Finding Sam couldn’t wait.
“SAAAAAM!” I shouted into the deepening white.
Gritting my chattering teeth, I moved forward. Pressed on.
Just because I was cold didn’t mean I had to stop.
Didn’t mean I could stop.
Sam’s life depended on this.
I moved through the winter wonderland. In these woods suffocating in winter, I knew I had to keep moving.
Or winter would claim me too.
“SAAAAAAAM,” I shouted again, into this void.
A sound replied, though with no words.
Someone taken aback. Startled. That was what it sounded like. And it wasn’t a deep voice, which either meant the surprise was, in itself, deep. Or…
…it was Sam.
I took off running.
At least, as much as I could in the snow.
Already, so much snow had covered the ground. No longer a peppering, but a covering. And now, it was working on stacking.
It made speed unattainable.
Yet, as foolish as it was, I still tried.
How could I not?
The thing I was aiming for was somewhere around here. Somewhere close. Almost within my reach.
How could I not try harder?
I ran up a slope, slipping on some hidden ice. My feet slid and slid and slid uselessly for a moment.
But I pressed on.
Grabbing onto a piece of tree sticking up from the ground, I managed to maneuver my way around the ice.
I kept moving.
Up and over the small hill.
And on the other side?
It splotched the snow, looking like a snow cone someone had dropped. Only, there wasn’t just one spot. Not a single splotch of red.
There were several.
“SAAAAAAAM,” I hollered again.
This time, I heard something.
A whimpering sort of sound.
Sliding down the slope, I followed the slick red snow to its source.
Curled up against the base of a tree, fur poking out of his thin long-sleeve sweater was Sam.
Sam the phouka.
The creature I’d been sworn to protect.
That I’d accidentally chased away.
“Sam,” I breathed, my hot breath creating swirls in the protesting air.
He shook harder, his breath puffing out as well. It concerned me.
There wasn’t as much warmth in his lungs as there should be.
“Sam, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I think your fur is wonderful. Please, come home,” I pleaded.
The shaking half-animal merely curled up more in response. Retreating from me as much as he could. The shift caused me to notice:
The blood, sticky and red against the snow, pooling underneath him.
The warmth of his body, being soaked up in the winter ice.
“Sam,” my voice cracked, the cold breaking in. “Please, come home.”
It took the small faerie creature a moment to respond.
In the end, he nodded.
Curled up in my arms was an injured creature, a magical creature.
As I walked back through the blanket of white, over the patches of red, I carried him steadily. Easily. A light load in comparison to what I’d be, were our jobs reversed.
Such a small creature. Locked unjustly in this winter haze.
“The fire’s on at home Sam. You’ll be warm soon.”
The phouka shook in my arms, but nodded.
All he’d wanted was some warmth.