I had always thought I liked winter best. The way the cold pricks at your nose, keeps your senses sharp. Covers the ground with white, dusting away what once was in favor of what could be. A clean slate with the death of the past. Of what was.
Yeah, I liked winter best.
In all honesty, I think I still do.
There was one thing I forget to account for.
Winter is so, so cold.
Shivering, I do my best to bury myself in the coat. Dig my feet as far into my boots as I can.
But it’s not enough.
In the end, I still shiver.
I can feel my fingertips burning. My nose already singed with the cold’s fury.
How could I have come this far and forgotten?
The Winter Wood is too cold for a human. Especially a human without fire. Without warmth.
I came here to watch the snow. To watch the sky blanket the earth. Cover it so it may rest and see a new day. A day where things aren’t so full. Where the ground isn’t overflowing, or covered in browns and reds.
I came here to watch things be made new.
But, I forgot.
Winter is cold.
I shake again. My bones desperately trying to shimmy warmth into my blood. Desperately trying to loosen my frozen joints.
I should have thought this through more carefully.
I’m so cold…
I don’t know if I can move. At this point, I don’t even know if I’ll even make it out of the woods.
“Oh? What have we here?”
The voice is smooth. Carries well. A deep throaty voice. A well the resounds with the dropping of wishes.
I turn, and I find the man it’s attached to. A man with long ears. With a bushy tail. Gray covers his visage, though his chest is bare, as are his feet.
A man with wolf’s blood.
Or, perhaps, here in The Winter Wood, there is no difference. Perhaps here, in this magical place, a wolf is a man is a werewolf. Perhaps they’re all the same here. I’ve no idea. I can’t remember.
I’m too cold.
Frozen in place.
“A shaking human? You’ve lost your way perhaps? Wandered into this magical death by accident, yes?”
If there is one thing I refuse to let go, it’s that misunderstanding.
This was no accident.
My own foolish love of the cold brought me here. I refuse to let anyone believe otherwise.
“I… came here… to watch the snow,” I grind out through my chattering teeth. They clack together noisily, like hooves against cobblestone.
It’s rather annoying, but somehow I still manage to say it.
And I’m glad that I did.
The wolf isn’t looking at me with predator’s eyes anymore. Isn’t looking at me like I’m minute rice. He isn’t side-eyeing me anymore. Isn’t looking gleeful.
Instead, he looks surprised. His eyes widening.
And then he looks thoughtful.
“You wanted to watch the snow little human? Even though it’s so cold?”
I nod, still shaking. Glad that this is a simple yes-or-no instead of a question that requires words. I don’t think I can handle another one of those.
“My goodness. What a silly thing you are,” he says, smiling contently. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve met such a strange beast. A human that has such an appreciation for the cold.”
I don’t know what to say to that, and that’s just fine. I doubt I can speak anyway.
He moves through the bushes. Dislodging snow and ice easily as he goes. Coming to stand in front of me, his body sprouting fur like spring sprouts seeds.
When he gets close enough, I can feel it.
He’s burning up. A walking heater.
“Winter is so cold little human. Most of your kind know that. And they know that it can’t be beaten. Most of them already know that winter isn’t a place for loneliness. For running off by yourself. Surely you know that it can’t be spent alone.” And then, much to my surprise, the wolf opens his arms. Motions me forward with a smile. “Your blood will freeze soon. You’ll be of no use to anyone ever again if you keep standing there. You won’t be able to watch the snow if you keep this up. Don’t stand in the snow alone.”
It’s a trap. It must be.
That’s what I think.
What kind of wolf opens his arms and expects nothing in return? Opens his arms to a cold, shivering creature, and doesn’t expect to eat? To devour his prey? I’ve never met such a wolf, so I think it must be a trap.
The trap is a lot kinder than freezing to death. Than the snow sapping the life from my bones.
So I embrace it.
Tripping over my half-frozen limbs, I pitch forward and fall right into the wolf’s arms.
And it’s warm.
Much warmer than I ever imagined.
His arms close around me, draw me close to his chest. I bury myself in the soft, heated fur. Bury myself in the warmth of another body being near. I bask in the feeling of it biting back at the cold.
It hurts. Chasing the cold hurts.
But, I know that, in the end, I’ll feel better. In fact, I’m already starting to.
After the snow falls, and the spring comes, I’ll be sad, as I always am. But, I know:
It’ll be worth it.
The wolf whispers in my ear, breath warm against the skin exposed by my neck.
“Warmth is not so easy to find, little human. Don’t squander it when it draws near, and never try to face the snow alone.”
After that, I’m… not sure what happens.
I can’t remember.
Everything was white, and then gray, and then the warmth went away and came back, all at once.
And I was no longer in The Winter Wood.
I was at home.
The wolf nowhere in sight.
And, the heater was on. The hearth was roaring against the cold, fighting to do it’s best to keep me safe. Keep me warm. Four blankets were strewn over me, closing me in. Keeping the chill away.
…none of those things were my doing.
I was warm. Honest to god, I was.
I couldn’t help it.
I shivered. Surprised, and a little disappointed, all at once. Not because I survived, but because I came away from The Winter Wood empty-handed.
I never thought a wolf could be so warm.