Feathers in Snow

She ran deep into the woods, running far up the mountain. The biting cold snatched her breath away and the wind tripped her forward into the heaps of snow. As the sun left her under a fading scarlet sky, she struggled on to reach an unknown isolation. No one would find her here. When her body could go no farther, she collapsed underneath a large pine and stared up at the night sky. A beautiful full moon hung over head. From here, all the stars joined together to paint pictures not visible in suburban skies. Thick clouds obscured patches of the night's quilt, pouring snow across bits and pieces of the mountain. Her skin burned. She pulled off her gloves to trace the pale blue pathways that ran underneath a lonely rascette line. Another sting of sharp coldness cut into her deeply, burning hotter than the frost that sliced at her fingertips. She held her hand above her as she felt the wind dance upon the boiling sensation, merging into one and rolling over her body like steam. Though her body's warmth was burrowing deeper from the surface, the snowflakes that landed on her cheeks melted away. Her wet skin was covered in drops. What was once white returned to white in time as the sky moved onward. In an instant, with a splash, the sky retained its scarlet glow and the moon shifted to a deep ruby. She thought she was dreaming, and soon drifted into a heavy sleep. Morning slipped past her. She woke again underneath the warmth of the moonlight. Putting her gloves back on, she wandered to find a more distant place. After a while of aimless travel, she found herself back where she discarded her bag the previous night. She was not alone in that space. A few feet ahead of the bag, she saw a black wolf. The wolf was eating something laying in the snow. It dragged the corpse around, leaving a large trail of red in the pure white. Partly from shock, she didn't immediately register that she was looking at the body of a human. Given how far up the mountain she was, she wondered if the person there may have been a lost hiker or someone who died in an accident. Terrified of what the wolf may do if it saw her, she froze. The wolf raised its head from the rig cage with a face painted in a dark crimson. Their eyes met, but the wolf did not pay any further attention to her. It lowered itbos head back down and went about with its meal. Along the black coat, feathers stuck out of the beast like wings that were cast away. She watched the wolf while crouching down against a pine tree. The body had no warmth in it, so the snow did not melt upon contact with the exposed bone. The storm above them soon hid away all the bright red lights in the sky and went to work hiding the mess the wolf made. As the night went on, she grew tired again and fell asleep. When sunset came again, she stirred. The wolf was gone and the body lie hidden in a soft powder. Sleeping in the pile of white and spots of red was a young man wearing a dark fur pelt upon his shoulders. His face and hands were filthy. Black feathers littered the ground around him. She pondered if he was a werewolf, but the moon above them was as round as the sun. There was another creature she contemplated, but she let that thought go as well. She didn't believe in monsters. The man stirred and woke. He rose and fixed his belt. The man said nothing to her, only locking gaze with her. Like with the wolf, she couldn't move. She felt weak in his presence. He walked away from her down to a river where he washed away the blood. For a reason she couldn't understand, she was compelled to follow him. She asked, "Who are you?" He said nothing. "Did you kill that girl?" Her body fluttered between courage and terror. "Whatever whispers may slip into the mind on the night breeze cannot bring a hand to rise and a knife to cut unless the body belongs to one already willing." His voice was deep and low with an undercurrent of frigidness. "So, you tormented her until she did it, is that what you did? I'll make sure the police find you!" She yelled at him. "You won't do anything that you haven't already done. And what brings you up here, lost little bird? You and I both know you won't leave these woods." He crossed the river. "What do you know about me?!" She followed behind him. "No one would be up here at a time like this with any good intentions." He turned and captured her in his gaze again. "Tell me what you're running from." "I..." She was stuck in place, halfway across the river. "What does it matter why I'm here?" "You wanted to disappeared." He waved her over. "Come, walk with me. Until it is done, I will listen." Before she could get across the river, it swept her under. Her world spun and turned to black. The moon's glow breaking through the clouds were all she had to tell her what was up and down. Dragged deeper, she met with complete darkness. She awoke at sunset underneath the pine tree. The wolf sat ahead of her covered in feathers and blood. It gnawed on a long bone. Afraid of being captured, she turned her eyes upon the sky. The clouds were nearly gone this night, with the moon and stars dominating the sky. She found peace in it. When she looked back over to see where the wolf was, the bone sat abandoned. From behind the old pine, the man in the pelt came out and sat beside her. "Are you ready?" He asked. "I will listen. What's chased you up here?" He met eyes with her. She felt like she was suffocating. The cold air permeated deep into her body, nearly sniffing out the smallest warmth left in her. She obeyed his demands. "Chase...that is an accurate word. Last year, I started dating this guy from my college. Everything started out nice, but around three months in, he...started to change. I should have left then, but at the time, I thought he was just going through some rough patch in his life. You know, a bout of depression or something." She stopped for a moment and looked around. The two of them were walking across the snowy hills down to the river. "Where...? How did we...?" "The mind likes to wander, doesn't it? Never mind that. You were saying?" He led her on across. This time, she did not get caught in its flow. The moon had changed with the scenery, a brightly glowing gibbous shrinking towards a crescent. "What's...am I still dreaming?" "Forget the moon. What happened with that man?" He persisted as they moved on to a thicker part of the forest. "Well, he started doing strange things..." She kept her eyes only on the moon. It stirred something in her she couldn't place. A cup of warm apple cider in a cabin somewhere. Fuzzy socks. A knitted wool sweater. She couldn't fit the moon within the image her mind conjured and let it slip away to the back of her thoughts. "He demanded to know everyone I called and spoke to, everyone I sent mail to, when I would get off work...I thought he was a little possessive, but I told myself that only meant he really loved me. Then, after I moved in with him, he started to control when I left the house and when we..." The woods grew darkness. High branches nearly eclipsed the moon and stars entirely. She stuck close to the man, afraid of being lost in those dark woods. "When you?" He reminded her to continue. "He would tell me I had to do things he liked, when he wanted me to. I didn't have a right to say no to anything. I followed his every command, always afraid of when he'd blow up next." The trees were more tightly packed together the farther they went in. The branches cut at her arms and legs. "I couldn't tell anyone what he was like. After he did something I couldn't forgive him for, I ran off. I left everything I had behind and ran to this friend of mine. I didn't tell her what happened, just that I broke up with him and couldn't stay living with him. After that, I started dating someone else and we were happy together, but...my friend ended up dating that guy after me. One day, she came to me with a black eye. She was crying and she slapped me. I was so ashamed I didn't tell her that I ran...I ran up here chased by my guilt." "Is that so?" The man disappeared from her sight. His voice echoed around her through the trees. Before her, a light shone. She followed it out of the woods only to find the wolf again. It ripped the corpse open before her, digging deep into the body's chest. The heart was snatched from inside as its prize, which it gleefully devoured. The wolf smiled at her with a toothy, bloody grin. She ran back into the dark woods only to end up waking up underneath that old pine. The body was hidden again. The man in the fur pelt sat just behind her. "You're quite the liar, aren't you?" "I am not a liar! I told you the truth!" She shouted. "Well, I suppose you're not being untruthful so much as misleading." He held up a lock of yellow hair. The strands blew away in the wind until they were captured by the glowing thumbnail above them. She was lost in the moon's light. A memory returned to her of another time. The night she ran away from her abusive ex-boyfriend, when she ran to her friends house. She didn't say a word to her about what he had done. She feared if she let out a single word, the dam inside her would burst and she would drown in her own pain. Thinking it was only a bad break-up, her friend did her usual routine of cheering her up. They watched overly indulgent sentimental movies together before settling into their cozy winter lounge clothes and brewing up apple cider to share together out on the balcony of her parent's log house. A strange storm rolled through and dusted the land around them in a blanket of white powder. The steam of their drinks mixed with their breath in the cold air until another unusual spectacle, a bright red moon, caught their attention. To remember their joy and that special warmth under the chilly night, her friend took a few pictures of the moon and snow from the balcony. She took one and her friend kept another. They each carried one of the photos on them always. Her mind drifted in those snowy banks to another memory. A cloudless night with a crescent moon dangling just above her apartment. Her friend at the door with a black eye and a large garden stone in her hand. She saw the wolf in the moon, ripping apart flesh. Disturbed, she turned away. The man had led them down to the river again. He washed away blood from his face and hands. "Isn't there something you're forgetting?" The man in the pelt asked. "Something you did to your friend?" "I...I..." There was one part of the story she couldn't tell. She was too ashamed to say it. "How you took refuge in her house then snuck into her boyfriend's sheets behind her back until you stole him completely. Or how the only reason she turned to that abusive man to begin with is because she felt so vulnerable and hurt after the betrayal you two committed on her. And on top of that, you never once bothered to tell her about his ways because you were so grateful he had someone to fixate on other than you." He walked towards her, causing her to flee back up the hill. She met again with the corpse in the snow. The sting of the slap on her face after she offered her friend sanctuary inside. The shade of black, blue, and purple on her friend's face and the trail of blood that flowed from her left eye. How the blood mixed with the tears into a diluted light red. It poured into her mind and captured every space within. The stone was throw down before her door and her friend ran away. She didn't chase after her. She didn't do anything but stand there in shock like a fool. "And when your friend was found floating face up a week later, you didn't attend her funeral out of shame. You said nothing to the police about what happened between her and that man. You hid yourself away to lose yourself in your pain. You never returned the warmth she gave you that night." The man wearing the fur pelt opened his hand to reveal a bloodied stone. She collapsed on the ground beside the half hidden corpse. Tears streamed down her face as the moon warmed her back. Everything she was running from flooded out of her and fell to the snow. Her tears turns to ice upon landing in the cold white, lost along with the white bones under the powder. "I'm sorry...I wanted...I wanted to...help you, but...I didn't know what to do with myself first...I didn't think of you because I was too scared for me..." He threw the stone before her. It sunk deep into the snow and disappeared. She dug into the snow to find it. She needed to touch it, to feel her pain. When she reached down into the hole the stone created, she did not find it. Instead, something thin touched her fingertips. She pulled it out. A Polaroid picture of a snowy landscape under a scarlet full moon lie in her hands. She buried her face in her hands against the photograph. The tears wouldn't stop. "It's all my fault...if I hadn't been so weak, if I'd seen through him sooner, none of this would have happened...If I hadn't tried to befriend him to begin with...if he..." She collapsed down into the snow. The man in the pelt sat down beside her and petted her hair. One of the strands of blonde hair fell beside her in the snow. She took it in her hand and watched it disintegrate into white dust. The photograph crumbled in her other hand to join the pile of snow beneath her. "If he had never done this to me..." She muttered as the cold pierced through every part of her. Her eyes closed. When she opened them again, she lay underneath that old pine. The man was still sitting beside her, but she was facing up now. The scarlet moonbeams cast their dark hue on the snow. Beside her, the man looked different from before. His form was not as solid, appearing more as a mix of shadow and light. The feathers at the top of his pelt along his shoulders danced in between being splotches of darkness and black remiges in the winter wind. When she blinked, unmistakably, she saw the form of a wolf with eyes that matched the moon. She blinked again. The wolf disappeared, and the young man took its place once more. "Shh. It was only a dream." He caressed her wet cheeks. With a small knife discarded in the snow, he cut away a lock of her hair. "Tell me, where does that man live?" Her voice sank away from her. No words would leave. Only cold flowed in as she tried to speak. "There, there." He placed his hand on her forehead and stared into her eyes. "So I see. Now, go on back to dreaming. Our departure is at hand." She couldn't keep her eyes open. A rush of frigid wind encased her into darkness. The remaining warmth inside her had nowhere to sink farther to, shrinking into itself until nothing remained. Gently, she felt herself floating away into the night air. The world painted white, red, and black returned to her when she opened her eyes again. She looked down at the corpse, with its opened, jagged wrist pouring freely upon the earth and cold, half-opened eyes. Drops of frozen red mixed in with white flakes upon the face. A small shimmer of metal illuminated by the red moon peeked out from under the soft snow and black strands, cast aside once more. She let the storm see to the burial, and followed along behind the man in the fur pelt. He was too quick for her to keep up with. She crossed the river once more to chase after him, skipping across without a single drop gracing her feet. Far ahead of her, a crow flew up above the trees with a lock of black hair in its beak. The mountain dressed in a coat of snow glimmered in the moon's pale white light. Its vast emptiness stretched out across the woods save for a few stray feathers and the smallest reminder of red.
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