The sun sits at one o’clock in the western sky. Aria sets her watch, hoping to circumnavigate Loch Leven’s seven-mile cross-country trek before sunset without her workout partner. She syncs her sports watch and enters the park at exactly 1:01 P.M. unaware of strange brooding clouds gathering over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Four miles later, strong gales sling blinding snow and temperatures plunge to dangerous levels. In the distance, Aria sees a roll of dark clouds brewing. She assesses her options—four miles back to the car or the old cabin a mile away. Given the drastic drop in temperature, and the numb pins and needles in her extremities, she knows turning back could be deadly. With frost-laced vision, she marches a treacherous path toward the dilapidated gray edifice in the distance.
Inside dark walls, chilling winds sweep cracks and crevices. A tattered, pest-infested sofa and dust-encrusted dining table stand alone in the single room cabin. With uncontrollable shivers and teeth chattering, Aria removes the ice-crusted snowshoes at the entrance and rubs and blows several hot breaths into aching fingers. With a visual sweep of the cabin, a timber pile, and decaying fireplace inspires haste to build a fire. Unzipping the backpack, she dumps its contents onto the dusty table—a substandard fare of energy bars, crackers, and bottled water. At the moment she lusts for heat, not food. She continues searching remaining items—a first aid kit, small toothbrush she’s never without, and the item she seeks, a trusty lighter she refused to surrender with a ten-year smoking habit.
The lighter flicks kindling a fire and inspiring warmth in painful extremities. Aria can’t believe her eyes. Through the four-pane window, the treacherous storm mounts a charging steed toward the cabin. Impossible! The storm moves in one direction through the forest, knocking down trees in its path. The storm makes a beeline toward the cabin, then instantly swerves, cutting a circular path to the western forest. What is that? And why did it change direction so swiftly? It can’t be a tornado in these parts, especially not in winter. Impossible! She glances at the rickety walls and perceives the cabin is no match against the powerful storm. But she’s dead if she goes back outside, and with heat escaping the cabin she’s no better off inside. And when the fire dies, she knows the cold will claim her slowly.
The cabin wavers in oblong shadows relinquishing heat through splintered walls. Logs crumble and crackle to ashes, scattering embers up the chimney. She continues to watch the storm spinning over the icy lake. It forms a snowy funnel, morphs almost human. It’s then Aria remembers the old tale that scared her as a child. Death can visit in many forms, a dark cloud or a white angel, and it will reveal itself before your last breath. If it’s death coming for me why does it taunt me so? She braces again, noticing the storm’s second loop about the lake like a sprinter on its last mile.
Five minutes later the angry tempest nods headstrong and persistent, slinging thick clumps atop the cabin and fogging day an impenetrable white. Gales roars like an underground train. Walls tremble, ceiling creaks, and Aria shudders, fearing a snowy grave under collapsed walls. Her body undiscovered til summer reveals gray rotting lumber.
Finally, fire wanes with no wood to rekindle. Shivers intensify, and Aria’s lips and fingernails chill purple. From the back of the sofa, she removes a musty throw, drawing bristly wool about shivering shoulders. Steadfast she keeps heavy eyes out the window until slumber falls. Aria awakens to white silence. She no longer aches or shivers. Her body is neither cold nor warm, but an unfamiliar febricity. Outside the cabin, skies shimmer in the night. A charging symphonious storm blitzes the cabin, bending fear into a peaceful light.
Copyright 2017 by E. Denise Billups
Daily Prompts: Pest, Lust, Substandard, Toothbrush, Foggy, Partner
Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest