I was shuffling through the white-blanketed creek bed, which was long divested of its babbling waters. It is amazing how falling snow can deaden sound enough to match perfectly the monochromatic blur that surrounded me. But perhaps it was the cold that had clapped its palms to my ears.
It has been observed that the loss of one of the senses permits the others to increase their reception. And with no sound, and all around me, pale light, I could only feel the massive rock towering above, pressing to either side of me.
There was no rush to escape the frigid world in which I paced. Only a few hours old, warm light and breakfast kept the chill away. And the winter cloak barred the whiteness from intruding.
I wasn’t really going anywhere, meandering idly, waiting. Never able to simply sit and wait for a thing, though, I was ever moving, shifting something in the meantime.
Back then I could do such a thing. In these new days, it is almost the same, only my mind is the silent wanderer, my feet old and grown complacent, leaving all to thought, revisiting these old haunts. My days of movement… ah, waiting… that’s what it was.
And it seems hours were gone by in that ravine, deathly still, snow constantly moving and swirling. Do snowflakes cavort? Or do they run amok? Falling just doesn’t seem a word used easily with snow.
But he did, in time, overtake me, and it was the heat that preceded him in greeting. As I turned, I raised my hand to hail him, forgetting the blindness that, of course would be afflicting him as well. But motion was tangible then, and he pulled up, close enough that I could see.
I could see a nearly white snow-man perched upon a mountain of a horse that steamed and puffed.
“Long ride?” I said, mostly observing.
“Just a few miles. Fine day for a stroll?”
“Tom, where are we going?” I asked, suddenly impatient with this blurred vision and inaction.
“Ask her, Govan, I’m only breaking trail because I’ve been here before. She’s the smart one. Meet Gretch.”
“Gretchen,” she corrected, in a voice that trembled. She swung her horse from Tom’s right quarter into view.
The cold was barely a nuisance to Tom and me. She was turning blue despite the heavy furs.
“Stupid, Tom, to bring that out here.”
“You should have had me come to you,” I said. “What’s the point of riding these miles to see me if your Most Important Trouble dies on the way?”
“She insisted,” He replied flatly. “We can head for the pass a mile up. There’s a break there and fixings for a fire.”
I shrugged and turned to head on, then stopped. I took off my cloak and pitched it up to the hunched figure on the horse. Even the animal she rode seemed a wretched thing, but that may only have to do with the monstrous beast Tom sat.
“She can have that. I’ll be fine.” I stumped off again, knowing I’d need to stay animated to keep the cold away.
“Wrong turn, Govan. It’s this way.”
The white sheets hadn’t left much for navigation. I stifled a curse and turned back around to follow the only guide I had. The fuzzy dark pair of smudges in the snow and their heat led on. It was so cold I couldn’t even smell the horses.
The message had read:
In the canyon, not at the house. Wait for me there. It may be a few days, I don’t know for certain. Make a try for me at noon and I will catch up to you then. We’re in trouble.
That had been a week ago, just before the snow came in force and closed the passes. The courier had been from town, only two miles east of my place.
He had smelt of smoke and a good dinner. Arrived at nightfall, stayed long enough for coffee, the only warm place near town being mine. Then he rode on to the west.
It made no sense, west, and I had called after him, but he’d hit the road at a dead run. Good horse. A pity if he killed it, running it like that. There is nothing but plains west of my house. Nothing is there, even today. It’s just flat grassland, all the way to the edge of the world.
And so, each day for a week, I woke late, ate well, knowing Tom would most likely drag me off to places where sleep and food were scarce. Where running or fighting would be the menu and hiding was all the rest to be found.
I took a pack every day, and retraced the length of my end of the canyon.
We’re in trouble
That bit stretched me a little thin. I’d held this tiny slice of land for four years, nestled in the forest at the mouth of the canyon. There was nothing to do but drink coffee, trap and rest there. Years of travel, war, and never enough food had built up this retreat into a mansion of a dream, and Tom was just the shake I didn’t want to wake me up.
Tom was, of course, the one thing, not man, woman, general nor emperor that could command my presence. Still I was, and am even now, surprised he hadn’t also recommended I fire the house before I left.
I wonder if it’s still there. Dusty and moldering in the trees, safeguarding books no one has read since my own residence. And the garden, run wild. Or perhaps someone came upon it one day, and brought the cheery light back into the windows. I still think on the books, and the tobacco in neat jars in the closet. I can imagine the crackle of the pipe and rustle of pages.