You couldn’t hear them move over the forest floor. The snow was fresh and soft like powder. Each step left an imprint but no resounding echo. You could only hear their breathing. You could not hear each step. Algid, windless, the day smacked without breeze, used its atmosphere like a cave of teeth; biting you on the cheek, on the wrist if your glove slipped down, your neck if it had become exposed. They had no choice but to walk through. The tension combined with the dropping temperature and lack of water, snack or any sense of direction; how does one not go mad with fury? Because you’re too cold to care. It was the middle of January, seventeen degrees and she felt it.
Hardly any birds circled so they were mostly trapped in the infinite stillness of the woods and the remnants of a harsh blizzard that slowed them.
“It’s the eye of the storm.”
“Okkkk….but that doesn’t mean it’s not coming back.”
“It’s not,” she had texted days earlier.
She bet her friend didn’t check her weather app. She bet her friend didn’t question her. She bet her friend trusted her to lead.
“Watch, I bet we get the yellow car,” she said to her friend the day they stood in line at the amusement park.
It was hot then, shining, blissful. They had eaten nothing but sugar. They were waiting to go to the final water ride of the day, spent, thirsty, aging yet jubilant. The trams were in no particular order, randomized, and every time they waited, she guessed.
“ I guess with about a 98.4% accuracy.”
Leana laughed loudly next to a woman’s ear, so loudly she shot them a look only Cat saw.
“What? I have been right every time.”
“That’s 100% though.”
Catarina tapped her thigh to keep the time as they stood.
“Well, you can’t be right every time.”
“True,” Leana said sort of smirking, half engaged, half stuck in her own secret fixation.
Catarina kept her hands free of the straw most of that day, preferring to play with the strap of her bag or the cap of her aluminum water bottle. She tapped her thigh only in line sometimes. They were engaged off and on but paused when it happened.
“Did I tell you about the time I drove my car into the car dealership?” Leana suddenly said.
“What?! Tell me now.”
But the train was rolling in. Both women’s eyes widened as the big yellow tram rolled up. Cat smiled the biggest and threw a look behind her exposing all of her teeth.
“Now, you trust my psychic ability?”
Everything was hiding. The snow had ceased but every once in a while a tree shook when a bird perched and a big clump fell to startle them. They would both look up, unspeaking and resentful and a growing worry between them. The cold was a barrier. The distance was a barrier. The unsettling feeling that this was not going to end was a barrier They heard a crow call a few hours ago; at least three or four hours ago. They hadn’t spoken since she looked up and said,
“It must be noon.”
Her friend didn’t question it or speak to her. Cat turned slightly to check on her. Her breathing was labored. Her cheeks were bright pink and dotted with tiny drops of ice. Leana’s face was pallid, stinging, her endurance waning and their breath came out in synchronized huffs.Together, they marched but separate, each in their own quiet obsession. Catarina was counting hours. Catarina was reviewing lists. Catarina had practiced this walk, had a deep resolve, a spine made of knife and her knees were going to buckle but she knew what adrenaline can do. She drew hearts on her hand with each passing hour. The only time she pulled down the glove. Pockets devoid of cell phones, only a sharpie and some protein bars, there was no cell service here. She had advised Leana to keep her cell phone in the car so she didn’t lose it. Pliant for show only, Cat reassured her.
“I have a metronomic heart, you know. I can always tell the time”
Leana trudged behind her, adjusting her parka and getting ready for the first small incline.
This was hours ago, when they were friends. She turned, bright, dawning, her auspicious eight am self: well fed, hydrated, head covered but face still exposed. She smiled to show her teeth.
“You’re full of shit.”
All they saw were endless groves of bare trees dotted with sparse patches of evergreens; a brightening to the dense forest of trunks. An interminable white crystal blanket to cross kept them moving, reserved and privately poignant. All conversation had ceased between the two friends. You could only hear breathing. You could not hear their steps.
Catarina guessed it was about three or four pm. They had gotten lost, separated from the trail and if they were not out when the sun finally went down, there was no way they were going to survive. She could see it in the distance: the veiled sun, the yellow halo obscured by boundless gray barely shining through the clouds. The sky heavy and pregnant with fresh blizzard. It was an unforgiving winter. It had been and remained unforgiving now. The sunset they faced would turn to black without portrait. We will survive, she had lied. She knew her friend would die anyway. She knew that soon she would hear the twig snap and that she would run. She didn’t know what her friend do but she did know she would hear her scream. She would dart across the forest as fast as she could while her friend was ripped to pieces. She would sprint. She would sprint the whole way without looking back or without time to reflect on her reflex. She would have no time to wonder what blood attracts or how many of them would come to see.
Forget the whole thing. It was agony to know and it didn’t seem fair.Wear the blindfold. None of this was fair. But she did see the wolf. She was reaching to pull the pen out, to mark the four pm chime in scrawl on the veins of her left hand. A ritual of safety. That’s how they met. He was gray and white with yellow eyes. Low to the ground and keen, he held a silent snarl between his teeth. Spotted peeking her head lowered, she did not reach past her hips any more. Heedful, without making a sound, she turned her head slightly to the left. From her periphery, she saw his friend skulking carefully and quietly on the other side of them, low and snaking through the branches. Walking this clearing for the past five or six miles exposed them. It will be faster, she said. She already knew.
At least one branch had fallen and the wolf wouldn’t see it. He would step on it just as he was getting ready to pounce and she would be afforded an extra second that would propel her. She kept her eyes and head down. She inhaled and felt her pulse begin to thrum and warm her body in anticipation. She began to lift the balls of her feet. She began to clench her palms into fists and from her right, she heard the snap. From the left, she felt the hesitation. She knew there were only those two. She began to run. You could not hear them breathing. You could not hear their steps. You could only hear screech turn to scream and then only her own breath quickening in time with sprint. You could hear a flutter of wings above, one call and if you had time to look up, you’d see a flock of blackbirds pushed to movement from the violence.
But there is no time to look up.
“The Woman Who Saw Her Own Death”