A Short Story
October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
Trapped in the dark cave, it had begun to snow again and the wind howled through the trees as the fire began to die. In the far corner, the orange light flickered against the low ceiling and slanting walls. As the figures huddled around, absorbing the warmth, their heavy winter jacks glowed. They looked tired, hungry and worried. Every so often a bitter breeze penetrated through the makeshift door of branches and could be seen ruffling stray hairs sticking out of wool hats.
Sitting in the circle were three friends – two female and one male. Their shoulders were hunched together in a vain attempt to trap the heat between them. As they spoke in whispers, their voices bounced off the walls and there was a slight echo in the depth of the cave. Conversation was a simple way of avoiding the situation at hand. No one wanted to give up, and by ignoring reality they thought that somehow they could lengthen their chances of survival. After all, ignorance is bliss. But someone had to say it.
“How are we going to get out?” Jacqui finally broke the ice.
The question echoed in the silence. It was the one question no one had an answer to, and uncertainty hung in the air around them. But it wasn’t getting out of the cave that was the problem. It was finding their way after they stepped out of the cave that was the issue. Their tracks were covered in snow and they had no map. Luckily, there was no shortage of water with all of the snow. Shivering, they huddled closer and another frigid breeze ruffled their hair.
A ruffling noise in the deeper corner of the cave was followed by footsteps, and another figure appeared out of the shadows. Adreana walked past the fire and to the opening of the cave. The three by the fire ignored her movements, as she ignored them. The cave was large enough for the four of them – about 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep. She stood next to the opening, peering through the door of branches. Snow was piled against the entrance, fresh from the snowfall and blown down the mountain. Through a gap in the branches she could see the adjacent mountain, and the mountain range continuing beyond – mountain after mountain. Across the valley, the last rays of the sun hit the top of the mountain as the sun set behind their cave. A long night was ahead of them; the last rays of sun slowly crept up the snowy peak and the sky slowly turned a dark shade of blue. Time passed as the stars began to pop out, twinkling on and off, a flirtatious dance across the sky. The wind began to blow harder and she watched as the powdered snow lifted into the air, dancing in a swirling twirl or sparkles. It was beautiful.
She thought that the saying must be true; Ignorance truly is bliss. The life or death situation had strayed away from her thoughts as she lost herself in the beauty of nature.
Her mind back in reality, she felt her fingers cold and mostly numb sitting in her pockets. Not again… She panicked, rubbing her hands together in a desperate attempt to generate heat between her fingers. But her fingers felt like thick, lifeless logs – almost numb from the cold. The circulation in her hands was getting worse; her feet were beginning to feel the effect. Holding her fingers up against her warm cheeks, they felt like icicles stinging her face. A tingle ran through her fingers. She needed warmth.
There were a few branches left near the entrance, so she picked it up and brought it back to the dying fire. It was still silent, but now an awkwardness hung in the air. It was so tense that if anyone spoke, the combination with cold would have caused the air to shatter into solid pieces of ice. Still without a word, James and Jacqui squeezed closer to leave room for Adreana to sit in next to the fire. Squatting down, she placed the branch into the fire and held her fingers close, a faint feeling of warmth at the very tips. As she waited for her fingers to melt away the cold and begin to tingle, she thought back to the last two days.
Jacqui and Veronica had asked Adreana to come on an adventure with them; it would be one of the last before they went their separate ways after college. Winter break had come and they wanted to go skiing in the back country. They would ski for a few days, finding shelter at night and enjoying being out and about in the wilderness. As James and Jacqui were nauseatingly inseparable, of course he would be coming along as well. But the more the merrier was Veronica’s view of an adventure like this.
“Besides,” she had said, “He’ll be there to protect us.” Adreana finally had agreed to come along, despite all of her feelings against joining the trip. She would have been more open to the idea if there would be bonding time between the girls; but with James glued to Jacqui, it would never happen.
“What if we just ski for the full day and find a hotel after each night?” Adreana had always been the more intellectual and cautious friend. She always had to question, “What if…?” There would be no hotels, they had told her. They would be living on the edge for those few days. So a few days passed and she was loaded into the car with the three friends, food, water and equipment. Upon arrival to the mountain, they had had a wonderful first day skiing and hiking. Even the night was decent.
The next day was good too; that is, until it began to get dark and James had the idea to keep going through the dark. Adreana, the smartest of the group, said no, that they would get lost. Unfortunately, her intelligence is sometimes lost behind how reserved she can be. This was one of those times when the three friends took her warning as irrational fear instead of an intelligent thought process.
Still thinking of the moment she had said “No,” and how it had led to their current situation, she blamed her friends for being trapped here in the cave. If only they would have listened! Perhaps they weren’t the good friends she had thought they were. She had been the third wheel on this trip – or, the fourth wheel on what was meant to be a tricycle. Although, she wondered why they would have bothered to bring the “smart” friend if they weren’t going to listen to her anyway.
They were lost and running out of food. Her fingers were warming up. She could feel them now. She wanted to wrap them firmly around James’ throat and kill him right then and there for getting them in this mess. If he hadn’t come… Well, that wouldn’t change and they would be in a bigger mess than now. Her thoughts back in the cave, she realized that the three were talking in whispers again. The ghostly echoes sent shivers down her spine.
Yes, they thought they should stay here another day. Yes, they thought maybe they should stay another night. Yes, someone would come looking for them. Yes, someday someone will come. No, they won’t try to help themselves. Tomorrow, they will look for firewood. Tomorrow, they will do this. Tomorrow, they will do that. It’s always tomorrow and never today.
Adreana’s head throbbed. Her fury at being dragged into this situation beat at her skull and she felt ill. She thought of her family, her friends, her beloved dog. They were all at home, expecting her to return soon. She wasn’t going to lie to herself; no one knew where she was. She didn’t think anyone actually knew where any of them were. It was a spontaneous adventure. Nauseous, she stood up, light-headed.
A tear began to slip down her cheek, freezing almost immediately. She brushed the salty ice off her face.
“Be right back,” she muttered, but no one noticed her. They continued talking and calculating their rations.
As she walked toward the entrance, her footsteps echoed, vibrating against the walls. The dancing flames flickered against the walls. It seemed so primitive, so beautiful. But she had to get out, she had to do something to fight for her survival. She couldn’t just sit here anymore. She was a fighter.
Pushing aside a few branches, she stepped through the entrance and into the snow. It crunched beneath her boot. Crunch, crunch, crunch, as she walked away from the cave. The temperature had dropped drastically, but the wind had died down. The air was crisp, fresh and still. The snow around her was illuminated, almost as bright as day, as the full moon reflected against the snow.
She breathed in the fresh air, letting it fill her lungs and freezing the inside of her nose. Excited to be doing something, she licked her lips and felt the cold dry them instantly. The cave was behind her now and she wasn’t going back. Shadows cast across the bright white snow. The moon hovered in the sky, mocking the brightness of the sun. Everything was illuminated. Adreana flung out her arms, spinning around. Wolves howled in the distance, a singalong to her dance.
If she got lost, well… she was already lost anyway. At least she would die trying instead of die just sitting and waiting. Besides, it was such a beautiful place to die. She knew that if she had to give up, she would just have to find the perfect pine tree. It would be her last Christmas present to herself, as she laid down underneath its long branches. She would laugh as she made her last snow angel, brushing her arms and legs back and forth. She would laugh and she would lay there and she would be at peace. If she had to give up, in the end she would be in Mother Nature’s arms.