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Long Winter

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She stood on the back of a dogsled that pulled itself through the forest, a wool hat on her head, thick wool mittens, and a wool coat, all of which she had knitted herself. A few snowflakes floated down from the sky and caught in her eyelashes. She smiled at the quiet, the escape from bustling village life, and she rode on through the pines that bent in the wind and caught snow in the cracks of their bark.
The snow began to thicken, swirling down faster, frenzied. She couldn’t see well; trees stood silent around her, shadows against the white. Her sled sliced through the powder on the ground, spraying waves of flakes, and she rode on, past the sentry trees.
There was a rock like a glacier on the side of the path––only the tiniest peak jutted out of the snow blanket that curled over the edge of a small cliff. She saw the peak but ignored it, not thinking there could be more underneath.
She didn’t bother to turn the sled from the weathered peak; she knew she wouldn’t hit it. But her runners struck the glacier-rock beneath.
She wasn’t surprised when she tumbled over the edge, towards the ground below, just blank, dazed. And then she hit with a thump that jarred her bones and shook her brain in her skull, and everything went dark.
*
*
*
The snow spiraled down from the cloud-darkened sky and caught in the wind. It was flung into her face, the tiny ice crystals rubbing her skin raw and turning her face red. Her legs shook from cold and exhaustion as she shoved through snow that had swallowed her legs and was working on the rest of her. Her sled was, lost maybe still on the top of the cliff, maybe submerged somewhere in the colorless world. She just pushed on, not knowing what was out there but snow, snow…
She’d heard the stories. A snowstorm at the bottom of a cliff that fights to keep you trapped and wandering, fights to freeze you and bury you somewhere, deep in a blanket of white. A snowstorm that won’t let you go.
The needles of a pine tree scraped her face, and she grabbed the branch to guide herself to the trunk. Her legs gave out, and she collapsed beneath the dark branches. They blocked most of the flakes so that she could see the ground beneath them, brown with dead needles.
She shut her eyes and listened to the wind tear through the branches, grabbing them and whipping the trunk. She felt her toes go numb, then her fingers and the tip of her nose. Her hair, soaked with snow, froze into stalks that were stiff and brittle like dead twigs.
Then all was silent. With a groan, she pushed herself up and crawled out from beneath the tree, sinking into the icy-crusted snowbank. There was no ice on her face, no wind in her ears. She stood and licked her lips and found her tongue was still warm.
A sudden gust screeched in her ear, and she screamed, too, with frustration.
Then she looked up at the grey clouds and whimpered to the snowflakes.



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