A brother and sister make a discovery while out playing in the woods.
|Amidst the Falling Snow|
*For the mystery person who upgraded my membership*
The rush of whistling wind reddened her pale skin as she ran through the night. Sparkly snow was cascading down over the woodland, forming soft blankets of white on the fingers of tall fir trees. Her breathless laughter echoed in the valley as the starlight illuminated her path. Elinor could hear her older brother running behind her, as always angrily cursing her long legs and complaining that she had had a head start. Her face was numb with cold, freezing her joyful smile onto her face as she continued to run, carefree, into the charcoal void of the darkness. The thin covering of frost and snowflakes shining differently each time she glanced at it made the forest trail glint, like an endless kaleidoscope of silver. Eventually Toby’s shouts became more pleading and she slowed down to let him catch up, bending down to trace her initials in the thickening layer of snow.
A few seconds passed and strong footsteps flew up behind her and the silhouette of her sibling breezed off into the blackness. Spurred on once again,
Elinor darted through a shortcut trodden by the moose that roamed the forest and increased her speed as she flew to the finish line. She drew in her breath as she scraped her skin on a prickly holly branch, tearing her pale blue dress, but the taste of her inevitable win pushed her on.
Silence descended over the landscape. Elinor’s light footsteps began to ring out into the blackness so she slowed her pace to listen for Toby. His constant firm footfalls were gone, swallowed up by the night. Turning, Elinor thrust her hands into her apron pocket and began to dawdle her way back home. No doubt she would find Toby bent double on the ground, enthralled by some tiny plant or creature – many times she had found him staring at a sapling on the farm when he was meant to be working.
White snow was pouring from the sky now; weighing down the branches of younger trees and soaking her dress as it melted. Elinor began to shiver, hugging herself in an attempt to preserve some heat, but before long her teeth were chattering uncontrollably and she gave up.
‘Toby!’ she called into the blackness that enveloped her. ‘It’s cold.’ she added in her most pathetic voice. Elinor could feel her temper rising, the numbness of her fingers and toes draining away her patience.
Out of the shadows to her left, a warm palm flew out onto her shoulder and firm fingers clamped onto her collarbone. Her feet tripped as she was dragged into the wood. Elinor opened her mouth to scream but was instead met with another palm.
‘Be quiet, sis,’ came a low voice at her ear. ‘Let me show you something.’ He removed his hand.
‘But I’m freezing!’ Elinor hissed in reply. She could have strangled him there and then were her hands not frozen into her pockets. Instead she satisfied her anger by fixing him with her most irritated glare.
‘I hate you.’
Toby just grinned and pulled her further into the trees. Her hands met something hard and Toby signalled for her to stop.
Gradually her eyes adjusted to the darkness. It was so still amongst the thick trees that time seemed to cease around them. Starlight casually twinkled through the occasional gaps in the bushy branches above, illuminating the dustings of snowflakes. Eventually she could make out her surroundings, quickly taking in the dry stone wall in front of her and the grassy clearing beyond. The moon’s pale light shone onto it freely with no branches to deny its rays. Elinor was transfixed by the brilliant white light shimmering at the surface where moonlight and snow merged together.
Warm arms wrapped around her as Toby came closer to her. He rested his chin on her shoulders and pointed out into the clearing.
‘You see it?’ he breathed quietly. He smiled as he felt her shivering stop as she absorbed his body heat. Stretching his arm out further, he gestured to an opening in the trees. Elinor looked closer and began to make out a black shape, stumbling around in the shade of the towering trees. The sound of cracking twigs and rustling leaves told her it was moving forward and would soon be in the clearing.
As the creature entered the light and was illuminated by the moonlight and snow, Elinor shrank back into Toby's arms. A powerful bear was shuffling through the snow in search of food, alone in the night. It's jet black fur contrasted with the snow like the squares on a chessboard, making the bear seem surreal as it stood before them. Elinor studied it more closely as it pushed some snow away so that it could eat the soft, wet grass below. It moved slowly, like a fatigued old soldier and she could see that its fur was greying around the mouth. It had a flash of white on its chest and the snow falling created white flecks amongst the fur on its back, making it look somewhat magical as it ate, oblivious to their presence. Toby was still and Elinor could tell he was holding his breath.
'What sort of bear is it?' she asked quietly, dragging her eyes from it to look at him. He stared out beyond her.
'Black bear.' came his short reply.
Elinor turned back to the bear. It appeared to have given up eating and seemed to be making a bed near the edge of the clearing. Elinor thought it strange that it should sleep in such an exposed area, in the open moonlight. She shifted round so she could face Toby. He let out a deep sigh.
'Bears hibernate in Winter. They don't leave their dens for any reason, except maybe for a forest fire which is unlikely with the snow, or if they were woken by human, but I don't think that could happen around here. A bear like that would sleep in dense cover like the trees on top of West Ridge.'
Toby's voice was cold and level. He sounded like he was reciting a list of facts, the things he had stored in his head while he was studying his books at school. Elinor could tell by the way his fingers were absent-mindedly rubbing his jaw that something was up. He slowly brought his eyes to meet hers.
'He's come out here to die, El.'