by K Hawthorne
And that's when he noticed he'd made a terrible mistake... Based on a picture prompt.
|There were no two ways about it, the mountain pass was colder than shit. “Remind me why we’re doing this?” Fracshon asked feebly, his words swirling around like withered old leaves above his head, breaking apart on the jagged rocky ledges and landing anywhere but behind him, where Loti trudged along, somehow looking even more miserable than Fracshon himself did. Not that he could turn his head to see. Not that he could tell how Loti looked even if he could, considering the layers upon layers of fur and fleece they each wore to cut the worst of it. His feet, crunching through the crust of ice on top of the heavy snow, had been numb for hours. His hands, even tucked tightly under his arms, tingled in a way that had to be more painful than childbirth. A frosty film blurred his vision as his breath wafted up into his face with each burning-cold exhalation.|
Yesterday at this time they’d been sitting, warm men in the pub, sipping ale and laughing – a typical mid-week activity for strong young bucks such as they were. When the stranger came in, all bolster and promises, telling stories of a secret treasure hidden in the Maiden’s Pass, he and Loti, fresh out of things to do and nicely pickled in the barkeep’s finest, had agreed to go searching for it. Made sense at the time.
Fracshon hadn’t heard Loti’s voice in what seemed like a week – so roughly one hour. He’d always been moody, Loti, and delicate. He’s probably crying, Fracshon thought. He’s probably blubbering like a toddler. He’d wanted to turn back, of course, had threatened to do so, but Fracshon had ignored him. What was adventure without a little discomfort? Okay, he could admit that this was more than just a little discomfort. But the stories they’d have to tell when they returned! And the treasure. Couldn’t forget that.
Fracshon had no idea what the treasure was. In hindsight, this was probably not one of their smartest moves, trusting the weather-worn traveller, whom they had never seen before, and only a scrap of paper to guide them. But they were bored and needed something – anything – to get their juices flowing. Something to be excited about. “Think it’s a sack of gold?” he asked the air behind him. “Think it’s a cave full of exotic women?”
In the distance he saw what he thought might be a bend – maybe the bend – indicating they were nearing the mouth of the cave. He leaned into the wind, and with renewed gusto, pressed on.
Loti would be so happy when they got to the cave. Maybe they wouldn’t even look for the treasure that night. Maybe they would make camp, get some feeling back into their limbs, have something to eat, then begin with a fresh outlook in the morning. “Sound good, Loti?”
Wind thrashed and howled between the leafless tree limbs behind him. Almost sounded human. But Fracshon recognized it for what it was – the moan of a siren leading him off course, giving him false hope that he might find shelter amongst the trees. He could not get lost. That was not an option. He had to stay on course, get to the cave, and not let Loti freeze to death.
Almost there, he thought. Just to the bend. We are almost at the bend. He tucked his hands higher into his armpits, put his head down, and kept walking.