A crunching sound exploded with each step, as his foot broke the icy surface of the snow covered path. Last night it had snowed, enough to obscure any past footprints or markings on the path. As dawn broke, the snow storm slipped from full flakes to falling ice. Coating everything with a glimmering thin layer of ice. In the quiet of the forest the crunching of his steps felt louder than expected. There was a bit of satisfaction with the sound. Breaking the silence seemed to make the cold fade for just a moment.
Dawn was a very welcome experience. It gave him some idea of how long he had been walking. In the dark of the night, it was nearly impossible to tell the time. The cold having caused his smartphone to die. It was a frozen brick in his pocket. Now nothing but another weight pulling him down.
It was foolish to leave the cabin in the middle of the night. Even in the moment of panic after the night terror woke him, deep down he knew the folly of going for a walk in the middle of the night. Especially in an unknown area, a forest no less. But at that moment, as the ethereal visions from the nightmare haunted his thoughts, fresh air and a moment to collect himself was more important than safety. His fear of the dream pushed him out into a new kind of nightmare.
It was the claws. The claws from the dream that spooked him out into the cold winter night. The image of those claws tearing through the tent, slashing at him, opening up such a gratuitous gash on his arm that he awoke clutching his bicep.
As his eyes opened - he knew within a moment that it was all a dream, a vision. There was no blood pumping out of his left arm. No visceral fluid seeping through his fingers. It was just a dream.
Walking without a map, in the dark, and in freezing temperatures turned out to be a nightmare in and of itself. He was lucky that he had the foresight to bundle up with gloves and a hat. Though heading out without either of them would likely have sent him home much sooner. Heading back to the cabin sooner might have prevented his current situation.
The current situation involved probable frostbite, a substantial amount of shame for getting lost in the woods and a palpable amount of panic. If the sun is up, that means he’s been walking for hours. Hours of walking potentially in the wrong direction.
When the light first broke through the trees, he was elated, with improved visibility he should find his way back to the cabin in no time. Yet as the crunching snow beneath his feet would attest, the path shows no indication of past travel or direction. Even the absence of his own footprints is disconcerting. It wouldn’t be shocking to find that he had wandered hours in circles in the dark. However, there are no prints, not even his own. Which means he could have been walking for hours away from the cabin.
Frostbite is a tricky bitch. The colder you get, the less you feel. Do you feel yourself slipping into the dark? Likely you feel less and less. As the cold claims more and more of you, more and more of you cease to send the requisite warnings to the brain.
There is never a good time to get lost in the woods. Yet, in the depth of winter might be the worst of them all. Temps well below freezing. Wind chills create additional danger. He was bundled. But the lack of feeling in his fingers and toes caused concern.
As it always does, the dawn brought with it a sense of hope, an idea of possibility. So he trudged on. Encouraged by the placebo effect of seeing the sun, convinced that the cabin was just around the next bend, or the next...