A storm approaches the towering hills blowing icy air through naked trees causing them to sway and shiver. The brown leaves catch sail and swirl towards the moon, tormented by the glimpse of autumn stripped branches that were once their home.
Weary travelers carry pieces of their past in knapsacks and belted pouches. They write in notebooks and glare into their tin canteens waiting for their features to change. The wind at their backs whistles through holes and tears in their coats and pulls at the hair of the woman. The wail of windswept trees is like the chant of ghosts returning to their forest, so it is time to set up camp.
A wolf rests its paw atop the the carcass of her pup, encircled by a crimson stain in the snow. She raises her nose to the sky and howls.
The coffee is gone but the canteen is still good. The man kisses his wife before heading to the creek to clean it and fill with water to boil. He goes off into the dark, leaving the only working lantern with his wife and son so they might build a fire. The moon is alert and anxious, paving an uneven silvery path for the man to traverse as he grips the bark of trees to steady himself in times of uncertainty. The nearby rustle of a berry bush stirs a primal fear within him and quickly subsides at the thought of his wife and the warmth of the fire.
The baby is torn from her slumber as mother dabs a cool rag against her forehead to stay the fever. The baby cries and ardently flails her arms and legs while glaring into her mother’s eyes, searching for the meaning behind her disturbance. The mother coos and kisses. The baby is reconciled.
The creek sits in a clearing basking in the presence of the cosmos. The man approaches the edge and dips the canteen into the stream allowing it to fill before pulling it out and turning it upside down, watching the water lazily slosh out of the nozzle. He stares up at the sky and wonders when he can finally die.
The wolf watches the boy stoking the fire, curls of smoke gently crawling up the trees and filtering through a robin’s nest. There was a sudden crash as pot hit stone and the wolf flinched back deeper behind the tree. The mother said something to the boy and he carefully rolled the stone back into place by the fire before placing the pot onto the coals.
The canteen is full and the man is pleased. He caught one last look at the stream as he tightened the cap and brushed off his knees. There is a smile and then a chuckle before he turns and enters the smoky forest.
Upon hearing the gentle sound of twigs breaking, the mother turns to greet her husband only to meet the eyes of the wolf whose intentions became evident as soon as her teeth sank into the baby’s shoulder and tore her from the basket. The mother reaches for the baby but the wolf is too fast and shakes the baby violently and drags it into the forest. The mother rushes towards the direction of the wolf, kicking the lantern on its side. She cries out for the baby in the dark before tripping over a fallen branch and rushing into a shard of rock.
The son calls for his father as he frantically tries to extinguish the fire that slithers from the shattered remains of the lantern. He throws his coat and then his pack against the flames which greatly irritate them into a state of frenzy. The fire meets the trunk of a nearby tree and chews at its base, growing in size the more it consumes. The father enters camp and calls for the boy and his mother as the boy runs into the dark woods after mother. The boy is more fortunate than his mother when he falls, as he had her warm, fleshy back to soften him. Even still, he would suffer a broken nose and two chipped teeth. The father asks why his wife is laying out in the dark in the dirt and he will never get a reply, not even after carrying his boy and his wife to the doctor at a nearby settlement who explains that his son is experiencing a trauma and might not speak for a long time and his wife had died instantly.
Where is my baby girl?
A wolf embraces the torrent of sleet and snow and squints into the unforgiving breath of nature as she screams into her furry face. Her paw rests on a tiny skull near a pile of small bones.