I've spent enough time out of doors to be able to handle wide extremes of temperature, but I have my limits, and right now this stretch of national forest is testing them. Spring hasn't even considered coming here yet, and the snow beneath my feet crunches, a doubly-frozen crust whipped into the earth of the ridge. I keep slipping in the treacherous slush hidden under the crust; my right knee smarts from the latest fall, and the nosebleed I picked up when I faceplanted into a tree trunk finally stopped half an hour ago. The wind here seems invested with a keen desire to cause pain wherever it goes, and it goes everywhere.
I stop for a while on a boulder poking out of the snow, and try to get my bearings. I know I should find shelter. People still die of exposure in weather like this, especially when they've been out in it this long. But it's one of those times when I need to be as far away from people as I possibly can. I keep thinking of what I did to Joe. That gets me thinking about other things I'd rather not remember.
But that's not where I should let my head go. I need to fill my head with better things. Good histories. Cherry blossoms. The salt smell of the sea. Finding a robin's nest. Candlepin bowling and ice cream. Well, not ice cream right now. Burdick's hot chocolate, then. And flying like a petal on the wind. It's been such a long time since I dared do that; I wonder if I've forgotten how. But even here, far away from any sign of human habitation, I'm afraid to try. Other ways of using the knack can be made invisible or are easily masked as some other, perfectly normal behavior -- but it's pretty much impossible to hide if you're caught in mid-flight.
Why did I choose to go this way? I didn't have to take this particular route. I could have stayed and learned so much more.
But it would have been at the price of others' blood. I couldn't strip that knowledge out of my own head. Maybe I could learn how to live with that, but I wouldn't want to.
I look up through the sparse pines toward the top of the ridge. Maybe when I reach the top I'll have a better idea where I should be headed next. If I'm fortunate I'll find a place to get out of the wind. If not, I'll have to come up with some other bright idea.