His sleep came in fits. It was so cold. Even curled up next to the fire he shivered all night. Finally, with a new day breaking, he got up. There were still embers under the snow and ash. A couple twigs tossed on top and flames burst to life, at least for a while. The twigs didn’t last long. He rubbed his hands over the dwindling fire and yawned. The sun had only just risen, the first light broke through gaps in the trees. His boots punched through the top layer of frozen snow. He tried to bring warmth to his fingers alternating between rubbing his hands together and burying them in his coat pocket. No more gloves. Traded for ammunition, a pound of beef jerky, and a small box of matches.
There’s a fallen tree. It’s still green, but it’s covering another that’s old and dry. The axe is hard to hold, his grip weak. The cold only seems to grow. A sense of desperation begins to creep into the corners of his thoughts. If I can’t warm up I’ll stop moving, I can’t stop. I have to get back, I promised her I’d be there. He thinks of the picture in his pocket taken by a stranger. They’re standing on a bridge, the city in the background. A second after the stranger gives the camera back he asked her to move in with him—she said yes. He almost pulls the picture out, but changes his mind and continues to chop at the tree. It feels as like moving in water. As hard as he tries his swings don’t bite into the wood enough to matter.
Frustration mingles with desperation now, then despair joins the pair. A whine born of all three escapes his throat. He’s scared, angry—why won’t his hands work?—and cold. The cold keeps growing. Barely able to lift the axe now, and his swings are nothing more than aimed drops.
He falls to his knees. A shimmer of light catches his eye. Sunlight dancing on wet leaves? No. Not the sun. The embers of his fire hang in the air. Is that possible? The cold is gone. He stands. The axe falls from his hand but makes no sound when the head hits the tree. He wonders at that, but isn’t concerned and heads towards the light.