Short Read: In The Winter Forest

She waited for him at their special place, where they had met many times. The air was crisp and clean, the sun making the freshly-fallen snow sparkle. It was a day full of possibility.

The birds were curious about the stranger who sat, silently, upon a log in the small clearing. They chattered at her, asking if she was lost. She only smiled in return, not sure if they would understand a response. They peered at her with their knowing, shiny eyes.

Though only about a half hour had passed, she felt the cold begin to seep into her body. What had seemed so romantic – blanketed and cozy – was beginning to feel less welcoming, even a bit sinister. Did the forest want her to leave?

The footprints around her were strange – clearly made by light creatures because they merely brushed the surface – but also charming. She imagined what kind of birds had been there, and why they had ventured out into the snow. Did their feet grow cold, like hers were?

A glance at her watch showed that he was now an hour late. Doubts began to rear their ugly heads, whispers that he wasn’t coming at all, that he was the selfish sort who’d just “forget” about their meeting and then pretend she’d imagined it. Surely he wasn’t that sort –  a gaslighting cad?

Rustling near her interrupted her thoughts. A quick flash, something moving very fast, dark-colored – a mouse? It disappeared quickly beneath another log, having only briefly appraised her. Mice were quick or, often, they were prey, so they moved at lightning speed, erratically. Even a place of beauty could harbor terrible secrets.

As she let out a long, shuddering sigh, the snow crunched behind her. She spun around, and there he was. He was an idiot, getting the meeting time wrong, but the big grin on his face made it impossible for her to be cross for long. As she put her hand in his, her frozen feet began to thaw.