The Woods

The fog stopped dead at the treeline, as if terrified, and rolled no farther. Had it not been for this immediate dispersal, we would’ve – one of us – walked right into that giant oak, setting loose our hands from one another for a sullen decade of a brief moment. Cautiously, we veered left around the oak and made our way into the woods. It was here that we began to breathe deeply with one another, our chests rising and falling in symmetry. A smile, then in.

The frost-bitten leaves lay shattered under the weight of our naked soles, their corpses strewn ever so respectfully in the wake of our midnight wandering. Though the trees were thick and stood in groups, huddling in any vain attempt for warmth, the moonlight shone through their naked branches. An act of arrogance, we agreed, for that proud old man provided us with far more than the light we would need for an adventure such as this. That noted, we traveled on northward in a straight line, veering northwest once we reached the river, frozen solid as it was.

Your hand freed itself of mine and you repositioned, finding yourself more content in the crook of my arm. I retreated to my pockets, feeling the shiver creeping upward from my knees and through my thighs. It was colder now. The wind must’ve found itself less daring here in the darker part of the forest where the trees stood even thicker and more ominous. We pictured him back at the treeline, boasting to the fog at his making it even this far. How much more brave of the children he was.

When we came to the place where we could see the city lights speckled through the thinner trees, we stopped. Seeing you shudder, I gathered the fallen leaves and branches nearby and made a fire. How long that took! They were cold and stubborn, the kindling, as if this cold was so endless and unforgiving that it made them abandon any hope in the idea of warmth altogether. The smell of sulfur and traces of orange hue cupped in my hand, though, convinced them in time.

You leaned against my shoulder and melted, as if I were the fire and not the light in front of us. We gazed again at those speckled city lights, telling stories and imagining us there. You asked me to talk longer, for you loved to listen; and when I paused to breathe, I could hear you smiling.

The flames grew too short to stand and were now dark red embers, glowing in the blackened cold. The fog and wind had worked together to hoist themselves above us, clouding the moon over in thick layers, fraying at the ends. The cold crept around us and more intensely, no doubt resentful of our companionship with the fire. We gazed once more at the city, whose lights were fewer now, but just as luminous and inviting as they had been in the waking hours. We leaned back against the leaves, softened from our heat, and stared up at the cloudy night sky. Having taken our jackets off, we cushioned our heads and surrendered to the cold.

Smiling now at each other we lay still, hand in hand, knowing we would both die here.
In pieces, sure, if not our wholes.