Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.
Day Two Hundred Twenty Two
He trudges through the snow alone, blinking as the flakes drift into his eyes. The trees around him are quiet and still, not a breath of wind in the air. Cawing crows and magpies japing through the air disturb the stillness, causing him to stiffen and halt, sweat forming on his brow despite the cold. One of the birds lands on a nearby branch, staring at him with dark eyes that seem filled with mocking laughter.
He shakes his head and looks around. Just some squawking birds, nothing to worry about. The magpies call to each other from across the trees, a conversation he cannot begin to understand. He imagines they are making wagers as to how long he will last before they can feast upon his eyes and lips. Little do they know.
Turning back he looks at the wandering trail he has left in the snow. His footprints are still visible, but the snow will deal with that soon enough. Not that it will matter, he knows. There is no escaping what is coming.
He has to try anyway and pushes ahead. Descending into the river valley the way gets more difficult, the snow having drifted among the trees, so that he has to fight his way forward and is soon left gasping for air. If he had thought to bring snowshoes, but there had been no thinking in those terrible moments, only a flight before the sun rose, leaving behind all he had known to the harvest.
That was the hardest – recalling faces and voices, the touch of others, all gone now. If he thinks about it too much he will succumb to despair, curl into a ball and surrender to the snow and become the feast the magpies desire. But he can’t do that. He has to keep going. There is still hope, faint as it might be. Every step is a step further away and a chance to escape.
He keeps going, fighting his way through drifts up to his waist, until he is utterly exhausted. His legs tremble with each step and his face burns from the cold. The light starts to go from the day, but he knows he doesn’t dare stop. He has to go on through the night, through the next day, until he can’t go any further, and even that might not be enough.
He picks his way through the trees, trying to get within sight of the river. It will be his guide through the coming darkness. So long as he knows where it is he will not go astray. The snow is getting heavier and the sky is thick with clouds that swallow the tree tops. There will be no moon and stars to guide him. He is alone. Even the magpies and crows have left him, growing tired of waiting, certain they will have their chance tomorrow.
They will not. As he comes in sight of the river, covered over in ice and snow, he sees that it is waiting for him. His instinct is to run, but he is too tired, the snow too thick, and he knows with a cold certainty there is no escaping it. The thing that kept him going all day without ceasing is broken inside him. As he watches it come he realizes that it was always going to be there waiting for him. No matter where or how far, it would be there. He begins to walk toward it, going to be drawn into its embrace.