|photo credit: Cheryl Ruffing|
While waiting for her traps to do their job, she began to consider the task of building a shelter. The nights were getting colder and more uncomfortable, and she feared, by the shadings of the sky, that snow was on its way. She had kept the hide from the previous night's rabbit, hoping to make some mitts out of it, and if her arm ever got better and she could wield a bow, some new deer-skin leggings. But in the meantime, it was necessary to have something to keep the elements at bay.
Alexis tried several different contraptions, but doing anything with one arm was difficult. She finally settled for a sort of lean-to involving a long tree branch and various dead sticks and twigs she'd scavenged. Stuffing the crevices with moss and gloppy, thick mud, she had a roof over her head by the time the sun had begun to kiss the earth goodnight with its last warm, pink rays.
Checking her traps and grinning ear-to-ear at discovering she would have dinner for the next three or four nights, she hurried quickly back to the fire, which she had fed well throughout the day to avoid having to light another one. Cleaning the animals, she watched the dancing, leaping sparks as they spun about in a newly-arrived, wintry breeze. All about her the trees rustled and leaves flew off, unable to cling to Autumn any longer. For the first time, she looked up and realized how beautiful the woods truly were.
She ate her dinner slowly, feeling the hot meat melt in her mouth and listening to the crickets and the bending, creaking trees as they sang her a lullaby. The cheery blaze warmed her hands and she thought of the winter nights spent with her family by the hearth when she was younger. Mama would sit by, sewing or knitting, as Alexis and her brother wrestled and fought on the sandy floor. She laughed, recalling how precariously close to the blaze she would toddle before her mother finally looked up to gasp in horror and rush to move her out of harms way.
Alexis never blamed her for being absentminded and more than a tad careless. Who could? Papa was rarely home, risking his neck everyday far out across the ocean, while she was left alone to tend to two reckless children, and though her brother had always been a kinder, gentler soul like his mum, Alexis was a wild imp with an insatiable curiosity and longing for adventure.
But mama always understood her restless ways and ideas, even if she did not share them. She would always be there to kiss a knee scraped when falling off a stile, to offer gentle advice when her nosiness landed her in trouble, and to calm down her fiery temper. She was always there, with a sympathetic smile and soft blue eyes, with her soft, silken voice and surprisingly proud, courageous spirit burning beneath it all. Until one day, she wasn't.
A tear now twinkled unheeded for a moment in the corner of Alexis's eye. "I miss you." She whispered, her voice choked, into the lonely night air, but she received no answer. Only the distant stars winking coldly back at her, so high above her troubles and pain; so indifferent. Later, huddled beneath her cloak, feeling so small and alone, she fell asleep. The slips of moonlight that wove through the chinks in the roof reflected in the pale, wet streaks across her face, her mother's soft, bedtime lullaby played softly in her heart as hazy dreams of her brother's laugh and her father's embrace haunted her rest.
Making her way to the creek, she saw the horse meandering towards her, its rope, now frayed and incredibly dirty, dragging through the snow and wet ground behind it. "Ah, so you decided to come back then, eh? You rascal." She smiled, rubbing his velvety ears. "I don't have anything to give you, remember?" She had let him go after realizing she could hardly feed herself, never mind a full-grown horse, but evidently he enjoyed her company, and judging by his pleased condition, he hadn't starved during his absence.
She chuckled, looking over her shoulder at intervals and seeing him patiently following her to the water. "You're a stubborn thing, aren't you? You can stick around if you want, but don't expect any help from me." She continued, taking up a large rock and hacking at the layer of ice that now concealed the brutally cold, rushing stream. Bracing herself, she drank quickly, shoving her now-wet hands deep in the folds of her cloak afterwards and taking deep breaths, eyes wide and watery from the shocking cold.
"This.. Is... Ridiculous!" She sputtered, cringing as her bad arm began to ache more sharply than before. It disliked the cold as much as she did. Clutching at the offending appendage, she made her way back to camp, the unpleasant task of re-lighting the fire before her.
Halfway up the hill, she topped in her tracks, every muscle freezing, she held her breath. Beyond the ridge, near her camp, she heard the crackling of broken sticks and eager, loud voices calling out to each other. "Hey, where'd you go?"
"Will, I've found something, up here! Come on, it could be her!"
Start at the beginning: Chapter 1 Part 1