My feet are burning in the icy cover that had lain itself over earth. It had happened so fast, in just a few hours all was white, except for the black tree trunks or withering branches.
I bend down to wipe the towering snow off a frail branch that seems to be in imminent danger of breaking upon its burden. I'm not careful enough, and by accident I break it myself. With a sigh I get to my feet and walk on, dropping it next to me.
I don't know where to go, and I know that no map would do me good. I have lost count of days, maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe years. It was a long time ago that I saw the blue skies, and even longer since I have eaten anything but roots and frozen berries.
I take some snow and swallow it, satisfying myself with the cold water until I reach civilization. The further I walk the darker the forest looms, the louder my feet crunch in the snow, and I fear that I am all alone. Somewhere in the distance I hear a sound. Someone calls. A village must be near then.
I hug my stained coat to my shivering body as I continue to follow my instincts. Doing so, I begin to sing myself a lullaby – it's a sad one, but it calms me. I don't know who sang it to me.
The moment I see the faint glow of light shine through the thick forest I begin to run. I run quicker than a deer, sliding down slopes and jumping over frozen trickles of water. I skid over a gloomy, frozen marsh, my eyes focused no longer on the hope of seeing the moon. Then I stop. The falling snow has become stronger, and it's making it harder to see. But I am close, I should be. I walk on, careful, hopeful, silent, until I can see the forest clearing up.
With suspicious steps I creep closer to one of the tiny houses. As my feet touch the snow free ground of the walkway the villagers made I feel a shiver coursing through me.
My hand slides along the clean wood of the porch. I stand up straight and walk over to the house in the center. Its windows are filled with the shadows of people, and from its chimney billowing smoke rises. As I try to see where it goes snow falls on my face and into my eyes. Blinking I shake my head before I walk to the door.
No one hears my first knock. No one hears my second.
I slide over to one of the windows and gently tap against the fogged up glass. A small boy sees me, but runs away at the sight. Why? I didn't harm him.
I edge away, but I haven't given up yet. I don't want to give up yet.
Again I tap, this time louder. Finally people turn around to me, see me watching them from the iciness and the falling secrets of winter. The music stops and soon they are as silent as the forest was when I walked it. But I know this reaction, so I quickly shrug it off and point to the door. Many eyes follow my gesture, but no one moves toward me.
I can see mothers hugging their children close, and fathers stepping forward. Young men try to stand strong, assuring young ladies that they will be safe. But there is one child who watches me with fascination. There is no judgment in its eyes, not hate or anger not even fear. For a moment my heart feels light. I try to smile, but I can't.
An old man wobbles toward me after I knock again, and he shakes his fist at me. He yells, shouts, and soon the others follow his example. I do not know what they are saying, I do not speak their language, but I know that they want me gone.
Tears fill my dark eyes as I move away from the warm glow and sit down beneath it. I hug my knees to my body and try to blend out the angry cries from the house. I was wrong. Again.
The door flings open, and a strong built man charges at me with a shovel.
I scream, and jump away. As I hurry away I ignore the joyous cheers behind me. Slowly I blend into the wintery forest again, but I soon fall down. With my face buried in the snow I wish to be someone else. Someone they wouldn't cast away, someone who doesn't look as scary as I do.
Still lying in the snow I lift my hand to look at it. Snow clings to my claws and I think I look a bit like a tree trunk, half white with snow, the rest black. I close my eyes. Finding comfort in my dreams I slip away, but I know that this will not be the end; just another night that I spend alone.
I think of the child who had watched me with big eyes. Maybe if I go back tomorrow that child will set me free? Or maybe it is too late already. I let out a long sigh as the snow begins to cover me. At least I have a purpose for tomorrow – that's all that matters.
All that matters… All… that… matters…