Author: B.K. O’Brien
Her breath fogged before her, a small ghost in the air. She walked slowly, each step precious, eyes roving as she continued to take in the unfathomable.
Every now and then she’d stop to watch as flakes danced in their slow amble to the ground, already thick with their kin. She jumped in a nearby drifted pile and a laugh escaped her. She stomped her feet, marveling at the muffled sounds her shoes made. Everything around her was a novelty, and it almost made her breathless.
Spruces rose through the gray thicket, and she ran fingers along the borough nearest her, reveling in the feeling of needles against nearly numb skin.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” She asked, unable to tear her eyes from the landscape before her. The snow was exactly as she’d always pictured, though the cold nipped at her more viciously than expected. She drew her arms in tight against her chest, but still shivers racked her body and rattled her teeth.
She waited a few more moments. “You’re really not going to talk to me? Look at this place. We can forget we’re even here.”
A dry laugh huffed behind her, “I can’t.”
She didn’t want to turn around to face him. Doing so would mean leaving this small place carved out in time, where the needle to come didn’t exist. The hulking mass of steel and gray in which they lived was instead a world of deep green and winter chill. Turning back meant seeing his uniform, seeing the long gun cradled securely against his body. Bumps had risen uncomfortably across her skin, fighting desperately to keep her warm. She’d forgotten what they felt like after years in the climate-controlled ship.
She whirled around suddenly. “Did you know how cold it would be?”
He looked taken aback, “Yeah. We’ve done a few simulations in the snow before. My class had to train in a blizzard once,” he shrugged at her raised eyebrow, “just in case.”
“And no one thought I might need a jacket or anything?”
He laughed then. “You’re nuts, you know that?” But his smile wavered as she stared, until his expression was rewritten in solemnness. “It’s your last hour, Girl. I don’t think they really care if you’re comfortable. Even this is more of a tradition than anything.”
It was what she expected to hear. But seeing the sudden sadness in Guard’s face hit her in a way she didn’t like. She didn’t refer to the other guards as anything at all, even in her own head. Their existence morphed more with monsters, if she did give them any thought. But Guard had always been kind to her; had always been ready for a robust skirmish with sarcastic words. His humanity had kept her sane.
She turned back to her forest, unable to look at him any longer. The spruces seemed sympathetic in their stoic, snowy haze. They understand, she thought. They’re bigger than the petty misdemeanors of humans – they forgive. She wished for nothing more than to be able to slip between the depths of their trunks, lost in the darkness of their chilled family.
She’d already served her penance in her years here. She would view this only as an escape, even if it was not of her design. She raised her face to the falling snow, and sighed.
“That’s it.” The melancholy in Guard’s voice made it almost unrecognizable.
She nodded, turning slowly, memorizing the scene around her. She’d be back in a few minutes, she told herself. She’d be able to stay forever.
A haunting evocation of the enduring humanity of those existence has been reduced to “waiting to die.”