‘-13 Celsius’ Maria thought while walking through the forest. ‘Negative thirteen fucking Celsius and I have to get the sled he forgot!’ the crunching of the snow left Maria in a partial-trance as she followed the tracks of her family. ‘Harlem is 10 now, he should be old enough to walk back to the hill without any issue. I had to do way more shit when I was his age and I got half the credit, just because he’s epileptic doesn’t mean he’ll die any second he’s alone.’ a couple sticks are mercilessly kicked into other sticks, trees slashed by mighty blades wielded until their nubs are successfully whipped off in boredom against dark trunks and nettle rain. Maria wipes her nose and licks her lips, trying not to bite on the loose dry skin. She tastes the soft, blood tasting fresh skin underneath and shudders, a mix of the unpleasant taste and the tinge of the pain washing over her.

Maria after a couple minutes reflexively reaches to pull out her iPod, she frantically pats along her coat. ‘Well fuck, just fuck me with an icicle, mom’. To major criticism, Justine Carvalho decided family outings should have the full connection with their environment and each other. This was enforced with a strict ban on books and electronics, except for one emergency flip phone kept by the proud matriarch. Maria at this point begun to start to become uncomfortably keen to her surroundings. The wind, her pulse, snaps, scratches, the squeaking of her over-sized parka. The path began to steepen a bit when it gets close to the hill slopes, pines and solid water were all she could smell. There was something else, Maria took in more uncomfortably fresh air to try to decode the scent. It was sweet and familiar and if she kept sniffing this deeply she’d freeze her sinuses. Maria grunts lightly in defeat as she continues grabbing branches to keep her upward momentum. She feels a thick substance that feels more vulnerable than snow on her glove. A thick, gelatinous substance is found to be loitering on her palm, partially staining the thick wool already. It looked to be a dark red and purplish chunky, slurry that was the source of the sweet smell.

Her family owned this property since the early seventies.

It is a 2 hour commute to the closest neighbor.

Dad is allergic to blackberries.

For the first time in her life, outside of the deepest of childhood fevers, Maria felt a cold sweat. The sun was setting a setting and water droplets filtered a dark orange that was a further displacement from the atmosphere. Maria got to the top of the hill and looked at the tracks she was following.

There was a trail of prints leading away from the path. Maria was hit with an overpowering stench of berries and musk as she turned around following the tracks.

Maria stumbled back as she saw a creature with dark matted fur and huge eyes looking at her, it had what looked to be a bad leaking jam made out of dried skin. It made a low groaning noise. Maria choked on a scream, coughing and quickly tried to now squirm up hill.

She felt her parka grasped as she was then forcefully flung into a tree. The breath forced out in a powerful wheeze, she heard loud crunching several feet away and her vision was blurring widely as she felt the snow melt from the heat of her face. She heard a low howl fade away as she slowly began to get up and then dash home.

All Maria has to show today from that story is a mild concussion and a few fractured ribs.


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