Stacey pressed her open hand against Owen’s forehead, first her bare palm, then flipping her hand over, using the backs of her fingers to test the man’s temperature. Under her gentle, faint touch, Owen was swimming within the confines of his sleeping bag, moving his arms and legs within the folds of the bedding like he was trying to escape it. He tested his limbs, concentrating on the way they moved and sometimes stuck as his muscles worked, trying to reacquaint himself with their usage.
“No, no, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s not right,” Nate argued. His head shook left and right, the movements fast, exaggerated, like he were arguing with something more than just the man standing in front of him.
The wind had started to pick up again, blowing fast through the camp, causing Dave’s tent to shake and quiver behind where the two men stood. Neither of them seemed to notice, however, the intensity of their argument blocking out everything else.
Stacey could feel the humidity that collected and swirled inside of her coat, a warm, damp air that thickened inside of the folds of fabric under her armpits and that spot just below her shoulder blades. Every new exertion seemed to add to that humidity; each shovelful of snow threatened to compress its sticky heat into liquid that would only be the fabric trapped between her skin and her dirty coat.
The skies were clear and still the next morning as the trio slowly made their way back across the frozen road that separated the condo from the empty tennis courts. They walked silently past the buried pond, and then back into the trees, retracing steps that had been filled and buried, erased by wind, snow and nature’s lack of any regard for their efforts the previous night.
Pat pulled off the glove on his right hand and lifted it to his neck, digging his exposed fingers under his thick jacket collar and scarf to scratch at the soft whiskers that were matted and moist against his neck.
The wind ebbed and flowed like waves rolling across the top of a cold, indigo ocean, then suddenly, without warning, it slammed hard into the exposed dome of Stacey’s tent. The gust shook the entire structure, despite it being dug partially into the rocky soil of a mountain, despite it being half buried in the snow, the heavy wind pulling on the tent spikes that held each of its hexagon corners down. The force was enough to send the LED lamp hanging from its ceiling swaying, the dim shadows of Stacey and Joelle cast against the walls coming to life, racing across the nylon spans, ducking and leaping, catching even Gus’ eye from his spot on the floor where he had been sleeping.
Owen drew in a long inhalation of filtered air through his mask, pulling on the slick, slippery moisture that was collecting there, drops that grew into something larger at the bottom of his nose. When the first, forced sniffle didn’t work to remove the sensation, he tried again, fighting the urge to reach up with his gloved hand to swipe across the tip of his nose. He knew that motion would just spread snot across the inside of his mask, making a long, thin layer that would eventually freeze and stick to his face, so he tried to project his thoughts elsewhere, tried to concentrate on anything other than his growing discomfort.
Dave lifted his knitted scarf from his neck to place it over his mask, squinting into the wind that slipped through the trees of the nearby woods. The snow had just started, carried on the wind that had been threatening them all day, flakes coming in fast and heavy, so hard that they felt like a bombardment.