Dave was panting as he finally crested the lip of Rollins Pass, dragging Chase’s limp body behind him. This was the second time that day that he had to pull one of his fellow survivors up the steep slope to his mountain camp and his back and shoulders screamed with pain with every inch of progress he made, his lungs crying out for air with each exertion. His legs groaned and creaked under him as he staggered through the snow, each step strained, clumsy, every bit uncooperative and difficult.
Dave pushed his hand down the stock of the hunting rifle he held, before clumsily sliding it back again, bringing his hand closer to himself. He couldn’t find a way to hold the weapon that felt good in his hands, a position that felt natural. Instead, he wrestled with the weapon’s weight, both literal and symbolic, as he pushed through the snow towards where he expected that the movement he and Pat saw on the horizon would finally reveal itself.
Gus lifted his chin, pulling his dirty tennis ball out of reach of Dave’s extended hand, craning his thick, muscular neck to the right, then jerking it to the left, his black eyes watching the man that frowned back at him.
“I can’t throw the damn thing if you won’t give it to me,” Dave grumbled, his arm still extended.
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.