The Exodus

He felt warmer now but feared it may just be numbness.  His back spasmed and cramped, that dull exhausted pain from constant shivering.  He tried to settle himself into a snowy den. Just easy breathing and a measure of will, that's all.  Charlie peaked at his hand, crossed over him, and assessed the ugly wound. The inky cut had begun to dull down and blend into his skin.  The crude tatoo had cleaned a bit, the newest tally starting to look like the others.  He flexed the muscles across his chest, collapsed his shoulders inward, his cold duster moaning as it stretched, and resigned himself to another night in this young winter's dark.

He never found a forgetful sleep.  Rabbits approached and darted when he stirred.  Larger creatures, veiled by lodgepoles and long shadows, cracked along in the distance, sniffing and squeeling and stalking.  There was misery but here was his progress.  He was there, having found his path, closer to happiness than he'd been any day before.  Occasionally the wind whipped tiny drifts around him and frost scrambled to and from his beard, but Charlie managed a strange smile, the eerie grin of an unconscious man on a surgical table, aware on some level that the cutting was going to save him.


 Laura's anxiety sprouted not from the content of the stories she heard but that always they were fragmented.  She collected fractured dispatches and drunken speculation, from those who knew Charlie - a rare find - and those pierced by the snare of his story.  But equally given, she could not ask for clarity.  Interest was forbidden for her.  Her interests were now spoken for, forever. In any case, speculation was all there was.  No messengers were sent one way or another; the mountains offered up exactly zero information about her friend. Charlie had crossed the state line, she was sure of it.  She estimated that by this time he'd entered the collossal nothingness of the southwest ranges and while others doubted him in that environment, she surmised that he was at his best there.  His skill was fine and his instincts were strong enough, but the clarity of his vision is what would liberate him, his mind would be right for exodus.

Still the stagnation nauseated Laura; she did not often wait or suffer the courtship of minds or men that couldn't keep her pace.  So, expectantly returning to the window again and again, like the embattled damsel she would never be, became caustic.  The mountains were not a foreign border or an entity for stale admiration, like pretty clouds or a patch of daisies.  In this life she did not leave them to themselves out in the disance.  She made home in them, grew up in them.  Why dally at the mountain's feet when you can walk in its veins, romp about its heart?  All of this was silly at best, she thought, and toxic at worst.  This town thought it knew something about her, wielding tradition and the natural moral sense of the God-fearing.  In reality she'd dammed a river inside her and the landscape revolted.  The flooding stole her breath and clouded her sight. Charlie could not come fast enough. 

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