“Jasper,” she whispers.
A woman with long, golden wavy locks and deep brown eyes reaches her hand out towards his and squeezes his sturdy yet gentle palm.
He holds her wrist with his thumb and pointer finger and slowly twists it back and forth in the sunlight, examining the creases and lines that make up her hand. He traces the lines running through her palm from point to point, as if he will forever ingrain himself in her life by doing so.
“Stay, Jasper. Please. Stay,” she pleads.
He drops her wrist and pulls her down by the shoulders to lay on his chest in the grass.
“I can’t,” he whispers back in her ear.
Jasper’s eyes pop open when he is woken with a fright due to the snapping of a branch. His breathing is fast and heavy. He scans out of his shelter to see what made the noise. His eyes land on a young buck and his pounding heart begins to slow down. He rests his head back down on the bed of brush and his eyes close once more and drifts back to sleep.
The day is caste in low hanging, dark clouds and the feeling of doom surrounds him as soon as he steps foot in the town he knows so well.
Black pieces of snow are falling all around him. He reaches his palm face up to catch one, and as he rubs it between his fingers, he realizes it is not in fact snow, but ash that is showering the town.
The stillness and silence of the town is deafening. Looking down the road, he observes that all of the small homes are black, ash stricken, and burnt. Panic rises in his chest and he breaks into a run.
This is his town. Here is where he left her.
He runs three blocks before making a hard right down a smaller road. He sprints to the end and stops in front of the home on the right. Everything is scorched. The wind blows the black, ripped curtains out the window towards the woods. He bounds up the three stairs to the porch and walks in the open door.
Jasper begins coughing from all of the ash he has inhaled during his run. He pulls his shirt over his mouth and nose as he slowly moves through the house. He walks to the bedroom in the back of the house. The door is jarred and he cannot easily open it.
“No!” He yells out.
He steps back and kicks the door in, and as it opens, he falls to his knees.
Jasper wakes with a jolt, breathing hard. This time when he looks out, it is dark.
How long have I been asleep?
The moon is shining bright and lights up the snow covered mountain. He moves at the rate of a sloth, testing out each limb of his body and checking his movability before exiting his lean-to. Once he is confident his body is working properly, he emerges from his shelter. His stomach breaks the silence with its growling. He grabs his pack out of the lean-to and searches for his forgotten food. Ravenously, he stuffs his food into his mouth, scanning the area around him as he does so. The control it takes Jasper to not consume all of the food he has brought with him is immense, but he knows he may need it later if he runs into more trouble getting off of this mountain. He lifts his canteen to his trembling lips and swallows the last bit of what was left. He scoops some snow in the canteen and sets out to find some water, and begin his descent down the mountain.
The snow that fell while he slept equals to about two feet. Each step Jasper makes sinks him deep into the snow.
This is going to be a slow hike.
Jasper inhales a deep breath.
You can do this.