Dawn is upon them and they have worked hard to make their tracks a spider web of intricacies in hopes that with such a large group as the caravan moves with, they wouldn’t be able to spare the time or men to follow their path for very long.
As the first light enters the sky, Jasper and Claudia take a break to refill their canteens at a river and rest for a few moments.
Claudia looks down at Jasper’s shaking hands to see they are crusted over with blood and are scratched all over.
“We need to wash your hands in the river. Don’t want your hands to get infected,” she tells him.
“Yeah. This happened on the way down the tree. I just forgot about it,” he replies.
As Claudia fills the canteens, Jasper dips his ripped palms into the piercing cold water. He inhales sharply as he plunges his hands entirely into the river. Using his clean fingers, he rubs at the open wounds on both hands to debride them of tree bark and dirt.
Once he feels like he cannot take any more of the pain, he pats them on the front side of his shirt and holds them out in front of his face for inspection.
“Here,” Claudia tells him, holding out a pair of socks. “I have these extra socks. You should wear them over your hands.”
Obligingly, Jasper accepts the socks and pulls them over his freezing hands. He then cups them over his mouth and breathes in warm air to bring back feeling all the way through his fingertips.
“I think if we can gain a little more ground as the sun rises, we should be safer from those people. I’m just not completely sure where we are now and how we can get back to our original path,” Jasper says.
In the panic of escaping the large group of people, they got themselves off the track down the mountain. Neither Jasper nor Claudia are willing to say they are lost. The complicated, yet necessary dance of survival that is nourished by hope hangs in the air, and each are willing to feed the other hope-cakes all day long in order to make it through.
“We aren’t too far off from the trail, and the most important thing is for us to get down the mountain,” Claudia says, hopeful that she is right.
They get up in unison from their break and continue marching on towards the path unknown.
“Did you and your family ever see groups of people traveling through the mountains like that before?”
“Not this deep in the mountains, no, never. We saw them a lot closer to the borders, but it must be getting even worse down there if they are moving into the mountains now.”
Step by step, their crunches in the snow are melodic; creating a story of two unlikely souls intertwining their broken hearts into an adventure of survival.
“Papa told me those kinds of people who are hungry for power and enslave others to show their strength are hurting too. They just were not shown enough love. I think they didn’t have Papa’s or Mama’s who showed them good from evil.”
Crunch, crunch continues their story written in the snow by their footprints.
“What about your Papa and Mama? What did they teach you, Jasper?”
“Mine?” He becomes silent as memories of his own mother and father flood his mind. His beautiful mom, twirling him around in the grass when he was a young boy. He loved her red and blue flowered dress that would blow around as they twirled. She wore bright red lipstick and her hair fell perfectly around her face. Her kind eyes are what haunts him the most. Knowing that that kindness will never walk this earth again eats at his heart and anger flares up in his chest.
To distract his anger, he thinks of his pensive, intelligent father. He remembers touching the rims of his glasses as his father would hold him in his lap on the chair at night, smoking his pipe and reading to Jasper and his mother. His eyes held knowledge that Jasper craves.
Jasper comes out of his thoughts when he hears Claudia clear her throat. She is waiting for his reply.
“I lost my parents far too young, like you, but they gave me the gift of yearning to learn and find solutions, as well as the gift of hope.”
Although when I lost them, my hope was squelched, but she doesn’t need to know that.
“‘Hope', Papa always said, ‘is what keeps us moving, Claudia,’” she says with a forced grin.
They continue on, each knowing that if they do not eat soon, then they will slow down and become weak.
The sun creeps up into the sky and knowing that those people could possibly be hunting their tracks sits heavy in Jasper’s gut.
If only it would snow, then maybe our tracks would soon be lost.