Fourteen-year-old Sam, cocooned in layers of clothing, a blue beanie and woollen gloves, hugged himself as the misty vapour of his breath obstructed his view. The cold welcomed him like a smack in the face and his nose was stinging. He pulled his phone out of his jacket fumbling to get a grip on it. It was hard to feel through the thick gloves. He walked around aimlessly and raised it above his head, it was no use. NO SIGNAL. His peripheral vision alerted him to something very pink racing towards him. Kyra, eight years, full of life and love carried a smile as she arrived in Sam’s very personal space. Boundaries were not a thing she comprehended. The thickness of the clothes made her much wider than normal. She looked like strawberry ice-cream in her bulging winter apparel. Such a cute kid, obnoxious at times but Sam loved his little sister.
Kyra wrapped her arms around Sam’s waist, “Dad said to come inside and unpack first.” Sam accepted Kyra’s pink gloved hand into his as they made their way to the little timber cabin. The cold air started biting his cheeks now. Yeah, the cabin is cute and it’s quiet here but how does Dad possibly think this is going to be fun?
They burst into the cabin and shut the door quickly. They both had to sniff to clear their red noses. It wasn’t that much warmer inside. The cabin was very basic indeed and old. Just one big room with timber floors but covered in mats. There was a tiny kitchen with the barest essentials, a dining table and some lounge chairs by a large fireplace. The beds were over by the far wall, all singles. Kyra let go of Sam’s hand and ran to the bed closest to a small window and claimed it. Dad was kneeling by the fireplace setting up the kindling.
He lit a match and ignited the fire before standing, “There we go, that’ll soon make a difference.” Turning around he saw the phone in Sam’s hand, “I told you that won’t work, turn it off.” It was then Sam remembered Dad saying there’s no power here. He peeled a glove off his hand and used aching fingers to power down the device.
Sam studied the cabin again, “Where’s the bathroom?”
Dad giggled, “Are you serious? We’re pioneers for a few days. They never had bathrooms.”
“What about —“
Sam looked through the back window Dad was pointing at to see a disgusting little timber erection with a poor excuse for a door its crowning achievement. Sam and Kyra screwed up their faces, Dad laughed.
“Remember, it’s your choice how much you enjoy this time. I convinced your mother to let us go and spend this time together so come on, cheer up.”
Sam looked at Kyra, she was giddy, before taking in the tiny cabin again, it was pitiful. His eyes caught a little sign dangling on the opposite wall. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. He sunk into the lounge, it was hard, lumpy and uncomfortable. Wow! He dared not even check out the mattress on the bed.
Sam finished unpacking although one could argue what he did barely qualifies, it was more a manifestation of chaos. Kyra, loving every minute of this madness, placed everything with care and loving detail. She sat next to Sam on his bed, right next to hers, “What now?”
Dad took that one, “Now, you have a choice. Help prepare an early dinner by peeling some potatoes or you can go outside for just a little while, together.” Kyra squealed in excitement. Sam knew what that meant. He had to talk some sense into the girl,
“Kyra, it’s cold out there.”
“Please, we’ll be in here all night later, let’s explore. Please!”
She was able to do something with her face that made it impossible to say no, “Okay.”
Dad said, “You know the rules, stay close to the cabin. You don’t have long, it’ll be dark soon.”
They both acknowledged the conditions, hid their exposed flesh under layers again, and fled the scene together. Kyra leads the way. It was cold, so moving quickly was non-negotiable. Thankfully that was never a problem with Kyra, that girl could move. The forest surrounding the lone cabin was thick, the tall trees stealing much of the already failing daylight. The ground was a kaleidoscope of coloured leaves, foliage, rocks and dirt. They made a symphony with their boots as they squashed the many dead twigs and leaves on the forest floor. Sam stopped to look back, the cabin was already further away than he thought but still just within sight.
“This is far enough Kyra.”
Her disappointment was unmistakable, “A little bit more.”
“No, it’ll be dark soon, we need to see the cabin.”
“No, just being responsible.”
Kyra pursed her lips, “That’s not what mum and dad say.”
Sam frowned, “What do you mean?”
“They think you’re scared and that’s why you spend so much time on your phone and in your room.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m not stupid, you’re always on your phone and in your room. You hardly ever play with me anymore.”
“No, what mum and dad said?”
“I heard them talking. They thought I was asleep but I snuck out into the hall. It’s why dad wanted to bring you here. No room, no phone, no escape.”
Sam’s stomach formed a knot, it was rising, he couldn’t stop it. She did it again, cute one minute, vindictive the next, “Come on, we’re going back!”
“No, not yet.”
Kyra’s face made a clear announcement, a tantrum was coming, right now! “You have to look after me or you’re in big trouble.” With that, Kyra bottled into the forest.
“Kyra, get back here!”
Sam was exasperated, fully aware he did nothing wrong yet this will be his fault. He called to Kyra repeatedly, gently at first but he quickly became desperate and angry. Without his phone, he didn’t know how long they’d been out here. One thing he did know, it was getting dark and colder, fast. A mild wind picked up stirring the leaves around like mini-tornadoes. It started as a spectacle but then punched him in the face with an icy fist. This wasn’t fun anymore. Sam turned around, he could no longer see the cabin but knew it was just out of sight, yes, he was sure. Or was he? How long had he been walking and calling Kyra? He looked down behind him, all the shadows were dispersing into one mass of darkness on the ground. Any evidence of his footsteps washed away by the wind like an incoming tide. Sam shivered uncontrollably for a moment, “Kyraaaa!” His voice cracked as he yelled, “Please answer me, this is not funny. I’m sorry we haven’t played much lately but come back now.” Sam inspected all around him. His breath quickened and he noticed it. Kyra was right, he is scared. What to do? Was she lost or being a brat? He randomly checked behind some large trees and shrubs continually calling to Kyra. Nothing. Perhaps it was time to get Dad? He’ll be so mad. The cold was hurting now, the light so very weak. Sam looked up into the small gaps between the trees. The stars were warming up. He’d lost her!
Sam ran as fast as he could back to the cabin, stumbling in the dark. He tripped and fell several times on rocks and roots he could no longer see. His eyes were wet and sore, his nose running, his heart pumping but he was still so cold. The cabin was just around this next section. His heart sunk, nothing but more silhouettes of tall trees.
“Dad! Kyra! Where are you?” The last dribble of daylight was extinguished, the wind was in charge now. Emboldened by the dark, the wind began to push Sam around from every direction. It whispered horrible thoughts in his ears. It struck him like a panel of wood with cold-hearted cruelty. A new weapon was released, small but numerous. Each blow stung his bare face, was that snow? Sam stood still and looked around, nothing but blackness and dull silhouettes. He was so alone but he wasn’t. The wind taunted him continuing to whisper things about Kyra and his failure. Sam fell to his knees, blocked his ears with his hands and wept.
“Dad, help me, please!” There was nothing else for it, continuing to move around in the dark was pointless and likely even more dangerous. He stumbled around for any type of shelter near a tree or log. He found some relief from the cold punches but not the taunting of the wind and snow. He continued to call out to Dad, what else could he do now? As he sat still a moment, picturing himself elsewhere, he remembered Kyra. Oh the poor girl, the bitterness of regret filled him. It was so dark now, he could hardly see his own hands, no moon around tonight and the stars too far away to be of use down here. The snow was picking up. He looked all around again, almost complete blackness in every direction. Wait! A small light in the distance. Then a faint voice carried by the same wind that brought cruel lies. It came again, calling his name.
“Dad! Dad! Over here.”
“Sam, stay where you are. Keep calling out to me.”
Sam kept calling out until his voice began to fail him. Dad was there now, wrapped a thick blanket around him and led him back.
“Dad, Kyra —“
“Is fine sitting by the fire in the cabin.”
Sam wept on Dad’s shoulder as they shuffled along.
Rugged up by the fire sipping hot soup Sam was still shaking. Kyra was sobbing beside him. Dad rubbed Sam’s back,
“If you don’t stop shaking soon, we’ll need to go get help.”
“I think I’ll be okay Dad. I’m not so cold as upset.” He looked at Kyra, “I thought I’d lost Kyra.”
Kyra hugged him, “I’m sorry, I snuck back to the cabin and thought you’d just come back too. I didn’t —“
“I know, I’m sorry too.” Sam looked to dad, “Kyra tells me we have some things to talk about?”
Dad smiled, “Do we start with the fact she insisted on coming on this boy’s trip so she could spend time with you?”
Sam looked at his little sister again with a smirk, “Yes, start there.”