Sophia had been walking in the snow for hours, and her feet were numb even through the worn fur-lined boots. The blizzard had come out of nowhere, and she'd been caught unprepared. She knew she should have gathered more supplies earlier in the last town she passed through, but already planned to make it into the next town before nightfall. Her pace hadn’t been swift enough though. Then again, probably any pace she'd set wouldn’t have been enough to get out of the oncoming storm. The town she expected to be in was still a couple miles out.
Being a drifter had its perks, staying off the grid was a big one and being able to travel wherever her heart desired was another. But, there were a lot of downsides to the lifestyle as well, this being one of them. Usually the townsfolk would make a big deal about a snowstorm coming their way and Sophia would’ve been better prepared with a different route. Would’ve been supplied sufficiently too, but she hadn’t talked to anyone in the previous town. Now thinking back on it, none of the townsfolk approached her the entire two days she spent there.
Now she was going to suffer the consequences, but she could make it less sufferable if she could make use of her surroundings. What little there was anyway. She was surrounded by almost nothing but white, cold powder.
She looked around her stopping point, hoping to find a warm shelter. Anything would work at this point, even a rotten fallen log would suffice. The beetles and spiders wouldn’t be too happy with their temporary roommate, but they’d get over it once she left.
Hidden between the trees she could make out a small shack. Her luck-tank must’ve had just enough to give her this small token, but as she made her way towards the small wooden building Sophia rethought that particular idea. Not only was the outside visibly rotting, which she could have lived with after considering a rotting log earlier, but the smell coming from it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
But it would be warmer than outside. It wasn't the best place to take shelter, but it was better than freezing to death.
She opened the big, wooden door and it, surprisingly, didn’t make any noise. No squeaks from rusting hinges. Like, someone took great care with the door, but forgot the rest of the building exists. The rotting smell got worse the more she opened the door, punching her in the face, burning her nose and eyebrow hairs with how strong the aroma became.
I’ll be warm though, I’ll be so much warmer than out here, she thought to herself in a mantra as she stepped further in and closed the door. It was an almost instantaneous shift from shivering cold to warmth as soon as she stepped all the way inside.
The first thing Sophia did was try to look for the source of the smell.She knew after a while she’d desensitize to it, but also didn't want to wait out the blizzard with a possible dead animal. Or multiple, given how strong the odor was.
There was a lot of clutter, the shed was most likely a storage area more than anything else. Why the owner decided to build a storage shed in the middle of the forest was beyond her understanding, but people were weird. The last few years of traveling to wherever her heart desired had proved how weird people could be.
Sophia picked her way around the clutter, trying not to disturb any of the owners belongings, to get away from the door and walls that leaked in the cold air from outside. It was a small shack, big enough for her to stand straight without banging her head on the ceiling- barely though. Her hair wisps tickled the wood above her. The space was longer than it looked from the outside though, two of her 5’6” height could lay flat feet-to-head. It was definitely cozier compared to other places she’d taken refuge, except for the God-awful smell.
It wasn’t until she reached the back of the building that she found the source, Sophia found, what appeared to be, an old Christmas tree with ornaments and lights- though they were off- still hanging from the branch needles. The powerful stench was coming from the pot it was sitting in. Manure and small animal corpses in various stages of decomposition lined the top of the container. They looked like they could be rats, but Sophia couldn’t bring herself to look close enough to distinguish. Now that she located where the smell was coming from and- most importantly, she thought- it wasn’t from a human body, her only choice was to acclimate to the smell. There was no way she was going to carry their little bodies out into the snow.
The tree looked well cared for, despite the crowded and dusty surroundings. The soil was definitely fertilized and, when she peered past the bottom branches, she could barely make out a half-full water globe. The owner must come out every once in a while and fill it.
The scene, minus the fertilization choices, reminded her of Christmas at her Grandmother's house. It's the thought that counts, she imagined her saying every time Gilda, Sophia’s sister, opened a somewhat unappealing gift. Then again, Gilda was six the last time they all spent Christmas together and unless the gift was super loud and colorful, her little sister was bound to be disappointed.
“It’s the thought that counts.” She said aloud to herself, as if the tree was made up for herself to show appreciation for. Logically, she knew it wasn’t for her to appreciate, but she did regardless.
Sophia laid out her sleeping bag as best she could once her nostril hairs stopped bursting into ash. As she drifted off, she thought about the people she loved and how much she missed them. They drifted apart from each other. To be truthful, SHE drifted from them all. Her mom dreamt of a better life for her, always making suggestions where she could make improvements to her lifestyle. Gilda always acted like the golden child who deserved to be on the highest pedestal. At the time, Sophia couldn't stand to be around them. Her dad was a lost cause when it came to anything important, his mind always stuck in a video game or his phone.
But she missed them terribly now.
The Christmas tree and reminder of their time together at Grannies may have been the light switch to bring on the sentimentality of family. Who knows, she might just wake up tomorrow and still feel nowhere far enough away. A small part of her believed she would still feel the sentiment though. Maybe it was time to make her way back home, maybe repair some damaged bridges, and start over.
Sophia didn’t know for sure, but morning would decide.