By:  Mycah Houser

Fiction, 2017


Pain ends. Whether through drugs, time, or death, those crippling sensations that break bodies and bend wills eventually dwindle into nothingness.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

This desolate tundra hillside is the cold heart of a demon, yet my body is pure fire. My very cells are ablaze, cooking me from the inside out. Tissue inflames, blood steams to a boil, and every scratch, bruise, and gash lights up like a neon city strip. My joints are leaden with hardened concrete, my eyes filled with a crummy dryness. Everything hurts.

Darkness blurs at the edges of my vision, yet a small dribble of red catches my narrow attention. My right bicep, cloaked in red padding, is leaking dark liquid that stains the snow maroon. My eyes travel down, over, to the shard of rock plunging into my skin. Once my brain processes the sight, my nerves char and the stabbing fire begins.

The open wound leaks blood and heat, trying to chill the boiling temperature of my guts and bones. Just as pain cannot last, I know the heat will succumb to the environment around me. Ice, snow, a killing chill.

Lone Wolves Rarely Survive.

Winter echoes with silence. There are no leaves to be rustled by warm wind, only hard-packed snowdrifts that reflect blinding light and the sky’s cold kisses.

This silence is likely to kill me before the cold does.

My mind is left to itself, spinning sticky dark webs of my family’s faces. They weep for their daughter just as this mountainous conquest spits in my face with thunderous laughter. I have traveled so far, from coastal sandspits to dense tropical forests, deep oceans to high peaks. This was supposed to be an easy one. This was supposed to be a fun success.

Traveling Prodigy Taken Down by Small Mountain.

Really, this whole situation spiraled into an outrageous mess. Whatever happened to “never leave a man behind”—especially in this arctic tundra, nestled quaintly into the mountain range we aspired to conquer? When Niko’s grips had frozen and shattered, sending him tumbling down a short, spiky decline, I had immediately chased after him, no hesitation. But later, only after one meager hour passed, when I fell an impossible length and survived?

None of them spared a breath on me. Not Niko, not anyone. They peeked over the mountain, gaped at my pathetic, sprawled body, and abandoned me.

So now I lay here, feeling my cracked ribs and throbbing wrist, staring up at my broken lines and wondering how drawn-out my death will be. At least I have a choice in the matter. I can shed my padded red outerwear and speed along the freezing, or I can roll left and dive the rest of the distance down the mountain.

Perhaps this is my punishment for befriending entitled college students with egos more swollen than mine.

The Adrenaline Junkie Befriends Fools Only to Die Traveling with Them.

Already thick tendrils of my extensive fiery hair have become encased in ice as they lay stoic on rock and snow.

Which death would be worse? One of a slow freeze or one of a sudden, crushing impact? What if—

Owooooooh! The animal howl bounces off stone and snow, echoing across the mountain.

Lone Wolf Girl in Hysterics After Hearing a Wolf Howl.

Blurs of gray and white and patchy brown appear over the cliffside, right where my traveling companions had left me to rot and die. Another howl erupts as the pack wanders closer, sniffing their next meal, only to realize their prey is out of reach.

I lied earlier. There had always been three routes leading to my death, but I hadn’t considered wild animals to be my end.

My hot blood and bones cool, the fiery inferno replaced by the blanket chill of snow and wind. Ice clogs my blood now, forcing my consciousness to drift. I awake with icelashes, little red hairs all frozen together, a cage for my eyes.

When my brain cramps with cold and my eyes snap free from their icy trap, I am immediately alarmed to see the wolves scaling the cliff, working their way towards my still figure. Their paws find invisible footholds, snowy steps that eventually lead to me

Wolves Prove More Resourceful than Human Travelers.

My ribs scream out a protest as I force myself into a sitting position, ignoring the unsettling cracking noises coming from my midsection. Lungs pump into overdrive, quickly sucking in shallow air and absorbing too little of it. I cannot recover, so I fall back down onto my frozen bed, letting my limbs numb from the chill. I can’t even feel where the rock stabs into my bicep anymore.

The wolves are closing in, near enough that I can see the details in their fur where clumps of ice cling, too frozen to shake off. Their eyes remain steady, unblinking, but sharpen in excitement.

Abandoned Girl Laughs, Contemplating the Bite of a Wolf.

A brutal gust of wind pelts me with a million bits of hard snow and ice, momentarily renewing the agonizing heat that had brewed in my skin.

Despite the quick pain, it is hard to remember the fire that had so recently burned my insides. All that fills me now is tingling numbness. I know my body has organs, tissues, thick bones, but it feels as if only stuffing is packed beneath my blue-tinged skin.

My eyelids flutter, so tired, so burdened by an exhausting pull to drift into sleep. Little crystalline snowflakes slowly dot my skin, covering me in a pale blanket.

Hot breaths puff against my cheeks just as a strand of hot, thick liquid falls from above and pools in the hollow of my throat. A subtle softness, like the brush of a feather, tickles my skin.

My head is turned, exposing the weak pulse of my jugular vein. The wolves circle my body, preparing to pounce, but all I can stare at are the intricate grooves of ice that coat the mountainous rock. Glittering granules form ocean waves that will soon be dripping red.

The first nip happens so fast that it barely registers in my foggy mind. Above me, the wolves tear at my clothing, temporarily uncertain of my protective padding. But the scent of my blood is undeniable— they know what is beneath my skin, and they desperately desire it.

In the span of one sad heartbeat, my eyelids slide shut just as my body rattles with impact. The cold has numbed me to the core, invincible to any more pain. I’m lucky, really…

My eyes never open again, not even as the sun rotates towards the horizon, spilling the colors of the sunset across the earth, richer than the blood that has soaked into the mountain, a new layer of ruby ice.

Lone Wolves Really Do Die.