Heat in Winter

                And suddenly, she felt so alone. The forest around her suddenly grew much bigger, and the pond basin much deeper. A genuine panic thrummed at the strings of her chest, and coerced the tears from their ducts. Soon, the sobs followed, and all she kept locked away was quickly released in one fell swoop. The flaming images scorched her mind’s eye, and she cowered away from them. But still, they were relentless, beating her over the head. There was no running away from the memories. There was no way to erase the sight of the blood, of the dead, and of that one, solitary corpse.

                The constant crash of the falls might have driven her insane, so like the crash of the ocean waves. Yet the falls were relentless, while the waves came and went. The falls were a constant reminder.

                A fit of sobs overtook her, and she finally released her knees, pressing her face to the smooth stone bank. The ripples reached her there, catching locks of hair and dragging them deeper into the pond. Her tears mixed with the fresh, turning the water below her into something brackish. She tried desperately for another thought, but niceties eluded her. The raw face was staring at her, staring straight into her.

                “I’m sorry!” she wailed, grasping her locks of hair. “I’m so sorry!”

                When she felt something against her back, she reacted immediately with a cry and swinging fists. But her assailant didn’t fight back, and didn’t flinch against her knuckles. When she fought against the larger form, she was only brought closer. She would eventually succumb to fatigue and her own failing willpower, and give in to the arms that were wrapped around her.

                In a better mind, she would have eaten him alive for being there, and not heading back to the camp. She might have put up a greater fight. But in that moment, she was in too much pain to do anything anymore, and the concern of another was a spectacular remedy.

                “It’s alright, Artemis,” Oliver murmured to her. “I’m sure that it wasn’t your fault.”

                Through the hiccups, she was able to murmur a few words, “but…I could have…prevented it.”

                “It isn’t your fault,” he told her gently, rubbing her back. “There’s only so much that we can do on our own. I’m sure you did the most you could. Just like I am. We’re all in this not-boat together, Artemis. We’ve got to help each other out, and accept each other for our worth. There’s no getting around it, so all we’ve got is moving forward.”

                And then he fell silent, just holding her with one arm and relieving her sore back with the other. His calm heartbeat was enough to eventually steady her, like a child would find a relief with their mother. Her sobs eventually subsided, and the memories were less vivid. Soon, she was once again in her normal state of mind.

                “Therapeutics bastard,” she sniffled, pushing gently away from him.


                She chewed her lip for a moment, and then stood, wiping her tears. She wrung out her hair and rolled it into a bun. She was ashamed to have been caught in such a way, and was just as disappointed to have been babied.

                She began to survey the area when she heard a loud ripping sound. She turned to find Oliver with a long, freshly torn branch in his hand. He just smiled and propped it against a tree before wandering into the forest. He would return frequently with large, waxen leaves and dried branches. As Artemis slowly memorized the surroundings, Oliver slowly assembled a sturdy shelter, tying things down with what appeared to be husk.

                The afternoon passed slowly but surely. Just as Oliver concluded his handiwork, the sun set on day the sixth.

                “Would you like to come inside?” Oliver chuckled, sitting down beside her.

                She turned to look at the structure. He’d somehow evenly balanced his initial branch between two trees, and proceeded to make a tightly woven drape. She’d made a similar establishment as a child, only using a broomstick and a sheet between two couches. It was crude but worked nicely.

                “Maybe in a little while,” she responded.

                “Well, if it bothers you so much, I’ll sleep outside.”

                “Technically, it’s yours, so that would be considered stealing.”

                “But a mother doesn’t sleep in a crib, Artemis. It’s for the babies.”

                She glared at him in the new darkness. He smiled.

                “Tell me about yourself,” Oliver started

                “After you.”

                “I’m eighteen years old, and supposedly, I’ll be a freshman in college,” Oliver told her. “My cousin was going to come with me on this trip, but his father passed away just before we were about to set sail. He wanted me to go.” He looked over to her. “I drove myself to the port right after the funeral.” He paused. “Your turn.”

                “I’m sixteen. Next year, I’ll be a junior.” She blinked. “In high school.”

                “Too young for me, then,” he laughed.

                “What an idiot,” Artemis huffed. “I didn’t get on that ship to meet my life partner.”

                Oliver didn’t say anything, and just smiled. He laid back against the thick carpet of shrubs behind him. Artemis very quickly grew uncomfortable and started the conversation anew.

                “I’m named after the Greek goddess. My mom loved all that sort of stuff, and she apparently loved Artemis the most.”

                “Mine loved the stars. Constellations, you know?” Oliver told her. “My middle name is Orion. It would’ve been my first, but my father refused.”

                “Orion,” Artemis repeated. “Oliver Orion?”

                “Oliver Orion Payne. Doesn’t exactly flow off of the tongue, so I usually leave it out,” he chuckled. “But in any case, I’m sure the evening will bring the chill, and if I lay here any longer, I’ll catch cold I’m sure it wouldn’t do me any good. So if you don’t mind, I’m off for my little house, and if you want to, you can join me.”

                As he had the night before, he left without a word and slid into his tent. Not wanting the lonely feeling to return, Artemis very quickly followed behind.

The End

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