Page 5Mature

Just ahead of him an aspen tree was downed roots and all. It fortuitously cleared a way through the woods-edge brush. The way he saw it, he could save valuable time by taking advantage of the opening. Perhaps he believed he had the willpower left to get across the tree or perhaps his delirium caused a lapse in his judgement. But what alternative was there. Inching through the brush with his burden would be no less difficult.

He stood beside the fallen trunk. The ice that had formed on the pockmarked bark glared at him. Still he did not question his decision. Experience taught him that to do so was more than likely disastrous. He only paused to calculate how to overcome the obstacle.

The step up was at least a foot high. All this way he had been churning his legs through snow almost so deep. Lifting his knee to that height wouldn't be the problem. He did it, leaving his foot at rest against the slick log. It crackled under the weight.

What worried him instead was a shift in balance. The tree would remain under foot rather than giving way beneath it as the snow. Carrying so much extra weight, he needed to lean forward to maintain his center of gravity.

When he was ready, he pushed off the ground. Immediately, his leading foot punched a hole in the tree trunk. The heart of it was rotten. He strained to right himself, but he had positioned his weight forward. Now he pitched in that direction. His only hope was to drop the stone. Instead, he involuntarily shot an arm out to catch himself. The other arm was crushed. The force of the fall was such that his head-wrapping was thrown off. Beneath it were revealed the angry, weeping boils of the plague swelling from his neck.


The End

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