The wind began to blow, twisting little eddies of snow. Bern walked across the clearing in snowshoes, headed for the treeline. The night was empty; there was a full moon.
Bern’s cabin materialized out of the darkness between the tree branches. Red curtains, lit from within. On the porch, Bern took off the snowshoes and knocked them together over the shrubs nearby. Unlocking the door, Bern stepped inside.
The embers of a fire crackled in the potbelly stove. Bern fed the fire and used a brand to light the fireplace. She took off her boots, hat and coat, and let them dry in front of the flames.
The fire faltered and Bern felt a chill. She looked around, and saw that the window was open. Snow dusted that corner of the carpet. “I don’t remember opening that, but then again, maybe I did,” Bern thought.
Bern put the kettle down and went to the window. A sharp prickle spiked across the back of her neck: a woman was standing there.
A yard from the window, a woman of no more than 30, in snow pants and a white winter coat, with a fur-rimmed hood, peered at Bern. “I’m sorry to scare you,” she said, “My name is Jerri.”
Blood continued to pound in Bern’s ears, “Are you lost?”
“I seem to have taken a wrong turn too many,” she laughed.
“Well, come in, you’re not going to make it to wherever you are going in this cold.” Bern said, heart still clattering along. It was the hospitable thing to do.
“That’s kind of you,” she said, “I came down off the foothills and lost my map in the wind. It’s been a pretty bad trip, to say the least.”
Bern went around to the front door, and the woman followed, “These woods are like a maze. Many people have gotten injured out here,” Bern said, “Wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
Jerri came to the door, as Bern unlocked it, “I’ve sprained my ankle out here before. Thankfully, I had a homing beacon,” she said, “I don’t have it tonight.”
“That must be terrifying for you,” Bern responded.
Bern gestured for her to take a seat by the fire. Once she sat on the hearth-rug, Bern put one of the blankets from the bunk bed around her shoulders. “Thank you,” she said.
Jerri’s pack, which was heavy, was placed by the door. Bern resumed making chamomile tea, this time for two.
When the tea had finished steeping, Bern joined her with two mugs on the rug.
“Why are you out here?” Jerri asked.
“To take in the sights,” Bern said, “But really, to get over my ex.”
“What a remote place to do it!” Jerri exclaimed.
“Yes, I bought this cabin not long after college. I was in the outing club, so it was only natural.”
“That’s nice,” Jerri said, genuinely interested.
The log crackled and sunk. Tomorrow, Bern would chop more wood to put in the shed behind the cabin.
“Why are you out here?” Bern wondered.
Jerri smiled shyly, “You wouldn’t believe what I found.”
Confused, but comfortable by the fire, Bern said, “Try me.”
Jerri set her mug down and jumped up with a speed that amazed Bern. She crossed the cabin floor and opened her pack. Opening some sort of case inside, she pulled out a large slab of dark red meat, still trailing lines of fat. Bern recoiled instinctively.
“Out here, is the best meat I can find!” Jerri exclaimed. It was then that Bern noticed her teeth were a little bit longer than normal.