Chapter 21:

Sheltering from the Storm, Part 3


After another three days passed, the snow had become heavy to the point that Caleb could not open the door to the outside without letting snow in. It was not so bad that they couldn't see out the window, but any sort of extended travel was impossible. Only the day before, the two of them could still go out to see if they could forage anything while it was still light, but now it would be irresponsible for them to even try. By Caleb's estimation, the storm was not yet a blizzard, but it was surely only a matter of time.

For the time being, the two of them remained inside as the snow continued to blanket the ground. The sun wasn't out, so even during the day they had no respite from the cold, so they had to make sure to keep their temperatures up. Caleb had set up the tent inside of the house, and they spent the hours between sleeping wrapped up in coats, sleeping bags, hide blankets – whatever they could find to keep them warm.

“This is unbelievable,” Hope grumbled as she drew her coat closer to her body. “I'm a remainer with a cyborg body. Why do I still have to be so sensitive to heat and cold?”

“It's an important defense mechanism for your body,” Caleb explained as he did his best to keep his teeth from chattering. “Without it, you wouldn't be able to notice and react to abnormal temperatures properly.”

Hope clicked her tongue, probably the first time Caleb had ever seen her do so. “Can we start up a fire? I'll freeze if I have to stay like this.”

“Not so early. We can't waste the firewood we have, you know.”

“You miser.”

Caleb chuckled. He wondered if Hope would ever have seen herself complain this much when they first met. Still, Hope was right; today was ridiculously cold, and they had enough firewood around that they could afford to be a little extravagant.

“All right, Hope. Give it another hour and we'll start a fire, all right?”

That was how the two of them spent the next week as they waited out the storm. Soon, the storm would pick up speed into a blizzard as the winds grew stronger and the snow fell deeper. In those moments when the storm slowed down, Caleb would take some of the snow and melt it for water while eating the food he and Hope had foraged. Though it was cold, Hope's fortifications to the house were strong enough to keep moisture from coming in, and so the two were able to weather the blizzard with some comfort.

However, the storm lasted longer than either of them had predicted. While Caleb's overcautious nature meant that the two of them had plenty of supplies, he had only planned for the two of them to be snowed in for a week at most. At this point, though, the snow had not ceased for two weeks, and while the worst of the storm had passed, it was still no condition to be walking around in. Caleb still had to worry about having enough food for the trek back as well, so there was no end to the concerns wracking Caleb's brain.

Caleb hoped that he'd be able to keep the deer meat he had hunted earlier for the entirety of the stay here, but that was ultimately wishful thinking. Though the makeshift cooler had managed to keep the leftover meat cooled for the first few days, by a week it had become suspect. Caleb had made sure to prioritize the unpreserved meat for meals, but even then he ended up having to throw a good amount of the meat away.

Now it was almost fifteen days snowed in, and Caleb's supplies were starting to dwindle. In truth, he still had enough food to last at least another week, but Caleb was worried about unpredictable circumstances. He'd had to go three days without food once when he was still a fresh new remainer and had miscalculated how much he would need while on the road. While he was able to make do with whatever game he could find while making his way to a nearby relay tower, he had no desire to ever find himself in that situation again.

After another two days, Caleb saw an opportunity. He woke up early in the morning to see that the snowfall had stopped, though the sun was still nowhere in sight. The snow was dense, but it only reached halfway up to his knees, so he could still walk around if he wanted to. He decided to chance it; after all, he didn't know if he was going to get another chance any time soon.

To his surprise, Hope was against it. “Are you insane?” she said incredulously. “Going out when it's this cold is suicide! Never mind the fact that we don't even know if the storm will start up again!”

Caleb tried to give her a reassuring smile. “I won't be long. An hour or two at most. If I don't find anything by then, I'll come right back.”

Hope sighed. She knew that Caleb could be obnoxiously stubborn if he felt like it, and it seemed like this was one of those times. “Fine. But I wouldn't get my hopes up. Considering how heavy the storm's been, I doubt there'd be any animals just wandering around in the snow.”

Caleb was inclined to agree. He could hear no sound of birds in the air, only the sharp cold winds blowing strongly through the village. Nevertheless, he wanted to at least try to find something if he could. It was the only way he could get rid of his constant worries.

Caleb put on as many layers as he could, then walked out of the house and trekked out of the village into the forest proper. The ground was blanketed in a thick snow, and the trees too were unrecognizable under heavy boughs of snow. He looked around, but he saw no sign of any animal prints in the sand. That was obvious enough; there was no animal suicidal enough to go running in the middle of a snow storm, even if it had died down temporarily.

So Caleb changed gears and began hunting for any place where animals might hole up for the winter. He hardly had hope for a deer like last time, but if he could find a rabbit hole or a bird's nest, he could at least square away a few nights' meals. He started by digging around at the base of nearby trees and looking for any holes that animals might burrow into. No luck. His hands were already starting to get cold from digging as well.

Caleb decided to venture further out into the forest. It was a bit risky, since he didn't want to stray too far from the village, but he really wanted to find some meat before it got bad again. That insistence pushed him forward, and he pushed deeper into the forest, occasionally digging at the bases of suspicious-looking trees.

After an hour had passed, Caleb finally found a mark: a couple of foxes wandering in a small clearing. He immediately crouched down and aimed an arrow at one of the foxes. However, he had a hard time being precise; the cold was causing him to shiver, and that was adversely affecting his aim. He loosed his arrow anyway, only for it to nick one of the foxes' ears.

The foxes immediately dashed away as Caleb notched another arrow as quickly as he could. He managed to loose it before the foxes ran out of sight and by luck managed to lodge it in the hind of one of the foxes. Caleb ran after it, using the blood left behind by the wound to track it.

He eventually found it dead a short distance from where he had shot it. The other fox was nowhere to be seen. He sighed. It was a pretty bad kill, but he had to take what he could get. He bent down and checked out the body. It was a somewhat small fox, large enough to give him at least a couple of meals, but not too big he couldn't carry it by himself. As he put the carcass on his pack, he felt something cold land on his cheek.

He looked up to see a soft shower of white snow come down from above. This was bad. Caleb was aware that the snow could start up again at any moment, but he didn't think it would be this quick. The winds were still not too strong, but if his luck was bad, it could take a turn for the worse very easily.

Caleb began trudging back to the house as soon as he saw the snow come down. At first, it wasn't too bad; the snow was light and did little to impede his progress. However, Caleb soon realized the not only was the snowfall getting heavier, but it had began to cover his tracks, making it impossible for him to retrace his steps back. Since this was an area he hadn't explored much, he wasn't all that familiar with it, so a setback like this meant trouble.

Still, Caleb shook off his worries and continued trudging through the snow. He hadn't made too many turns during his trek out here, so he doubted he'd need to retrace his steps that closely. Surely if he kept going straight he'd eventually see a familiar landmark that would help guide him back to the village. Caleb held on to that hope as he trudged blindly through the forest.

Unfortunately, the weather did not seem interested in cooperating with Caleb that day. The winds soon grew stronger and the snow began falling heavier. It had started to affect his visibility, and Caleb could feel his face beginning to sting from the harsh cold. Though the fox was light, it still added an extra twelve or so pounds to his load, and he was beginning to feel that difference weighing him down.

Nevertheless, Caleb continued to trudge through the forest undaunted, though the snow was surely sapping away at his strength. He was attacked on all sides by cold, snowy winds, and he started to lose sight of anything in front of him except pure white. He didn't know how long he had been out there at this point, and he didn't even know where he was going anymore. As he took yet another step, he suddenly felt himself lose his balance and collapse onto the ground. It took him some time to realize what had happened, but at that point, he could barely bring himself to care. As his consciousness faded away, he could swear he could hear his name being called out amongst the roaring winds.

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