As if someone bumped my elbow, I fumble the phone. It arcs through the air as I reach, swiping at emptiness, and it sinks into the snow.
“Oh, my God!” I stare at the place I think it landed as if my eyes have X-ray vision. I don’t see anything but white, some hoofprints, a dead branch. “It has to be here.”
Roh shifts, stomps a foot.
“Stand still!” I bark at her. If she crushes my phone…
I slide out of the saddle and sink above my ankles in powdery whiteness. Looping the reins through one arm, I walk around the other side of Roh where the phone dropped. The snow is smooth, untouched. Bent over, my nose inches from the surface, I scan the place where it has to be. It has to. Roh stands behind me, snorting. Gently, I run my palm over the top of the snow. Nothing. Desperate, I scoop up chunks of it, hoping I don’t drive the phone in deeper, farther out of sight.
My gloves are wet, and my fingers tingle. I dig and scoop farther and farther away from where we were standing. I listen for a dreaded crunch as Roh follows behind me. Where did it go? I glance over my shoulder at the sun sinking below the tree line. With my back turned, Roh head-butts me, sending me sprawling onto my knees. I throw out my hands to stop from doing a face-plant, and my fingers touch something hard.
Rolling over, sitting in the snow, I pull my hand up in front of my face and see the edge of the phone case. After I scramble to my feet, grab Roh’s dangling reins, I brush off what I can of the wet snow clinging to it and turn on the screen. A box warning about low battery glows white. Ignoring it, I check the compass and haul myself back up into the saddle. I check my position in relation to the weak sun.
“We’ve got to hurry.” My words echo back in the frozen air. A long-needled pine bough drops a load of snow, and Roh scuttles away. She pulls at the reins and takes off along the path until we come to a small cut through the woods. It’s heading west.
She scans the path ahead, and I drop the reins. The way is clear. She moves down the narrow deer trail, stepping over brush, heading into the waning sun. It feels right. We’re on our way, but how much farther? After what feels like twenty minutes or more, I risk pulling out the phone. I hold it tight in my bare fingers and swipe to the compass and watch in horror as the screen turns black.
I’m cut off.
Willow knows where I was headed, but who knows if I’m on the right trail. The woods are huge.
Darkness creeps up behind us and surrounds the trail. I can barely make out the sun at all through the clouds and snow. Dampness seeps through my coat and along my back.
I’m going to die out here.
I put the dead phone away and zip my coat up higher under my chin. The snow rides the wind currents and hurls icy drops in my face, up coat sleeves, and down my collar. Who knows what Mr. Kendrick thinks happened to me, what he’s doing now. How long has it been? My eyelids droop, lulled by the rocking motion of Roh’s walk. Strange. I just want to fall asleep. I lean over Roh’s neck, the welcome warmth of her body radiating up into my chest. A great mare, I let her down, too.
One tear rolls out of the corner of my eye and falls into the snow.
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