The cherry blossoms floated gently down, landing on their blanket. They had just started eating when a pigeon landed by their basket. They both stared wide-eyed as the bird walked closer, unafraid. That’s when they noticed a tiny scroll of paper attached to its right leg…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

He will do it when I sleep. I can see it in his eyes. The sputtering light from the fire between us struggles to ward off the darkness, its orange glow on the snow barely reaching the tree line, but I can still see his intent clearly in that hollow, wide-eyed stare of his.

I should have left him as soon as it happened, as soon as we had dug ourselves out of the snow and it was clear that his leg was shattered, before the heavier storm came and wiped out what remained of the mountain pass. But he begged me to stay, to drag him out of the wind to the shallow alcove against the cliff, to build the fire, to set the traps, to wait with him until rescue. Not to leave him to starve and die. How many days ago now?

He thinks I did not just see him take out his knife. But I have been watching. I can see his hunger, his desperation. I can see his warped mind turning over his plan. I know what he’s imagining: my leg roasting on a spit like one of those Donner Party people, the rest of me buried in snowpack, kept fresh for later.

A log snaps, fractures, falls. Embers launch themselves into the night, whip around in the icy chill. In my delirium it is late-April and they are cherry blossoms falling from the tree at home. A circular carpet of pink and white on an otherwise green lawn, Nancy not letting me rake it because it is pretty. Nan. Frantically calling neighbors, rangers, police, thinking I am dead. Ember blossoms float gently down, land on my blanket, scorch the wool. I do not rake them out.

He moved. While I was looking up. Inched closer to me around the fire. Second time he’s done that. Hasn’t taken his eyes off me all night. He’s waiting for me to pass out so he can do it.

A fluttering in the firelight, and something lands in the snow far from the fire to his left. It pecks at our last tiny bits of jerky sacrificed as bait. He notices and finally stops staring at me long enough to yank on the twine, snatching away the stick that props up the wire basket. The bird doesn’t jump when the basket drops, just paces the trap, blue-grey head bobbing.

I laugh out loud when I see the white cylinder strapped to it. It’s the same bird. The one we trapped before. The one I said we should have eaten. The one he insisted on releasing with a note.

Trapped by avalanche, injured
2 km NE of Settlers’ Gorge
2 men, no food
Send help

That same paper still tied to its leg, unread. He sees it, too, knows what it means. Now he will do it tonight for sure. As soon as I am asleep.

Unless I do it first. I move my hand an inch at a time until it is behind my back and then quietly flick open the blade of my knife. I am weak from hunger and he is bigger, but he can’t stand, can barely defend himself. Do it now, before he suspects. Between him and the bird, I’ll have enough meat to hold out until the thaw.


“Hey! They’re over here!”

The ranger’s snowshoes kicked up fresh powder as he lurched through the pines. Others followed behind him pulling a sledge. They found one man propped up against a boulder, barely alive. His leg was badly broken, his face cut and bruised. More defensive stab wounds covered his arms. One hand still grasped a bloody knife.

Beside him, a smaller man lay dead under a light dusting of newly-fallen snow, vacant blue eyes staring up at clear, blue sky. The man with the knife watched the ranger take in the scene, saw his wheels turning, and attempted to speak.

“Didn’t have a choice. Tried to kill me.”

The ranger crouched beside him and raised a bottle to his lips, telling him to sip slowly.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “We got your message, but I guess ours didn’t make it back to you in time.”

The wounded man just stared at him blankly, so the ranger pointed at the caged bird.

“The pigeon. He’s one of ours. We use ëem to get word into town when storms take out our road and the phone lines. If you found him, we figured you must be at one of his regular stops along the way, so we took a shot at getting word back to you that we were coming.”

The ranger lifted the basket just enough to reach in. The bird stepped closer, unafraid of being handled. He grasped it and removed it from the trap. Then he untied the scroll from its leg, unrolled it, and handed it to the man.

Hold on
Sending help
1-2 days
Stay alive

The man’s arm dropped to his lap. He crumpled the scrap of paper and tossed it onto the smoldering ashes. Then he stared at the dead man.

“He tried to kill me. Don’t know why. Didn’t leave me any choice.”

The ranger stood and made room for the medics. Turning, he raised his arms and with both hands gently tossed the bird up into the air. It flapped wildly as it rose and only hesitated a moment before, confident of its bearings, it turned and headed for home.