A heavy blanket of snow illuminated the night while cold flakes pecked at her chapped cheeks. As she took another deep breath, her ears winced at the broken silence. Shivering continuously now, she trudged through the drifts, avoiding obscure stumps and black, low-hanging branches. The item she dragged behind her left a noticeable trail but she knew it would be deeply buried by the storm come morning…

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

A heavy blanket of snow illuminated the night while cold flakes pecked at her chapped cheeks. Huddling deeper into the feathered down of her padded coat, Kate pulled her hood closer. She couldn’t have hoped for a better night for it. As she took another deep breath, the cold air hit the back of her throat and she stifled a hacking cough, hiding the blood in her hankie. She stopped and looking across, saw the ears wince at the broken silence. Pressing her frozen lips together, she held her breath, trying to control her ragged breathing. If they knew she was dying, they’d never let her go. She was desperate to leave on a high.

Shivering continuously now as a piercing wind wiggled through the gaps in her baggy clothing, she trudged through the drifts, avoiding hidden stumps and black, low-hanging branches. The item she dragged behind her felt heavier than usual, and left a noticeable trail, but as she climbed the hill, she knew it would be deeply buried by the next storm, forecast for early morning. Closing her snow-blinded eyes briefly, she prayed the forecasters were right and the deluge wouldn’t happen yet. Not now. Not this winter night of all winter nights.

As her eyes fluttered open, she coughed again. The noise was explosive in the muted quiet of the night. She looked sideways at the two judges, known as ears, to gauge their reaction. Judge 1’s permanent frown had deepened, making it look like his forehead had been folded too many times when he was still in the womb. He had coveted her title for the past three years, insisting that she step down as age crept upon her. She would not – until now. Now, she had no choice; but he didn’t know that. Judge 2, going by the pressing-down motion of his long, slender hands, was attempting to placate Judge 1. After a minute of heated discussion, the ears glanced down to where they knew eager watchers waited. They finally relented, nodding for her to continue.

With no moon to guide her and soft snow falling heavier now, it was becoming increasingly difficult to see the way ahead. Kate turned, on instinct, trudging forever upwards. It was no good relying on familiar landmark trees or recognisable outcrops as this ghostly landscape was completely alien to what she knew. It was for that reason she had secretly practised blind-folded. Never knowing from which angle the ears would instruct her to ascend, she had practised different routes often. This one was the most treacherous. Aside from the minefield of small bushes that sprung up each year, there were many obscured outcrops lurking under this comprehensive blanket, all looking as innocent as the true way, but she had learnt them all – she hoped.

Her shaking hands were so cold now, she couldn’t feel them or the thin cord tied tightly to each side of her burden. She glanced back to check that she was still hauling it, and smiled, noting that the ears who usually watched from a distance had wandered closer, fearful themselves of what they could not see. They trusted her, it seemed, not the watchers or their own eyes.

The graveyard of trees thinned out as she reached her destination, revealing a wider, open space. With nothing to catch it, snow dusted everyone like a coating of fine powdered icing sugar. Kate stepped lightly, carefully, her studded boots leaving deep, elongated tracks that the snow endeavoured to fill. Crouching down low so her bum almost scraped the surface of the compacting snow, Kate squinted. What scant light there was refracted off the pristine white surface, showing up anomalies like her tracks as shadows. Suddenly, she spotted a slight indentation on an almost glassy, flat mound and her right arm shot out in silent warning. The ears froze, standing rigid in the falling snow. One more stride and they would have stepped onto an outcrop known as Moss Slide, and would have gone crashing down over the edge. Over the years, many had lost their lives that way. Plumes of steaming breath cloaked the ears like a mist as they sighed in nervous relief. They clung together, looking to Kate whose bony finger pointed, showing them where to step safely. They nodded in stony silence, and complied. The watchers who’d seen this interplay, sighed as one.

The snow was deep and crusted on the crest. Kate stopped to catch her breath, warming her frozen fingers between her numb thighs. Bitter wind whistled its freezing song, easing its way easily under her hood and deep into her ice-cold ears. It licked insistently at the moisture of her streaming eyes. As she wiped at them, the wind eased and larger, heavier snowflakes began to fall. The storm was almost here.

Kate looped the thin cord around both hands, gripping it tight enough to almost cut off the blood supply. She picked up the sledge and with a howl of laughter, took a running jump and kicked off, flattening herself on its wooden bed. The ride down the hill was the most exhilarating she’d ever had. Arctic wind whipped at her hood, snapping it back but the scarf she was wearing beneath protected her ears from the worst of its ferocious bite. The wide runners she’d coated with candle-wax slid like a hot knife through butter, gliding effortlessly over the snow. Kate’s adrenaline pumped to the max as she leant left, right, back, pulling on the guide cord, dodging unrecognisable obstacles that whizzed past in a blur.  Smashing into the masses of hay bales down at the bottom she was hoisted shoulder high and hailed as the fastest granny in town.