The snow kept falling thicker and thicker. Whirling, blowing, biting, cutting. Clinging to his whiskers, to his eyelashes, to the hair on the side of his face. His nose and cheeks had grown numb, his fingers so cold he could no longer bend them. When he tried to raise them to his face to brush the snow out of his beard, they felt like hard claws on the end of big, clumsy, fur-covered paws; claws that had no feeling in them and could not move to his will.
He tried to climb up the side of the ravine, reached for a snow-covered branch. Could not close his hands on it—where were his thumbs? He staggered on his clumsy legs, then dropped down onto all fours.
Like an animal.
They had turned him into a beast.
Robbed him of his inheritance, robbed him of his birth right.
Robbed him of who he was, robbed him of himself.
A growl rose deep within him, a roar.
Harder and harder, the snow whirled about him, the wind roaring, shrieking, slashing with a thousand cruel knives, beating with a thousand brutal clubs.
His enemy had robbed him, his foe had taken all he had.
He was an animal, a great, fur-covered beast.
He fell and lay where he had fallen.
The snow piled up against his back, shrieked over him, buried him beneath a shroud of ice.
The flame of roaring in his breast died down. He let his head sink to the ground, pillowed on snow. There was nothing now but snow, ice, wind, cold.
So very cold.
A beast barked in the distance. Loud, insistent, like a drum beat that cut through the shrieking of the gale. The sharp sound of a whistle, the voice of a human. The barking beast fell silent.
He was no longer human, he was a beast.
He dragged himself up on his four feet, lumbered up the bank, away from the ravine.
Pointed his muzzle to the wind, caught the smell of a wood fire.
Where there was fire, there was warmth.
Where there was warmth, there was life.
Life for beast, or man.
The light of a cottage, shining through the trees.
He shied away.
Humans had guns, sharp knives.
Humans would hunt a beast.
He was a beast.
The wind shrieked in his ear, it tore at him, it ripped his fur. It froze him to his very core.
So very cold.
Fire, warmth, light.
Cold, so very cold.
He crept across the clearing, staggered through the snow.
Pulled himself up on the porch, fell against the door.
Scratched his paws against the wood.
The door opened up.
“C-c-c-cold,” he said, stumbling inside, “p-p-please,” his lips and tongue scarcely forming words.
“Girls,” a voice fell on his frozen ears, “brush off the snow, he’s frozen stiff. Snow White, the kettle on the hob. Rose Red, the fire stoked! I’ll get a quilt. What a night to be outside! Come, friend, come take rest. Rest and warmth. Come, you are safe.”
A.M. Offenwanger is a writer, reader, blogger, and editor.