Frozen, Victorious

Bastion shook his head, and the ghastly images faded away. Glancing up, he could see that the others were watching him. No one was shocked or concerned; they wore their professional detachment like masks. He blinked, glanced up at the cold winter sun through the tree canopy, and then back to the dead forest floor. Signs, patterns, stories. Two people had come this way, one supporting the other. Bastion read their desperation and their determination in lurching footprints that broke the frozen carpet of leaves. He read it in the dried pools of blood. A cold sweat had sprung up on the back of Bastions neck, but he made a broad sweep of his hand and began walking again, deeper into the woods. Taking the cue, the others started walking as well, spread evenly in a line perpendicular to Bastions course.

If it were a rescue, they would have been calling out. They had been calling out for hours, but one hundred yards ago they had found the jackets, followed by gloves, followed by shirts. The garments were all cold. Too cold. At the top of a ridge, one of the others stopped the line. Bastion walked to him and glanced down the slope, sighting along his outstretched arm. “Okay. Radio it in. I’ll go take a look.”

With care he walked down, careful to stand clear of the tracks he had been following. One had fallen here and recovered with help from the other. More blood. More stumbling. Things breaking down; getting slower. At the foot of the ridge, they lay intertwined in the partial darkness under a grand elm. The man was frozen and still, eyes to the heavens, alabaster white skin except for the now blackened right thigh that had been torn in the car accident–two days ago now? Three? Jeans and sneakers, no shirt. He lay in the lap of the woman, held in a loose embrace.

Her body rested easily against the trunk of the giant tree. Her frozen black hair framed a face that was at once serene and broken. Jeans and sneakers, tank top. The orbit of bone around her left eye and the eye itself had been crushed when her head hit the dashboard, but her clear, gray right eye stared through Bastion, defiant, beyond him into some other space. There was no fear here, no sadness and no sound except for the drone of the radio some ways behind.

Bastion remembered his training. “Cold weather is a funny thing. Can’t trust a frozen body. You ain’t dead until youre warm and dead, ya catch me?” He stepped forward gingerly to take pulses on their necks and feel for breathing. He was glancing back into their eyes, looking for signs of something that wasn’t there. Satisfied, Bastions muscles were poised to turn to leave, but his mind held him in check.

The visions would be with him again when he finally turned away; he wasn’t ready for that yet. So he lingered for another moment, carefully backing away from what had become a crime scene but glancing around long enough to note the wristbands on their pale wrists. Long enough to register the tattoos on their bare arms. And it all slotted into place–the last part of a story that started four days ago with a missing car. The first part, really.

He felt stupid for the tears that were pricking his eyes. Come on Bastion. They arent sad about it. Got more than most of those poor bastards ever got. Most, but not all… Composing himself, he nodded to them, turned and made the trek back to the others. “Why did they run, Bastion?” It had been a few minutes since he had rejoined them, but Bastions face still glistened with the cold sweat, and he was lost in a private terror for a moment before he could answer. Finally, he pushed the images aside and glanced up. They were patiently waiting, no expression other than that basic curiosity.

“Why did they run from the crash?” Bastion drew a calming breath that brought him fully back to the present. He nodded down the ridge, wiped his brow, and willed a frozen breath to escape his lips. “They escaped from Anderson Medical Center. The police didn’t tell us that–they probably didn’t know.” The others looked puzzled. Bastion knew they didn’t get it. It didn’t mean to them what it meant to him. Subconsciously scratching at the tattoo on his own arm through the parka and the wool, he glanced around again. “They wanted to live for a while before they died.