Fourteen years ago…
It was snowing.
Natalia should have been cold, but she wasn’t. She was disoriented. The snow layered everything in white. Everywhere she looked, it was white. She couldn’t see any paths in the forest anymore.
She stopped and looked up, snowflakes falling fast around her. Some landed on her face, but she didn’t mind as they melted against her warm flesh. Tree branches were covered in snow, and some sagged under the weight until it was too much and the snow rolled off in clumps, the limbs bouncing back up again like springs.
She was supposed to be looking for something, she knew. If anything went wrong, she was supposed to look for…a circle? She frowned. She couldn’t remember. Her head was swimmy. She put a small hand to her forehead and grunted at the pain the touch caused her. She looked down at her hand, slick with crimson. It was thick and dark and dripped from her fingers into the snow at her feet. She stared at the red in the snow for a moment, mesmerized, and then turned her attention to a sound in the distance. A rumble.
Cocking her head curiously, Natalia watched twin lights swing over her as they rounded a curve. The lights stopped and the rumble grew louder for a moment before it stopped.
She had to…find a circle. A ring. A hoop? She couldn’t be discovered. That would be bad. Or did she want to be found? Her vision grew hazy for a moment and angry red and black spots swarmed before her eyes like a swarm of bees.
Natalia blinked until the spots faded and her surroundings came into focus again. She stared at a woman in a gray wool coat and a fuchsia scarf. She was peering down at Natalia through glasses with a concerned expression on her face. Her glasses…were round. Perfect circles.
Natalia sagged with relief, slumping against the woman’s legs. She was so tired. She just wanted to sleep. And now that she’d found the circles, she could rest.
“Honey, are you alright?” the woman asked, holding her up. “You’re bleeding. Are you alone out here?” She looked around, blinking into the surrounding darkness, before returning her gaze to Natalia. “You’re ice cold.” She pulled off her coat and threw it over Natalia’s shoulders. “Come along. I’ll see that you find your parents. Come sit in front of the heater.”
Natalia followed numbly, wondering what the woman was talking about. She had done what she’d been asked. It was time for her to rest.
All she wanted was rest.