I'm following Jed's trail. He's not so far ahead that I can't still see his footsteps, sunken into the snow.
The wind is sharp and cuts against my skin like a razor. I have on so many layers, yet I'm still cold. But I keep my mind off of the temperature, off of the weather, and onto Jed. I will find Jed.
My mind stubbornly tells me that Jed's probably dead now, frozen in a ditch somewhere, or worse, taken by the boy.
I tell my mind to shut up because I'm going to find Jed. Even if he's dead, I will find him and bring him back to his mother.
And if he's been taken? my mind taunts me.
"I'll just take him back," I say aloud.
I lost the trail. The snow has increased and covered the tracks I was following. And I'm on my second-to-last can of beans. I've been rationing them, but walking against the wind is tiring and makes you hungry. Even cold beans are good when you're stuck in a storm like this.
There's a market up ahead. Perhaps Jed found shelter there. Perhaps I can pick up another trail.
This trail is fresher. The supermarket had canned goods that were untouched - they must have been there for years. I found the cans that hadn't gone bad and saw that a bunch were missing - easily enough for Jed to carry. He resupplied and went out again. Lucky kid.
After I restocked my supply as well, I went out and continued looking. I can't rely on footprints anymore. The winds make the snow cover everything.
I guess I just have to be lucky, too.
I found him! He was huddled inside a broken McDonald's, trying to get one of the fryers to start working again. When I found him, he looked like he had almost succumbed to the cold - I quickly started rubbing his hands together. Then I took an old Bunsen burner I had packed and turned it on.
He got better quickly. I saw the warmth return to his face. He was damn lucky he didn't die or lose any limbs or even fingers.
But I see now that he left well prepared. He didn't just bring food - he brought thick gloves and rope and actual supplies needed to survive out here. He was planning this excursion for a while.
"Why?" I asked and he didn't need more than one word to know what I was asking.
"I need to see him," Jed said. "I just...I need to see my dad. I need to know if he's alive."
"He's not," I said. "I'm sorry, but he's just...not. He didn't walk out here with food or supplies. He walked out with nothing and the cold took him. I'm sorry."
Jed began to cry and I awkwardly patted him on the back. "Your mother's worried sick," I said, which was probably an understatement. "I need to bring you back. Okay?" He nodded.
After we had sufficiently warmed up, I turned off the Bunsen burner and repacked it, then we both got up and prepared to leave. "It's weird," Jed said, "I thought I was doing so well. I even found an old map and marked out probable places to restock food. But then...then I got turned out in the snow. I got lost and I couldn't figure out where I was. And I started to lose feeling in my fingers. So I came in here. But...I thought I heard someone...I thought I heard someone singing."
I stopped. "Jed," I said. "This is very important. What were they singing?"
"It..." He paused. "It sounded like 'To market, to market, to buy a pig. Home again, home again, jiggity-jig.' That's...that's strange, isn't it?"
"We need to go, Jed," I said. "We need to go now. We need to get back."
I was worried about Jed all that time. Worried that the boy had taken him. But the boy wasn't after him.
We rushed as fast as we could, as fast as our frail bodies let us. But I knew we would be too late.
Home again, home again. Jiggety-jig.
He wasn't after Jed. He was going home. To our home.