Although I understood perfectly the danger of my situation, and that, in all likelihood, it would never come to an end, I had hoped that on reaching this place that I might be granted a period of respite. My hope was in vain.
When I stepped through the gate, the white, snow-covered vista continued on and on, undisturbed for as far as I could see. There was nothing else here. No building to shelter in. No-one to meet me. Nothing. And there was no indication of what I was to do next.
It was true. This place was an unforgiving wasteland.
I tried to think. I tried not to panic. I failed on both counts. It would be dark soon, and the temperature was rapidly dropping. I had made it out of the city only to find myself stuck in a barren, foreign landscape, all alone, where I knew I wouldn’t last the night.
I fell to my knees, as I realised that I would soon be dead and there was nothing I could do about it. I had no provisions, nothing to keep the freezing cold at bay. I wasn’t scared of death; it came to us all, but I was terrified of feeling helpless.
And so, to prevent me dwelling on what was to come, I knew I had to keep moving; keep my mind and body occupied. As I made to push myself up, my hand went right through the snow and found itself resting on something cold and hard. Stone. For some reason, the snow in front of the gate didn’t appear to be as thick as everywhere else. I don’t know what drove me to do it, but I scooped the snow away and uncovered a large, flat paving stone, then another and another.
Hidden beneath the snow was a footpath. If I had to guess, the snow had been cleared either yesterday or first thing this morning, but a more recent dusting had covered it back up. The path had to lead somewhere if someone had made the effort to uncover it.
I ran back to the hedge and pried a dead branch from beneath its evergreen limbs. Then instead of using my hands to reveal each stepping stone (for they were now freezing, and the process too time-consuming), I pushed the branch through the snow every few steps, ensuring it struck stone each time and guided me true.
Now all I had to do was find out where the pathway went. I hoped it was somewhere warm and dry, and not too far away.