And if the snow could scream, it would. It bled already, like a woman prematurely losing the life in her womb, the carnage dripping down the barks of the trees, the scalding hot blood melting the thin layer of frost as it snaked down the wood. The whole forest reeked of blood, the thick stench carried in the air like a message in a bottle meant to find every ear that could listen, foretelling a great unbecoming. A deed so heinous that only the wind could speak of it, howling, mourning, consoling the snow as it moved for it has paid the price, for it has faced a great loss.
A strong whiff of air went up to my nose, smelling distinctly of winter. Winters in these upper mountains meant a cold so unforgiving that looking away could have your soul freeze over. I could tell the numbness had reached my brain, everything looked slowed down. Everything was slowed down, not a single leaf flinched as if the entire mountain hitched its breath. It would make the two of us because I did not quite have the breath left in my lungs either. I was running. Fleeing, actually. From an enemy I could not see but was certain was on my trail.
That loud voice was in my head, an instruction from my common sense. Alas, I could do little to follow through with it, my feet fell heavy and hard on the snow, digging in, making footprints that were six-inch deep. I wanted to be swift, I willed myself to be swift but it did not work. In my head, I commanded my muscles to obey but my body could not hear it.
Funny how fate catches up to you, I thought. Funny, too, the irony of it all. I’m a well-oiled machine that never fails, never misses its mark, never loses. Carmine Fay never loses and yet here I was, on a goose-chase, running like game runs from a hunter with the fear of death in its heart, I would know because I am a hunter. Funny how the hunter becomes the hunted.
I hear music as I steadily lose motor control. Vision-blurred, limbs aching, heart ready to give but I hear music. A flute. Somewhere in the distance, somewhere outside of these woods. The sweetness of the sound made a tear roll down my cheek. I would’ve enjoyed the moment had I not been in mortal danger. Even in my state, however, I could tell the musician was a seasoned player, his music only carried sweetness. Besides, the death of Carmine Fay deserved a background score. The gods have a sense of humor that way. Of all the times I imagined myself biting the dust, disintegrating like a butterfly’s wings upon a hard touch would never have been my guess. So fragile, so weak. I never took myself to be the weak kind. Funny, this absurd unbecoming of years of being alive, years of beating the odds, years of delivering men to their graves, and this is how it ends. All those years of building a warrior’s body climaxing to this moment of weakness. The painful irony of the situation made my lip curl into a smile. As it did, I’m surprised to find I still have control of my facial muscles.
The flute is still playing.
Perhaps, the gods are not pleased today. There was always going to be a day that even the mighty Carmine Fay would be taken down. I just never quite reckoned it’d be this cartoonish and rather premature if I must say so myself. I’m still young with all of my teeth still intact, there are a great many things I could still do.
A plea, Carmine Fay? Save yourself the trouble, there is no one in the entire world that would be coming to save me. I made sure of that while I lived. I only made foes, never friends.
There was always going to be a day that Carmine Fay would die. But goddamn it, why today? I suppose I’d never really be appeased no matter when the grim reaper would've decided to knock at my door. But not today, my mind complained. Less of a prayer and more of divine will, or perhaps the whisper came from outside of me and into my ears. I couldn’t quite understand because the next instance all I could really feel was the crisp of snowflakes dancing slowly towards the ground, they were in no hurry. Everything fell in slow motion or was it I who fell? My entire body, untethered as it may be, suddenly felt burning hot. I was on fire and the heat made every snowflake that fell on my skin turn to gas. The snow was still screaming and it sounded like the world was coming to an end.
Still running, I felt the last bit of awareness slipping out of my clutches. With a sudden flash of a memory, I was transported back to my childhood, a green field covered in a blanket of mist. I was catching dew. Silly little girl, there’s no catching dew. For you cannot catch what does not exist.
Something happened, something pulled me back from the reverie, snatched me right back to the cold woods. I felt a surge of heat in my body and the next moment everything was set on fire. Something erupted into flames. The fire was all around me. This should not have happened, the fear gripped my neck so tight I could not breathe until I realized that the flames did not burn me. My body turned as light as a feather. Whatever this was, I did not do it. It was happening on its own. The breath suddenly released from my throat, by the gods, it was I who was on fire. It was then that the men who were after me emerged from a small slope that I had barely made past. The first of them saw me for the briefest of moments, I could see the look of surprise on his face, and it made me burst into sudden laughter. That would be one hell of a story to tell his master, I thought. Because I could not believe what was happening, it was as if the flames were swallowing me whole, engulfing me. I have not done enough good deeds to be blessed by the gods like this. This should not be happening. The man chasing me and I concurred on this truth. I am a mere bounty hunter, I have killed men for less than a loaf of bread. And yet the flames felt like my own skin as they wrapped around me like a sheath. The men rushed toward me but the flames were eating me alive. They leaped, throwing their arms around the mirage but I disappeared. I disappeared from the woods. And sire, you cannot catch what does not exist.
The cries of the snow finally stopped but the flute still played. Calm descended upon the mountains, the men were empty-handed and no trace left of Carmin Fay.