This week's prompt looked a lot better when I set it up, but after a weekend of snow and ice... not so much!
It's still a beautiful image and inspiring
This week's winning story is one of determination and grit in the face of ultimate hopelessness. That which endures, survives.
For your reading pleasure, we are proud to present
The Discontent of Winter
by Mark Morris
It was the loneliness that would be the end of her, not the cold.
Jayne was snuggled up warm, her face almost hidden. She was swathed in thick layers of thermal clothes, just a small letter-box coinciding with her eyes. Her movements were restricted but she was out on the ice.
She was struggling to survive.
But she was fighting back.
The first time she’d come out here had been a month ago. She’d lasted three minutes – maybe less.
She’d felt beaten that time. It had been humiliating. She’d spent thirty minutes getting dressed, the fixer watching her with a knowing smile. She’d been supremely confident then; she was an athlete, well used to pushing herself to her limits. This was literally a walk in the park in comparison with what she’d done before. She wouldn’t even break into a sweat. How could they even suggest she might struggle to do this?
Three minutes later she’d been humbled. She would have cried if she’d been able to but at the time it was enough that she was back inside. She thrown open her hood and shed her gloves, seeking the heat from the red-hot element in the middle of the tent, its wire guard the only thing preventing her from pressing her hands against it, not caring that it would incinerate the flesh on her hands, the only thing that mattered to her then being the warmth it would bring her.
The fixer had laughed at her then, knowing how it would hurt. But she’d cared nothing about it until later, her need for warmth overcoming every other thought she might have.
And now she was back outside again, determined to prove herself.
The first three minutes had been easier, her determination carrying her though on an adrenaline-fuelled buzz. She’d already matched her personal best – anything more would be an improvement. Now, she needed to do enough to prove she’d the courage she’d claimed she had before, to wipe that mocking grin she could never dismiss from that man’s face.
Ivan, the Fixer, would respect her. She would die before she gave him another chance to sneer at her.
But Lake Baikal cared nothing for her courage. It had taken better prepared adventurers without thought, giving no concessions for inexperience or bad luck.
The price for failure here was usually death. And it could outwait any mortal's patience.
Tune in February 16th at noon for the ATA Flash Fiction Anniversary Edition.