Her breath puffed out, smoky in the the dim afternoon light. It was cold, too cold to snow, too cold for anyone to be out and about. She would almost have felt safe if not for the cold.
She listened for a long time before approaching the old shed. No voices, no animal calls, no movement at all. She pried the door open with a creak. Slivers of light shown through cracks in the wall onto the dirt floor. Except for a few strands of musty hay, it was long empty. The walls would break some of the wind. It would be a good place to spend the night.
She shivered, then shivered again. She would have to build a fire if she was to survive. She chewed her lip. She still had the flint and the knife, even though she hadn't used either for weeks. There would be driftwood down by the creak, and if she hurried, she could grab a few armfuls before it was fully dark. She set down her pack and moved slowly back out into the cold.
She shied once when the otter slid into the creek, and a second time when the owl flew past. She hated it. Hated all of it. Hated the haunting feeling before things went wrong, hated the way shame curdled in her stomach afterwards. Most of all, she hated the memories of what it was like before, when she was strong and capable and unruined. Hated the memories of glee and destruction. Hated the memories of love and respect. Hated herself most of all. She deserved it. She was weak. Arrogant. She should have been able to resist. To pray. To have faith.
She dumped the wood on the floor of the shed, wincing at the noise. She was still a long moment, waiting to see what the crash might have disturbed. There was nothing but dust.
Gathering the hay and some kindling into a pile, she reached for the flint. It took several deep breaths before she could touch the knife. Several more before she could unsheathe it. Her fingers shook as she struck it against the flint. Six times. Eight times. Finally the light caught in the hay. Hurriedly she blew on it. When the spark went out, she nearly cried.
The cold was deep in her gut now. If only frostbite numbed grief. Once more she reached for the flint, and this time, the spark caught. She added small twigs until she had a little fire, then warmed her hands. She huddled gratefully over the little flame. Another long cold night would be followed by a long cold morning, but she would survive.
She told herself it was the smoke in her eyes that made her weep.