She woke up deliciously warm. Sabel’s skin radiated like flame, burning the cloth over her limbs as she smoldered beneath. Last stage of freezing, she thought thickly, a malfunction of the brain. The rush of blood vessels when the body was too confused to save itself. Delicious, disorienting warmth.
The fear cleared her head, adrenaline tearing its way through the haze of dying brain cells. Though her skin burned, she did not rip away the cloth covering her. That would be death alone in these woods.
She opened her eyes. The dark interior of the barracks was still, her unit breathed evenly in sleep on the cots across from her. No snow, no naked pale wood, no endless sky framed by bare branches. She was not dying.
Sabel sat up, breathing in gasps. She kicked the musty regulation blankets down to her knees. Her skin still felt warm enough to cook her insides.
Frost had crystallized at the edges of the barrack windows. The memory of it at her lips, in her nose, waited. If Sabel closed her eyes she was back in the woods, black fingers pulling herself through the snow.
She pushed the rest of the bed coverings off and stood. Sabel looked down and wiggled her toes. The digits were healthy and whole, she could feel the cold from the floor seeping into them. Modern medicine was a marvelous thing. They’d fixed so much of her.
Not enough though. At night she returned to those dead woods. Like her burning skin, Sabel thought, a malfunction of the brain. She found her boots and left the barracks.