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"A Walk in the Snow" by Monica Wang

The airbnb listing said Reconnect with yourself in nature and mindful solitude, and if that's not the realest thing I've read in years. Everyone who lectured me about travelling is stuck at home, probably freezing all the same. Meanwhile I'm crunching snow under my feet, watching birds soar by—the biggest and weirdest I've ever seen—and breathing in fresh air. Like a thousand tiny knives in the lungs. But in a good way, waking me up from my old life. Back home I look out a window and twenty windows stare back, with a neighbour staring out of every one. Here? Nothing but me and nature.

It's all good. All good. Except for my shoes. Got holes in them that go right to the socks. Besides that they're no better than cardboard now, after all the soaking and drying, soaking and drying. Few months back, I figured I'd head up this way 'til I saw another face. Not that I was scared—it's just the feeling of not knowing where everyone is, of being the only one who's in the wrong place. Point is, I never saw anyone else.

That other direction? Dead end since my second try. Still not a hundred percent on what happened that first time.

So up this way I thought I heard some people, but no one could've hidden behind those trees taller than anything and thin as barbecue skewers. Fewer birds in that area, too. Maybe if they came down closer they wouldn't be so unnerving, who knows? Point is, I turned back. Can't very well buy new toes. Look at these, and the two on this side.

Didn't help that the firewood ran out for the burner and the airbnb man didn't leave anything to cut more with. I ended up burning some of the junk. The books on the shelf, like. Then pictures and curtains. Checked the shed in the garden, but nothing in there except more of those ugly pictures. I'll pay for them if airbnb man says anything, but I doubt they were worth much. The ones in the house were literally oozing, all swirls and sharp things, and I don't usually even feel anything when I look at pictures. Same with the birds. I don't look right at them. Just when their shadows show up on the snow, you can see how something's not right with their proportions. Their beaks...

Ah, look at me now, searching for neighbours—what I hated most about the city, other than the prices.

Probably shouldn't have burnt the curtains, in hindsight. Airbnb man will definitely charge me for those, and he already wants three hundred for cleaning. The last few weeks, lights have been getting in at night so I can't sleep or think. No. Sounds, too. The exact same sounds coming from behind those trees, now that I think about it, yes.

Yes. The trees. We're almost there. This has been a grand trip, hasn't it? I'm lucky I've made new friends here. Winter would be unbearable without friends, my friends from behind the trees, their faces and bodies long and sharp as metal skewers. Perfect for slipping into an ear...

Here come the birds. No. Listen to their screams. My ears...

Yes, see how they eye my long, sharp friends, like worms born for those slicing beaks. Did I say no one could have been behind those trees? Oh, no, I must have been confused. Of course my new friends were there. I recognised their faces from the paintings immediately. We're all heading to the trees now, yes. Yes. The birds are for the trees as my new friends are for the birds as I am for my sharp friends. There will be more sharp things. There will be more lights. This is a season of lights, as they say.

Isn't it beautiful walking through snow, free from watchers or rules or shoes. I can barely remember my old life, I'm so glad I chose airbnb. Yes, oh no no. No rotting at home for me.

Monica Wang has writing in Electric Lit, Southword, Augur, and The Malahat Review, among other publications. In 2020 her flash won The Sunlight Press's fiction contest; in 2022 she was shortlisted for the W&A Working-Class Writers' Prize. Born in Taichung, Taiwan, she grew up in Taipei and Vancouver, Canada, and spent the last five years drifting from Dresden to Dublin. She recently completed a creative writing MA at the University of Exeter.

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