The Orchard and the Crow
by Gef Fox
I awake hungover and cold inside a decrepit barn. The night before--New Year's Eve--only clouded fragments. I roust myself up and fight against the chill. A wonder I didn't freeze to death.
Outside, I squint against the sheer white that greets me. I'm in an orchard covered by new snow. Fallen while I slept. I see no tracks. Nor my car.
I left my car, I remember, to walk home. But there's no orchard between the pub and home. I don't know where I am. Gnarled trees surround me, clinging to withered fruit.
A crow circles above me, then glides down and lands on a skeletal branch before me.
"Maybe you can tell me where I am," I joke.
We call it Purgatory, a voice answers.
I sober up and look for whoever spoke, but there's only the crow.
"This is a dream," I say, unconvinced.
This is Purgatory. Where you will remain, unless you find the boy.
"What boy?" I ask, but I already remember.
I abandoned my car, but not at the pub. I didn't see the boy--barely in his teens--on the road's shoulder until it was too late. I swerved into the ditch. Then--
Find the boy and salvation is yours, it says then flies off.
I search for the boy. If he's here like me, I can find him. The coldness creeps inside me. I have to find him, but all I see are trees. Like tombstones row on row.