TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 45 (EXCERPT)
Olesya trudged along the tracks, the journey not at all as her febrile mind had envisioned. It was hard going, sluggish, treacherous, and tedious. Her exhausted body operated on autopilot. Fever gave her the warmth she needed, but it also made her jittery. Every few minutes she had to stop and cough and scoop a handful of snow to wipe her burning face and melt some in her mouth. It scorched her inflamed larynx, yet it gave relief, a temporary coolness. She had already resigned to the idea that this might be her last trek on foot before she would collapse and let the winter take her.
“Mitya,” she said between urgent gasps for air. “I have to see you, Mitya. To see if you’re alive. I have to.”
Speaking to him like this kept her going.
Earlier, maybe an hour ago, maybe more—Olesya lost track of time—when she rounded the bend, she nearly shrieked. The suddenness of this reaction made her bend over and hawk up a gob of badly colored phlegm.
She was sick, and she knew it.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, her cinder-hot eyes open wide.
“It’s there, it’s there like I thought it would be.”
She almost laughed from relief, which made her cough again.
The sleeping carriage sat at the bottom of the incline. It wasn’t derailed, as she imagined. It was standing still on the rails, in the middle of a dip where the climb to the bridge began and the descent from the crag ended.
“It must have rocked back and forth on inertia, like a seesaw, before it stopped.” Olesya mopped the dripping snot from under her nose with a sleeve, fixed the engineer’s cap deeper on her head, hitched the blanket higher up and trooped on.
It was slow going. The downhill incline wasn’t as steep as it seemed, and that was good, it helped her walk faster, but it also made her slip on hidden patches of ice and stumble a couple times. The carriage didn’t appear to be that far either. It sat deceptively close, a spot of blue in the middle of endless whiteness that gleamed under the diffused winter sun like a bone. Still, after an hour of arduous travailing she was only halfway there. And after another hour she had to pause and rest every ten minutes. If she didn’t, her body made her. At one of those occasions she got mad at it.
“Stupid muscles, don’t give up on me now. Keep working. Keep going! Look, I’m almost there!” Her cry reverberated strangely in the cold air, echoing gently off the rocky walls.
She took a step, her knees wobbled, and she folded like a ragdoll, painfully bonking her elbow. After this she stopped ignoring the shakes, pausing any time her head started to reel or her legs began to swim from under her.
On one of these stops, sitting on the edge of a rail, rubbing her hands and absorbed in her thoughts, she felt a pair of eyes on her back. Her face froze, and she slowly turned around to look. There was nobody there.
She held her breath, scanning the rocks. They jutted out in irregular shelves, whole galleries of shelves that offered snow, snow, and more snow, with an occasional fringe of bluish icicles for accent. Higher up the mountain wall sloped and evened out to a moderately leveled woodland consisting of hirsute conifers and nothing else. They covered the stones in irregular clumps.
Olesya thought she saw quick movement between the trees, a shadow slink and disappear.