The path did clear as Rune moved up and to the left, but upon resuming his descent down the decline the woods thickened again, barring his path like a silent guardian of the lake.
But he wasn’t going to turn back. Extending his arms in front, he plunged forward, breaking branches with his gloved hands when possible, pushing them aside when not. He decided he liked the deciduous trees better, their barren branches held less snow that could fall into his face, in the darkness he looked to navigate around them instead of the evergreens.
A moment later he saw a clearing among the dark branches. A patch of white, then darkness until the horizon of the starlit night sky. The lake! He was still elevated, had much farther to go before he reached the shore. Feeling suddenly inspired and energetic, he thrust his arms forward, marched his boots into the snowpack with renewed enthusiasm.
A tug on his right arm — he pushed on. But the arm wouldn’t come forward. He pulled, felt the muscles in his shoulder twinge, but he couldn’t get his arm free. He stepped back one step, two, then saw what the problem was among the mass of black twigs. A cedar branch had attached itself to the stitching of his jacket. Not in one place but several. He took the glove off his left hand, tried to loosen the branch’s grip from his jacket, but this wasn’t a casual attachment, the branch seemed almost woven into the jacket. He pulled at the branch — it was green and supple instead of black and brittle, and too large for him to carry around even if he were able to break it off.
“Shit.” His cold fingers pulled at the branch. “Come on. Really?” He couldn’t release the branch’s hold on his jacket, it was as if the tree were sentient, had been lying in wait, looking for its opportunity to ensnare an unsuspecting traveler like himself.