This is my entry in the Literotica Winter Holiday Contest. Copyright LesLumens - 2006
This is an edited version, containing a line accidentally left out of the original submission. The portrayal of Native Americans in this tale is from the perspective of a scared young woman, and is thus skewed from reality.
Nebraska — Winter, Late 1800s
The wind cut across the prairie, every snowflake like a tiny razor cutting into her skin. She stumbled forward, not knowing what else to do, unable to remember how she had come to be out in this storm. Her mind was nearly as blank and impenetrable as the blinding gales of snow that kept her from seeing more than a few feet in front of her, as she slogged through the calf-deep drifts.
Is that a light? Is that a house? She stared with eyes that refused to focus properly at the tiny beacon of hope ahead. It appeared like an angel through the wall of white, a golden haze of light indicating something was out there. She took another step forward, and more details emerged.
She saw a window, the glass thick and milky. It was from there that the beautiful light was emerging. Right next to it was a stout wooden door. She could almost feel the warmth even though she was several feet away.
Hope surging within her, she lurched toward the door. Her strength was failing, as was her ability to think clearly. Keep moving, she thought, vaguely recalling that to stop moving was to die. Even though she was confused and weak, she remembered that much.
A final step, and she fell heavily up against the door. She raised a hand to knock, but the elements at last overwhelmed her will and determination.
She knew no more.
Kenneth Willis heard the thump against his door, and immediately went for the shotgun over the mantle. On a night like this, a man did well to be ready for danger when he heard strange sounds in the night. Peeking carefully out the window, he could see nothing, save for the blowing snow outside from the storm that had come raging in during the late afternoon. Walking back to the door, he held his shotgun ready and opened the door a crack.
Kenneth propped the shotgun up against the wall when he saw her lying in front of the door. It was obvious the woman was frozen, and it was impossible to tell if she were even breathing. A quick look around revealed only her fading tracks leading to his door. Cursing, he picked her up and brought her inside, shutting out the weather by kicking the door closed.
Inside in the light, he could see that all her clothing was threadbare. Petticoats shown through numerous tears and holes in her woolen dress, and her fur-lined cape was just as tattered. Her shoes looked as if they would fall off in a stiff breeze. Long, dark hair hung in matted tangles, but still reached down well past the middle of her back. She was a small woman, almost childlike. Kenneth guessed she would only reach his chest if she were standing, and he only stood six feet tall. The swell of her bosom and her features belied her stature, and announced beyond any doubt that she was no mere girl, but a woman.
Carrying her to the bed, he could see that her skin was pale and ashen, frost rimming her lashes. She drew only shallow breaths, and all of her clothing was stiff with ice. Shaking and calling out to her drew no response, so he tried to remember what an old trapper from the Yukon had once told him about freezing.
Her skin was ice cold, and defying propriety, he unhooked one of the latches of her dress and slid a hand over the skin beneath. It too was near ice cold. If not for the slight rise and fall of her chest, Kenneth would have assumed her dead.
What was it that old man said? Once you get so cold, you can't warm up again 'cause your body just can't heat up. Kenneth pinched his fingers and thumb against his forehead with one hand, and toyed with his short, dark beard with the other, trying to remember what the old man had said to do if someone he knew got so dangerously cold.
"Get her out of the wet clothes," Kenneth muttered. It was highly inappropriate for him to consider undressing her, but he decided that life was better than modesty, and she was surely close to death.
Working the frozen latches of her dress open proved to be nearly impossible, so Kenneth retrieved a knife from the table and simply cut the fabric. Upon trying to figure out the stays and petticoats beneath the dress, he shrugged and sliced these with the sharp blade as well. The dark tangle of hair on her mound, and the sight of her firm breasts, once again reminded him that it was no girl who appeared on his doorstep this night.
Shaking those thoughts out of his head, Ken pulled off her shoes. He frowned upon seeing the obvious signs of frostbite on her toes. Her fingers and the tip of her nose evidenced hints of frostbite as well.
The trapper had told him that your body just couldn't warm back up on its own once it got so cold. Heat would have to come from the outside until a person recovered enough that their body started working properly again. A warm place would work, but Kenneth's house was only just warm enough to be tolerable. That left the alternative the old man had offered for when you couldn't get the victim to an enclosed space.
With more than a little trepidation, considering the chill of the house, Kenneth started pulling off his clothes. The best, and quickest, way to transfer heat was to wrap up in a blanket with direct skin-to-skin contact. Attraction for the beautiful woman intruded upon his concern, but Kenneth pushed those improper thoughts away, and finished removing his clothes from his lean, muscular frame.
Crawling into the bed, he pulled all the blankets and furs over them both, and then gently rolled her onto her side, facing away from him. He nestled up close to her, wincing from the biting chill coming from her as their skin touched. He pulled a blanket up over their heads, thinking that his breath would help warm the space as well. Wrapping one arm over her body, he tented the woolen cloth so that it would not obstruct the woman's shallow breathing.
Just the touch of her skin had him shivering, and not in any way that he would normally while touching a nude woman. He wondered if all of his efforts were in vain, considering how cold she was, and how slowly she breathed. He endured, trying to get their skin in contact wherever possible, to give his body heat to her.
Kenneth's day had been filled with laying in firewood, and he was tired to the bone. His mind drifted and his eyelids were heavy. He nodded off a few times, for how long he didn't know. Upon awakening again, he realized the woman was shivering, and he could hear her teeth chattering. That's a good sign, I think. She was still unresponsive when he tried to talk to her, so he just remained up against her, noticing that she did feel a bit warmer. Soon sleep overcame him again.
It was still a few hours until morning when Kenneth awoke again, groggy and confused. After a few moments, he remembered the woman in his arms. He was encouraged to notice that her breathing was much stronger, and that her skin felt warm against him — very warm.
His arm was also draped over her body and across her breasts. One very stiff nipple pressed against his wrist, sending an unavoidable surge of blood into his loins. He fought the arousal, but his cock still swelled slightly against the back of her legs.
Thinking that the danger was likely past, and not trusting his baser instincts at the moment, Kenneth crawled out of the bed and dressed, leaving the woman beneath the warm blankets. She rolled over on her back as he stood, a slight smile on her face. He matched that smile as he dressed in his underclothes and picked up one of the blankets. After stirring up the fire, he settled into his rocking chair and pulled his blanket around him to doze.
When he awoke with the dawn, Kenneth saw that the young woman was still resting comfortably. His grumbling stomach and aching bladder let him know that it was time to get up. He pulled back on the rest of his clothes and a fur-lined coat, and then headed outside to the outhouse. The storm had blown itself out during the night, leaving the prairie covered in a blanket of white. Even a man like Kenneth, who wasn't fond of the cold, could appreciate the untouched beauty of the scene.
After drinking it in for a moment, he slogged through the snow to the outhouse, and then to the barn to get some eggs, and feed the stock.
She awoke confused and aching to the smell of pork sizzling and coffee brewing. Sleep was reluctant to release its grip on her, and it took quite some time for her to open her eyes. It took even longer for her to come to her senses and take in her surroundings.
She muttered, "Where am I?"
Kenneth turned from his skillet, sliding it off the stove to avoid burning the bacon, and asked, "You alright, Miss? You were in a bad way when I found you outside my door last night."
"Who are you? How did I get here?" The young woman muttered as the world slowly came into focus. She started to sit up, and then started when the chill air kissed her bare breasts. She quickly jerked the blanket back over her body and gasped out, "Where are my clothes!"
Kenneth turned his eyes away from her, with no small amount of difficulty, until she covered up again. "I had to cut them off you, they was frozen solid and only would have leeched the heat out of you if I'd left them on. My name's Kenneth — Kenneth Willis. Found you outside my door last night, near frozen to death."
He walked over toward the bed, "You'd better let me have a look at them fingers and toes, they looked frostbitten. They'll need some doctoring, and if it's bad, I may need to run to town to get a real doctor for you."
Memories started to emerge in her head now. She remembered stumbling through the snow in the dark, and the light from the window. After that, she couldn't remember anything else. There were faint flashes of memory about being warm, with someone lying next to her, but she was not sure if that was a dream or reality. The man stood at the foot of the bed, looking into her eyes, silently asking if he could lift the blanket that he was holding to examine her toes. She nodded to indicate it was okay and then said, "My name is Karen."
"Karen," Ken acknowledged, and then lifted the blankets. She winced a little as he touched her toes, looking them over. She did the same a few moments later as he examined her fingers.
"Well, you got feeling and the color ain't too off. I think I got you in here just in time. Let me get you a shirt to put on for now. It ain't hardly gonna fit right, but it should cover you well enough that you can sit up and eat. Are you hungry?"
"Oh, yes," Karen admitted, her stomach nothing more than an empty hollow within her.
Kenneth nodded and smiled, going to retrieve one of the few other articles of clothing he possessed for her. He turned his back as she put it on, and then went back to his cooking, noting that the sight of his shirt hanging loose over her petite frame was very eye catching.
A few minutes later, he brought her a plate of bacon and eggs, as well as a steaming cup of coffee. She ate quickly, and felt a little of her strength returning as the food helped warm her.
Ken finished his meal, took a drink of coffee, and then asked, "I don't wanna offend, how did you end up out there in that bad blow all alone?"
Karen's brow furrowed as she tried to remember. After a few minutes, her lip started to quiver and she said, "I... I don't know. I remember being out in the snow. I remember walking."
"Where you from?"
Tears started to flow down her cheeks, "I don't remember. I remember coming West in a wagon with my family, and then... But that was summer. Why can't I remember?"
Kenneth's heart broke seeing the woman sob, "I'll help you, Miss, don't you worry. You almost died last night, things in your head are sure not to be right for a bit."
Karen looked unconvinced but nodded her head and smiled weakly, "Thank you, Sir."
"Just call me Ken."
"Ken," she acknowledged with a wider smile.
"Drink up that coffee, it'll help warm you up inside," Kenneth suggested.
Karen dozed off again for a while shortly after eating, still recovering from her ordeal. She was awake just long enough for Kenneth to care for her frostbitten fingers and toes, which he now believed were not as bad as they had first appeared.
When she awakened a few hours later, Karen quietly said, "Ken, I need to..." She stopped, unable to continue, as her cheeks turned bright red.
He smiled at her and said, "That color in your cheeks is a good thing, you were pale as the snow last night. I'll find you something to put on and give you a pair of my shoes. I'll have to cinch them all up a bit, but they should be good enough to get you to the outhouse."
Getting dressed with her bandaged fingers proved to be a trial, and Ken was unable to help her, because he was facing away from her the whole time. Eventually she managed, and between the two of them, they raised the legs of his pants high enough she wouldn't walk on them. Ken assisted her, breaking a path through the snow, and then stepping away from the outhouse while she answered the call.
Once back in the house, Ken said, "We need to get you some clothes that fit. I don't have much myself as it is. Yours were all tatters, even before I had to cut them. I could go get something for you in town, and then we could both go and see if we can't help you find your way home."
"I'm so sorry to trouble you," Karen apologized.
"It's nice to have some company. I don't see many folks out here. Shouldn't take me more'n an hour or so if I ride hard. You be okay by yourself for that long?"
"I... I suppose I must. I certainly can't go with you like this."
Ken nodded his head in agreement, "You really shouldn't be up much until those toes heal right, either. Should probably wait before you go into town. I'll leave the shotgun over here close, just in case, but don't be afraid, I ain't seen no trouble here in years."
Her eyes were pleading when she replied, "Please hurry."
He bundled up then and left the house. Karen looked around, trying to remember how she got here, and how she had been separated from her family.
The word family left a bitter taste in her mouth. That much she remembered. The trip west was with her husband and his parents. It was a journey she had never wanted to take, with a man she did not love, and his parents that treated her like a slave.
The marriage had been arranged, and although her husband was handsome and rich, she could never love him. To please her parents, she had gone through with the wedding and became his wife. Almost immediately, he announced that they were going west to seek their fortune, and would be traveling with his parents, who planned to open a dry goods store.
Karen missed her family, her real family, and she missed her friends. The entire journey had been horrible for her, sleeping on the ground and riding in the bumpy wagon. Her husband barely acknowledged her, save to remind her of her duty to please him. His parents looked down their noses at her, treating their daughter-in-law worse than the family dog.
Her memories simply stopped there. There were vague impressions of other people, and other places, but they felt more like dreams than reality. Summer, fall, and the beginning of winter had all passed her by. She remembered being in the wagon, and the next thing she could recall was wandering through the snow to this house.
"Why can't I remember," she sobbed, holding her head in her hands. Pulling the covers up over her, Karen cried herself to sleep.
Karen recovered steadily, happy to have proper clothing once Ken returned from town. The pain in her fingers and toes went away the second day, allowing her to get up and move around more. She didn't talk much, lost in her own little world, and Kenneth didn't press her.
She took over the cooking the third day, improving the fare considerably. Ken talked about his life, and things that were happening, as he went about his chores each day. Karen responded to him sometimes, even relating a story from her youth on occasion, but she pointedly avoided any mention of recent times. Ken thought it sad that such a beautiful woman wasn't quite right in the head. He wondered if perhaps it was some lingering symptom of her collapse in the snow.
Karen drifted in and out of reality.
At times, when she was talking with Ken, she felt fine, and came to like the man. She also noticed that he was handsome, and her cheeks flushed when she noticed him looking in her direction sometimes. He tried to hide the glances, and even appeared ashamed by the action, but she saw them nonetheless. She was both embarrassed and flattered by those looks, not finding them at all disturbing, because he made no improper advances toward her.
Whenever she thought about her husband and his parents, she would simply lose hours, even whole days. She would remember nothing until something jarred her back into the world again. It frightened her, and at the same time, she felt comforted whenever she emerged from one of the spells.
After a week, those periods of missing time became less frequent, and Karen's strength returned. Ken suggested that they go into town, and see if they could discover where she belonged, and what had happened to her.
The wagon ride into town was a blur, because the moment she sat down on the wooden buckboard, memories of the ride west assaulted her. She only emerged from her cocoon of semi-consciousness when they rolled into town and the sounds of people going about their daily business penetrated the protective cocoon around her mind.
Most people indicated that they had not heard anything, and had no idea who might. Kenneth was about to suggest that they might try a different town another day when he saw a goods-laden wagon rolling down the muddy main street of town.
The man was obviously a merchant, or employed by one, and so he was likely well traveled. Karen followed Ken over as he went to talk to the man, who was climbing down from his wagon and about to enter the general store.
"Excuse me sir," Kenneth said to the merchant when they reached him.
The man smiled and responded, "Yes, what do you need?"
"This young woman here can't remember the last few months. I thought maybe you might know something, because you travel."
The merchant looked hard at Karen, and then his eyes lit up, "I believe I do. I've heard about a woman that looks like her as I came west. Doesn't remember things, and sometimes doesn't seem to know what's going on around her?"
Ken looked at Karen for a moment with an apology in his eyes, and then turned back to the other man and nodded, "Yeah, that's about right."
"People have been talking about her, because she appears in a town, and then just vanishes in the middle of the night. First place I heard about it, they mentioned a wagon they'd found not long after she vanished, where a young fellow and an old couple got scalped by Injuns."
Karen gasped as the images came back to her in a rush. She remembered seeing the Indians off in the distance, her husband and in-laws grabbing their guns, and then a red-skinned man falling from his horse amongst the sounds of gunfire. The painted men on horseback riding in, arrows everywhere, the terrible sound of screams...
Kenneth cursed and caught Karen as her eyes went glassy and she collapsed.
The first thing Karen saw was Kenneth hovering over her, with a concerned look on his face. When her eyelids fluttered and opened, he asked, "Are you alright? I'll go get the doctor."