It came as something of a surprise to Emma Collins when she woke up, wrapped not in her familiar Star Wars duvet, but shivering on cold gravel in a strangely-lit cave.
She reached behind her, still half-asleep, to pull said duvet back over herself, but her knuckles quite painfully struck solid rock.
She awoke with a shock as the shock jolted down her arm.
The light from the sun reflected off the crisp new snow lying deep and twinkling outside. Everything was bitterly, bitterly cold. Pulling her arms inside her thin pyjama top – it was an old Peter Rabbit one, and rather too small for her – for some semblance of warmth, Emma stood up, wincing as the sharp gravel bit her bare feet.
Okay, dreaming. A horribly lucid dream, but a dream nonetheless. "I mean," she said aloud, trying to lighten the mood, "how many teenage girls get randomly dropped into snowy caves? Where is this, Narnia? Ha, ha. Ha. Ha."
Ha, ha. Ha. Ha, replied the cave as her voice echoed eerily around the walls.
Pushing her long brown hair, tangled with sleep, out of her eyes, Emma started to jog around, pulling her arms from their not-very-warm nestling-place to slap some life into her legs. It was a lie about dreams not hurting, she reflected: the slaps stung, her nose was aching and her… certain parts of her body… were horribly sore from the chill. She turned about in mid-jog – the cave was rather narrow – and saw her footprints, gleaming red on the cutting gravel. She hadn't even felt her soles being pierced.
Rather scared now – as all have a right to be who've lost all the feeling in their feet – she decided to leave, and looked out of the cave mouth, squinting painfully against the glare of the snow.
Stretched out before her was a panorama of crumbling, ice-white peaks and dark, snaking ravines, the grapefruit-pink sunrise outlining them and a soft mist creating a winding haze about their sides. Miles of untouched tundra, looking like something out of a fantasy story. For all the cold and chilly wind, it really was a beautiful sight.
"So I'm on top of a mountain. Oh, joy. How do I get down?" Her voice sounded small and remote, lost in the vast, snowy expanse.
Get down, down, get down.
"You can shut up as well. I'm not staying here any longer than I have to."
Stay here, here, have to stay here.
"I'm not. I'm not going to stay here. I'm not" – her voice shook almost as much as her teeth – "not going to die here."
Stay here, die here.
Emma ran outside.
At first the path wasn't too steep; it might almost have been pleasant with the addition of warm clothes, thick boots and a flask of hot tea. But these elements were lacking, and Emma soon began to flag. The unfeeling had, by this time, spread through her fingers and hands and was declaring war on her legs.
In several places the snow reached almost to her knees and her pyjama bottoms, far from keeping her warm, were soaked through and horribly cold and leaden. Their blue had darkened to a bedraggled navy, and they clung to her numb legs.
After a while, an unfamiliar feeling started to run through Emma's hands and feet, from her nose to her arms to her legs. It was a few minutes before her tired brain realised that they felt… warm. Warm, as if someone had flipped a switch and turned a heater on. Warm, almost a burning sensation that stung her goose-pimpled skin like a lighted match. Almost without realising it, she stumbled forwards onto her knees, but – inexplicably – the snow itself must have warmed up, because it burned at her touch without melting, heating her frozen knees and palms.
She saw, through the mist that must have formed while she walked, a small nook in a rock-face that protruded out of the snow. She crawled to it, out of the wind and the light snowfall that had begun to drift down, but it was uncomfortably hot here and, as she tried to turn to exit, the ground rose up to meet her and her face hit the powdery, smothering snow.
The Fellowship passed by that place, some weeks later, and rested there because it was sheltered compared to the rest of the treacherous path. It was Merry who found the oddly-shaped snowdrift, in his quest for a place to sit.
"If you turn your head like this…" he demonstrated to the other hobbits, "and squint a bit…"
"It looks like an over-tall hobbit-lass," was Frodo's opinion.
Pippin frowned in consternation. "What would a hobbit be doing all the way up here?"
"I don't know," Merry told him, poker-faced, "let's ask one." He turned to Sam. "You, good sir, you're a hobbit: what are you doing up here?"
Sam looked startled. "I, er…"
"Whatever it is, it's good for sitting on," observed Pippin, doing so. "It doesn't fall in on itself like the other snow-drifts."
Aragorn called back to them over the wind, and the Fellowship moved off once again.