Ice crystals shimmered from the tree limbs in the winter morning light. Pasha laid shivering in a hollow where an oak tree's roots met the frozen forest floor. He clutched his face, staunching the flow of blood from the bite into his jaw with the end of his scarf. Pasha saw a patch of black fur pause between the trees. Then beast lumbered off into the thickest old grow. She snarled frustration with every breath, ripping up saplings to bring back to her bower.
"I'm sorry!" screamed out Pasha, spitting clots of blood. "I should not have come."
Then there was silence. He coughed and turned over to lay on his side and watch the rising sun.
"I'm sorry. I wanted something I could no longer have."
"Come into the water!" It was summer. The trees were bursting with green. Light glinted of the ripples in the pond. She was there, floating on her back in black bathing suit, taunting him.
"I can't swim," said Pasha. He crossed his legs and sat carefully on the grassy bank, his head poking up just high enough to see her over the tops of the reeds.
"Everybody can swim. Even little babies. No one has to teach them, they just know," she said.
"I've forgotten then," said Pasha.
"You're missing out. The water is warm."
"I don't have a suit."
"Human skin makes an excellent substitute in a pinch."
Pasha had to think that one out for a moment.
"The water is teeming with amoebas. I'll get sick."
"Excuses, excuses my friend. I've been swimming here all my life and I've never gotten sick."
"You're made of stronger stuff than me. Iron, and...diamonds."
"Really," she said, then sighed. She twirled around and dove under. Pasha stood up and peered into the dark of the water. A minute passed. A few bubbles rose up to break the surface. Pasha carefully picked his way down the bank and pushed apart the reeds and tried to look harder through the dark water.
"Gone again," he said under his breath.
Fingers silently crept out of the water by Pasha's foot. She grabbed his calf just below the knee and pulled him into the water with a great splash. She surfaced laughing, watching Pasha struggling and gasping.
"Calm down!" she said. Pasha glared at her before bobbing under. She swam over and pulled him up, her arm under his armpits, her mouth near his ear. "Relax. I won't let you drown."
Pasha breathed heavily and stopped thrashing. He looked at the sun through the trees.
"See?" she said. "You're doing fine."
"I'd like to get out now," said Pasha.
"Right now?" She kissed his earlobe.
It was night when Pasha woke up. The moon was high up in the dark sky, full. He was covered in a layer of blown snow crystals. His body ached, feverishly warm, and his skin itched. The scarf was frozen to his face. He stood shakily, and saw the heat of his body beginning to turn ice to steam in the moonlight. He frantically pulled off his heavy woolen clothes. He screamed as he pulled away the scarf. As it came away, it slaked off a thick layer of dusky dead skin caked in dried blood. He threw it to the ground in disgust. The itching intensified. He pressed his naked body against the bark of the oak tree, rubbing to relieve the itch. He scratched until the skin of his back broke. He felt the cold again. He reached back and pulled at the ragged edge and peeled the skin back. The cold air was soothing. He pulled and peeled and wriggled, and finally was free of the human skin.
He sat in the snow and stared at the husk, his doppleganger. It had all his eyelashes and hair. He ran his fingers over his new skin, covered in a downy white fur, the undercoat. He looked at his old woolen clothes, the black pants and heavy peacoat. The baby blue hat she knitted for him in an in obvious attempt to embarrass him. He always wore it proudly to spite her. He picked up the hat and felt the threads of the soft yarn, sighing slowly.
He placed the hat carefully on top of the old skin, then stood and sniffed the air. He closed his eyes. Rotting leaves. A field mouse. An owl. Dormant moss. The clean snow. Birch bark. Her. He opened his eyes and stretched. His body still ached, but not as much. With an awkward lurch, he ran towards her bower.