There was a tickling sensation on his right hand.
It moved forward rapidly, covering his arm first before embracing his shoulders and resting at the base of his neck. He wasn’t sure of the cause. His skin had only now come to notice the freezing temperature of the air, as if he had only now woken up, lucid for the first time after a long period spent unconscious, letting himself be carried by the tide never really at the helm. Beside tickling his body and waking his mind, this shiver had also shredded the veil of numbness and adrenaline shielding his body. He felt uncomfortable. He felt vulnerable.
Things had changed quickly; people even quicker. Now, in the middle of nowhere, he was taking part in a crime that would have been unthinkable just hours prior. The shadow of doubt grew stronger while he recalled the series of events leading to that moment: the drinking, playing cards, and then suddenly fighting at the tavern. The long, intense conversations of that night. The shameful act he was about to witness.
The tickling sensation became stronger, and he felt an uncomfortable knot in his throat take his breath away. His mind started running and concluded that none of this made sense. He moved his eyes left and right, trying to find some meaning in the elements surrounding him. He could not. It was just snow all around him and ice beneath him. The whitened trees of the forest stood indifferent, far from his reach. The shivering horses stuck together, trying to find some shelter. He was all alone, a stark figure standing on a white canvas, unable to find cover, powerless in the presence of the armed men behind him. He was a target.
He gasped. He hadn’t noticed it, but he hadn’t taken a breath in a long time. With the flow of fresh oxygen, the panic seemed to disappear unexpectedly. The knot in his throat was somehow swallowed; the tickling sensation at his nape faded away. This couldn’t be it, he thought. This was just his mind playing games, and soon enough this entire affair would be forgotten. He breathed out a second time, seeking peace of mind. He was stuck in limbo, swinging between anxiety and logic, dancing with both fear and certainty. He knew there was just one way to know for sure if he had been right. He hesitated one more moment, then began to turn around. He moved his legs first, cautious, as if his weight alone could break the thick layer of ice. He rotated his hips and shoulders, and finally his neck and face. The tickling sensation smothered him when he saw the two pistols aimed at him.
He was right.