Travelling through the winter snow, Kino happens upon three traders, who have been trapped in the wilderness ever since their truck got stuck in the snow at the beginning of the season. With their food supplies long since gone, the traders are weak and dying from starvation, and although she doesn’t have enough rations, Kino decides to save them by hunting for food.
With the end of winter in sight, the animals are becoming active again, and Kino easily manages to shoot a rabbit. Far harder, however, is coming to terms with her decision; by helping the men she was forced to take a life to save theirs, and she can only hope that it will be worth it.
Although the men are hungry enough to want the rabbit raw, Kino insists on cooking it, and makes them a rabbit stew, together with a hot tea containing nourishment pills. As payment, one of the men gives her an expensive ring, and at his insistence Kino agrees to hold onto it- only once she sees the men on their way will she claim it as her reward.
That night, Kino tells Hermes that she feels a little uneasy at the situation. As an outsider, she had no reason to favour the rabbit or the men, and yet she chose to kill one in order to save the other. Aiding fellow humans may seem like the obvious choice, but conversely, does their status as humans make them automatically worthy of help? As she considers this, Kino also admits that there may have been an element of selfishness to her decision- perhaps she only wants to help the men because, if she were in their situation, she would want someone to do the same for her. Whatever her reasoning, however, Kino seems certain of one thing- if faced with the same decision once again, she would not do things differently.
The next day, Kino provides the men with more nourishment pills, and goes out to hunt a second rabbit. That evening, the men enjoy another bowl of rabbit stew, and decide that the weather has finally warmed up enough for them to try to dig the truck out.
With the snow beginning to soften and melt, Hermes is eager for them to be on their way, but Kino tells him that she must stay and finish what she started by getting the men back on the road again. With the men still not at full strength, Kino provides them with more nourishment pills- as well as a third pot of rabbit stew. Now in much better spirits, the men sit and joke around their campfire. Talk turns to the youngest man’s fiancée, and he explains to Kino that he hopes to marry her this spring at the annual Returning Home Alive Festival. In their country, teams of traders head north after the harvest for trade and business, and once all the teams return the next spring, they hold the festival in celebration. Thanks to Kino, the men should be able to make it back for the festival, and even though they lost all the goods during the harsh winter, they are glad to still be able to go home.
The following morning, the men are finally ready to move the truck, and whilst they push, Kino and Hermes help to tow it out onto tractable ground. With their mission accomplished, Kino and Hermes get ready to go, but before they can leave, the traders call Kino over to help them with something. Walking round to the back of the truck to see what they want, Kino finds the oldest man waiting- with a gun pointed right at her.
As the other two men join him, Kino finds herself outnumbered three to one. The men tell her not to take it personally, explaining that they are only interested in a strong young body to replenish their stock, for the ‘goods’ they trade in are nothing less than human beings. Now at the mercy of the slave traders, Kino has no choice but to slowly throw down her weapons, first her two guns, and then her impressive array of knives.
Finally, Kino has only one weapon left on her person, but as she slowly removes it from her person, she doesn’t drop it straightaway. Fortunately, even as the men tell her to drop it, nature intervenes, as a pile of melting snow slides off a nearby branch. Momentarily distracted, the men look away, affording Kino the opportunity to aim and fire her weapon-a palm sized gun barrel- at the lead trader. As he goes down, Kino rushes towards the other traders, knife in hand. Tackling the second trader, she manages to get behind him and stab him. The third man fires at her, but Kino uses his companion as a shield before throwing the stabbed man at the final trader and knocking him down. Now on the ground, the third man is helpless as Kino sweeps up her gun and hesitates a mere moment before shooting him as well. Standing over their bodies, Kino shivers with a chill that has nothing to do with the weather- this escape was far too close for comfort.
Later, Kino is all ready to go, but before she leaves, she takes a look inside the traders’ truck. The inside of the truck is a horrific sight, with blood and bones everywhere- the remains of the traders’ human cargo and impromptu food source. Stepping outside once again, Kino returns the ring the trader gave her, placing it with her body. Kino wants no reward for what happened- the very nature of the traders made her attempts at help futile. This year, there will be no Returning Home Alive Festival.
As they drive away, Kino takes one last look at the skins of the rabbits- three creatures that, in the end, lost their lives for nothing. Hermes cannot help but wonder what Kino will do the next time she has to choose one life over another, but for now, Kino has no answer to that question…