CAS

CAS

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beyond the Forest of the Dead - End



7

It was all white and cold. The snow was clean and its taste was pure with youth. The snow was young. It whipped across my face as we sailed down the side of a hill any reasonable man would have called a mountain. My brother was beside me, wild and irrepressible, and we laughed.

And the memory was gone.

Night had fallen as I stood in the road that lead deeper into the valley or back into the hills and mountains and wasteland beyond. The bright stars hovered low in the sky and filled the empty sockets of the old God's skull with silver-mystery. I found my sword near the severed stump. The gap between the neighboring thorn-bushes stared at me and a sweat broke out across my brow even though the night was chill.

The weight of my pack was missing and I used it as an excuse to myself to back away and search for where I'd left it. Turning back toward the mountain I could see the fire that was burning on the ridge where I'd begun my decent into the valley sometime before, sometime, because I could not say how long I had stood there in my reverie with the skull in my hands and the memories that I knew were not mine ringing in my head.

I had an urge to turn back, to keep walking toward the ridge, toward the mountains, to find those swine-like beasts and kill them till there were no more or have them kill me and end this journey I found myself trapped within. The sword felt good in my hand and the skull dangled from left. If I had not stumbled over my pack I know that live or die the wasteland would have claimed me and from that there would be no returning. Instead I cursed then set sword and skull down and donned my heavy pack after placing the skull securely inside. I sheathed my sword and made no move to find a torch. The starlight would have to do or I would walk this road in the dark, but without shelter I would not sleep this night.

After a distance I loosely judged to be three miles I drew my sword again. The lines of bushes on my left had disappeared and what seemed to be another road angled off to my left and shrank with distance as it curved across rolling fields and depressions. At the corner where the road I followed met or perhaps fathered this other road I could make out a wall lit with the starlight so that it glimmered pale and white against the darkness behind it. I approached eagerly but with what caution I could muster. As I neared I could see the worked stone set together locked in place by shape and weight if not my mortar.

A wall. It had been long since I had seen the works of man; the ruin of the wagon back along the path through the hills had been the only thing of craft within the hills. I reached out and felt the cold stones and the slight grooves where they were joined. Somewhere there would be a dwelling. Somewhere I would find people again and perhaps sanity in this nightmare land.

The wall was not too high and I pulled myself over the top, pack and all ,with, what I can only say, a maniacal strength that I did not know I possessed. I fell with a crash and struggled to my feet amid the crushed remains of a small chicken coop long neglected and unoccupied. At first I kicked at the wire and broken boards with a sullen embarrassment but as I swung my pack back upon my shoulders I glanced up.

Outlined by the silver starlight a small squat figure sat upon the wall I had just crossed. It gave a grunt as its eyes met my own and threw itself upon me. My arms were within the straps of my pack when the standing-pig crashed into me. In its hand it held one of the short stabbing spears I had seen them with. The stone edge shattered upon the hairy vest and the swine-creature squealed in pain or outrage as I fell backwards and carried it with me.

***

The mud was cold and wet along the wall of the gouge, almost frozen, but it shimmered in the starlight except where the opening formed a black square that could not be illuminated. It drank the light of my torch and revealed nothing. The frame around the darkness appeared to be stone or wood that had been covered in a thick plaster. Something was painted or perhaps carved along its inner edge where it pressed against the void. Letters, figures, they seemed to move as the torch flickered, I could see them swirl as they crawled like wounded men across a field of blood.

And the memory was gone.

***

I let the straps fall from my arms and rolled to the side and then to my feet and grabbed for my sword. My hand slid along the steel blade as I pulled myself to my feet, touched the hilt and whipped the blade around in an arc. The early-morning sun was peaking over the stonewall behind me.

Daylight. I blinked and narrowed my eyes. The night was gone, fled in the moment of my relived memory. I was on an unkempt and weed-choked lawn. Behind me was the short wall of thick heavy stone and the shattered remains of the chicken coop. Ahead the lawn ran in a gentle slope till it reached a hedge of the same thorn I had passed along the road, but above the hedge were the high walls of some dwelling. The dark reddish brick had not been illuminated by the starlight as had the wall. I could smell the scent of roasting flesh and a grey-white smoke came from the top of the chimney high upon the roof.

With first one hand then the other I swung then settled the straps across my shoulders letting the pack rest high on my back. I kept the other on the hilt of my sword. The point of my blade was forward and at the ready as I trotted down the lawn. About me the wall curved to my right and from my vantage at the top of the slope I could see over it and into the empty roadway and the wide field beyond the wall. Spots of blackness moved across the field, crows or ravens or carrion birds picking at the turned ground for flesh and the waste of battles. Their claws and beaks would be painted with the drying blood of the dead. They seemed to form shapes like letters carved or painted on the frame of a doorway I did not want to remember and so I turned away.

The hedge was broken by an arbor long overgrown but with quick work of my sword I sliced away the reaching arms of the thorn-bush and crossed to the front of the house. The stone walk was cracked and weeds poked through the uneven paves. Steps led from the walk and curved as well to meet a wider stair. I could see the face of the house and it smiled at me, a smile that I returned with eagerness and longing.

She opened the door as I as approached. Her hair was longer, a mass of black curls. Her dress was faded blue and she was thin, the planes of her face sharp and her eyes hollowed deep. She raised her arms to embrace me, her lips touched mine and my own arms reached around her feeling the delicacy of her wings as I lifted her. Those wings, black as the ravens in the field.

"You are home," she whispered in my ear.


End


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Copyright March 2014 By Jason Zavoda

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