Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Renewal of Things 1

A magnificent stag ran out from the tree line of that thick wood with vivid flames dancing upon it’s antlers. And they could do nothing but watch as it seemed to bow low with its nose to the ground, and the fire licked up to low lying branches; It crept up and onward until, as if in an instant, everything was ablaze before them. The heat reverberated out to them though they were far off, and the stag stood unblinking as he was consumed, hoof to head, by the devouring and cleansing fire – happy, almost it seemed, that the fire, wild and un-harnessed, could move and spread on it’s own.

And there they lay, maimed and dying, waiting for the oncoming fire. There they lay in peace, at the renewal of things
As morning broke on the small band of four hikers, the mist seemed to rise in accord with the terror welling up in each of them. It had been two days since they had lost themselves in the thickly wooded forest, two days since any had slept in even the comfort of a tent. Huddled together with the charred remnants of their small fire, all of them remained transfixed on their lack of food and the strange manner in which one of their companions had died, though none of them said anything concerning either.

Finally, one of them, with his friends blood still splattered across his cheek and soaked into the cuffs of his thermal wear coat, said, “maybe, it was an animal.”

“What animal makes a sound like that? Wh…what animal can do that?” she said, fighting her urge to weep.

“What do we do now? We must have been wandering for hours yesterday! Who knows how far we are from the road.”

“We left the road going West, if we head East, we are bound to hit it! We have to!”

“THERE IS A REASON THAT ROAD IS CLOSED! It dead ends! What if we meandered south, huh? What then? THERE WON’T BE A ROAD TO RUN INTO – JUST WOODS…just…more woods” said another as he stood in his frenzy, knowing well that if they were to have run into the road, it would have happened long before now.

“Calm down, calm down!” said one of the women her eyes wandering while she thought. “There is one main river that runs through this county. Do you remember that stream we saw yesterday? The river must be it’s source, and if we can get there, we are bound to run into a fisherman or a park ranger or something. We have to get back to that stream.”

“I’m not going back there. We can’t go back to that place. We can’t. That’s where it came from – that’s when it started!” said the other woman with her tears now dripping from the tip of her chin.

“What shall we do?! Stay here and be eaten or whatever that was? I’m going to the stream. It is our best hope. It’s our only hope. I won’t sit here to freeze to death…or worse. Besides, we don’t know what it was or if it came from anywhere. Now, we set out pretty straight from that direction, and I’m going back!”

Hungry and resolved, she went, walking through the soft earth and leaves that winter had moistened, holding an old compass inquisitively in front of her, and the others, dejected but lost, followed soon behind her. They wavered in their steps as hunger began to bring on its first signs of strength and the morning crept into early afternoon.

The winter’s sky gleamed sun for only a short while that morning before giving way to dull empty grayness. As they walked, with the smallest sense of purpose in them now, they began to be encouraged, and they almost seemed to forget the horror which befell their friend the previous afternoon. However, whenever their merriment or distraction would grow too great, they would catch sight of each other or their own hands and clothing which was drenched in the now dried blood of their companion. In these instances, the memory of those short minutes hung about them like the darker looming clouds which they could see rolling slowly in over the tree tops.

“We are almost there, I think.” said the leader, lowering her compass. “Is that it? is that the…um…the place? Can you see it?”

Before them was a large mound, almost a small hill, covered in moss and dirt, and just beyond it, which they could hear but not see, was a small trickling stream. As they rounded upon the mound, they could see that on the other side was what looked like a door or gate. It was made of small dried pieces of wood held together by what looked like twine or sinew which hung off it lifeless like emaciated skin. It covered a small opening in the face of the rock, and by the smell of the air that radiated out of the opening, one could tell that the stale environment beyond that door led deep into the earth. By some chance, they had made it back. They hadn’t missed it.

They all hesitated for a moment upon seeing the door. This place was indeed the place they had happened upon just the day before, and now the crooked way in which the door hung seemed to imprint itself on their minds as a warning, almost, of the folly they remembered having fallen upon them after entering that gate, and horror seemed to be near them now breathing at their necks. They stood transfixed and dazed by their own fear. The sky grew even darker. The clouds grew closer.

Breaking the silence first, the leader shook free of the trance and said, “Come on, its just over here.”

And, unthinking, she dipped her hand wildly into the murky water and splashed it to her mouth. The other woman said, “You’ll be sick! You don’t know what’s in that water!” But, it didn’t stop the other boys from falling straight to their knees to slurp up the muddy liquid, and, though it troubled her, the woman could not hold back her raging thirst for long. She joined the others. They drank for, what seemed to them, an eternity. Letting the cool water pass over their frozen and chapped lips.

“What was that?!” Said the leader, raising her head with a start. “Did you hear that?” The others, consumed in their drinking had not heard the shuffling that she had. It was the sound of something approaching. Her heart began to beat faster as she looked around frantically, and the others suddenly became aware of her fear. She rose to her feet and spun around, scanning the woods for the source of the noise. It sounded, faintly, like something bounding on branches and mud. They could hear the little snaps of twigs and movement getting louder and closer. Their breathing heightened, getting faster, and they all came back to back with each other, as every muscle in their bodies tensed.

From the thick wood, stepped an enormous male deer. His hide was almost glistening white, and the curve of his antlers made them stand taut and strong. He emerged with his head held high, and stepped lightly toward them, blinking slowly and naturally. Their breath eased for only a moment before they were caught up in the majesty of the creature and the unpredictability which accompanied his presence. He did not move. He just stood there, at ease, blinking, staring. After a moment, he seemed to peer into the ever black sky as if wrought with painful thought, and as his head lowered back down, he seemed to focus on something just beyond them. He snorted in agitation, and then clamored away proud yet listless.

And at that very moment, a wind seemed to pick up. It was not a strong wind. It was kind of gentle like a breeze, but icy as the breath of one too close for comfort. It gave them all a chill like the feeling one gets when faced with a deathly fear; burning in their stomachs, but freezing on their skin. A few leaves rustled and settled in its wake, and as this malicious breeze blew past them, they could hear it whistling and echoing down the corridor chambers of the little tunnel behind that haphazard fence, in the mound, in the forest.

As yet frozen in their stance from seeing the deer, they all slowly turned to face the crooked gate, and to their surprise, a man stood at the entrance leaning against the earth on one side of the door. He had a leisurely stance, and he was enjoying what looked like an apple or a pear or something. He crossed one arm, tucking it below the other with which he ate. He was a very pale man with stunning, burning eyes. They seemed almost grey, and he was cloaked completely in black with what seemed to be patched clothes of worn suede. A loose hood draped his head so that the fabric hung loosely at the sides.

They could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch, of every mouthful he ate, and as they fought their burning trepidation, they all inched closer to him – together, like a pack. As they approached, he straightened in acknowledgement of them, and he smiled a crooked smile.

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