“You got your papers?”
“Yeah, sure.” He dug for them hastily in this overcoat pocket. The guard flicked through them, his eyes hard in earnest.
“You may proceed. Do not lose these documents. You will not be readmitted without them. You will be of the quarantine zone.”
He walked past the outpost and into the wastes of the north, a combination of abandonment and war. He’d see no one for miles.
The idea had always been that the further north you went the safer you were. It hadn’t seemed the case when the bombs dropped. They’d not seen it coming; they hadn’t even known what bombs were until they exploded. They’d thought separate meant safe, but it meant only alone.
Once known the threat could be defended against but the community was slow to see the dangers and remained always a fatal step behind.
One man made the truce, with clever rhetoric and adequate funds. Instead of enemies they became the afflicted. Instead of hostile they became diseased, unable to control themselves. Animals instead of monsters. The bombs stopped. The medics went in and for a while they tried to fix the problem of existence but the DNA showed nothing. It never would. For what makes the northmen differ lives outside the skin.
They left; they forgot what to fear, only that there should be fear lingered. The northmen learned and rebuilt in solitude and readied themselves for the moment when the others remembered them. They all knew it could not be long.
He kicked at the rubble with his walking stick. Not safe yet. He waited until the trees grew tall before feeling around in his jacket for the old, rusty key; he’d be home soon.
The moonlight danced beside me, playing with shadows as children play with puddles.
It was calm and quiet but I sensed music in the air, as though the world waited expectantly for miracles to happen.
I became a creature of duality, bathed in silver and jet. I too became a shadow, striding into and out of two completely separate forms of existence.
A form belonging only to the night: cold, pale and beautiful; unlike any other fragile body caught between dance and defiance.
There were no eyes to stray to me. All was still and empty, space filled with an intake of breath, possibility, potential, the dreams of today huddled together before tomorrow’s sun wipes them from memory.
The moonlight dances beside and until she rests the world remains unforgotten and reverently alive.
The smoking moon had been torn away from the stars and the dim lights speckled an uneasy sky. It seemed frayed at the edges with dusty clouds steadily encroaching until it seemed a great blanket had been lowered and it hovered restlessly above the lake.
Ice crinkled beneath his boots as he made the first steps out to her but soon he was wading into cold water with his breath frosting before him and shivers wracking his thin frame. Beneath the film of liquid her eyes were dark and blind. He marvelled that she could not experience her own magic, not until freed from her would-be grave. He imagined it a sea of tears from which he could pluck her, wipe her tears away and watch a hesitant, shaky smile gradually re-emerge.
But she wasn’t a child. She was older than he was. She was submerged light in an abyss and he fancied the moon had settled into her skin once it had left the night sky barren and alone, ousted from its ancestral home.
His fingertips grazed the surface and delved deeper than expected until he found one cold hand and tugged gently until the figure began to rise steadily. Small bubbles erupted around her, racing to the surface after the first exhale.
She floated, and he pulled her away to the edges and glanced nervously into black eyes full of awareness, absorbing the night. She was stone, a perfect statue that judged him carefully before righting itself fully and abandoned him for the night. The lake reflected the curious twinkles that peeped back through the cloud’s net. Watching, and waiting.
The ripples toyed with strands of hair and they swam apart from her with a life of their own. She was still and silent but around her was a mane of fireworks exploding into vibrancy as the moon emerged to look down upon them: the sleeper and the dancer.
For he moved with the wind and his eyes were bright and alive, searching and yearning. The starlight was a great façade, an elaborate stage of spotlights guiding him through the night. The mirror was mostly unbroken but he tiptoed around its fraying edges and the breeze rustled his tangled hair, and his eyes came upon her.
The moonlight enveloped her still form and the beauty of that moment surpassed his terror for how could so wondrous a being cease to shine once the moon turned its gaze away, even in sorrow.
He died. As big events go it was strangely insignificant. One moment he was as alive as he had ever been: the sounds clear, the smell of the air infused with fading light, bitter blood’s warmth trickling across him, colours so bright, the world fiery with adrenaline and expectation and the sensations of a second promised to overcome him as fear crawled into his open mouth, and the next he was not.
Eyes seemed dulled or blind, the colours warped and a congealed, sickly sky hovered, oppressive, above him. The land fell apart and he was left with a mud-brown wasteland that stretched beyond the curvature of the earth. As he cast about he was struck by the sheer bleakness, barren soil with no peaks or valleys, a huge nothing that sharpened in his vision, endless monotony that even in the earliest moments threatened to consume him. Death was not what he had imagined.
He was not an old man but he did look tired, at least he did when he didn’t think anyone was watching. Then the familiar guise slipped across his features and froze in place. A proud man, of an old world.
Even as he huddled the fire spat at him; shards blackened the floor and the smoke stung at his watering eyes. They were blue, and pale. They glinted uncomfortably in the wake of flames and they reflected the savage rage of raw nature, hinting at its worst.
Although the ice cracked upon his touch the glass still held as a shield, a cold, fragile frontier between him and the world. Such a flimsy little thing to hide behind, and even the glass burned.
Not much was left. All lost. All taken. All that remained were empty, irrelevant mementoes fragments of himself, so smug and arrogant., stony faced, eyes cold, thoughts elsewhere. The fraying edges of photographs bit into him, pinpricks of red spotted dry hands and years of dust. Already forgotten.
His breath frosted until he returned to the fire. The dream was consumed. All evidence of him living has left with it; he was ice.