The breeze bit his skin.

Cold and goose flesh, like a cruel insult, filled his mind and body and he shuddered and twitched. As he bent down his joints creaked like an old door about to fall off its frame, and he grimaced and cursed his age and looked back through the story of his life to find the point where he had gotten so old. He blew a hot breath into his hands, and balled them up, the gesture of a fervent man in prayer, but he did not pray but thought and knew that he had strayed too far from the path. The sky above was gray and oddly still, save one spot through which the sun’s beams attempted to peak through and watch the ground below. A high and hot eternal watchmen upon the ramparts of the sky, the great circle was the eye that judged and told him that his straying was a crime, and he was receiving his punishment. The cold, it said, was the breath of of an angry spirit and this country, with its slopes and crags and secret hiding places for beasts to whom the blood of men was sweet like wine, was its final resting place. It slept. It dreamed and breathed and its will shaped reality, and the elements of the world were clay in its country-sized hands. He moved through a thickening patch of evergreens that grew against reason through the hard and cold canyon soil. Their bark was hard and dark, strength through endurance was their sole defining trait. They surged upward, the fingers of the spirit who could rise as one and crush him at any moment. In the distance he heard and smelled the flow of water. That wet smell, of the earth saturated and perspiring into the frigid air flow hits the nostrils like a vivid memory shared by the entirety of the species. Every man, regardless of trade or mindset is put to eerie calm and comfort by the smell of water upon the land, but soon they all of them remember the horrors of life when the world was young and survival was the only god they knew, and it was a god they could not feed enough flesh of blood or tears. All the rivers of the world held within them the stuff of legend, left there by the drinkers of their water. Every hand that broke the surface left an indelible mark and this mark drew him onward, hypnotized by sound and longing to reach the river’s edge before nightfall had its way upon the country. Then the beasts would walk out of their holes and prowl about in their dark dominion, secure in the knowledge that theirs was the magic by which the nighttime world thrived and made them kings of all creation. The path split into several tendril-like ways as he reached what he knew was halfway the true distance to the river. Though all were worn, having been walked by many ilk-nature wayfarers since the settling of the nearby lands, they were different sizes, different widths. Some were used up, and no grass grew while others still had whispers of green and twigs discarded by man or other maybe other things. As he reached the forking point he nearly stumbled over one of many stones that adorned the ground. Distributed as they were in haphazard streaks along the way, the thought occurred to him that they stones themselves were passed. After all, he reasoned, many had trodden here while lost and maybe some had gone out of their wit, succumbing to the charms of lunacy. Just maybe, thought he, they planted these rough stones in the ground to signal the way they had taken to their oblivion, in vainglorious hope that they could claim another to soul replace them in perdition. He considered for many minutes, and the sun dropped a half a finger length before he chose his way, a smaller and less beaten path over which, he decided, the sound of the river was blaring the strongest. It might have been a trick of the wind, but he knew that time was a factor, and that following the river would cure him of being lost. It was a rule of the civilized world that to follow a river was the surest way to return to a populated area, and it was a rule he had tested many times, each time finding it iron-clad and free from error. At twilight the shadows came out, lengthened and strong from the setting sun. The cold was stronger along with them, and his jacket, thin and old, gave little defense against this advance.

More sounds in the distance, these of wildlife crept into his ears. Wolves, he knew, and they were on the prowl. Their mournful calls were the like terror itself, a tune played on infernal instruments by the aspect of a god of fear. He carried no weapons save one small knife that he knew would do little to counteract the bite of the animals. He increased his gait, headlong and without care deeper into the pines. It was the cusp of darkness as he reached the rushing waters. Relief arrived within him for the first time that night, and he took a moment to sit and rest. As he thought more deeply about his location, the thought arrived that he did know where he was, if only approximately. He smiled to himself at the realization that this water belonged to the White River, and the to go west along its banks would lead him to a town within a day’s time. He nodded, breathed and looked around. It had not snowed, and the wood around him was dry and would make for good kindling. He would stay the night here, he decided, and go westward at first light. Building a fire would not be difficult, and would drive off predators. It constantly amazed him the fight that fire could bring to animals who otherwise seemed to unafraid of anything. Perhaps fire was the sole provider of the knowledge of mortality that could be understood by non-human creatures. Their version of the fire sermon, and more appropriately named, considering. His mission was easier accomplished than he had thought and soon, by the side of a roaring little blaze, and wrapped tightly in his jacket, he managed to drift into dreaming. Images fantastical danced across the stage of his unconscious. Were these people? Perhaps, thought he, in the shifting and chaotic masses now before him they could be thought as having human form. He certainly recognized them as human. Their motion was curious, as the dreaming was a place were the norms of the world, its rules and common knowledge, were suspended in favor of the rule of the illogical, the wondrous, and the rampant savagery of things unrestrained. This last thing came upon him of a sudden, and he entered into the arena of fear. In his dream, as in waking, life, he walked through a wood but this one was stuck in time and forever cloaked in night. The trees, the same as the trees he had seen all that day, were full of shapes. He squinted, recognizing that within their greenery, and handing from their sturdy branches like flies from the silken webs of spiders were the bodies of men and women, now beset by birds who ate their flesh with abandon. He recoiled at this, fleeing into the darkness without care of direction, and fell into a hole along the way. His fall was eternal, or so it seemed. He only felt the downward motion, as the walls of the hole were made not of earth but of pure and perfect black. Only downward was possessed of any color, that of red and orange, and this light flickered and spat upward, and he understood his destination. He clawed upon the walls but they had no substance, as if he were striking like a prize fighter at a wisp of smoke. The called out, with no sound from his throat but that of snapping wood and fall trees. His feet became hot, and hotter and burst then into painful flames. His trousers caught as well, he burned there in continuous free fall and screamed silent screams of curses and asked God and his dead loved ones to reach downward and save his soul from what he was about to enter. No answers came, but that is when he awoke. His forehead and torso were covered in perspiration in defiance of the cold. He shivered from the breeze and from the still present fear of the illusions he had experienced. His fire had died. He stood and pulled on his jacket, thinking first he would retrieve more wood but by then, he wanted to move on. He looked westward, and nearly fainted as he saw that same light from his dream coming from far off. No smells or sound, but the color was the twin of the color from his fall. He cursed, and on the fringes of sight saw that shapes were moving along the path, away from the light. They had assigned to them no gender or sign of humanity, and were only particles of

motion and darkness against the further black of the nightly wood. He heaved, and finally turned to the east, fleeing in that direction, into an undiscovered place.

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