It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. You could feel the icicles forming on your eyes and mouth, the cold slowly suffocating you. You screamed out into the icy waters, furious yet too scared to join it. And so you just sat there, praying for either a miracle or death. But the blizzard would never yield, and thus you couldn’t either. You turned your back to the frozen lake and went home. Now you’ve returned, tracking onward through the waist high snow into the ruins of a forgotten world. The only source of warmth you have is a small oil lantern, its muddy golden glow cutting through the fog. Part of you wants to go back, to get it over with and go home. You look down at the veils of leather that cover your hands as the shades of purple and blue crawl beneath in an attempt to find and freeze off your fingers. The entirety of you wants to go back, you will perish if you stay in the cold much longer and that death will be long and agonizing. But you don’t have much of a choice. Either the blizzard takes you or he does, and he is far less kind. He will beat you bluer than the cold would then thrust you back out the next day to repeat the cycle anew. You look up at the skeleton of glass and metal beams before you, praying you will find something, anything. How is it that it can stand so tall despite all that has happened, that it can live through this storm? If these ruins have yet to yield, perhaps there is hope after all. You hold your lantern tight, and march onward.
What a strange sight it must be, the image of you entering the remains of civilization. Wearing a thick brown coat with the hood squeezed against your skull to keep out the cold, but so ridden with holes that it only serves to make the exposed flesh feel colder. You hold a gas mask to your face to shield you from the horrors of nature, but it is too small, far too small to fit you now that you are no longer a little child, yet he does not care enough to make a new one. What a miserable sight it must be. In the heavy backpack you carry the tools for the work of the long day. A shovel, an ice pick, a crowbar, some rope, a rusted knife. You must always be prepared for a fight, he says, but he does not care for you enough to give anything but a dull blade. In the crumbling towers you venture day after day you see only the echoes of deaths that you hadn’t been alive to bear witness to. You search for scraps, for anything that may be buried in the rubble that would be worth bringing back, though by now there is nothing left to find. On rare days you find the skeletons of those who passed, most days you find nothing but chunks of steel and wire. The days you cherish are the ones where you find a monitor or circuit board that had been discarded in the snow and lost by whatever owner it may have had before. You wonder what it must’ve been like, when these ruins stood shining and tall, with more people than you will ever see in your life roaming in and out with every second. How beautiful it must’ve been before the snow, before the smoke, before the fire. He sometimes talks about those times, but mostly only cares to work on his machinery. It’s all he needs you for, more parts to keep himself intact. To repair the heaters, the stove, the water filters. He sustains your life only to make his own easier. You continue to carelessly sweep through the snow as your tired body begs for rest. You have worked since the break of day and yet you have found nothing. There is nothing left to be found. The sun, what can be seen of it behind the clouds, is beginning to fall. Your lantern flickers. Soon it will be night and the cold will consume you fully.
You know he will soon be expecting you home, don’t you? You know he will be unsurprised by your failure, yet scold you for it all the same. He will send you to bed bloodied and beaten. But it’s not your fault. You’ve worked so hard. Anything of any value that may have been there has either been destroyed or taken. It’s not your fault if there’s nothing left. It’s not fair, you think to yourself as you trudge, shivering, back through the ruins and towards your home. Home. What a meaningless word. A place that promises comfort and joy but gives no guarantee of any. You close your eyes and try to picture it as it was, back when it lived up to the promises. The flowers. You remember the flowers that they planted. Every morning when you woke up you would find them downstairs watering them. As you ate they would talk about the world before. They used to be everywhere, they’d say, sprinkles of red over rolling hills of green. When they were your age they would visit the fields every weekend to take in the beauty of the world. It was a bright place, a magical place, a comfortable warmth washing over all that touched it. That’s where they met him, they’d tell you as he finally rose from his slumber and joined you, creaking down the wooden stairs. That was all that remained from then, the flowers, them, and him. As you prepared to leave they would tuck a single red blossom behind your ear, smiling the most sincere smile. You kept a collection of them all in your room. You can feel their warmth beside you now, their laughter as you both made your way to and back from the ruins, excited for the adventure regardless of whether or not you found anything. You cling onto that feeling of companionship, of love, of beautiful flowers and grass filled fields, of the promise of home. Your trance is broken as a weak patch of ice collapses before you, nearly devouring you in its watery jaws as you teeter at the edge. You shudder as you almost feel its freezing grip engulfing you. You’ve always wondered how they must’ve felt at that moment, that terrible moment. Over the next dune of snow you see a pillar of rising smoke and light. With an empty satchel, your body tenses up, knowing what has come for it. You’re back, once again, alone.
Father, you whimpered, a dull raspy whisper, I’m home. A dark, abyssal and mechanical sound reached back to you, on the boundary between human and machine. You’re late. A silence permeated the air as they turned away from the raging fireplace to face you. A scowling face scarred and aged, an aging body covered in wire and steel. Where are they?
I’m sorry... They didn’t make it.
You explained. The blizzard. The ice. The water. The cold.
Please. There was nothing I could do.
Pathetic. They give you life and you allow theirs to slip away.
He stood up.
You didn’t deserve the flowers. You didn’t deserve them.
He walked towards you, a fire boiling in his eyes.
You awoke, twitching sprawled across the hard wooden floor. Blue and purple sprawled across your body, though from the cold or the beating you could not tell. You laid there crying, remembering. The rest of the flowers had wilted by the next day. Now you stand before the door again and you don’t dare enter. Another day you return alone, nothing in your bag and no one at your side. Your joints are stiff, your legs frozen in place. It is dark now, completely dark and the ice begins its final push to swallow you whole. Through the windows you feel the hints of warmth. The roaring fireplace, the comfort of flames. But he’s waiting for you. He is waiting, and he will beat you blue all the same. You curl onto the icy ground, shivering around your lantern, the oil running thin. Oh, how you long for the warmth of the fire! And in that moment an idea crosses your mind, a masterpiece of an idea. A flame in your eyes, you stand up and shuffle to the back of the house, where he stores fuel for the fireplace. You pry open the dull and heavy box, icicles flying into the snow as you gaze upon the firewood and coal mixed within. You breathe for just a moment, holding your lamp to your chest a final time. You open the lamp’s latch, and throw it in. You see a blossom of red light, and then darkness. When you awake, the great bonfire before you is born, a great golden and crimson pillar rising into the sky. You pry yourself off the melting floor of snow, gazing upon your work as the fire grows higher. You listen to the faint screaming and roaring, the creaking of metal and the flicker of flame from within and you smile. It is wonderfully warm. Embers fall, and it is gloriously bright. You can see it now, the field, the before, the yellow and red blossoms rising ever higher. You hear their laughter, you see them smiling from past the flowers. You reach out to them, walking forward out of the snow and into the rows of blazing roses as the warmth consumes your body. You are home.