Asmund didn't remember the sun going down. That particular fact was of great concern to him; the last memory that flickered in his mind was of stopping to rest for lunch.
* * * *
He had come to a stop after skiing all morning near the shore of beautiful Lake Vendalsvatnet. There, he pulled the small, folding camp chair from the side of his hiking backpack, set it on the ground, and set himself upon it, straddling the stool and bracing himself with his skis. After removing the backpack and placing that in the snow in front of him, he removed his lunchbox. Inside were two tins of sardines, a sleeve of miniature toast slices, a half dozen slices of cheese, and a sandwich bag full of mixed berries. Asmund removed his ski gloves and set them carefully in a side pouch of his backpack. He then voraciously dove into his mid-day snack, having worked up quite an appetite over the past few hours. Eating quickly, but thoroughly enjoying every bite, he gazed out over the frozen water (covered entirely with a thick blanket of snow). It struck him that it didn't seem to matter whether it was summer or winter; Vendalsvatnet had a pristine beauty that defied the turning of the seasons.
Many days of his youth and young adulthood had been spent hiking and skiing through the wilderness of the surrounding areas. As he finished his lunch, he looked back on all his time well-spent. They said there were over six-hundred kilometers of trails in this area, and Asmund was fairly certain he'd traversed every centimeter of every one dozens of times at least; many of them, more than that. To say that he knew the area like the back of his hand was incorrect - he had spent many more hours gazing at the trees, hills, and rivers of Oppland County than he had at the back of his hand. He laughed out loud at the thought, closed his lunch box, and placed it back in the side of the large compartment of his backpack. From another pouch, he pulled some handwarmers out, activated them, and donned his gloves once more. Then he rose, hooked his camp chair to the backpack, slung the backpack over one shoulder, then the next, and then took a deep breath, and strode forward...
* * * *
Now he was gliding through the south-central Norwegian countryside in near pitch blackness (save for the light of the stars and the moon, thankfully unobscured by clouds), which wasn’t a completely unfamiliar experience to him in and of itself. The strange thing was, he had been up and down these trails year after year, but nothing around him seemed to strike a chord within his recollection. Even the trees looked...different? But he couldn’t put a finger on exactly why that was the case. Another thing that bothered him mildly was the thick, powdery layer of snow that covered the ground, seemingly untrodden by fellow skiers. Still, the words of his father echoed strongly in the deepest portions of his mind: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Asmund had been in stickier situations before - in a worst case scenario, he’d probably have to ski all night, but if he turned around now, he could still probably make it back to base by morning. That was the solution, and he decided to stick to it. Allowing his skis to slide to a stop, he carefully turned, one step at a time, until he was facing the direction from whence he came. He steadied his body and his mind with a deep inhale and a long slow exhale. Almost without a thought, his right foot pushed the ski forward, and he was off towards the dawn.
* * *
He’d only been skiing about an hour, following the humble piste he had apparently carved out for himself earlier in the day, when he saw a shimmering light through the woods in the distance. ‘Ah,’ he sighed audibly. Someone must be up ahead - whether he was seeing a campfire, lights from someone’s cabin, or even a streetlight of some kind or another, his night-long journey had a significant possibility of being reduced by hours. His adrenaline began to flow; his strides grew longer, and his push grew stronger. Without knowing exactly what he was looking at, it was nearly impossible to guess how long it would be until he found the source of the light. However, his years of experience had taught him that you usually can’t see anything past 15 kilometers unless you’re up high on a hill, so more than likely, it would only be a half hour until he found some relief and assurance.
As he drew closer to the unknown source of light, he began to feel the same as he had when he first ‘came to.’ There was something about this light that was...different? For one thing, it didn’t seem to light up the area around it - the light was localized to the source itself. For another thing, the light seemed to glow with a bluish-green tint which meant it definitely wasn’t a campfire or candlelight from a country cabin. No matter - at this point, Asmund would take any contact he could make. That phrase his father had burned into his brain: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing” had him prepared for any and all possible scenarios. He carried a pistol with him in case of animal attack, but the ominous luminescence made him think he might be facing some other, unknown threat - and the firearm was good insurance in case things went terribly wrong.
When he was finally able to discern a form from the illumination, it did little to ease his discomfort. What appeared about fifty meters before him could only be described as some sort of oval-shaped cave opening, but standing alone in a small clearing. The circumference was the source of light - an opalescent halo with permeating tones of emerald and sapphire. But within the confines of this soothing halo was a darkness unmatched by anything Asmund had ever seen in his life. Although it was unnerving, there was something comforting about the cool glow - something familiar - that urged him to continue on. As he came within a few strides of the glowing anomaly, he saw something that nearly caused him to fall to the ground. A man stood next to the portal.
* * * *
Asmund had come to an unfortunate stop by crossing his skis and nearly tumbling over himself; but at the last moment, he saved himself from falling face-first into the snow and ended in a crouch position before a man who must have stood at least two meters tall. Before Asmund had time to think, the man spoke. “Welcome back, Asmund,” he said in a calm, monotone voice. Asmund was doubly perplexed, for one, since the stranger seemed to know him - but additionally, because he knew for certain the man was not speaking in Asmund’s native tongue, yet every word seemed crystal clear.
“Who are you?” Asmund blurted out.
The stranger smiled noncommittally, with a seasoned, gentle nod. “My name is Egil. I should have known you wouldn’t remember me, but that doesn’t matter. I’m just as happy to see you now as I was when we first met, many years ago.” Now Asmund was completely bewildered, but Egil spoke before Asmund could form another coherent thought. “We met more than five hundred of your so-called ‘years’ ago when you were out skiing across these lands. I had arrived only moments before you drifted into my presence, and in all sincerity, I think I was as startled by you, then, as you were by me, now.”
Asmund suddenly had a flash of reminiscence - some vague backlit impression of skiing through the countryside and...and...
The portal! Of course! Shortly after he had finished eating lunch, Asmund had drifted off-piste in the woods just beyond Lake Vendalsvatnet and found himself face to face with Egil, standing beside a strange, opalescent halo. The tall man seemed to jump at the sight of Asmund, not a small man by any means, but shadowed by his own stature and composition, to be sure. After a brief consolation by Asmund, the two began a conversation which lasted what seemed like hours - and now, hearing that five hundred years had passed, Asmund couldn’t be sure that the conversation was much longer than that. The end result of that conversation was that Egil had explained the purpose of the portal.
The portal was a gateway through time and space itself - not necessarily to another place, but to an entirely separate reality from the one that Asmund had known for his whole life. As Asmund relived this conversation, more and more pieces of information and sparks of remembrance began building into an inferno of memories, and Asmund realized the multitude of lives he had lived; all of them as a man in Norway, but all of them very, very different in form and framework. Some of the memories contained elements that were more heartwarming and uplifting than anything he had felt before. Some of the memories were so terrifying and horrific that he could barely stand to let them reside within the confines of his psyche.
Egil continued, in his subtly jarring tone, as though no time had passed. “You have proven yourself worthy of taking the next step. This is the moment of decision for you, and I understand that this may seem overwhelming; but you must trust me when I tell you that we have all the faith that whatever decision you make will be the right one.” His voice seemed to take on a multi-dimensional quality, as though it were not one mouth but dozens, hundreds, speaking in unison. “If you wish to return to your original existence, then I humbly ask you to turn around, and continue back from this place; only ninety minutes from here, you will come across another portal which will take you back to the moment we first met, just beyond Lake Vendalsvatnet - you will continue your life from that moment, with no recollection of the other lives you have lived until this point. None of the glory - but none of the pain - will remain within your memories.”
Asmund thought for a moment. Egil’s words struck a chord deep within him - but he had to know what the alternative was. “And if I choose to leave behind all that I had known before my journey - what, then, awaits me there?”
Egil seemed to relax beyond what may have been humanly possible at this question. “If you choose not to return to your original life - then I can promise you adventures beyond anything fathomable by the mind of Man. If you choose to move forward, then I humbly ask you to pass through the portal that stands before you.” There was a deafening silence that seemed to persist beyond the bounds of infinity. Asmund’s head was reeling. Was this a dream? Was he hallucinating? Or was it something else entirely? After he could bear the hush no longer, Asmund spoke, clearly, and with all the authority he could muster.
“I want to see what else there is,” was the most conclusive thought he could form. Egil dropped down to one knee, bowed his head towards Asmund, and said, with a voice that sounded like ten thousand voices...
“We will be with you.” With that, Egil was gone; no fanfare, no explosive display, no long, drawn-out prologue; he was simply gone.
But the portal was still there.
Asmund steadied his body and his mind with a deep inhale, and a long slow exhale. At this point, there was no point in going back. He pointed his skis towards the portal. Almost without a thought, his right foot pushed the ski forward, and he was off towards the New Dawn.
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Yes, Asmund! You take that red pill! Jonathan, this was great. Particularly the opening: "Asmund didn't remember the sun going down. That particular fact was of great concern to him; the last memory that flickered in his mind was of stopping to rest for lunch." I mean, wow. I'm not readily hooked, but THAT hooked me. Can't wait to see what you come up with next. (I'm a late-thirties mom of two and I love that we're doing this for ourselves.)
Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed reading, I had a blast writing this one. I'm going to keep plugging away at the writing, and I hope you do too!
Great story- definitely leaves you wanting more…
Thank you! It could definitely be a starting point for some kind of fantasy series.
Hey! Would you mind checking out some of my stories on my profile?(:
I'll certainly check out your collection. :-)
Thank youu sm(: I like your story btw
Great improvement and second submission.
Thank you! I appreciate the feedback. I also feel stronger about this one than my first. Glad to be part of a community that inspires and motivates.