Fiction Sad Adventure

An endless expanse of white lay before me, the frozen horizon barely discernible from a monochromatic canvas that is the sky. No signs of life dot the landscape, no distant mirage of foliage. Only an endless slab of white marred by gusting winds carrying even more snow to coat the world around me. 

The sting of frostbite nips at my fingertips and toes, occasionally breaking me from the trance I’m lured into by my endless march.  I don’t know how long I have been traveling. It could have been days, weeks, or even a month. Time has no meaning in a place such as this. Only the pull keeps me from turning around and returning home. Something guides me, tugging at an unseen tether which leads me deeper into the frozen wastes. 

Since my earliest memories, I have felt the pull. Northward. Ever northward. Though constant, the pull was easy to ignore when I was young. By the time I reached by third decade, the impulse became less of a suggestion playing at the back of my mind, and more of a demand to be followed.

Knowing I cannot rest until this demand is met, I began my trek northward. Ever northward. 

I only notice something is wrong when I can no longer feel the rhythm of my steps. My arms are spread out next to me, my back beginning to burn from the cold. I sit up, realizing I am sprawled in the snow. Did I trip? Has my body finally given up on this ceaseless journey? Using the ice-slicked wall before me for support, I manage to pull myself once again to standing. Other than a tremble I see more than feel, my legs support me. 

Wait… Backpedaling, I find that I am facing a large, wooden wall. Puzzled by the structure’s sudden appearance, I slowly back up and take in my surroundings. Wooden buildings surround me on all sides. Though seemingly abandoned, they do not show signs of decay. 

Where did this settlement come from? Ever since the never ending snowstorm claimed this corner of the region twenty-five years ago, the land, now called the Northern Wastes, has become inhospitable. Adventurers from all corners of the world have attempted to brave the frozen expanse, determined to find what evil lay within. The few who returned succumbed to hypothermia not long after. Perhaps some did manage to make it through and decided to settle here, though I could only speculate on where they found the resources to build a settlement this far into the Waste. 

I notice the wind has receded from the settlement, as though I’ve entered a small bubble of safety. Though I can see the storm raging in the distance, the air within is still. Quiet. Unnaturally so, as though time itself has frozen over. 

The pull is weaker now, though I can still feel the invisible tether leading me further north. As before, I allow myself to be led as I move deeper into the frozen village. A thin layer of snow and ice gives the world around me the impression that it is made of polished marble. Cobblestone paths lead me between buildings, and the father I walk, the less I feel the pull’s influence. 

echoing laughter pulls my attention toward a small bridge to my right. I pause, straining to hear. Eerie silence greets me and I don’t like that I cannot even blame the sound on a trick of the wind. There is no wind. 

Cautious, I make my way toward the small bridge, which is just wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon to comfortably pass. 


A group of small children giggle and shove at each other as they dart over the bridge and around the wagon. The old man steering the wagon shouts at the children, waiving his fist in the air as the horse startles and jostles its reigns. The children either do not notice or simply don’t care as they laugh and sprint down the gentle slope toward the stream that cuts through the center of town. 

They splash into the shallow water, searching just below the surface for any treasures. Another young girl watches from the shadow of an oak tree as the children splash and play. Gathering her courage, she steps away from the oak and inches toward the group. One of the girls notices her and gasps, pointing at the newcomer. The others quickly follow suit before scrambling away from her, retreating over the far bank. The newcomer, now alone, hangs her head in defeat and walks away. 


A shock across my temples has me screwing my eyes shut in pain. When I open them again, the scene before me is as it was before. White as marble and frozen. There are no laughing children or a wagon rumbling across the bridge. Forcefully blinking does nothing to bring back the vision I just witnessed. 

I turn my attention to the large oak tree, where the little girl had hidden and watched the others play. An odd feeling washes over me, and I’m sure the hair on the back of my neck would be standing on end, had I not been so numb from the cold. It isn’t until I stand directly beneath the reaching branches that I discover the source of oddity. 

The oak has not lost its leaves to the winter. Rather than wither and fall, the leaves are perfectly preserved, still hanging to their branches. The slightest hue of green can be seen beneath the fine coating of snow and ice. Unsure how to process this discovery, I again follow the tether. 

Crossing the bridge, I find myself in what could be the town center. A decent sized well sits as the focal point to a circular clearing paved in stone. Along the edges of the clearing are stalls, shops, and communal buildings. Though a common sight in most settlements, it is what I spy through the open doors of a forge that has me rooted to the spot. 


The intense resonance of hammer striking metal has the girl cowering just inside the forge’s double doors. Sweat trickles down the large man’s back as heat wafts from the burning coals of the forge. Sparks fly with every impact of his mighty hammer. Transfixed by the miniature bursts of flame, the girl says nothing and continues to cower. 

“What do you want?” 

The man’s tone is as frightening as his appearance. Trembling, she shuffles forward and holds out a piece of parchment toward him. None too gently, he snatches the note from her. After reading the few words scribbled there, he scoffs. 

“Sending a child to run his errands. What a coward.” 

The giant steps away, disappearing into a back room the girl hadn’t noticed before. He returns a few moments later, tossing a small leather bag toward her. It lands heavily at her feet, the contents clinking loudly. Without another word, the man returns to his work as the girl grabs the bag and darts back out into the small crowd. 


Pain more intense than the last has me crouching, cradling my head between my hands. Once the ringing eases, I’m able to stand once more and peer into the open doors of the forge. The man is still there. Standing before the massive anvil, his hammer is raised, poised to fall. However, the hammer doesn’t strike. There is no heat wafting from burning coals. No sparks fly from the hammer impacting heated steel. 

The man matches his surroundings, still as a marble statue as if frozen mid-swing. Determined to get as far from this uncanny scene as I can, I turn and nearly collide with another figure. I backpedal, arms flailing as I land firmly on the frozen ground. The marble woman is short, heavy-set, and carrying a large woven basket filled with solid loaves of bread. 

I scramble to my feet and try to escape from the town center. Scattered throughout the grounds, which I had thought empty before, stand more figures frozen mid-activity. As I make my way through the crowd, I notice animals as well. A small boy looks to be running after the scruffy figure of a dog, who in turn is chasing a panicked chicken. 

A part of me wants to stop and admire the detail afforded these statues, but fear and the ever-growing dread in my stomach urges me on. 

Reaching the outskirts of the small town, I brace myself on an icy fence as I catch my breath. Just past the line of the furthest houses, still within the odd bubble of frozen time, sits another house. Unlike the others, this one is dilapidated. Vines cover more than half of the house, the shutters broken and hanging at odd angles. Even the cobblestone path ends at my feet, replaced by a trail in the dirt worn smooth from travel. 

As my sights settle on the crumbling house, the tether’s strength increases tenfold. Instead of urging me ever northward as before, I feel myself being pulled toward the ruins. I have no recollection of leaving the settlement, stepping off of the stone path, and following the trail to the front door. 


Pushing the door open, the young girl peeks inside. A man sits across the small space at a desk pushed against the far wall. With a beaming smile, she pushes the door open the rest of the way and runs into open arms. The thin man envelopes the giggling child in a warm embrace, blowing raspberries into her cheek as she squeals and tries to escape. Setting the girl back on her feet, he lovingly pushes her unruly hair back from her face. 

“How was your adventure? Did you find the treasure?”

Beaming with pride, the girl holds up the small pouch she’d retrieved from the smithy, its contents jingling. 

“That’s my girl!” He takes the bag from her outstretched hands before turning her and giving her a small swat on the behind. “Now go play. I still have some work to do.” 

Needing not to be told twice, she excitedly runs to a large wooden box housing toys made from wood, cloth, and other spare materials. Lovingly, she picks up worn doll. 


As the vision clears, I find that I hold a small doll made from cloth and tied bits of string. Different colored threads attempt to indicate two eyes and a smiling mouth. The image of the doll blurs with sudden tears. 

Could this be…? 

Turning, I search for the figure I know will be there, still sitting hunched over his desk. The surface is covered in scrolls, herbs, metal rings, and an assortment of other oddities. Unlike the other figures I had come across, this one is not likened to marble. 

Long, unkempt hair pours down the man’s back, peppered with the same grey that covers most of the thick beard hanging to his chest. As our gazes connect, the tether disappears. Heavy silence settles upon us. He stands slowly, as if I am an animal he does not want to startle and cause to run away. He blinks a few times, reminding me of my own reaction earlier upon seeing the vision of the children on the bridge. 

“You’ve returned.” 

His voice is hardly more than a rasp. I feel the cold sting of fresh tears as they run down my cheeks. More visions rush in. No, not visions. Memories.


“Remember, you must be careful Cataria. Make sure you hide the coins like I taught you. Stay within the limits of town, and if anyone says anything mean, just walk away. If you don’t feel safe, come straight home.” The thin man drapes a heavy wool cloak around his daughters’ shoulders.

“But papa, I don’t understand why they are so mean to you. Don’t you help them all the time?” 

He smiles down at his daughter. She was so curious and kind, yet the town’s people treated her like an outcast solely because she was his daughter. Had he strength to spare, he would run these errands himself. However, he needed all the energy he could spare for his work, which was hardly enough to keep them fed and warm at night. He watches as Cataria turns to his worktable, plucking a small metal ring from one of many piles.

“Why do you give them these if they are so mean, papa? I thought you said these made them happy.”

He has to bite the inside of his cheek to avoid laughing at how she frowns at the bit of metal, as though the fault lay with the trinket. Plucking the ring from her hand, he returns it to its place. 

“It doesn’t work quite like that, honey. People come to me because they have a problem that they cannot fix, and I can give them the strength they need with these.” He gestures to the piles of rings.

“How, papa?”

“Well…” He drags a hand down his face, unsure how to explain the concept of imbuing trinkets with magic to a ten-year-old. “When they come to me, I hear what their problem is. Then, I can put a little bit of my own energy into one of these rings. When they put the ring on, they can use my energy to help them solve the problem.”

Her brows slowly furrow at his explanation. He can tell she doesn’t understand, even though she crosses her arms and nods as though she does. 

“That sounds like a good thing.”

“It is.”

“Then why are they not nice to you?”

“Well… I guess that is because they just don’t understand how I do it. And sometimes, people are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

“Well, I think that’s just silly.” 

She places her small hands on her hips, seemingly insulted at his loud bark of laughter.

“You’re right, Cat, they are just silly. Now go along, those treasures aren’t going to find themselves.” 

After one more brief hug, the little girl darts out the door. 


More memories flash like an onslaught as I gaze at the old man before me. Late nights watching him drain his own energy into the rings for people who treated him bitterly out of fear. His expression shifting from exhaustion to love at the sight of his daughter. She was too young to see how the constant drain of magic wore on him.  

As quickly as they came, the memories stop. I remember now. My childhood was spent here, but there is still a large gap missing. Frowning, I glance around the small home, looking for anything that might trigger another memory. I find none. 

“They took you from me.” Though he looks in my direction, his eyes are glazed over, as though he is reliving the memory. 

“I began to lose my strength. My magic. The talismans I made were no longer strong enough to provide the aide they wanted. They came to our home in the night, demanding that we leave. Since they no longer benefited from my magic, their reason was overruled by fear. I begged them to let us stay, as I didn’t know how I would travel alone with a child.” Tears fill his eyes, slowly tracing wet tracks down his cheeks. “I had no idea. I didn’t know they would try to use you against me. They took you the next day, while you were on an errand to the butcher. They said that you ran away, but I never believed them. I thought they - “ his sentence is cut off with a sob.

“I was so angry. Furious that after all I did for them, after everything, they would take away the only family I had. I had already lost your mother, but to lose you too…” His teary gaze drifts toward the broken window facing the frozen town. “I’m not even sure how I did it. I just wanted everything to stop. And it did. I just wanted it to stop until…” His gaze, focused this time, returns to meet mine. “Until my Cataria came home.” 

Having crept closer throughout his story, I take the final step and embrace my father. Our sobs fill the still silence around us. 

“It’s okay, papa. I don’t remember what happened, or how I came to be apart from you. But it’s okay. I had a good life. I was taken in by an older couple who had lost their own children. They showered me with love. I filled a hole in their hearts, and they a hole in mine.” 

With a gasp, my father pushes me back, holding firmly to my shoulders as though he fears I will disappear again. 

“But you came back! What of your new home?” 

I shrug, a tear-soaked laugh escaping me. “My home will still be there when I get back. My whole life, I felt there was something missing, something I needed to do. Someone I needed to see.” 

Taking a deep breath to help steady myself, I step away from my father. “You need to let these people go, papa. I understand what they did was wrong, but it is time for you to leave them behind. Come home with me. Come meet the rest of your family. 

His eyes light up, his entire demeanor seeming to jolt with shock. “The… rest… of my family?” 

I nod, my smile wide and uncontrollable. “You have a son-in-law, now. And two grandsons.” 

Tears anew, though this time in joy, spring from my father as he falls to his knees. Along with my father’s healing heart, the world around us thaws, time resuming once again. 

January 26, 2024 23:39

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