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Fiction Sad

Against the creaking beams of this little wooden hovel, the snows of the mountains raged in their unconquerable might. It was the time when the sun had been blown by the winter winds and only an eternal night remained in its place. It proved a cruel place to live in, unrelenting to even the most adapted denizens. The rivers and lakes would freeze, it was nearly impossible to see for the darkness, and the cold bit through a body with greater force than the most ferocious predator.

Klaus had to fish though, so he fished. He knew the short trail from his cabin to the lake just downhill well and had a little lantern to help guide his way. In short order, his beard had frozen, his cheeks burned, and it felt like he was breathing icicles. In spite of it, he made his way to the lake, sawed out and cleared an adequate hole in the ice and fished with a piece of moldy bread. Such was all that he had left in his stores for the winter.

While there may have been subtle desperation in the nervous flicks of his rod, he cheerfully hummed tunelessly and tapped his feet as though there was no greater place to be. His patience was rewarded with a sizable catch more than good enough for dinner.

Klaus loved his little house even atop the cold head of Mother Earth, where all her children are forgotten. His cabin was small but spacious; alone among hundreds of miles of wilderness, yet loved; hardened by many winters, yet softened by warm hearths. Every time he opened his door, he could not help but smile and laugh till he was fit to burst. Tonight, he walked through that open door with a fish in one hand and his rod in the other, and a great warm smile brightened by his reddened cheeks. He took in the warmth of his hearth for a moment with his eyes closed and his head still, embracing it. Then, he looked down at his fish, hard caught and a fighter, the only thing he had caught to eat in a long while, and could not help but let out a hearty laugh. “Life is good!” he proclaimed right to the cold face of the bitterness around him.

He chuckled as he went along relieving himself of his hefty gear, placing his pack against the wall, his great fur coat with it, hung his lantern on a nail, and gently placed the fish upon a pan. It was only then that he noticed how dark it was in the cabin. His eyes had gotten so accustomed to being blind that he could not notice the absence of light. The fire in the hearth had been reduced to shimmering embers, desperately holding on to dear life. So he retrieved his coat, lunged to the side to pick up his hefty axe, opened his door, and returned to the jaws of death with a smile upon his face.

He laughed in spite of himself for having to hold out his arms like a blind man to find one of the many trees hulking around him. Soon he felt a little prick of a cold wooden branch against his skin and gave a sigh of relief and a hearty belly laugh, although he did not have much of a belly anymore.

With a couple of strikes and twists of the branches, they fell into his awaiting arms and he shambled back through the snow, carefully retracing his steps back to the cabin.

So he took off his coat again, placed his axe aside, and lurched over the dying fire. Gingerly he placed his branches atop it, blew into the embers a couple times, quickly grabbed a little roll of parchment lying around the floor, rolled it up and laid it down upon the wisps of smoke from the bed of ember. Soon they caught fire and with care and focus, even the freezing branches warmed up and caught flame.

Klaus smiled brighter than he ever had before, raced like a giddy child over to his fish in the pan and placed it upon the fire finally exalting in his first successful catch in many days.

It was only then, with his triumph exacted, that he felt he could relax into his little chair in front of the fire, breathing a sigh of relief. Slowly opening his eyes he was finally able to see with the illuminating flickers of flame, and he saw the stranger sitting across from him but a few feet away sitting upright upon his bed.

Klaus froze.

The figure held a pistol.

The figure was dripping with sweat.

The stranger was draped in shadow.

There was fear in Klaus’ eyes, but he let it flicker away.

The fish was sizzling upon the pan.

Klaus only thought about how cold the man must be.

“Come closer to the fire, son,” he said without any tremble of fear.

The man turned his head to the side, perplexed.

Klaus clarified, “You are so far away, come closer and relax, you must have had a tough day.” He stood up from his quaint wooden chair. “Sit, please.” He gestured his hands toward the chair.

The man did not respond. He had a word on the tip of his tongue yet lost it.

“Are you hungry?” Klaus asked.

Nothing.

“Here,” the fish was browning and the scales were getting crisp. He flipped it over and gave it a couple seconds, just to be evenly cooked. The fire felt wonderful. “Take the fish, I am not hungry. It’s good fish, I’ve lived off it this long!” And he chuckled in spite of the silence.

The few flickers of light that shone upon the man’s face showed eyes widened and flitting with anxiety and hands trembling.

After the silence returned for an awkward moment, Klaus broke it, “The nearest town is far from here, I would say about a day’s walk. First,” and he pointed his arm behind himself and toward the door, “you should go toward the lake, which is east, I say east because it is dark and gray all day long this time of year so it should be wise to use a compass. Do you have one?”

No response but the pitter-patter of his shaking feet.

“I shall give you mine, I never use the thing.” He pointed to his head. “I have it all up here now. Suppose as it should be seeing as it’s been twenty, no, thirty, yes thirty years!” And he laughed heartily. “Thirty years in the best place in the world!”

Then he remembered his task and went toward his little cupboard, pulled open the top drawer, and retrieved the little golden compass. Yet when he walked back toward the man to give it to him, he saw only the barrel of the pistol. He froze, not wishing to scare the boy, for indeed now that he was closer he saw him to be a boy no older than 12, and as such he just held out the compass in his hand. The boy’s skittish eyes looked inquisitively at it until he took it with a quick jerk of his hand.

Klaus smiled as warmly as he could, pitying the poor boy.

Then his eyes flicked and he remembered the fish. He raced toward it but it was too late, the one side had burned to a black char. “Ah! Sorry, it shall be a little burned, my mistake!”

He grabbed a cloth and picked up the pan and transferred the fish onto his one and only plate accompanied with his one and only fork.

Carefully and distantly he held the plate out to the boy, hoping not to spook him. He was delighted when he, hesitatingly, took it from his hand. He smiled and laughed seeing the boy devour the meal as fast as he could. Poof! It was gone!

After he finished, he looked up to Klaus with a mouth covered in flakes of fish and shiny with grease. He looked sad and guilty.

“Why are you sad?” Klaus was saddened now too, only hoping the boy would find some joy and relief.

The boy looked down at the plate and up again with eyes wide with guilt and understanding.

Klaus laughed. “I shall be fine my boy! Fear not! Look,” and he pulled up the sleeve of one skinny arm, “look how strong and mighty I am!”

The boy smiled a little bit. Then, Klaus went over to him and knelt down to his eye level. “Let me see your arm, little viking.”

The boy unsleeved his arm and flexed it. Klaus flung himself back in amazement to which the boy laughed and smiled, making Klaus laugh and smile.

Then Klaus calmed down a bit and said, slowly and reassuringly, “Well my little viking you must remain strong, very strong. There is a long journey ahead of you. So like I said, just follow the lake east, then continue east onward. Watch the compass and do not stop. I wish I could give you more, but I cannot, so you must be strong. I know you will be.”

The boy nodded.

“Now come here,” and they walked over to the door. He dressed the boy in his coat, hat, gloves, gave him the lantern with the matches in case it ever died, and a little pocket knife.

“There you are,” Klaus looked down at him with a proud, beaming smile. “Stay warm, and keep moving. It is mighty cold but you can make it if you keep warm and moving. It shouldn’t snow anytime soon by my reckoning. The snow has kept me trapped here this past week, but I think it’s letting up. Always use the lantern, but follow the compass. And remember, go east. You shall find a town, go to the General Goods store there, there will be a man named Ingvar, say Klaus sent you with all his things and he shall help you and will know what to do. Alright, little viking?”

The boy nodded.

“Then go.”

And the boy went into the dark.

Klaus turned and went to bed with the last dying flames warming his face while his heart was warm knowing that in a world that took so much, he was able to give even just a little.

August 17, 2023 03:43

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