In the northernmost parts of the world, the winters are long. Some days are not worth the title of day, as an eternal dusk looms. It is a land of everlasting half-light, yearning for warmth.
These places, as you may imagine, provide little shelter from the winds and can be less than habitable. Perhaps the occasional fox stumbles, lost, through the snow. Perhaps a weary traveller, fearful, knowing of the danger, hurries south. But more often than not, the ivory plains are desolate, bare. There is a quiet that rings louder than anything else in the ears of passersby, constant and stinging.
The horizon seems the edge of an empty world. One thing breaks the perfect flatland – a minuscule blemish, invisible but to the most eagle-eyed observer. The ever-drifting white conceals everything surrounding the blemish, transforming it into a rounded pinprick, the mistaken flick of an artist’s brush on blank canvas. Upon closer inspection, a small house materializes in the gloom, its features reluctantly showing their silhouette: a domed roof, aged stone bricks. Rounded stones fill the roof’s circumference, placed with great precision, finely crafted, and bearing the test of time. Inscribed a thousand times into the granite are the words ‘Alone I wait for something to change.’ and the symbol of infinity accompanies it.
These stones continue around the diminutive structure, their tessellation broken only by a single window, shaped as a jagged circle, less than a handspan wide. Sometimes, the wind catches this hole, and its low monotonous sound is the wail of a saddened flute. The intention of this window could not have been to provide light; it does not do so in any way, other than to faintly illuminate the three rusted bars which crisscross it.
Muffled, quick, breaths can be heard, as if sandpaper scratches the hut’s walls. There is a man who wakes inside this house, and he does not know where he is. Only the crosshatched bars in the window and the outlines of his arms when he puts them up close to his face can be seen. He inspects the area. The sounds start, stop – irregular. The scuffle of bare feet on rotted oak breaks long periods of silence when the wind is still. The footsteps are hurried, clumsy in the dark. Panicked hands search the coarse walls and find them completely closed. Lengthy silences plague the occupant. In his diseased mind, the silences torture him, each moment a lifetime’s misery. Only the occasional tone from the window breaks his silence when the winds turn just right. He can no longer distinguish time, nor its passing – nothing ever changes in his dark prison. He has learned to find interest in the screeching of the wind, and occupy himself with carving patterns in the wall that he can feel but does not see. He spends hours following patterns with gnarled fingers, even though he cannot recall making them, they feel like remnants of thoughts he once had. Hours go by, as he repeatedly scratches his nails in a circle ingrained deep into the stone.
Each time he sleeps, he wakes with no memory of before, or of who he is. The only object with him inside this darkened room is a bowl of fresh berries which appease what remains of his appetite. Though his memory of individual days has somehow been obliterated, his cruel mind allows him to remember the mundane – his routine of tracing the walls, his imprisonment, and finding the berries in a small wooden bowl on the ground. He used to ponder the appearance of this item, placed delicately in the middle of his cell. Some days he wonders if the presence of such life-preserving fruits are nothing out of the ordinary, while on other days he believes that they are a supernatural occurrence he can not understand. As sleep overtakes him, he cyclically accepts his evident captivity and the berries. He then stretches out on the ground and forgets everything but the mundane.
This day is like any other: defining monotony. He lies, spread-eagled, clothed in rags which barely keep the bitter cold at bay, and gazes towards the ceiling. The window – if it could be called such a thing – wails, and he makes his way toward it. He runs his hands along the flaking bars. He likes to do this, it reassures him of reality. He feels small grooves, which fit his grip perfectly. Under the close scrutiny of one scrunched eye, he finds the grooves to be handprints pressed into the metal. He supposes he has felt these before. The bars feel loose in their granite casings, he holds them tightly and pulls the iron rod to the left. What follows leaves him awestruck; a metallic click, unlike any noise he is accustomed to in his short-lived memory. The wall rolls back, in a precise, perfectly executed arc, his freedom gained in the most common of actions. In an instant, the stone house has gone from dank jail to engineering marvel. He is left standing still, arms still outstretched and he whispers to himself a word he cannot remember learning.
The man stands where the wall had been, eyes wide. The thing he had taught himself not even to wish for had happened, and so quickly. He sinks to his knees and weeps. It is a horrible sound, a wet snarl, but what he notices is that the crying tones of the window that have almost become part of him have vanished. Behind him is only the rounded wall that had once been the creator of that cry, seeing large etchings in the wall for the first time. A gasp escapes his shriveled lips as he examines them not only with his fingers as he has done for so long, but now his eyes – etchings his fingers saw for so long as unknowable emblems, symbols, his mindless wanderings with a stone. But no, now his eyes saw a twisted font which spanned the whole wall with real words covering every surface. Larger than the rest, however, there were two words that were uninterrupted by the other etchings. GO NORTH. A compass beside this directive comprised of an arrow with an N above it embedded in the wall.
There is no deliberation. He takes his only object, the clay bowl, and begins to stagger away as quickly as he can. Not surveying the white landscape he passes, only concerned with the mysterious directive he has read.
Some time later, he is still walking northward. The hope which blossomed in him at the opening of the wall is still there: he is simply fatigued by his journey – there is little exercise to be had in a cramped cell, and he is unaccustomed to such exertion. He rests on the ground where there is less snow. He can feel the hard earth beneath him and again he weeps from pure, unadorned joy. He recovers and again proceeds at a steady pace, he notices the snow thinning, melting more, and patches of frozen turf begin to emerge. Optimism flares; his pace quickens.
Soon, his heart pounds in his aged chest – he distinguishes greenery not far ahead. On approach, he rejoices amongst the vegetation, no longer surrounded by sparse black remnants of dead branches he has passed. There is grass, then bush and then trees; these are sights he thought were ever consigned to the outside, beyond his dark prison. He had told himself he would never be among them. They were all he wished for in the cell, in the tiny fragment of time he can remember at this moment – to see something so beautiful, but more importantly, alive. His bliss resigns him to stay in the oasis for hours. He eats the fruit which grows in the thick grasses – they seem familiar in a way that the grooves in the window bars had felt, and he gathers them in his bowl, thankful that he has carried it.
A twig snaps, a low growl resounds, his head jerks, body jolting. As more growls join the first, his fear makes him run back the way he came, the only way he knows. Swiftly, he runs without being fully aware of what follows him, protecting his precious berries and wooden bowl. The creatures pursue – he is sure of his impending mortality – and he reaches the snow once more. He does not look back to see the demons falter at the snow’s border, reluctant to leave their forest. Terror carries him back into the desolate white, obliterating his outward bound tracks. He arrives at his cell and without hesitation wrenches the wall’s edge shut. He huddles, breathing in ragged gasps. The man finally understands his fate. He places the berries delicately in the middle of his cell for himself, preparing for when he awakes.
Hours later, there is a man who wakes inside this house, and he does not know where he is. Awakened by wind that sounds of a saddened flute, the man finds himself trapped in a darkened room. He finds a fresh bowl of berries on the ground. Rising, he examines the window, and finds grooves, which seem to fit his grip perfectly.
Isaac Fish, located in Toronto Canada, is an aspiring poet and short story author that writes through the night and edits with the blistering sun looking over his shoulder. He hopes to eventually bring a renewed interest of both creative writing and analysis to classrooms so that he may foster a wave of interest in young and aspiring authors.
© Isaac Fish 2018