A foray (for me and my character) into the realm of fantasy and epic story-telling.
| Hope gripped her steering wheel with a heavy sigh as she turned onto a long , lonely road. The road cut through a thick, black forest which stood silently on either side. This forest had an aloof air about it, taking note of the rare traveller as they passed, yet wholly indifferent to the affair. Not that the modern traveller paid any heed, for wood of this density and magnitude was now a scarcity, and most were content to pass by this unfamiliar sphere of existence and cling to their road without the scrutiny of that which might discomfort them.
The thought of this particular observation summoned Hope’s sigh as she turned on the long, lonely road aforementioned. Though she was just beginning her travels on this particular road, she had long been lonely as she journeyed on her own road. Hope’s reluctant intention was to return to another spring semester at college after her winter break. Yet truly, this was not her wish. She yearned not to return to haste and hurry. Though she relished the activity of advanced learning and study, and valued her knowledge highly, she cared not for the perpetual anxiety of forced urgency. She often excelled in her studies, but could never perceive the purpose for all the rush, and her spirits darkened. She longed for the freedom to savor her youth, for every second of it to be her own, and to go where she will.
Often as she scurried from class to class she had wondered if her fellow students dashing past felt the same despair. To study the collective knowledge of innumerable researchers, scientists, scholars, and scribes gathered over centuries and geographies only to suffocate from an existence so fraught. To live so laden that but one more errand would tip her over the edge of the abyss and she lie broken at its depths. Such thoughts were tragedies to her, and she shuddered in her driver’s seat.
She loathed the guilt of long, savored meals and spending evenings with others, and believed such feelings to be something most perverse. For she purchased these indulgences dearly, as she desperately dashed about the next day, frantic to accomplish two days’ worth of chores in but one. Why should she pay for the pleasure of one day with the certain misery of the next? Why should such joys in life need be purchased at all?
She often had fantasies of going away to an unknown end without a word; disappearing into the night, never to be heard from again, never to return. She would venture ever into the unfamiliar, where she was a stranger and knew only strangers, where unforeseen experiences awaited her. The longing to utterly forsake the habitual haste of her current existence enchanted her. She wondered at whether her desires were an indication of courage or cowardice, and shrugged, for either notion failed to diminish her wanderlust.
But her musings trailed back to an earlier strain. Was her longing to be free indeed an indication of inability to function as an adult? Could she be really “good-for-nothing”? Was withholding her services from others in order to own her time an act of supreme selfishness unforgivable? Was she miserable with the common and expected way of living because she remained a child, immature and not yet equipped to live in the world?
Her doubts were interrupted by the most curious thing she ever saw, and for a brief bewildered moment she knew absolutely not what to make of it. Her eyes perceived movement outside her right passenger window, and she peered curiously at the edge of the trees. A second later, a nude man came madly careening out of the wood. Wild and desperate and quick he ran, wearing an expression of fright unsettling for Hope to look upon. His panic disturbed her, he seemed to come out of a place unreal. She noted that he gestured about awkwardly, and he ran not fully upright. He hobbled speedily hunched over with his head half-bowed, and he leaned to his left side. Then to her horror Hope noticed trails of blood streaming down his hips and dripping from his knees. He held a pretty thing in his hand.
For an ever-so-brief instant the sudden urge to stomp on the gas pedal and speed away arrested her, but she became immediately disgusted at this, and pulled her car over to an abrupt halt without further thought. She leapt from her car and dashed to him, for now haste troubled her not.
As they rapidly approached one another, their eyes met for the first time. The moment the man saw her, his wild and aimless fleeing became a hurried sprint in her direction, as if they had planned to meet and he was running late. Indeed, his expression of utter terror revealed not a trace of surprise or astonishment, again as if their meeting was predetermined at this time in these precise circumstances. Hope for now ignored her bewilderment and knew only that this man was plainly in peril, and she was the only soul for miles who could help him.
As soon as he grew near enough he grasped her right arm above the elbow and stumbled into her. Fighting for breath, he choked, “We... m-must go... now. Please... help u-us. We are... f-followed.”
Without waiting for a reply, he led her briskly with irregular strides into the cover of the wood from which he appeared. Hope followed without hesitation, and acknowledged not the unreality of her condition.
As they raced into the trees, she turned her eyes from him, for his nakedness embarrassed her. His frantic behavior had unnerved her. He had made no effort to conceal his vulnerability or panic. She was not accustomed to others unabashedly revealing themselves to her, and it made her uncomfortable.
Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed the glint of an object he carried in his other hand. She narrowed her eyes curiously. The silver end of a shaft peeked out from beneath the palm of his enclosed hand. It brandished its embroideries in the sunshine and reminded Hope of a fancy silverware collection advertisement she saw once on late night television. But that had impressed her not in the least. This trinket however, had earned her attention indeed -- or at least, for the few seconds that ticked between meeting the man and entering the trees. The greater length of the shaft rested in the cozy grasp of the bloody man and emerged from his thumb and forefinger jutting sharply outwards left and right, forming a “T” shape. What grew centered from the top of the of the “T” revealed the identity of the thing. Hope named it in her mind, and almost wished she had not noticed it.
She wondered whether or not she had foolishly offered herself to danger. But in spite of what he held, Hope did not fear the bloody stranger. His behavior disturbed her, yet intrigued her, as if she was seeing man for the first time. He exhibited an inexplicable purity about him.
Under the shadow of the trees, his steps faltered rapidly, and his strain became more desperate. His soft, intermittent grunts and gasps betrayed the pain he suffered from his leaking wounds. In spite of his weakened and injured state, he moved without a sound. He stumbled a bit, yet his movements remained graceful and stealthy, while Hope behind him clumsily snapped twigs and rustled about dead leaves with each step. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, the man halted and whirled around to face her.
“Hush, s-stop all that...rack-ck-et. We sh-shall.... be found,” he hissed urgently. He spun around again and trudged on.
She bowed her head partly in submission and partly to watch her feet, and tread more carefully, though she lacked the finesse of her companion.
His strength finally left him deep in the wood. He silently fell to his knees, and rolled onto his back. Sweaty locks of dirty-blonde hair swept disheveled across his face. He was neither young nor old, perhaps he would have approached the middle of his life in about half a dozen years. Breaths pumped irregularly from his half-open jaw. Though the strength in his body had waned, the fear in his eyes had not.
Finally, Hope spoke to him, “You really need help. You need a doctor.” She knew not what else to say. The words felt odd in her mouth, after she allowed herself to be led into a deep unknown wood by a gravely wounded stranger. Shouldn’t she have just led him to her car and sped him to a hospital?
He closed his eyes and gently shook his head. “No...there is no healing for evil wounds such as these.” He gestured to his innumerable streaming gashes about his abdomen. His lower half was caked in a cracking layer of dried blood, yet his wounds flowed fresh.
Hope thought his response a bit peculiar, and she did not understand him. She knelt beside him.
She felt tears escaping over her lids and sobs breaking through her breath; they had snuck up on her. He faded before her eyes, beyond her help. She could only be with him.
He offered her the dagger. “You... m-must take this. Please keep it... s-safe. You are followed.” He paused for a breath.
“Find a way... to destroy it. It’s... too m-much. Evil pursues it... It will...aheh.. destroy m-my world. Move quickly... I grow cold.”
His words puzzled Hope. What was she to make of this? She could find no words to answer him, but obeyed and lifted the dagger from his palm. Her sniffle reeled in watery snot back into her nose.
A heavy, peaceful sigh escaped him. “You are... our clishma. W-without you... m-my world is... hopeless.”
Fright waned from his eyes. He shared his last smile with her. She returned his gaze with a troubled grin. His lids leisurely met, as if to savor last sight, and saw no more.
Hope’s gaze did not leave him. Stunned still as the dead before her. Dead.
She wept heartily now. The unmistakable moans and sighs that plead to eternity filled her ears for the first time. Those pleas she spilt into the world, and their echoes topped off her ears again, they poured from her yet again, and for a timeless time she indulged herself in this fountain of mourning.
After she spent all her tears and her sight turned from inner to outer, she looked upon her stranger again, this time with tenderness. The wounds that once gushed now dribbled like a leaky bottle turned on its side. She raised her fingertips slowly and gently felt his cheek. Cool, not cold. He lay there, still and handsome and peaceful, and gone.
Left alone with curiosities, riddles, bewilderment, and foreboding, Hope remained frozen in thought. Where could this man have come from? What had happened to him? Who was he? What pursued him? What lit the flames of true fear in his eyes? What did his dire words mean? She whispered the strangest one aloud: “Clishma.” A word of foreign tongue, perhaps? Mere ravings of an injured and dying man? And, what was to be done now? Leave the corpse to rot in the woods? What else could she do? She furrowed her brow and combed her fingers through her scalp, for she comprehended none of it.
Then, her attention turned to the dagger resting in her palm. It felt peculiarly warm, as if it had been lying in direct sunlight for hours. The hilt was fashioned in a pattern of braided silver and gold, embroidered in the finest designs: filigree of unimaginable intricacy, overlapping patterns of angle and curve, tiny hair-like lines molding into the thicker etchings, intricate artistry for eyes to behold from near or far. From it’s hilt jutted the blade with only the slightest nuance in taper, the symmetrical edges almost parallel until they turned toward one another and met in perilous point. As she lifted it to the light, Hope saw glints of blue shining from the blade, as if tiny granules of blue salt were sprinkled and imbedded into the metal. Hope understood little of weaponry but never had she seen such a thing.
She held it gingerly, as if it were a precious gift given long ago. She thought she might keep it. It would remind her of her bewildering adventure with the naked bleeding man, and her first encounter with death. A gift of profound mystery, for she began to sense it was an object of greater matters than her own life.
And to that life she sought to return. She rose to her feet. As she looked upon the body of the curious man, she spoke silent words of reverence and honor, and a vague sense of love, to herself.
The deep wood about her stood still, not a dead leaf in the grass dared quiver. A quiet thick as the trees enveloped her, and Hope understood the meaning of silence. Feeling suddenly naked, she darted her eyes all about her. She seemed to shrink beneath the looming bodies of the great trees. They harbored a forgotten world, ancient, cruel, and beautiful. In this world they were not thin sheets, burning embers, or pierced planks, but ageless guardians of the wild and givers of life. Ancient authority permeated the air. A possessive uneasiness overcame Hope, and her feet carried her in the direction she believed would lead her out of the trees.
After only a few paces, a voice called from a high tree behind her.
She whipped around, shoulders to her ears and breath clenched in her throat, the dagger raised above her head.
Her eyes scanned frantically about, searching for the caller.
Muscles within her wound tight, afraid to move, yet afraid to stay put. She slowly lowered the dagger and turned around to proceed, released her breath, and glanced once more, twice more, thrice more over her shoulder. Again, she saw nothing but the timeless towering trees.
She quickened, eager to escape the scrutiny of the forest. She imagined dark things slinking silently behind her and what lay creeping beneath the deep layers of dead leaves. Shadows reached for her, clawing impishly at her toes. The wood seemed to snicker at her shudders, bemused by her skittishness, for she was a trembling bunny rabbit in the arms of a mischievous giant.
She had just lowered her shoulders when she heard the call once more, sharper, and more persistent this time.
She spun round again, weapon held high, exasperated with fright.
Her eyes scoured about once more, and found peculiar movement beneath the shadows of distant trees, almost beyond her vision. Instinctively she darted behind the trunk of the nearest tree, though she knew not what she saw.
A chilly, slow breeze broke the stillness of the forest. The cold climbed up the trees, creeped between the branches, and crawled about the forest floor. With frosty fingers it fondled leaves and bush, picked at grass and dirt, probed holes and crevices, and pinched trunks and branches.
Hope shivered at the sudden cold, but the metal dagger remained warm as sunshine in her hand. She dismissed the oddity for the moment, convincing herself that she was content not to understand the thing and crouched to the ground to warm herself. As she hugged her knees with her dagger nested between her breast and thighs, she noticed the blades of grass at her feet rapidly freezing over, and she shuddered from within, for the unnatural sight chilled her blood.
Her thoughts returned to the movement in the distance. You are followed, he had said. Ever so cautiously she peered around the trunk of her tree, praying that her thoughts be mistaken. But she saw a darkness approaching that seemed to quake the great forest. Green leaves shook from the trees and bushes crouched and shrubberies laid flat and the grass seemed to die of fright. Even shadows fled into other shadows, and the darkness grew ever great and wicked.
It was an incomprehensible sensation, being hunted, knowing nothing of her predator but that it stalked ever near. Her spine rattled inside her skin as she quivered in overbearing terror. Her heart hammered as never before, it sought to snap bone and rip flesh and flee. Her arms squeezed her and her hands seized her. As minutes rolled on by so too did swelling darkness and quickening wind, yet she only clung to herself tighter; she dug for an escape within her mind, a den in which to crawl and shelter her from peril, but she only uncovered nothingness and entrapment. Body enslaved will.