The Cold Awakenings.
Damp earth. Distorted shafts of light. A leaf fell, dancing in the contented sighs of the wind. A bird shrieked it’s joyous song to the never appraising morning. The boy lay, his eyes open, watching the world around him, face pressed to the cold soil, arms and legs limp and numb. For a while he just blinked and breathed and then blinked again, letting the damp creep through his clothes and the cold caress his skin. He sighed and his breath instantly writhed and contorted in the frigid air.
He sat up. Leaves clung to his clothes, his hair. He looked around him and saw the open trees, like sentries. The damp stumps like teeth and stubborn bushes fighting for light and life. He knew where he was but he couldn’t understand how he knew, not anymore. He couldn’t understand why his soggy attire clung to his skin. Or why the shafts of sunlight bit at his eyes. Why he had awoken. His mind shifted laboriously through answers, it moved as if wading through sludge. The harder he pushed the more he was resisted.
Something tugged at his conscience, compelling him to act. The boy moved, testing aching, cramped muscles in the crisp morning air. He pushed himself up on to unsteady feet despite the weight that tugged his limbs back to the earth, and the sick that rose in his stomach. For just a moment, his head swimming and his body threatening to collapse, he gained awareness, a sudden flutter of realization followed by a bolt of panic. Why was he here? How did he get here? What had happened to him? And then as quickly as his terror had risen it was smothered and pulled into a deep closet where it was locked from him. With empty eyes and no hesitation he turned and begun to climb up the steep hillside.
Slippery earth shifted under his heavy strides, threatening to hinder him, but the boy persevered. He came to the top of the hill to a path he recognised but didn’t know. He followed it with the forested descent to his right and thick shrubbery to his left. He didn’t understand why, but he was afraid. Afraid to return to the place of his belonging, and as the woods uncurled and opened to reveal to him the rolling valley and the twisting river it sheltered, each step increased his uneasiness and his lack of understanding. The boy felt as if what lay at the end of his road did not belong to him, that it was superficial and suffocating and he was afraid he’d disappoint it. He loved his place of belonging but didn’t want it to love him.
He walked, time passed and the road led on.
He passed through a gate and strode with no clear intent onward. His face and movements betrayed nothing, but his damp, muddy clothes spoke of a long, ruthless night. With every breath exhaled his heart drummed louder in his chest and with every sullen footstep his breathing quickened. Street lights were beginning to blink off, relieving the surroundings from their sickening lights. Houses remained silent, sleeping, cold and distant. Nothing stirred but the occasional whisper of leaves and chorus of birdsong. Walking, slightly breathless and with touches of red fighting past his deathly pale cheeks the boy, dead-eyed, empty headed – hollow, came at last to the house.
As the boy approached a feeling of remorse and fear prickled in his veins. A small patch of garden was now all that stood before him and whatever it was he was afraid of . He didn’t understand why he was afraid, just that he was. Hesitantly the boy crept to the front door. He looked up at the looming mass of stone before him and laid an unyielding hand on the wood of the heavy door, as if searching for an answer in it's coldness. He felt nothing but the same trepidation, pulsing through his veins. He pushed against the door and, breath withheld, passed the threshold.
For a second, like the hum of a familiar song or the feel of your own bed, he felt safe. And then as he came to shiver on the other side of the door the bliss was ripped away and he felt alone again. The boy knew this house, it was his belonging. But as he looked around at the thick stone walls and creaking wooden floor boards and the aged homely furniture of a happy family, he felt a tingle up from the base of his spine. The tingling feeling one gets when one enters a place alone that they know they should not be in; half excitement, half fear. Except, for the boy the feeling was far more chilling, the excitement replaced by a cold resentment and once again the boy felt the pang of guilt like a lap of frigid water to the chest. For a while he stood, taking in the smell of a home and watching the patches of golden lights made by the rising sun.
He walked with the same restraint and formality as he had along the streets, across a living room in which he could feel his childhood jumping and rolling and laughing around him. The boy came to
the twisting staircase half hidden in the wall. The very staircase he had raced down on Christmases, on birthdays, on snow-days.. For a while he just stood before the staircase, afraid to look up,
knowing what he'd see.
He turned up his head and, eyes betraying no shock, met the eyes of a hound sitting upon the stairs. A wolf with fur so black that the shadows around it seemed to meld it into the night, but with silver, opalescent eyes that pierced the darkness.
The hound stood sentinel and the boy stood obstinant. Neither spoke.
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