Really tired, no time to talk. Here’s the words.
Writing Challenge Day 27 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2007
I love winter. I love everything about it. Which, if you think about it, is strange since I didn’t always love the colder months. In fact, I used to hate them. Imagine that, hating nearly half of the year with every fiber of your being. What kind of a way is that to live? But I hated it. The oppressive, leeching cold. The early sunsets and the lengthened twilight. Everything around me either dead, dying, or struggling for survival. Lonely, desperate holidays invented just to stave off the shadows and the gloom. I distinctly remember hating all of it. Out of all the things I’ve forgotten from the time before the change, it is still a mystery to me that I should remember that one fact above all others.
What was I thinking? Winter is wonderful. It’s divine. Oh, granted I no longer feel the cold and I positively bathe myself in the extra hours of darkness, but it goes beyond that. Winter is the great equalizer, the ultimate arbiter of survival. Adapt or die, that sort of thing. You are never quite so alive as when you’re clinging to life by your fingernails, digging in to the icy shore between life and death and pulling yourself up over that ledge. There is no less vitality in winter than any other season, it is simply more—concentrated. Maybe I never noticed before simply because I couldn’t, not because I wouldn’t. I’m so much more in tune with the living now that I’m dead.
And, of course, it’s also so much easier to hide during the winter months. Everyone scurries to and fro swaddled in layer upon warming layer of cloth and coat, bundled up to the point of obscurity. You can hide anything beneath those layers. A semi-automatic weapon, a wooden stake, an explosive vest. Two tiny puncture wounds just above the nape of your neck, deep purple and violently vivid. Scarves and high collared coats are so much less conspicuous in December than the rest of the year.
Then there’s the hunt. You might say there’s less prey in the winter, but I would counter that less prey makes the hunt more thrilling. Humans tend to stay indoors during the winter months, and those that venture out into the cold tend to huddle together for warmth. It’s a small matter to join the herd, to live amongst the sheep for a moment or two, grinning a wolfish grin behind your stolen wool. A slight nudge is all it takes, barely noticed in the press of bodies, a warm breath on chilled skin, the tremor of excitement at the welcomed and unexpected intimacy, and then a kiss, gently placed on the neck, just above the carotid artery. When the sheep are under winter’s spell you hardly need to bother placing them under one of your own. When you’ve only just released them from their numbness they hardly even notice the prickle of pain as the fangs pierce the flesh. The slight gasp, the pleasure mixed with a dash of pain, is lost amongst the crowd as the wind picks up. The huddled group shares a collective shudder, but only you and your dinner companion are every exactly sure why. You part ways then, head off into the long shadows of the night, and no one even notices you’ve been there at all. Over the next week or so your chosen companion will be sluggish and docile, but the sheep will assume it’s a cold or the flu and say nothing about it as they wear their scarf indoors until the wounds close up and heal.
When I was alive, I hated winter. Now that I’m dead, everything about it is perfect.
I am going to die.
It’s funny, but I’m almost glad. These past ten years have been nothing but a slow, inevitable slide towards oblivion in any case, and I’ve long since grown weary of the doomed uphill struggle of survival. A great weight bears down on me, on my limbs and on my spirit, and I think it shall be a relief to finally be rid of it. Almost. Some small spark of defiance still sputters inside me, refusing to die. And besides, the screams of the dying are so terrible to hear that I wonder if death could truly come as a relief.
It has been hunting us for days. At least, I think it has. God above, please let there only be one. I don’t know what I would do if more than one of those things existed in this world. What began as a small, barely cohesive community of roughly fifty individuals has been reduced to three. Only three that I know about, at any rate. We were scattered two days ago, and the screams of the dying have not stopped since. They still come, though less frequently than they did, and I am beginning to think that we are the only ones left.
Argus thinks it some kind of troll. One of the fabled mountain yetis, or abominable snowmen, whatever you want to call them. Piotr disagrees. He claims it to be nothing less than the frozen will of the Winter Queen made flesh, sent out into the frozen tunnels and catacombs to sate her capricious desire for death and violence. As for me, I keep my mouth shut. I have no idea what has been hunting us these last two days. I’ve only seen glimpses of it. Lithe and feral, loping along the tunnels like a wolf at times and striding proudly through the gloom on two legs at others. It is fast, so incredibly fast, and I wonder that anything could move that quickly in this never ending cold. The exits have all been sealed by rock slides and walls of ice. We are trapped beneath the earth with the shadowy hunter, and I do not believe any of us will make it out of here alive.
Ten years, it has been ten years since the troubles began, since hardship followed hardship so close behind one another that I’ve scarce had time to contemplate one before another looms to take it’s place. We never saw it coming. The world had become entrenched in technology and innovation and the old stories were forgotten. The end of the world came not from nuclear weapons or bio-terrorism or even from space. When the end came, it came from the past and was shrouded in beauty.
I hardly even remember a time when I didn’t believe in fairies. Intellectually I know that eleven years ago I didn’t, but it’s so hard to imagine that time now, let alone remember it. Some say the Faerie Queens returned, others say that they simply awoke, but everyone agrees that one day, ten years ago, they simply appeared and everything changed.
Deep from the icy reaches of the north came the Winter Queen, and she was beautiful. Pale of skin and white of hair she shimmered like a freshly laid blanket of snow in a new dawn. Her eyes were hard and blue and possessed of hidden depths, like ice bergs floating in a pristine ocean. She called all manner of winter beast to her side, the polar bear and the wolf and the reindeer and the elk, and built herself a towering crystalline palace in the north. She had many names. Mab. Maeve. Aurora. Jadis. The only one she answered to was Queen.
And from the misty, mysterious depths of equatorial rain forest came the Summer Queen. Her skin was dark as mahogany, her hair wreathed in orchids and roses and flowers unknown to man. Her eyes were bright as the sun, yellow and slitted as a panther’s. From bramble and branch she wove herself a sprawling palace of life and beauty, resplendent with gardens and brooks and glens. She, too, had many names. Titania. Lily. Nerida. Eolande. The only one she answered to was Queen.
In the beginning many rejoiced at the coming of the Faerie Courts. Their beauty was undeniable and their power unquestionable. The wonder lasted for less than a year. It surprised a great many people that the immediate threat came not from the North, but from the equator. Millions had flocked to the garden palaces of the Summer Queen, seeming to think that she was the more desirable of the two. The vitality and beauty of Summer was a strong lure to many. No sooner had the first wave of supplicants arrived when the Summer Queen turned violent. All manner of beasts, natural and supernatural alike, poured from the misty depths of the rainforests, driving the humans before them like rodents before a flame. Those that were not trampled or mauled soon fell prey to contagion and disease. All forms of life flourished under Summer’s rule. All forms except the human form, it seemed. The desert lands of Saharan Africa and the Middle East were swallowed by a tide of green and brown in little under a year. Soon a vibrant belt of death ringed the planet.
And so the population of the world retreated from the center of the Earth, seeking the cool, unchanging rule of Winter. But where the danger of Summer had been quick and full of vitality, the perils of the Winter Court were slow and patient. The billions of humans still inhabiting the planet soon found their growing seasons shorter and their stores of food diminished. Not long after the stores of oil and other fossil fuels, rationed from the beginning, began to dry up completely. It was about that time that whole communities began to go dark, bot literally and figuratively. Stories of shaggy beasts roaming the northern tundras began to circulate. In some tales the beasts hunted in packs, in others a single, solitary creature was responsible for wiping out entire villages. Others claimed that the beasts were not beasts at all, but feral men reduced to murder and even cannibalism. Wendigo, they were called.
It makes little difference to me. We retreated down to these tunnels to escape the cold above and the monsters that stalked the blasted tundras and deserted streets. It seems as though the monsters followed us down into the earth. Man or beast or specter or illusion, it makes no difference any longer. We are dying, and that’s all that matters.
The crowning irony is that the old stories were wrong. Either these creatures are not of the faerie realm at all, or the tales about the fae were embellished over the years. In the stories the faerie folk are quick, and devious, and deadly but they have weaknesses as well. Cold iron, magic circles, incantations and runes. All manner of defenses against the trickery and the might of the faerie world are purported to exist and yet none of them work. I still carry an old pry bar at my side, though I have first hand knowledge of it’s impotence when dealing with the faerie beasts. Even the weight of it fails to provide peace of mind any more. It’s just one more problem, one more bit of baggage that I carry along with me without even knowing why. The metal is cold, and I think that is the worst of all. Everything is so incredibly cold that I cannot take it anymore.
Argus and Piotr are beginning to look at me with something like fear in their eyes. At least, I hope it is fear. I can’t even tell the difference between fear and hunger anymore. So often they are the same thing. If they were to attack me now, I don’t think I would even try to resist. Fear, hunger, the will to survive, all of these go hand in hand but I can’t bring myself to feel any of them anymore. I’m numb to the core. Even that tiny spark at the center of my being is cold and dark now. It’s not a beacon of hope, its a grim reminder of all that I’ve lost.