The sun has disappeared. Many have ventured out to find what lies beyond. None have returned. Now it is up to you to see what lies beyond the wall.
A Fantasy Story About An Endless Winter
AN ACT OF MAN
by Brianna Morris-Grant
For the LANTERN’S FLAME Fantasy Writing Award
It is dark when you leave, and for the few moments you can almost believe that is in only nightfall, that the sun hasn’t disappeared forever behind the pine forest that stretches in a wide arc around the edge of the village. But then the wind hits, cutting through your cloak to chill the very marrow in your bones. Noshurhiel’s borders closed months ago, and with the sun vanished measuring time became impossible. Each morning, Ishmael climbs the clock tower in the centre of town and shouts a doubt you are not sure is true. Your mother says it is; while Ishmael shouts, she raises one gnarled fingernail and carves another notch in the clay wall. 492. You count them when you’re bored.
You are not brave, you are not clever; your mind thinks of warm beds, blankets, your mother’s face, and you have not even reached the trees. The other men are gone – Abraham, his red nose and wide face still fresh in your memory, disappeared over the horizon not a week ago, and has yet to return. You can see in your mind the way his massive bulk still managed to evoke kindness in those around him, and you can hear over your shoulder the cries of his wife and children.
The town, though not moving on quickly, could not spare the time to grieve for those who disappeared into the snow. There were lights that moved in the trees, other people reaching out and searching, but the wind and its howling cut off all sound. This winter does not seem real. Not in the traditional sense; the cold and the ice and the snow are all very much real, you can feel them now as they start to seep into the soles of your boots. But there is the slightest hint of artificiality to it, of something handcrafted, ripped out of the hands of God to be thrust upon man below. It came on so fast, and continued so unrelentingly, the Lord you all knew could not possibly have wanted this, for all His divine wisdom. This is what your mother told you, her words slurring together as you watched her empty gums move, the spittle falling in minute droplets to splash on your cheek. You didn’t flinch out of practice.
This is no act of God, she said, but you cannot think of that now. The trees are around you, the wind cutting off sharply as the wood rears up to meet you. Feeling more secure now, you remove the lantern from beneath your coat, holding it up and sighing in relief as the light stretches out to touch the path ahead. Without the wind, there is a silence – the sense of something settling, a weight lowering itself onto the snow that crunches beneath your feet. This is no act of God. The words are in your mind before you realize.
But you push onwards, shrugging off your suspicion and your doubt. A lone, keening wail runs through the wood, bouncing off the heavy blankets of snow coating the branches – a waxwing, alone somewhere, looking for a mate. You pause after an hour, wet through and shivering, feeling your knees quake. The dark swims around you, but your eyes can focus on one thing; eyes hang in the air, about a hundred meters in front. Their edges aren’t clearly defined, instead blurred into the all-encompassing black that makes up the night. An eerie, yellow light, moving only slightly – so minutely for a moment you think that it’s simply your dizziness.
Your legs are moving without you realizing, hands raising to strip away the heavy weight tied to your back. One step, two steps, three. The eyes, so wide in your field of vision they are all you can see, blink. And you run for them.