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The Pilgrim


                The dawn was cold, yet the Pilgrim trudged on. He had faced many kinds of cold before, yet this was a different entity altogether. Alien. Empty. Void. This was a cold that he had never felt, and it was endless. Timeless. There was no snow to crunch beneath his boots as he walked. No, this was not the kind of cold to allow such things as snow. Merely the dull, moaning wind, and little razors that sanded across his face, before disappearing into the earth. The Pilgrim continued to move.

                The dark of the night had passed, yet the day was barely brighter. He had done what he could to hold back the cold. He wore the skins of animals, to the point where he more resembled a chimera than a man. Yet it was not enough. The cold was still there. The cold that bites and gnaws, gnashes and claws, all the way down to the marrow of the bones. In one hand, he held onto a flickering, burning torch. He held it so close that his face was hot, and his beard singed, yet it was not enough to keep back the cold, and the torch grew ever shorter.

The pilgrim hiked. He trudged. He moved, yet with every movement he could feel his joints going stiff. Those that were not becoming stiff, he could scarcely feel at all. He may have considered this cold a threat. An enemy to be challenged and overcome. Yet he knew better, or rather, felt the truth. This was the heart of cold. The essence of Niflheimr, of absence, of eternity. There was nothing to face here, and it was that very nothingness that chilled him now. He had already passed others like him. Fellow pilgrims that had succumbed to the cold. Had it been the same cold? Behind ever dulling, watering eyes, he wondered if he would be like them. It was then that he saw the hut. A small place of stone and wood. Something vainly erected in an attempt to hold back the howling void. He approached and stumbled through the door.               

The hut was small, with nothing but a crude fireplace, some beds, a shelf, and a chair. And a gaping hole in the roof, that left him exposed to the dull hunger of outside. The man staggered to the fireplace. There had already been wood gathered and left here, perhaps as a small kindness to any pilgrim that came this far. The Pilgrim gathered the wood, and with trembling, mitten-cased hands, began to assemble the base of a fire. Using his torch, he spread the fire into the pile of tinder, and brought another flame to life. The man waited for the fire to grow, then added more fuel. Then more. Then more. He grew ever more frenzied, adding fuel after fuel, until the fire grew, blazed, and roared, threatening to enter into the room and consume the hut in its growth. All this time, the Pilgrim knelt by it on numb knees, basking and praying in the burning heat of his savior.

Yet all the while, the cold outside moaned. Aside from the scorching heat of the flame, the man felt little warmer. The fire could not unroot the cold from deep within him. Most of the heat escaped, being snatched up by the cold through the hole in the roof. The man knelt. He knew there was still a long way to go. He knew not if he would arrive, or if he would be passed by another pilgrim, much like he had passed those before him. All the while, the flame consumed what fuel he had given it, and gradually began to die back. This was the end of the flame. How long did he have left before he faded away in the same way?

The Pilgrim reached down and grabbed a still burning brand from the dying fire. He rose on numb legs, turned, and walked to the door. The wind was calling outside. The cold was creeping its way in. The Pilgrim took one last look at the fading embers of the fire inside, opened the door, and stepped back into the void.

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On 4/18/2021 at 12:04 PM, Catlover said:

Great story! It had an almost poetic feel to it and I enjoyed reading it. Though I wonder how the pilgrim managed to not run into that annoying bear near the mountaineer's hut. 🤔

Thank you! One of my favorite authors is Jack London, so I was trying to write similar to his style, along with something of a short poem. I guess the Pilgrim must have a bit of luck, to not have to add a bear mauling to his list of misfortunes 😆

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