Another piece for a close friend.
Dark. Everything was dark. Shadows of trees rushed by, silhouetted against the gray night sky. The usual forest scents were smothered, the expected twitters, chirps, and rustles muffled. Layers of dead leaves littered the forest floor, but nothing crunched in them. His footsteps as he ran made no sound—the effect was ghostly. And the dark gray air turned everything colorless and shadowed. What should have been a summer day filled with the blonde and gold hues of dappled sunlight was instead transformed into an emptiness made cold by the vacuum of emotion pulling on the ghosted fragments of what used to be.
She trotted through the forest on the back of a white-maned horse, his muzzle covered in hints of ice. Frosted air streamed out of his nostrils as he gently carried her through a world untouched by anything. She looked around curiously, wondering what could have happened here to turn it so barren. Her slightly curled hair dropped around her, caressing her body. Clearly, it had once been a rich brown. She clung to her horse’s wide neck, and his deep brown eyes brought the only color and shadow of life into a void of energy.
So he ran, his hair whipping back behind him in a wind that should have been soothing—instead it chilled his core, instilling him a frightened sense of dread and loss. What was he supposed to be protecting? As he raced toward the unknown center of iciness, what could he be sacrificing? His normally bright blue eyes, filled with such life, were instead consumed by the black pupils, a thin ring of ice coating a black pool of onyx. Still he ran, soundless, like a fleeting memory.
The gray trees thinned and opened out onto a grand lake, a medieval stone castle at its center. Walls ran around the castle, forming protective rings against invasion. But it could not stop the cold. She sat atop her horse, he hoping she wouldn’t do anything so daring and foolish, she wondering if the ice was thick enough to hold her. She’d found herself in this strange place after falling asleep—she might as well explore it. As she climbed down off her perch, he whinnied gently. Caution.
A single crack pierced the still air and instantly he came to a halt, still as a statue amongst leaves frozen in time and space. He looked up to find gray-white stars winking out, thick clouds covering the spaces from where they had once shined life down. A blur of white vapor breezed out of his mouth before catching in the air and freezing like everything else around him. With the stars leaving, the color drained, the life gone, he was lost amid a world of strange things discovered in a daydream. But he knew, somewhere deep within the vibrations of his abdomen he knew: he had to keep running. Faster and faster, like a shade of the night. If only he could fly. He was afraid he’d be too late, but for what he didn’t know.
She was stuck. The ice had started to creak after she’d made it about halfway out to the castle. She was cursing her luck and hoping to progress without further trouble when the cracks began to form, small at first but then more and more concerning. She couldn’t move for fear of causing the whole shelf to collapse at once and send her plunging into the frigid waters. Her brave horse stood on the far bank, fear coursing through his eyes. He reared and whinnied again, but this time no sound came out.
He burst through the trees, skidding to a halt in some kind of white slush as he took in the scene before him. A young lonely girl stood helplessly amid the ice, poised as though headed towards the looming castle before her. A horse stood on the bank, terrified for the girl. And he, at the top of a hill, could see no safe way to reach her. She turned around and locked eyes with him, and at that moment the ice gave way and she fell.
She gasped at the shock the frigid water and it poured into her mouth, driving any fight she had from her. She had thought the world could not be darker, but the blackness edging her vision away was evidence to the contrary. Things were disappearing fast, and her heavy arms would not move in the slowness of her thoughts.
He was caught in a moment of irrational and torturous slowness. Eternity dragged on as he watched the last glimpse of her pale hand dip below the surface. What could he possibly do except fall in himself? He collapsed to his knees, a single tear rolling onto the sleet beneath him.
A single ray of light pierced the cloud cover overhead. He felt lightheaded at the irony—such sadness coupled with an unexpected shaft of optimism. And then he realized he wasn’t just feeling lightheaded. He was actually floating off the ground. Instincts kicked in as he soared high above the clouds. But wait: what about the girl and her horse? Could he still save her? Was there still time? He dived and the wind roared by his ears, the only sound echoing off the mountains and giving the impression of thunder.
Something sparkled in the last dot of her vision. Something blue, maybe blonde…oh well. Her eyes drifted shut.
When his hand thrust through the water, his vision reeled and everything flipped. Suddenly he was reaching up from the sky into an ice-filled ocean towards a girl up above him. He pulled her down to him into a now-cloudless sky.
She awoke in paradise, staring at the blue eyes of some boy who had apparently rescued her. She tried to sit up, but a blinding headache knocked her down. A concerned look flitted across his face. No words passed between the two, because the sound was still off, but language was an unnecessary barrier at this point. A link forged in the icy steel of the lake existed between them.
Her horse wandered over and licked her cheek, a gentle reminder. The young man who had saved her flashed a foolish grin at her, and when something slightly more painful crowded his eyes she immediately wanted to comfort him. But the horse nuzzled her again. He nodded. Go on. When he realized she could barely stand on her own, he took her in his arms with a reflective expression on his face. They drifted over the horses back and he set her down. He caressed her cheek, but he did not cry. Not now. He looked at the horse, and something passed between them. He was flooded by the image of a curly-haired young man, a man of brown eyes and brown hair whose arms stood protectively around the girl atop his back. The blonde man nodded. Take care of her. And he turned away as they galloped into the forest.
He was skimming through the air, admiring the returned stars and occasionally just drifting as his mind wandered back to that strange day. He carried something heavy in his heart, and it dragged him down.
Just then, it began to snow, soft flakes of ice buzzing by in flurries. The pretty ice crystals danced and whirled in intricate patterns, caressing his body. And suddenly he realized that his dead land of gray was actually beautiful for the cold ice it contained and the life which it sustained in the radiant glory of snowflakes and sunshine and stars—the reflections across thousands of fragmented surfaces painted a glimmering beacon of hope among the snow-capped mountains, and his heart soared and leapt with joy as he let go of a burden and joined the stars in their colorful triumph.