Burden shouldered Hope as he trekked across the wasteland. Hope had worn out yet another pair of shoes and he didn’t want her to cut her feet up on the cracked and rocky terrain. His old leather boots seemed to be indestructible, so much the better. Hope wasn’t heavy to bear, despite being older and larger than when he found her in that cannibal shack. The wasteland didn’t offer enough to get fat.
The world don’t offer seconds no more. No second chances, not a second’s respite, and definitely no second helpings, Burden could imagine his father saying as he divided a can of beans between them, always giving Burden the bigger portion.
Hope whispered into Burden’s ear, breathy and only semi-lucid, muttering about water and cool breezes and other sparse blessings. The sun beat down on their backs relentlessly. Only a threadbare tarp covered them, a treasure that they’d scavenged in the last stand of buildings they’d come across. Burden had used a length of cord to tie it around his neck, creating a sort of hooded cloak. There was enough excess cord that he’d been able to tie it around both his neck and Hope’s scrawny shoulders as she clung to his back.
Two doomed men, barely more than boys, rode at the head of a column full of women, children, and elderly out of the Rook’s Gate and underneath an overcast sky that promised wind and rain.
Shadow and fog blind my peril at sea,
and waves batter the vessel that bears me.
But you are the lighthouse blazing on land
That guides me through the deep night to safety.
Cole could hardly stand to look at Roland Fuller as they attempted to draw him out the back of the covered wagon, covered as he was in vile growths that seemed to jiggle with fluid with every slight jostle. Black webbing grew from his eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears. Mrs. Fuller was wailing from another wagon, incoherent with her grief. The Fuller boys, Ben and Gabe, watched from a distance with the rest of the party.
The locals said the first disappearances occurred in the winter, but no one could see a pattern then. Folk had just assumed that the missing had merely lost their way and died somewhere of exposure. It was, all agreed, an exceptionally cold winter with more than its fair share of blizzards.
An approximation of the proper rites were conducted for every missing person, or as proper as the rites could be without a body. Widows mourned, widowers drank, orphans left to go live with relatives, and bereft parents waited up at night for their little ones to come home again against all hope or reason.
It wasn’t until later, after the snows had melted and the weather had warmed, that several villages realized that they’d all suffered an unusual number of losses. Not only that, but disappearances were still happening on a regular basis, despite the milder weather. People would leave to tend their fields, collect firewood, or hunt and never come home.
A group of local men traveled to Aumflau, the nearest town of any import, to petition the burgomeister. Heeding their concerns, he, in turn, dispatched a letter to Parder addressed to the Jaegerhalle there. The morning after the letter arrived, in the dark stillness before the sun has yet risen, four horsemen left the Jaegerhalle and rode out the River Gate, taking the Imperial Highway towards Aumflau.
There’s a dismal island lost to man and memory out on a nameless sea, at the very edge of the world in the grey area between light and shadow, where the normal cycles of day and night do not apply. There’s a constant darkness in one direction, a grayish smear spreading overhead, and a distant, cold light along the opposite horizon. Underneath wheels this lone pinpoint of earth, fixed to the sky above it, within a roiling black sea.
There’s a tower on this island, the lone distinguishing feature, that juts from a dormant heap of black volcanic rock. The tower faces the lit horizon, monolithic, its facade narrowed like a knife’s edge. Mist blows in from the light in a channel, as unrelenting and mysterious as the tide, lending the island a sort of insubstantial quality, like a swipe could dispel it from existence. The tower offers the only stark contrast as it slices through the vapor like the bow of a ship, its substance asserted by its dark prominence as it cuts into the corpse-grey sky above it. As if the tower had swatted the mist from the sky, it settles upon the land like a blanket. On occasion a soft, cold rain would fall from the swirling grey clouds overhead. If the stars could have been seen from the ground, they would have given the impression of blinking shut in revulsion as their gazes fell upon the corpulent rock in the sea. The light of day had never touched this land, so far removed were they from the distant cognizance of civilization.
In a line of people filing out, I am last.
I tried to wait, to see the end, to stall,
Because I looked out at the gulfing space, vast,
Saw those before me, little specks, fall,
But joined them anyway, the time past
To stop and consider anything at all.
It’s a long fade into yourself then a short
Like tension drawn on a cord,
before the snap! sends you reeling into the void.
(you’re nowhere to be found)
They’ll pick up the pieces afterwards, those whose shadows are still long on the ground.
They’ll mound the dirt and sweep the stones bare, then exit the stage while casting their shadows-
long and dark and vital-
interminably beneath the sun.
A flash of gold and a ribbon of blue
Glimmered briefly on a rain-swept street-
These fragments are all that’s left of you.
Or faces half seen in puddles at my feet-
By tread and discord they disperse-
Glimmered briefly on a rain-swept street.