I’m going to die.
To say that this thought suddenly hit me would be a lie: I think had always lingered there, deep in the recesses of my subconscious. Covered under the primary sensations, the physical. The roaring of the wind within my ears. The slow numbing of my fingers. I buried the feeling under my attempts to survive. The relentless shivering. The need to find shelter, the desperation to drive the freezing away as my limbs fell prey to its embrace.
But now, as the ice’s grip had carved its way into my very core, I found myself forced to finally acknowledge it—I’m going to die.
Out here in the wretched frost-lands. I was alone, far from anyone and anything I ever known, abandoned and left to die. Forsaken. My remains would probably amount to nothing more than food for the polar bears…Or worse…
Finally, after walking for as long as I could, I finally made the decision I never thought I’d make. Closing my eyes, I sunk backwards and sank, or collapsed, into the ground. Again, that thought swam across my conscious mind, above all the physical pain. There was no way I was going to survive this ordeal. So why bother? I wasn’t going to waste my last moments trying to work up a sweat in this wasteland, anyway. That same thought was still etched into my brain.
I’m going to die.
Throughout my entire life, death always seemed to be that one, elusive certainty. The one fact that lingered in the far reaches of mankind’s collective unconsciousness, always there, but eternally intangible. I still remember the day it took my brother, Ichabod: I was a boy, then, caught in the ever-present euphoria of youth. Back then, when everything tinged with an exotic, exciting glow. It claimed him quick—the cold grasp of that frozen lake had laid claim on him before Mother or Father could react. It dragged him down, its waters filling his lungs, strangling them, depriving him of oxygen. Striking him down at the prime days of his youth. His life taken from him by nature’s chill.
Huh, just like me.
I felt the corners of my mouth erupt into a wide smile at the thought, and a new sensation, a warmth, spread itself up from my lungs. Laughter. I doubled over, savoring the fleeting moment of rare, blissful joy as it erupted, through the burning in my limbs as they succumbed to the frost. Had Ol’ Ichabod experienced the same thing in his last, fleeting moments? The thought had to be the most hilarious thing in the world.
“Are you happy now, Ichy?” The words escaped me. At this point, etiquette didn’t seem to matter. “Father always said we were two peas in a pod!”
Death had claimed him, and now He had His sights set on me. I closed my eyes. There, in that sheltered space, I could feel a lifetime pass by. The time after Ichabod. All those days we spent in the church afterwards, after Father made a promise to the Universe, and he dedicated his time to that small brick building. My father found religion that day, when the reality of death stared him down under the veil of Ichabod’s corpse. I remembered the pain in his eyes, all those days he spent in the pews. I think he clung to religion to escape it, the reality that all of mankind’s paths led, ultimately, to that same end. What would Father say now…?
“Gabriel, do you believe in God?”
I still remember the time when I doubted if there was an answer to the question, back when I first started at the Academy. Even there, the finality of death seemed to linger in my classmates. All those questions, discussions on philosophy, science; all pondering the answer to that question. It was the reason I sought out on this journey. To find the answer in the depths of the wilderness. And yet here I was, sitting here, staring at my eyelids, my ears burning from the cutting wind, about to finally understand what it meant to die, to meet whatever maker lied beyond… Those pompous bastards at the Academy will certainly be jealous that I know the answer and they don’t! It serves them right.
Of all the travails this wretched place had wrought, that was the one bright side: That ultimate epiphany, born through the frost. As I felt the finally wisps of my physical surroundings begin to fade, I felt myself growing closer to that one, eternal truth. I had tried to find God, and now He was going to find me.
And still, the earth would rage on.
Aaron has always loved the process of creative writing for as long as he can remember. His ultimate goal is to become an author.