Within the Wild I Sleep

Cassiar was once a beautiful, small mining community. But now it is a ghost town. This was Osbourn's home, and he witnessed it burn to the ground Christmas day so many years ago. But he did not flee to a new town like the rest who remained to see that day. Instead he daringly turns to the wild with open arms, taking on the dream he has had since a child to live in the bush like his rugged father claimed to had once done. Somewhere near the shore of Captain lake he has built his own life, a life he finds worth living. On the horizon of his home in the woods is a distant mountain. A place that Osbourn has become completely infatuated with, but doesn't dare dream of visiting the mysterious place. But as the anniversary of his home towns fall approaches, his quiet life as a woodsman changes drastically. ~ A short story for the Christmas Calendar competition. In the category of Supernatural.

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4. The Shoulder of the Giant

 Os woke up yet again from a hazy, dreamless sleep in a cave. The only difference this had from last time was that he was actually conscious when he settled himself inside. Also, this cave was not on the ground within the trees. He was a in a cave gouged out in the side of Delizu. He was halfway up the mountain now, but had to stop near sunrise the night before because of exhaustion. The slope he had been climbing wasn't the steepest, so he hadn't had any issues when it came the aspect of him loosing leverage and falling back down the mountain. But any hill took its toll on Os's weak body, and it forced him to have to stop. Just as well, he was happy for an excuse to get out of the freezing wind. For it only seemed to become more bitter the higher he climbed.

 The only thing that was keeping him going was the light at the top of the mountain. It consistently became brighter the further up he went, to the point now where he was almost certain that it was fire. It mystified him on how someone could be living atop a mountain like this, let alone keep a fire burning in this weather. Os had not seen any animal up here, and doubted any plant could thrive. So what was this persons secret? Os wanted so badly to know, so he kept climbing.

 And when he stepped out of the cave the next morning, the wind had backed off a noticeable amount. It was still rather dark though. The occasional ray of sun did manage to barely seep through the thick layer of clouds, which looked as if they were daring each other to dump another good snowfall soon. The flame at the top of the hill was gone, or he just couldn't see it at the moment, because it was reasonably brighter now than it was before he had fallen asleep. But it was already midday which meant that the sun must had been cruising over to its destination on the western horizon. The sweet fragments of light that the clouds obtained would soon disappear, leaving nothing but its true, evil looking, opaque wall of darkness. Those clouds would bring more snow, and the whipping winds along with it.

 Os took advantage the best he could of the calmer weather. He did notice the difference when it came to his enjoyment while climbing, and the progress he was making. Stormy weather had always been his favourite, but that was when he was indoors. Now that he was desperately scaling the side of a mountain on a completely empty stomach, he quickly grew to like the serenity in the air.

 Just as he had assumed, night fell almost quicker than he had remembered. As if the sun had just plummeted down the horizon. It must had been the winter solstice, or close to it. He couldn't remember how many days he had been out here, or what day it was when he left so abruptly. Perhaps it was Christmas already. What a brilliant way it was to spend such a holiday. Or perhaps the perfect way to represent the anniversary of a horrible event. But he didn't have time to think about the year 2000 now. He should be more worried about the thick, dark clouds above that threatened to dump a tidal wave of horrible weather upon him. The past was in the past, he couldn't change that. All he could do was finish the decisions he had made. 

 When the first few snowflakes began to trickle down, Os was proud of how far he had made it in the limited time he had. He would not be disappointed if the weather made him have to tuck away somewhere for the rest of the night, because he was almost positive that between the time he would rise the next morning and the sunset that night, he will have reached the top of the mountain. The thought was exciting. He would soon stand upon the peak of Delizu, the place he had always dreamed about for many years. But at the same time, it was nerve-racking. What if there was no one on top of the hill? What if he had just imagined the firelight in his weak, desperate state, or perhaps just mistook it for a star or planet. If there was no one, it would probably result in his death eventually. He would be too weak with hunger, with the chances of finding any food or water in time very slim. Os had this thought creeping in his mind all day, and hadn't decided whether he would try to make his way down to the forests in hopes of finding easy game again, or just stay at Delizu. His second option did sound appealing, because how else would he want to die other than at the peak of the mystic mountain. 

 Night had officially fallen a couple hours ago, and to his luck, the snow was taking its time falling. Only a slight flurry was not enough to make him hide away. His body was driven with adrenaline, with the need to know. Not only did he want to know the feeling of standing atop Delizu, but he needed to know if somebody else was already doing so. It was a life or death situation, and he needed the hospitality of the supposed inhabitants of the mountain. These people, if they existed, must have a unimaginable technique to keep them alive.

 But Os's luck was trickling away with every long minute of the night. The snow was beginning to pick up the further Os climbed. This slowed his progress even more, which was a shame because the peak was appearing very close now. But Os was too energized to give up against the increase in wind and snow. If anything, it motivated him even more to complete the substantial task. His heart rate quickened the closer the peak came, until eventually every ounce of excitement and energy within him swelled up in his chest and got caught in his throat when he gasped at the sight. The ache in his legs disappeared with his doubt when the thin sweep of mighty wind hit him as his head emerged from the slope to view the summit. The moment Os had been fighting to live so long, the sight of the peak of Delizu. 

 Before Os's stomach plummeted in despair at the sight of the deserted view, he let his heart flutter in wonder at the sight just for a moment. It was dark, plain and eerie in a way, but it was beautiful at the same time. Never before had Os ever imagined standing in a place so ancient, magical and alluring. It made him feel like the mightiest person just by standing at its summit. He knew that he was now standing on the shoulder of the most fearsome giant that this world had ever known. A giant that lifted him up so high that he could peer up into the unknown world of heaven. This truly was the heaven of an adventurer.

 Unfortunately, this proud moment was short lived. While Os gazed around him in triumph, it was impossible to let slip the notice of the snow-capped peak being a bare canvas. The wind whipped up streaks of loose, untouched snow all around him, as if mockingly reminding him that he was alone. That he was out of his sane mind to ever think that someone was here. That he had probably lost his mind all together. Perhaps from the factors of being hungry, dehydrated and tired. Or just his strange, truly alienated place in the wild secretly softening his mind over the years. He couldn't doubt that thought, considering all that he had seen over the past few days, it made sense.

 What happened next, Os wasn't sure if it made him feel even more insane, or it gave him a reason to feel relief. It was a mixed feeling. The wind blew up a final plume of snow, and when it came back down to the ground, it revealed the light that he had been following all these days. There was a slight spark in the darkness, which quickly grew to a large fire pitted in the ground. It was the fire. Not a star or planet. He had seen it right, it was here. But how did it suddenly come out of nowhere?

 Os approached it ever so slowly, but being stealth was next to impossible, for the snow packed beneath each of his footfalls with a loud crunch. But it didn't matter. The being that sat behind the flames knew that he was there already. As Os approached wearily, he locked eyes with the pair sitting at the fire. A shadowy, hollow human face pocked out from a furry hood. The face showed no emotion, so Os felt a nervousness growing in his gut as he neared the fire in an attempt to meet this person. He didn't know if this person was armed or hostile, he didn't want to risk being attacked. So he reached out in the only way he could remember to show that he didn't mean harm.

 "Hello?" he called out into the wind gently. "Do you mind my presence?"

 There was a long pause that didn't help sooth the burning fear in Os's chest. Os was getting so close to the man now that he stood on the opposite side of the fire, contemplating whether or not to circle around and meet the man face to face. But he decided that he hadn't established enough contact to make such a move. He was a little rusty at this, since it had been sixteen years since he had made direct contact with another human.

 "Do you speak English?" Os asked.

 The man nodded, "Of course I do," he said with a surprisingly strong voice for his frail looking figure.

 "Then do you mind my being here?"

 "If I had, I would had shot you down by now," the man said with a light laugh, holding up an arrow that he had pulled from the quiver sitting next to him. The sight scared Os slightly, bitterly reminding him that he was not armed himself. But the expression on the mysterious mans face said that there was nothing to worry about. The man had obviously seen Os's brief look of shock and put the arrow down. Gesturing his hand forward, he said, "Sit, son. Sit sit."

 Os obeyed gratefully, awkwardly planting himself in the cold snow on the opposite side of the fire. "What is your name?" Os asked.

 The man shook his head. "That doesn't matter, Osbourn."

 "Then how do you know my name?" Os asked, slightly concerned. He was positive that he had never met this man before.

 The man chuckled once more, "Again, does not matter."

 "Okay," Os said, still awkwardly, adjusting his hood on his head as the whistling winds assaulted it. "What shall I call you then?"

 "Doesn't matter."

 Os narrowed his eyes, feeling slightly annoyed, "Okay, sir," the man nodded at Os, allowing him to continue calling him that word, "why are you up here?"

 "The same reason you are, Osbourn."

 "Waking up mysteriously in the forests below and being chased by wolves and elk, having no other choice to retreat to the summit?" Os responded, slightly sarcastic.

 The man chuckled slightly as he responded, "You had a choice, Osbourn. And you chose to come here for the adventure, did you not?" Os nodded, his head dipping down, "Then let me ask you something, my dear boy," the man continued in a wise, old voice, "why do you always turn to blaming it on the animals?"

 "I-," Os tried to explain, but he found that he couldn't. His head dipped down even more in embarrassment and defeat as the man made his point. "I have no reason, sir."

 "That is why you are here," The man said plainly. Os raised an eyebrow and looked up at him slightly in confusion.

 "You were here for adventure a moment ago."

 "I was here for adventure thirty years ago. Things change drastically here, Osbourn."

 "My name is Os," Os corrected. The man sighed in return.

 "This brings me to my next point," the man began, "Humility is a quality more important than all the rest. Osbourn was the name that your parents gave you, am I wrong?"

 "Correct, sir."

 "Then why would you choose to defy that name, even so slightly?"

 "I-," Os found himself at a loss of words once again, "I don't know sir."

 "The time you had with your parents was precious. And it so abruptly ended when you were just eighteen. Just becoming a man." the man started, "and the day that your father died, trapped and killed in the burning mine, you chose to separate yourself from your mother, the one strand of family left that you knew. This fascinates me, Osbourn."

 Os was deeply hurt with the mention of his fathers death. For so long he had been trying to forget that day, that horrible Christmas day. And now the mans simple words brought back the most vivid of images to his mind from his home town of Cassiar. The screams, the smoke, the tears. It was a living nightmare.

 The man let the silence stretch on for awhile to let this sink into Os, but soon he continued, "You let fear overrule you, Osbourn. It appeared a bold move to turn to the wild at such a young age. But you did it out of fear," he stated rather blandly, as if it were just a casual remark, "You ran from your problems the only way you knew how because you recognized that you could not change the past. No matter how."

 "How do you know all this?" Os asked, fighting to keep his voice even.

 "It doesn't matter, Osbourn. It doesn't matter..."

 Os sighed, and spoke quietly, "Of course it doesn't."

 "You are brave still, in ways, don't get me wrong. I admire your skills in survival. You remind me of myself when I was your age," he said with a titter, "But you still did it wrong. You entered the wild with your own opinion on everything and lived with superstitions that were wasteful when it came to the amount of pressure you had on yourself." The man now had a large stick in his hand, jamming it lightly against the charred logs in the fire, sending sparks up into the wind in flurries.

 Os, in the meantime while the man let his words sink in yet again, did take the mans blow. He had to admit that he was right. He reflected on everything that he had learned in his experiences over the last few days. Some of which being very odd, especially when he remembered the ghostly whale. Maybe it didn't all make sense to him, but he found that, for the first time, he had been exposed to nature, after his long sixteen years in the wilderness. He saw its beauty, and its hard truth. The elk he had thought to be so peaceful and trustworthy, the animals that he killed and relied on for food so often in the warmer months had turned and tried to kill him. And at about the same moment, the wolf, an animal he took to be savage and evil had saved him. He still did not know what to think, and the sudden encounter with this straight-forward man wasn't helping his confusion. He had told Os everything that he already knew, but at the same time laced it with truths that Os had refused to accept for the longest time.

 "I was confused too, Osbourn..." the man interrupted his thoughts, as if he were reading them.

 "I really don't feel that you've explained yourself enough to say things like this," Os spoke, feeling slightly angry.

 "And I could say the same thing," he countered, "I need you to realize my purpose so I can teach you yours. And because you are having trouble seeing it on your own, my purpose is not to have my own story to share." Os was still silent. "Look up, boy."

 Os lifted his head with as much strength as he could muster, beginning to feel quite annoyed. "I could walk off this mountain right now. I have a home I can return to."

 "Do as you want. Go home if you find it such an easy option. I am nothing but a guide."

 Os paused as he went to stand. He could stand up and walk away with some sort of dignity. But how proud would he be feeling when he would collapse in exhaustion, facing his final, guaranteed death. He knew it would happen, for he did not know how far away his home really was. Looking back in the smiling eyes of the expectant man, he settled himself back down in his spot by the warm fire and stayed.

 "Wise choice, I must say." The man smiled. His grin remained ghostly on his face as he adverted his eyes away from Os's and focused into the flames, continuing to poke lightly at the fire with his stick.

 "Care to continue your speech?" Os asked, the kindness in his voice airing hints of rudeness. The old man just heightened his smile. Instead of speaking, he jammed his stick hard into the fire. Os did glance up at the sparks briefly, but had to look twice. It rose high, resistant against the wind. The sparks rose higher and higher, the flickers of orange forming tall into a huge picture of a killer whale. Its tail formed through the flames as if it were leaping from it. Os's eyes followed in wonder as the spark whale erupted into the air and propelled itself through the wind like it were swimming in water.

 "You were distracted by the impossible when you first embarked on this journey," the man began, "You saw a whale, a creature you have always admired and wished to witness, in a lake. Too caught up in wonder, you lost consciousness to the waking world and fell into the presence of an animal you fear most."

 He jabbed the fire once again, this time slightly smaller, a burst of sparks jumped up into the air as a wolf. It glowing figure leaped at the whale, causing the huge creature's sparks to break apart and fade into the night. "The wolf approached you just as you trapped yourself in the winters night. It did you no harm, Osbourn. Instead, it saved your life by taking you away to the safest place it knew. To its own home. The cave you woke up in."

 He now let fly several sparks that rained down to simulate snow as the lone wolf now pranced around them. Os watched the air in wonder as the man let fly images from the fire into a short story, a true story that was Os's.

 Soon a rabbit joined the scene. It showed the wolf gently falling upon the rabbit and quickly killing it. "The wolf not only provided you with a shelter, but with a meal to wake up to. But still your opinion on the animal did not change."

 "Then you discovered the herd..." The wolf pranced back into the shadows while the rabbit faded into nothing. A shower of sparks took their place that turned to the yearling. She pranced around happily, leaving trails of her sparks behind. She only stopped when she saw Os, and began to walk up to him, giving him the same curious look that the sparks simulated so well. And just how the rest of this touching scene went, the stag appeared. His massively bright figure appeared behind the young cow, causing her to flee away into the shadows.

 "And you faced your enemy, who has been hiding in your plain sight for all these years,." Os felt the same surge of fear as the now fallen stag walked up to him. The man continued his story, "He didn't hate man, he hated you. He knew your scent. The individual man who picked off one of his herd each time you found them." Os watched as the stag once again squared up with him, his gleaming orange antlers looking as real as ever. But soon two more figures burst from the flames. Two wolves joined the scene a the third jumped back from the shadows. They lunged forth, obliterating the stag from existence and showering Os in its sparks. The wolves peeled away in a humbled triumph, two of them finding a spot back on the two open sides of the fire, while the third wolf, who Os knew to be green eyes, pranced behind the man. They stood silently in patience as he continued his words. "The wolves saved you from your past mistakes. The mistake of killing those animals with a cold heart. Feasting on their meat without one ounce of respect for their sacrifice. Taking their life with a hauler of happiness. Letting slip the notice that you could had very well taken away a mother from a fawn, a sister from a sister, and a mate from a bull. But luck took your side, Osbourn. And just last night, the wolves granted you survival, but in return left a yearling without her father."

 The sparks in the shape of the yearling jumped back over Os's shoulder from the shadows. There was a noticeable amount of enthusiasm taken from her steps as she stopped before Os and gazed sadly down at the ashes that once took the shape of her father. The sparkling face of the fawn looked up into Os's with a destroyed look before her sparks shredded into ashes to join her father within the snow as Os's folded knees. Still the glowing wolves sat silently in mid air, their heads dipped in respect. "And you continued on, thankful for nothing but your survival, without an ebb of concern for the fate of a herd without a leader. Wolves who had spilled the blood of a respected stag with your good in mind. And you left with the wolves still being the savage creatures you took them to be."

 Os looked up at the wolves who still waited in a humble silence, feeling a great deal of humiliation, guilt and a new respect for the creatures. "And now here you stand, Osbourn," The man spoke. For the first time, Os was aware of the mans presence. He jumped as he fixed his eyes to his from across the fire. "You can not alter the past or future, Osbourn. You can only prepare your mind to view it as it was meant to be. A world with sacrifice, but to a good cause. A world with friends, but without the creation of sworn enemies. A world with killing, but no violence...." The man now began to get to his feet. "And this is where I leave you to live this life, Osbourn..."

 "What?" Os asked frantically, getting to his feet himself. "You can't leave me."

 The old man smiled. "My purpose is complete."

 The man raised his stick from the fire, which now hosted a scoop of its own flame at its end. Wordlessly, he handed the torch to Os. There was a slow moment as the old man stepped himself even closer to the fire, until he heaved his old, heavy limbs into the flame.

 "Whoa! What are you doing?" Os cried out at him. The man did nothing but look up at him with a smile that took in every feature of his aged face. And quicker than a heartbeat, his figure popped into one composed of sparks, which showered down fast into the fire. As the wave of the mans sparks hit the flame, the light completely disappeared, for the entire fire pit had disappeared with the man. The only flame that existed now atop the mountain was the flame lit on the end of the stick that Os now held. 

 For the first time in a while, the spark wolves lifted their heads and gazed at the torch with glowing eyes. Os almost forgot about their presence, but barely had time to take in their figures before they leaped from their positions. The first two wolves lunged forth at the flame of the torch, their sparks disappearing within it. The last wolf to go was the figure of green eyes. It took a step forth, almost hesitantly, then made its jump to the flame.

 Os stood alone once again atop the mountain, with nothing to show for the experience but the torch in his hand. He gazed in disbelief into the flame, reflecting on what its magical contents held. He wished the fire to never burn out, but the small ember burned into its tip was beginning to dim down against the harsh weather that was coming back to Os's notice. 

 Just as the flame was about to die out, a new and entirely different light joined Os on the mountain peak. It was a light that held a whole new energy, it was the glow of those wolfish green eyes. The cream coloured coat stepped out from the fire and the wolf stood boldly just feet from where Os stood. Its head high, eyes wide and body showing no signs of fear as the wind whipped through its thick coat. Its head tilted slightly as it took in his facial expression. Quite suddenly, its mouth opened, revealing its row of sharp, white fangs surrounding its pink tongue.

 "It time to wake up now, Os..." A crystal clear, familiar female voice escaped the wolf's lips and rung above the howling wind. The torch dropped from his hand as he gasped. The flame was smothered in the snow that it hit, sinking him into a split second of complete darkness before his eyes snapped open to face the space of his bedroom.

 

 

 

 

 

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