Still free, and still — with distance — a reasonably involving read:
The first thing noticed, was the chill – cold, hard stone, and steady breeze that prickled skin. Further joined discomfort came by recognition he was wet, lying at the bottom of a gorge on the slate bed of a little stream that barely trickled through. The sound of rushing water clouded the forest, punctuated by sharp bird calls chirping through in concert with glints of light that burst from dewdrop-licked leaves, pulled by the breeze into spots of light – filtered, like a mesh thrown over eyes and through lightly draped mist, obscuring depth and focus.
He rolled off, aside on slightly elevated ground, left coated in small twigs, leaves and mud; grabbed the trunk of a small, dead tree and pulled to a seat, sat shivering as he surveyed the surroundings. The stream flowed from and fled around corners, gently rolling over the chiseled blocks of rock, light ripples where the sheen of water caught imperfections on the surface, flow otherwise indiscernible. The cold mist waved through the dense trees that clung to the sides of the gorge and rose above, little else along the walls of wet earth, debris trapped only by fallen limbs or against their trunks.
Climbing free up the steep walls was precluded at least by fatigue and sore bones. He rose and shook to cast away the shiver; began walking slowly, following the gorge with the flow of water, yet shivering fiercely as the breeze whipped the wet shirt against the bruises on his back. The rock bed was cold and water colder; the dark, silt painted mud beside clung coolly and pressed the chill deeper. Turning the bend, the chasm opened wider and the loss of overgrowth allowed the sun to burn away the mist and promised warmth – but untrue, as the wind blew harder with no resistance. He walked on, hands clutched to his arms wrapped tightly to his chest.
His feet plodded grudgingly and only as no better options were apparent. He walked between water and sodden earth for hope of relief to aching soles, finding little, for long. The patchwork of light that had filtered to the floor of the gorge, faded to uniformity, the blue sky deepened, the wind blew more relentless and colder. The ache of cold grew to numbness in his feet but spread through shins and into the knees. The mist began to thicken, blotting out the few visible pinpoints of light from the moonless night, and frigid – clinging to cloth and skin, forming intermittent drops that ran cold trails.
The sound of the rushing water faded to a distant afterthought as he walked but still droned quietly behind, the lessening din unveiling footsteps lightly splashing – the only sound except still a few birds and frogs, as the last murmur of light blinked to dark and fog. Walking blindly, the textures of earth steered direction – the hard rock, the softer and slight inclination of soil. He stopped – not intentionally – but overwhelmed with confusion, and then, unsure if one more footstep heard was echoed or the expectation in his head. He continued on for seven more steps, then stopped again. Paused, head turned to best limit the distortion from the wind, listening intently, to the pounding in his ears, distant water rushing, the sound of water, splashing or falling.
“Hello?” The thin voice fell dead in the thick air. He cleared his throat and called more firmly, “Hello?” A shrill call replied followed by a splash. He turned back toward his course, but found an embankment, turned again, and lost to the direction he traveled. He knelt to the water, placed a hand on the stone and felt the flow lead behind. He carefully turned again, marking his direction by leaving a finger in the stream as he did, then resumed walking, more quickly, thoughts growing more clouded, shaking more severe.
The first small spark of light was far to the left and disregarded, but more began to pierce the dark, at first infrequently and obliquely, but as time passed, grew in regularity and directly in fore-vision. He rubbed his eyes, stumbling, and reached out for a brace, resting a hand on the open, gaping mouth of a huge crocodile – he shrieked. There was only dark; the heavy pounding in his chest drowned out most other sounds. “I’ll have you know: That was not funny…” He quietly scolded. He increased the pace, then broke into a run, careening across the bed of the river, jerking wildly away from the give of soft earth, stumbling and scratching for anything to hold on to.
Deadened sense kept secret a foot’s missed step, revealed when a cheek contacted stone and brought a whimper; just dampened clothes again suffused. He put a hand atop his aching head and pulled himself to his knees – crawled from the water into the mud, and on until abutting to a tree. He pulled himself to a seat, leaned back against the trunk with knees tucked up to his chin, arms hugging them tight. Eyes closed or open, made no difference – a half dream like state with visions materializing, then fading with mental focus.
Still, sleep would not settle, with every strange sound pulling attention as did the stabbing aches, worry of the strange feeling in both feet and the heavy shaking. He rose again and walked to the water, leaning down to feel the flow of the icy trickle. He began walking once again and softly cursed. “You will not defeat me, night – I will find my way, no matter…” The words clung tight around him, sense of place contained within but for the biting wind and fading feeling in his feet. He marched steadily, one foot after the other, shaking fiercely, teeth clenched angrily at the cold mist biting at his cheek.
Clouds swirled, then faded. Men watched, then were gone. People skated upon the frozen river, smiling, twirling – a smiling girl in light blue coat, with white scarf and matching white hat with red pom, spun by and smiled. He shivered, and shook the vision, marching steadily… One foot… One foot… One foot… He marched through the wide street that divided the town in two, where the town gathered for the evening meal, and straight into his home. He opened the door and found the rooms completely empty, but heading to his room, found his un-made bed still waiting. He laid down – it was hard and cold.
When he awoke, he was warm, though the cold wind blew; his clothes were dry. He lifted from the small pile of leaves on which he’d rested and surveyed the surroundings, the sound of water rushing loudly. He walked to the little stream, surprised how cold it felt upon his feet. The stream flowed from and fled around corners, gently rolling over the chiseled blocks of rock, light ripples where the sheen of water caught imperfections on the surface, flow otherwise indiscernible. The mist was gone – he looked at the dense trees that clung to the sides of the gorge and rose above, little else along the walls of wet earth, debris trapped only by fallen limbs or against their trunks. He clenched his fists tightly at his sides, let loose a frustrated growl and stomped his foot.
The little splash rained on his leg, a small drop forming a cold trail down his shin. He bent down to examine it, surprised to find so much feeling returned. It slid to the top of his foot, then rolled a bit to the side, where it stretched along the length of a brown hair – one of several discovered. He brushed them free and considered the steep, muddy incline, then, turned and marched along the slate path of the stream in the direction the water flowed.
Not a story particularly well received by those that read, but still — and this is likely an indictment — likely the most readable thing I’ve written… From anger it was born, and such it has provoked…