Under Soil and Ash, Pt. 1

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The Departure

The man awoke to the sound of crows. Every movement was more painful than the last as he pried himself from a coffin of soil. He could still hear the howling of the pest-ridden beasts, as they pressed their faces to the earth. He must have only lost consciousness for a few seconds. Soon, they would discover the blood seeping from his ribcage, spattered on stones, and renew their frenzied bloodlust. Grimacing with pain, the man lifted himself from the dirt and pressed on. He felt the ether suffocating his senses start to lift, and his vision slowly began to return. But as the medication relinquished its grip, the numbness of his body ceased, and the startling pain from his broken bones crippled him. He cringed in agony, and ground his rotting teeth until he coughed up his diseased blood. Focusing solely on his feet, he watched them slowly stumble forward, one at a time. He carried on like this, hypnotized by his own gait, until he kicked something hard and unmoving. He looked up and gazed upon a slender stone pillar, its base hacked away and crumpled in pieces beneath itself, but its ornate capital untouched. The forest had claimed the plinth, its fragments barely visible beneath the film of leaves, and vines were winding their way up the pillar, slowly dragging it downwards into the earth, attempting to reclaim the space for the forest. The man touched the cool stone with his hands, and brought his face to it, pressing his cheeks against the surface. He thought this would be a proper place to rest, and slumped against the pillar, and entered a deep sleep.

The small town of Nidstrang sat between two mountain ranges. These mountains generated a monolith of clouds, and every morning, pushed them towards Nidstrang. The sunrise was only visible for a few brief minutes to the people of Nidstrang before it was smothered until the only evidence that there was a sun was a dull gleam behind a mantle of clouds. In this town Leiv lived, but today, he was to depart it.

His mother’s house, the house he had cared for the past year, was now too expensive to maintain. The foundation was rotten, and sooner than later, the house would fall apart completely. He could not afford the repairs with his measly writer’s salary. His only choice now was to leave, in search of a new job. He had received a letter a month ago, beckoning him to a faraway town called Blackwater, where they needed someone to fill a record keeper’s position. He had taken the job, much to the chagrin of Melinda, his fiancée. For a month they had gone back and forth over the decision. Melinda had agreed to let him leave several times, only to meet him the next morning and beg him not to. Melinda was to meet him again, this morning, but this time, she was resolved to Leiv’s decision. She waited outside his mother’s house to wish him farewell.

A horse stood outside his house, prepared by the town’s stableman, roped to his fencepost. Leiv emerged from his front doorway. He walked to the edge of his property, and greeted the stableman, then Melinda. Reaching out, he dropped a few coins in the stableman’s outstretched hand. The stableman noticed Leiv was carrying his belongings in bags with him.

“Leaving now?”

“Yes,” Leiv replied absently.

“Let me help you with your bags,” the stableman quipped.

The stableman took his bags, and loaded them into two pouches, hanging from the side of the horse. Melinda gazed at Leiv’s face.

“Please write to me.”

“Every day,” Leiv promised.

He took a step back. Melinda’s frame was braced against the cold wind. She held her jacket closed as her thin blonde hair stuck to her cheeks. Leiv knew that if he did not turn away now, he would never leave. Leiv ripped his eyes from her, and mounted the steed. The stableman unroped the horse from the fence, gave a brief salute and stepped away. With a final look at his hometown, Leiv guided his horse into the road, and galloped away. Melinda stood, and fixed her eyes on her fading fiancé until she could no longer see his outline on the horizon.

Leiv rode into the dark. The fiery eyes of his horse illuminated the road ahead. He rode between the mountains, slicing the clouds as he went. To the north he traveled, past meadows and forest clearings, and navigated through rocky outcroppings and valleys of tundra. When night overtook the day, he still continued, riding past woods of dead trees, and stagnant mires that claimed the last gasps of those who were destined to no longer be. When the sun rose, he found himself riding amidst a sea of scorched earth. The dirt was charred with the remnants of fire, and the smell of phosphorus burned his nostrils. He could see the gaseous trails of small conflagrations in the distance. All that was left of the trees were upturned roots and dead stumps. Still, he followed the road. At last, he came upon a charred sign. Kicking the soot from its face, he read:



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