It was not just a color.
The extended mountaintops surrounded the plains. Barren. Empty. If there was anything here, it surely laid below the layer of white that covered existence... almost like a sheet meant to hide the old trails of whatever and whoever came before me.
Sharp-edged winds ran across the snow, the harbinger of the relentless cold that dominated.
White was not just a color here, no. It was life. It was death. It was everything in between. And as I laboriously paced through the ice and snow, I remembered the day when the tribe's elder said that white is the combination of all the other colors. To me, it seemed like this place was the proof of that statement. White was all I could perceive. Truly, it encompassed everything --including me.
Regardless, I went on. I placed down a foot after another, even when my legs burned with effort and my chest hurt from the pain of breathing in the frosty air that bit into my lungs.
I should’ve heed the full-body shudder that suddenly interrupted my march. I thought it was because of the cold at first; but on second thoughts, I guessed it was the anxiety that gripped at my heart. After all, I was better equipped for the cold than for the unexpected loneliness of my mission. My leathers and furs protected me from the elements, but my mind could barely handle the fact that I was the only one left.
It was then when I paused and looked around. A thoughtless action, and the second warning I should’ve listened to, but... all I saw was the gelid landscape, empty as it was. I knew it was impossible if anything wanted to hide from me there, for there were no trees, no rocks, no anything besides the snowy plains and the mountain foot I was approaching. That should’ve put my mind at ease, but… it didn’t. An unnerving, mute shadow continued to crawl in the back of my mind.
Despite that, I resumed my journey. I had to. I had already travelled several kilometers. I could not stop now. We were told we had to deliver these offerings or this year's winter was going to be relentless. If that happened, food was not going to last long enough. That meant we were going to be forced to leave our homes… that meant our children were going to be the first to die. That meant my sons were going to suffer.
I had to make it. So I tightened my shivering arms around the wrapped bundle of gifts and simply… kept going on.
Several hours passed before I reached the rocky foot of the mountains. In that time, I did not stop once in fear of succumbing to the deadly, cold-induced sleep that took my companions. But finally I stood before the entrance of a cave, marked by a small carving of the goddess. The symbol was partially covered by frost, but it was enough to let me know that I was in the right place. My eyes went back to the gaping hole in front of me. As I was staring into the emptiness, I almost felt a sharp, chilly exhale coming from inside to lick at my exposed skin.
Immediately, the heart-tightening shudder ran through my body.
Once again, I just thought of my sons and stepped ahead.
The wind immediately ceased once I was inside, almost startling me. Only then I realized how deafening the blowing had been. That sound, now gone, contrasted with the heavy silence that was oppresively suspended on my shoulders.
I somehow felt colder here. When I laid a hand on the dark wall to my right, I confirmed that the rocky surface seemed to be more frigid than the ice outside. However, I had to keep my hand there to help me move through the obscured path. And that I did.
This time, it was only minutes before I reached my objective: a small, rounded natural room within the cave. I had never been here before; but I knew this was the place because even without any light, I could see the shadow-covered shape of a statue right in the middle. 'The goddess', I thought.
For a moment I almost wished I had a fire to be able to see the beauty of hers, if only through the figure of a shrine. However, I was quick to push distractions aside and finally complete my tortuous mission.
I approached the sculpture, extending the bundle of offerings towards it. Then, as I was taught before coming here, I kneeled. I let out a heavy exhale, taking a moment of quiet before I pronounced the words through cracked lips and with a quivering voice.
“Yuraq Ma Kausan.”
The white mother lives.
...those words sealed my fate.
My eyes, shut as they were, did nothing to warn me. My heart almost stopped within my chest, painfully –but not as painful as the pair of freezing hands that grasped my wrists. I then felt a gentle but firm, relentless pull that brought me into the numbing embrace of a pair of arms. It was an abrupt... loving gesture. I felt the affection seeping into me.
And yet, it was gelid. It terrified me.
Only when I dared to open my eyes, I understood. I recalled the elder’s words, spoken before I left the village.
‘At least one of you must make it into the Mother’s embrace’.
I thought it was just a metaphor.
All I see now is an ocean of white. I am blind, deaf. All I feel is the soft grasp of hers certainly squeezing the life out of my body. I am only able to recount the steps that brought me here, to my doom.
Soon, I’ll be snuffed out by the hungry goddess. I can feel my consciousness fade into nothingness. Gods, I hope death liberates me of the blank sheet that is wrapped around me now. I hope my afterlife is not only this.
I cling to the only light in all of this: I am sure my sons will survive this winter. I know they will.
After all, white is life. It is death. It is everything in between.