Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jacob's Ladder Part 3

This is the final installment of the quirky, fictional piece called Jacob's Ladder. If you have just happened on this look back a couple of posts to part one and read forward.

Part 3

He opened his eyes. He was on a large, barren, snowy plane. The sun shone bright in a cloudless blue sky. It dazzled his eyes. He was wearing a leather fringed parka. It was made of animal hide and had a hood of long fur which surrounded his head and face; the long hairs tickled his cheeks.

It was beyond any cold he had ever felt. It stung his nostrils to breathe deeply so he immediately began short shallow breaths. He turned his head, still unable to see any signs of civilization, any sign of life at all. On his hands he wore crude but effective leather mittens. He looked down at the rest of his clothing. All leather skins, all very primitive. His feet were clad in rough leather moccasins. He could feel fur between his toes. He was warm enough but his heat was already dissipating. He wasn’t sure how cold it was but by the way his nostrils froze he knew that it was dangerously cold. These clothes could not protect him for long. It was just a matter of time before he lost too much of his precious body heat.

He had to move or it would be too late. He knew it would increase his circulation to move and therefore keep him warm a little longer. The soft surface snow was up to his ankles. Who knew how deep it was below that? As he looked over the dazzling crystal snow, nothing broke the view all the way to the clear distant horizon. Not a man-made structure, not a tree a bush, or a single blade of grass. There was a strong wind which whipped up the loose snow and blew it across the surface in crystalline waves. However beautiful the scene before him, he knew that the wind was his deadly enemy, robbing his body of the precious heat he needed to survive.

He started to jog; slowly as his fur clothing didn’t give and flex much. His sleeves and pant legs were thick and very rigid. Right away he felt a slight temperature increase inside his furs. But the running also made him breathe harder which stung his nostrils fiercely. So he slowed to a gently, rolling trot.

The steam he exhaled condensed on the fur rim of his hood creating a silvery wreath around his face. The sun was dazzling and tears filled his eyes and overflowed his lower lids. The tears froze instantly on his cheeks. He stopped and rubbed his face with the back of his mitten. The frozen teardrops fell to the ground with a tiny chittering sound. This frightened him. He spit and his saliva froze solid and shattered as it hit the ground. This was cold unlike anything he had ever known. If he did not find shelter – and soon – he would die. This cold was death. Nothing could survive for very long exposed to this temperature.

He began to jog again, pacing himself so he would not breathe too hard. The tip of his nose was numb as were his exposed cheeks. He pulled the hood more tightly closed around his face. As he moved along he felt his forehead go numb. Then his fingertips and toes. Frostbite. He had to keep moving. It was his only hope. He looked behind him and saw that his tracks were roughly in a straight line. His only hope now was to get to shelter, to warmth. He had to move forward, always forward. He might be moving away from people and further into the wilderness of blinding whiteness, but there was nothing else he could do. Forward. All he could do was move one foot, then the other. Always forward.

Seconds turned to minutes. Minutes to hours. A step turned towards hundreds and these to miles. His head throbbed from the glaring ferocity of the sun. The numbness that started in his fingers and toes had spread gradually to his arms and legs. The frost from his frozen exhalations that initially covered his moustache and beard had spread into an icy mask that sheathed his face from his eyebrows and lashes to his chin and throat. The fringe of his hood was a white icy ring encircling his frosted face.

He began to tire. Looking behind him, his footprints went all the way to the horizon. How many steps had he taken? How many miles had he walked? He stopped. Just stopped. What was the point? There was nothing behind him but his own empty footsteps in the slowly drifting snow. Nothing ahead but endless snow. Nothing to be seen anywhere but the lowering sun, dark azure sky and snow – boundless snow. As far as he could see in all directions – snow. Infinite.

He sat. His entire body felt numb, almost warm but he knew that was impossible. He knew he was actually feeling his circulatory system shutting down. What felt curiously like warmth was actually his frozen nerves ending their signals to his brain.

He watched the sunset. Beautiful, he thought. His last sunset. Red. Crimson. There were just a few clouds in the west now, sending brilliant shafts of sunlight and shadow radiating across the sky. Hadn’t he called that “Godlight” sometime in his past? As the sun lowered the blue above darkened to purple. He sat there upright as if in a straight-backed chair. He felt nothing but exhaustion now and even that was fading. A lightness overtook him. He became drowsy, his eyelids heavy. So, this is how it ends. He thought. He fought to keep his eyes open. Fought for those last precious moments, those last few beautiful sights.

Then he lay down on his side and closed his eyes and fell asleep.

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