The Village of Snow
The Village of Snow
The Village of Snow
These roads.These are the roads that my life is mapped upon. From my birth I’ve been here, this village. My friends, my family, everything exists within the limits of this neighbourhood.
Here we don’t wander, don’t leave. We stay. There’s no need to venture further, no need. Everything is here.
Like the snow. It started to fall, and already it swallows my feet with each step. It’ll stay until the end of February, I think, then go, and March will bring us spring again.
Or, at least as far as I remember.
But the snow is my favourite. Because, in the cold and dark, most others stay inside, and we can wander as freely as we wish. It’s only the two of us tonight, me and George.
The snow is pristine, almost perfect, except for where our footsteps snake over the path from where we’ve walked.
I let George lead us, keeping close enough so our fingers stay entwined. The snowflakes drift down from the sky and tangle in his hair. Intact and sparkling, they rest there. It’s mesmerising. The snow never stops here, but I’ll never get tired of George walking through it all.
As I’m watching the snowflakes decorate him, George turns to me with one of those soft smiles, the snow falling from his hair, “Where to now?” He says.
We’ve stopped on the street corner, the moonlight reflecting in the window of the houses. George pulls me closer to his body, and I reach up, brushing my fingers through his hair.
“It’s late,” I say, “past midnight. Where do you want to go?”
He hums, “The park?”
I lean in, giving him a kiss before unwinding his arms from around me. “We better keep going then.”
The park is not much more than the an open area in the west. The dense white tipped trees across the plain almost sparkle under the moon, like stars. Or at least, what I think stars must look like, bright, white and shiny.
We step off the path, and onto where the grass lies beneath the snow. George weaves us towards the lake, taking a route that doesn’t exist except in the confines of his own head.
The snow hasn’t settled on the ice. Sharp lines zig-zag over the surface though, left behind by the skaters who’d danced there earlier in the day. I want to bring my skates down, dance through the night, but not now, maybe not tomorrow. It just doesn’t… feel like it’s part of the design.
Not one word is whispered between us as we pass by the lake, but I don’t mind. I think of other things. Hands in hands, the difference in height between his head and mine - more than an inch, but less than an inch and a half - the amount of times our hearts will beat in a minute, and how many of those beats will see us reach the fence that circles the village and separates us from the forest that surrounds us unbroken.
We get to a bench that stands against the fence and looks out to the lake, and my count is - for the one-hundred and forty seconds it took - seventy-seven for me and one-hundred and seventy-five for George.
He throws himself onto the bench, and hooks his thumbs in my belt loops to pull me down to sit in his lap. His warm breath brushes against the back of my neck as he presses close to my back, his arms wrapping around my waist.
I tip my head back and rest it on his shoulder, my cheek against his jaw, and I stare up at that dark, dark sky.
His lips brush my skin, and I bring my head back up, tilting it to the side so George can kiss along the side of my neck. Long fingers find their way to the hem of my t-shirt, pushing underneath the black fabric, searching for the hidden warmth of my stomach.
“So,” he says, his words a whisper, “what are you doing for the Summer Solstice?”
I smile, keeping my eyes on the lake before us as his fingers wander and his face buries into my hair. “It’s not an acknowledged holiday. It’s not something we… celebrate.”
He hums, the vibrations ringing through my skull.
“We should though.” His fingers run higher, his mouth nipping at the skin behind my ear.
I sigh, sinking further into his body. “I have plans next week.”
George chuckles, “Yeah. You’re coming to mine for dinner, and to, uh, celebrate.”
I want to. I want to, but something… there’s something, a reason. I can’t. I know I can’t. I’m not… designed to follow that path. But I want to.
I turn in George’s lap to face him, to tell him that I can’t because, and I see it there, beyond the fence, parked side on between two trees on the edge. A van. A black van, with it's lights on and glaring into the night.
It wasn’t there before.
And I hadn’t heard it approach.
A van, like the stars I could only imagine. How did I not notice it?
He continues to kiss along my jaw.
“George, stop. ” I move my head away from him, “Seriously.”
He meets my eyes and frowns, bringing his hand down to rest them on my hips. “What’s wrong.”
“Look,” I nod over to the trees, “a van.”
Tipping me up onto my feet, he stands. He doesn’t let go of me as he twists to look over his own shoulder, instead his fingers claw into my jeans. With a deep, stuttering breath, his eyes widen, his grip on me tightening.
I follow his gaze. I stare as he does, but I can feel the pounding of his heart through my back as he presses into me. Nearly two-hundred. For a moment I think it strange, both the number and my thought for it.
“Is it real?” George says, the words a whisper and shaking.
“I think so,” I say, knowing beyond doubt he’s thinking it’s strange, the van.
We don’t have them here, in the village. No one’s ever seen a real car or bike or van. Why would we? We don’t use them. We don’t need to.
And there’s one on the wrong side of the fence.
With his eyes still locked on the van, George waves toward the village, “Should we…”
“Yeah. I think that’s a good idea.”
We follow our own footprints back, lengthening our strides to make our legs move faster. The streets are sill empty. Everything’s wrapped in silence, but nothing is peaceful.
I grip the sleeve of George’s jumper to keep him close as my eyes dart between the deep shadows. He shakes me off, and grabs my hand, crushing my fingers. His pulse races. With each beat of his heart the rhythm shots through me, and my own heart answers with an echo.
We head towards my house, following the main road through the village square, and up the shallow hill towards the northeast boundary. The trees peek up over the rooftops, the branches swaying together as they worship the moon.
George leads as we turn onto my street. I’m right behind him, but I don’t take more than a step before he’s shoving me back around the corner and crowding us both against the wall. His body covers mine as he draws in heaving breaths. My chest is pressed to his, my bare elbows grating against the rough brick. George steps back from me and places his hands on the wall either side of my shoulders, boxing me in. He leans into the wall, head down, and it isn’t until I place a hand on his forearm that I realise that he’s shaking.
“Wha - ”
Slapping a hand over my mouth, he shakes his head, eyes wide and searching my face.
A dark weight settles in my stomach at that look. It pools beneath my ribs and lashes out to twist into coils around my lungs.
George takes a deep, shaking, breath. “There’s…things, with guns. We need to leave. Right now.” His voice is so quiet I wonder if he spoke at all. I wonder if I just know, wonder if I can read it from his face.
He’s moved his hand away from my mouth and is smoothing my cheek with his thumb.
“We have to go.”
Somewhere footsteps thud, not close, but not far either.
I want to argue with him, say we should stay. It’s… it’s…
The shattering of glass erupts from around the corner. Thundering pops explode into the night. The wall behind me shudders. The footsteps grow louder.
Meeting his eyes, staring into his tear-stained face, I nod.
George pushes me in front of him as we run. The heat of his hand burns my back.
We sprint through the streets, all of them identical. All around us the air is alight with noise. The symphony fills my ears, guided by the drumming of my heart. It follows us with each step, never moving away, never getting closer.
The thought comes so fast, slams into me so hard, that I stumble.
Something catches onto my arm, holding me upright as I struggle to draw breath.
Slower now, I’m guided, moving along until I’m stopped and lowered down to sit on a stone wall. The touch leaves me. I can’t focus. The things usually so clear in my mind escape, floating away from my memory as broken shards. Deleted. Gone.
There’s One thing, though.
I stare at the ground where my black trainers are buried in the snow. My soles are coming loose. My laces are undone. Not like before, scattered. Little black snakes on the ground.
There’s One thing.
The snow blends, shifting together. It’s doesn’t sparkle as the bright light catches it. It flattens, reaching out forever with no change. Eternal blank, white. Decay.
Arms, scratched to hell and the blood welling from shallow scrapes. Torn jeans, scarred legs. Blood oozing. But, that’s wrong. Why? Red droplets, square. A word… Pixels… Pixels, red.
A hand on my leg, pale, almost translucent. A feather touch.
I blink, my eyelids fluttering. “George…”
The fingers squeeze my knee, and a body shifts closer.
The word snaps back.
I gasp, laying my hand on top of his and squeezing.
George is kneeling in front of me, eyes full of… something. Sadness, maybe? Sympathy?
He blurs, his features going fuzzy. I rub at my eyes with my free hand.
George removes his hand from my knee, slipping it out from under mine.
I blink, once, twice, but nothing’s changes.
George grabs my hand, before I can lift it to my face again.
I look at him, his features meshing.
He tilts his head upward, resting his forehead against mine. “Are you alright?”
I try to count our heartbeats, but I can’t feel them.
Pulling back from George, I turn my head away to look around.
I shake my head, “We left everyone there,” I say, “We left them. We ran.”
We’re in the square. I’m sat on the central fountain, the bricks beneath me shifting as I twist to look behind me. The streets, the familiar uniformed streets, seem so far away, wavering under my gaze. A mirage, my mind supplies me. A vision. Not real.
George sits on the wall beside me, the loose bricks grinding as he moves closer.
“Brook, listen to me.”
He tries to put an arm around my shoulder, but I stand, pushing him off.
I look at the shimmering buildings surrounding us. Silence hangs heavy in the air. It’s so smothering that even my breathing is muffled.
“I need to go back.” I say.
I don’t look at him.
I can’t remember who that is, though. There’s no faces, no names, but I know I have one.
George takes hold of my hand from behind. “We can’t.”
I glance at him over my shoulder at him. “Why?”
“I need you safe.”
“And I need to go back.”
The thought plays on repeat in my brain, shouting out against all else.
He tries to bring me around to face him, but I don’t let him. “Brook, please.”
I shake him off. “I need to find my family.”
I don’t know which way is which, but I take a guess and stumble forward.
Behind me the stones of the fountain scrape and grind as George stands.
I don’t turn back.
George’s footsteps follow me. “Brook, wait, listen to me.”
He’s so close I can feel his heat, the air ripples and searing pain explodes through the back of my skull.
I gasp, falling to my knees.
I try to hold out my hands, try to stop my topple forward, but my arms don’t listen. George catches me.
“It’s going to be okay.”
Cradled in his arms, my eyes flutter closed.
“I’m not letting you give up yet.”
There’s something different in my mind.
Sound returns to me first, crunching, breathing, the rustle of fabric moving.
I open my eyes.
Above me branches reach for each other, the inky black on the sky pushing down. It’s dark up there, pitch black. Even the moon has been wiped away.
I’m in some sort of clearing. The leaves above circle, touching, but leave a gaping void to that sky.
Turning my head to one side, I scan the nearby trees. George leans against one, the closest to me, but I know if I reach out a hand to him, stretch out as far as I can, he’d still be too far away to touch. And he’s pale, so pale. I see him, feel him there, but he’s fading, and the bark of the tree behind him shows through his chest.
His eyes catch mine.
He crawls over to me as I push myself up onto my elbows. His hands hover over my shoulders as I sit up fully. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know,”
There’s a lot of shoulds shooting through my head, things I should be feeling, things I should be thinking, but I’m not.
Like, I should be scared. Anyone would be scared.
And all I’m thinking is I was supposed to let them get me. I wasn’t meant to escape.
Things were designed so I would die in the village.
I glance around the clearing.
There is no village. Anywhere.
I don’t want to realise. I don’t want to understand.
Because knowing what’s happing means everything, everything, is a lie.
I don’t know how long we sit there, neither of us moving, neither of us speaking. Silence - true silence - the kind no one alive can ever experience in actuality, envelops my world. My world which had never been real.
Fog seeps up from the ground, blanketing the flat white of the snow.
“Why are we out here?” I say, my voice there, but more of a thought than words.
“I didn’t have a choice. Everything started to decay. By the time I reached the east fence the whole northern quarter had vanished. We were lucky the boundary had corrupted and I could slip through.”
“Gone. Or, at least, moved elsewhere. I stepped outside and I couldn’t see it anymore.” He looks up to the sky, breathing out this next sentence, “They were after you.”
I reach up to touch his hair. My fingers brush it away from his face, but I can’t feel the softness like I usually can. He turns back to meet my eyes, and reaches up to hold my hand in his.
He brings our hands down so they rest on my knee, his hand on top of mine, covering it.
But it’s as if he’s not there at all.
I can make out the outline of his fingers, and I can place the shade of his skin, but my hand is unobscured. It’s like it’s I'm sitting beside a coloured glass sculpture, and not the person I love.
“What…What is this?” There’s a prickle in the back of my eyes, “What’s happening to you, George?”
“This world is being deleted, erased. I’m just a part of it, nothing more.”
“No…” I shake my head. The tears slip free and something in my chest shatters. “No. That’s not true.” My words shake, breaking in the air between us. “Don’t say that.”
“I’m sorry. I never wanted you to hurt.”
I can’t stop the sob that erupts from my core.
He pulls me to him, holds me as much as he can, wrapping his arms around my back and pulling my head down so my forehead rests against his shoulder. And as much as it’s meant to comfort, it makes everything a million times worse.
I can’t bring myself to push him away though, can’t bare the thought of considering it an option. Not now.
Not now I know what’s going to happen.
When we finally part, I keep hold of his hand. He pulls me to my feet, and we stand face to face. I have to focus to see him, his form wavering when I look elsewhere.
The sound of gunfire rattles in the distance, so dampened from the fog it’s impossible to tell from how far away it came. Pounding footsteps follow, echoing though the clearing.
“They won’t stop until they have you.” George says. “Come.”
He takes me into the trees, guides my every step. The tree’s repeat, each the same as the last. We follow an invisible route, weaving across the snow. No footprints stay behind to mark the path we make.
I don’t know how far we’ve gone before George takes his hand away from mine. When I try to take it back, he shakes his head, stepping out of reach.
“I don’t want you feeling nothing when you touch me.” He says in way of explanation. “It’s not far now.”
I follow him when he keeps walking on.
He takes me to the edge of the forest. White spreads out beyond, cutting a sharp line across the black horizon. On and on, as far as I can see there’s nothing.
Except for one, lonely, wooden door.
It stands free, a few metres into the voided expanse.
“The exit.” George says.
We step out onto the plane.
Closer, closer, until I’m standing before it. I place my hand on the wood. It sings to me. The song is so familiar. I can’t place it, though. There’s no memory attached, but it resonates through my entire being. I slide my fingers over the panels to curl them around the handle. Beside me, George nods.
Pushing the handle down, I pull open the door.
A corridor stretches out. Smooth black walls shine with code. The green lines speed along, travelling away from us, disappearing into the darkness. There’s another door at the end. It’s small, but bright against the walls.
Even from so far away it thrums through my mind, and I know that by the time I reach it I won’t be this Brook anymore.
I turn to George. “We really have to go through there?”
He meets my gaze, his eyes soft, his expression kind. For a moment I see him as he was before.
I search his face, trying to process the words. “You’re coming too,” I say.
He doesn’t break eye contact. “I can’t.”
The words I want to say stick in my throat. I force them out, almost choking on them. “You have to.”
He places his hands on either side of my face, running his thumbs over my cheeks. I can’t feel his touch, but I can feel the fresh tears being wiped away.
“I’m not real.” He continues before I can interrupt, “But I am. It’s complicated. I’m a construct, an echo of the real me, one you made trying to adapt to this world. I’m not real, but there’s someone out there who is, someone you remember enough to create me.” He put’s his forehead against mine, a gesture so familiar that I don’t have to feel it to feel it.
He pulls his head away from mine, wavering, vanishing from my sight for a moment. “Go,” he says, “Soon this place won’t exist anymore.”
With his hands on my shoulders, he turns me towards the open door, and I take a hesitant step forward. I take another.
Find him, Brook. A whisper in my mind.
I whip my head round, stare back out over my shoulder into the blank white behind.
George is gone.
There’s nowhere left to go now.
Facing the corridor, I take a deep breath, blinking through the tears that I can’t stop from falling. I place one hand on the wall, let the heat scorch my palm. One foot in front of the other, step by step, I stumble towards the door.
Find him, he had said.
And I will.
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