Summary: A dark fate awaits when he is separated from the hunting party.
Warnings: Suffering, angst, extreme weather, separation, longing, death.
I didn’t know where I was anymore, I couldn’t see.
So I walked on.
On, on, down the valley and then up into the mountains. The sharp wind slashed at my face making it numb, though not numb enough to block the pain it caused. The liquid that had built up in my nose was now running over my lips, barely realised through my unfeeling skin.
I was starting to forget things: I couldn’t remember when I last ate, I couldn’t remember when I last saw another creature, and I couldn’t remember what my wife and children looked like no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I had seen them. I wasn’t even sure how long it had been since I had got separated from the rest of the hunting party.
I know there had been a blizzard, and when I had dug myself out of the snow I couldn’t find any of them. We had been caught on the wrong side of the mountains, but now, as I had wandered blindly on, I didn’t know where I was and which way I had come from.
The snow had stopped and I praised my ancestors for such fortune. But the frost that clung to my beard and eyelashes still impaired my vision, and sealed my mouth almost shut. I wandered on, trying to get back over the mountain, not knowing if it would lead back to the encampment or not.
My foot caught, maybe on a hidden rock and I started to fall. For a moment I welcomed this, I wanted to fall and rest, I wanted to cry and savour the little warmth that would afford me, but my body just wouldn’t obey the commands my mind issued. As soon as the bare flesh of my face hit the snow, now frozen solid by the cold wind, I regretted my wish to rest. Everything went black.
When I came to I had no idea how long I had been lying there, the sky was dark but the sun was still out, hiding in the clouds. I could feel that dampness was seeping through my thick furs.
I was surprised to be alive. This was fortune, I thought. This was my chance.
I had to get up and carry on, the sun was trying hard to break through the clouds. If it succeeded there would be hope, I knew. If the sun could break through and have the mercy to melt the ice, to stop the blizzard and light my way home then I had a chance. Yes this was it, I had to get up. I could get up and then I would go home, I would somehow find my way home. If the sky cleared enough for me to see, I might be able to see the smoke from the fires.
My body was heavy, soaked through from the snow and ice that was both above and below me. My limbs ached with stiffness though it was now difficult for me to feel any kind of sensation through the almost complete numbness. My hands were already up near my face from my fall, slowly I tried to apply weight and hoist myself out of the snow. As I pushed I could feel the strain through my entire body and sharp pains through my wrists into my arms. I tried to blink the snow from my eyes with some discomfort as it threatened to seal them frozen shut.
Finally I seamed to pull free of my iced tomb but when I tried to drag myself forward and up I couldn’t. Something had hold of my feet, they were caught in the rocks that had tripped me. I tried to reach down to my feet, my stiff body finding this new posture strangely unnatural. I pulled me fleeced gloves off and tried to get a purchase on the rocks, but they wouldn’t give. I was suddenly aware of how dry my mouth was, and how empty my stomach was. My hands were now wet with the snow. After what seemed like an age I gave up, I couldn’t try anymore. I lay panting in the snow as I tried to recover.
Laying out flat, I turned to look up at the sky, the clouds were drawing in, the sky was becoming grey. My eyes were slowly closing and I could hear the voices of my children. I could see them in my mind running from the huts, running to the fires, laughing, playing with the other children and the other men and women. They were all eagerly awaiting the return of the hunting party, waiting to know when and where they would have to move next to keep up with the migrating caribou.
The voices were growing distant.
I could hear my wife's brother calling my name as he had when the blizzard had started up, trying to stick together. They were all fading away.
“I have something.” She stood over the dig site. “Another midden. I think we are most definitely looking at some sort of seasonal settlement site. Probably following herd animals.” Pushing her hair up out of her eyes she looked up from the trench at her colleagues. They nodded as they munched sandwiches.
“Looks like.” They helped her out of the trench and, passing her a sandwich, walked the five minutes across to the far reaches of the site, past the other trenches. The three of them looked down into pit 6, the two young men stood back to let them look at what they were uncovering. One of the others whistled.
The body was mummified, preserved by the extreme cold of the Ice Age winter.
“Poor bugger, froze to death by the looks of it.” They looked back over their shoulders. “So close to the fires though.” Shaking their heads they moved off to the rocky outcrops around them and sat to finish their lunch.
Had I not moved beyond emotion, I may have felt pain, anguish. I may even have laughed.