I’ve always struggled with them… Anyway, today was the day to submit my flash fiction piece. I really struggled keeping it less than 1000 words and I think that probably shows.
It’s exactly five minutes to ten when he checks his watch. You wouldn’t know it was morning in the dusky grey wilderness he finds himself in. Pine trees stand, bolt upright, their tops engulfed in heaven and their feet wrapped in virgin snow. Ahead, he can see the silhouettes of his travelling companions. He doesn’t know them well enough to make out identities from their backs; all present as harsh black outlines against the velvety white. Standing still for a brief moment, he thinks about where he came from. Where he ran from. Another world away.
Even wearing the uniform of the wilderness, he is distinguishable. His dark eyes and tanned skin juxtapose with the surroundings. He walks confidently and every step he takes seems planned and sure, like he knows he’s going in the right direction even in unfamiliar terrain. He rarely looks behind but you get the sense that he knows everything that’s going on around him.
Appearance aside, it is not unusual for him to stand apart in a group. He is a man. And every man is an island. He doesn’t need anyone else. He has never needed anyone else.
Trekking through painfully cold wilderness he is surrounded by snow and ice. At night, he rests in dug out pits in the snow. Pressed against the back of a cave. When he should be sleeping, he turns the talisman over in his gloved hands. Folds it into his palm. Feels it’s weight, it’s perceived and actual weight. It’s such a small object but it changed everything.
Not so long ago, he was far from here, spending his days under intense sun in a seemingly bleak and scorched landscape. He lived on the peripheral of an archaeological dig. Always the outsider. The edges melted in the heat. It was no longer clearly him and them. Boundaries were smudged.
He didn’t know why he’d done it. But he knew as soon as he put it in his pocket that he couldn’t hand it back. From that moment, every time he made eye contact, he felt the weight, amplified, pulling on his left side. As far as crimes go, it was fairly minor but, and this was a foreign feeling to him, he felt he had broken the trust that was placed in him. He shouldn’t have even been there. As the lines had blurred, policies and procedures had been bent. They had let him onto the site and treated him as one of them.
He had never known what family was but he sensed that he had lost the only chance he would have to find out.
Back in the snow, his acquaintances have stopped. There is a face he doesn’t recognise. They are talking amongst themselves in a tongue he only knows a little of. He picks up odd words here and there. Moving around the world means he can fill in the rest from the tone. There is trouble.
The stranger explains and one of the men in black coats with a bag on his back translates. Broken English conveys what he already suspects; they have crossed into conflict. Somewhere along the way, they have crossed into an area of conflict. They are off course and they are in danger.
He finds he is the only one who is not scared. He is the only one with nothing to lose. He looks at the unfamiliar alarm in their eyes. Momentarily, a thought of a past life, passes through his mind. For a second, he recalls how it feels to think you will never see your family again. It passes. He won’t let himself linger on memories. He doesn’t believe in regrets. He believes in here and now. And experience has taught him, that in war, money is worthless.
Stilted conversation is translated with nervous panic. He knows this stranger is their best route out of here. He calmly takes charge of the situation. He starts to establish a plan. A friend of a friend of the stranger can get them out of here. There is a chance. A chance which comes at a price. And in war, money is worthless.
They were trekking in a barren, snow covered landscape. They have nothing to offer. Troubled voices in a foreign language clutch at failing ideas. Slightly distanced from them, he watches the increasing terror.
His hand goes to his pocket. It turns over the cold, hard charm. Taking it stole a life from him that he could have had. It seems frivolous to part with it. But parting with it could save their lives. He takes his hand out of the glove and, keeping the amulet in his pocket, runs his fingers over its smooth, familiar surface. The small piece of treasure cost him hope. Hope he didn’t know he had until he lost it.
Months later, he will remember that moment and he still won’t know if he did the right thing.