Life's journeys: Language, culture, communication


The Blizzard

– a short story –

The man was making hard progress through the blizzard.

He advanced with difficulty, his pale yellow face whipped by the wind, his strides large and slow, his thick boots, hardened by frost, sinking deep into the snow.  Behind him stretched only the narrow trail of his own footsteps, lost in the fog.  The incessant white whizzing of the wind blew so harsh that it sounded like the shrieks of crows against his eardrums.  Everything around was a white and untouched desert, so white that it drove icicles of fire through his eyes.

The man was sturdy and heavyset, with a rugged face covered in a long coarse and uneven beard full of ice pins.  His lips were white, shredded and chaffed from the cold, his eyes sunken and feverish.  He had blue rings around them.  He wore a large brownish fur coat reaching down to the half of his thighs.  It was very wide and square around his shoulders and it made him look big and ancient.

Far away from him, on his right, a single row of shabby trees hemmed in the horizon, barely visible through the curtain of snow that was hailing down against this landscape.  They were thin and weak, looked like old abandoned skeletons ready to crack.   He pressed on in the torturing rage of the north wind.  He could hear the snow squeak and purr under his soles. He could hear the far-away creaking of the shabby old trees, frightening and scary.  He eventually got used to them and managed to block them out. He was holding a fishing rod in his right hand which he used as a staff, sticking it firmly into the layers of snow as he made his way onward.

When he reached the banks of the pond he couldn’t tell.  It was all as even as ever.  He squinted and spotted some long grass poking out from underneath.   He moved ahead some more.  Like an animal intent on his prey, he squatted and listened for a while.  Then, abruptly and without a sign, the man threw himself on his elbows and knees and by brutally impatient gestures started pushing away the snow with his hands.  His entire body was drained and contorted by this enormous explosion of strength.  A few minutes later, a solid layer of ice appeared and glistened.  The man continued to shovel and blow away the snow with his hands until he made a round clean circle.  He was still on his knees.  They were freezing and sore but he didn’t care.  He bent down and stuck his right eye directly to the ice but saw nothing except his own bulging eye staring back at him.  It shone with madness.  The face was not his own, but the twisted face of despair.

He quickly pulled out a hunting hatchet from under his coat and began hitting the ice forcefully with it, careful not to create a crack.  It felt good, to release his fear like this, it felt warm, it made him sweat, it made his blood run.  And his blood was calling for blood.  He had not touched flesh in almost two months, and no food whatsoever in almost a week.  He slashed his left middle finger open and sucked the blood out of it.  It tasted sick and bitter, it tasted like iron, but warm and good, and it made him savage and delirious.  He could barely see or hear.  He could not stop hitting the ice.  At last, it gave way.  A narrow breach was formed and vapors started rising from underneath.  The water felt warm and almost inviting.  He slapped himself.  “Don’t give in now”.  He prepared his rod, trembling.  How long did it take?  It was forever.  That white flat frozen desert was eternity itself.

But the fish came.  He chewed the first one raw, tearing at it with greedy teeth like a starving animal.  He stood up with fingers full of scales and gave out a terrifying yell which sounded like burning coal exploding and falling down.  A yell of wrath unchained.  A yell like a freedom chant in front of this devastatingly silent white curse.  He called life to him.  And it came.  A second fish, and a third.  They were starving too.  He strung them up and waited.  Half an hour, an hour, half a day?  Nothing.  Nothing more.

He carefully packed the remains of the first fish as well, while placing the other two on a string around his shoulder and followed his own frozen craters back.  They were slowly filling up with new snow and it was slowly getting dark. The mauve skies turned grey, menacing to turn black any minute.  He was not shuffling his feet.  The man was running now, his heavy coat bouncing around his body, the strung fish slapping him on the side.  He could barely see his cabin.  He could hear the hopeless howling and yelping.

“Here, boy”, he said and emptied the raw remains of the first fish in the snow in front of his dog kennel.  The animal, aroused by the smell of flesh, jumped and squealed, almost choking on his chain.  A pack of ribs, that’s all that was left of his dog, but the animal had never for one moment turned against his master.  He, on the other hand, would have eaten him by now.  But he needed a friend.  At least not to die alone.  The dog would be the last one he would eat before he died, he had told himself, he would not leave his dog behind him to starve, but how would he manage with the look in his friend’s eyes as he was preparing to pull the knife on him?…  Useless thoughts, at least today they can go away.  Dogs don’t have thoughts and that’s sometimes better.

The dog gulped up the bloody fish parts in seconds. While he hadn’t been paying attention, the man had chopped one half of a wooden board from the kennel.  He then slashed the other two fish open, emptied their intestines for the dog and, board under his arm, fish in his frozen blood-stained hands, kicked open the door and went in.  The cabin was minuscule and tight.   Poorly lit, poorly furnished.  A pick mattock stood against the wall in a dark corner.   Sparingly, he started a small fire, fried the fish and had his feast right there, standing, chewing in a hurry, almost without breathing.  He allowed himself to slow down only to drop his heavy coat on the floor.  His head was pounding, his chest soaring and falling, his fingers violet and shaking.  He could not help himself.  He was breathing heavily and quickly, he was chewing and swallowing terribly fast, crouched over the pan.

As he finished, he swiped his tongue one more time around his lips to gather everything in, the smell and the taste, cleaned his chin with the dirty back of his palm, straightened his body and breathed in a bucket of air.  A second later he sat himself down on the bed, closed his eyes, cried.

And vomited.


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