When he was seventeen, Jerek decided it was time to kill himself.
He had had enough - enough of his so-called parents and their constant, lazy bickering; enough of the small-town gossip at Riverbend; enough of spending every day with the cows, who never changed. Most of all he was tired of the butcher, whose leering, guilty face made Jerek confused, and then angry.
That was all there was in Jerek's life, and so he had had enough of life.
It was winter when Jerek decided to kill himself. That made planning easy. He would simply walk into the forest, and never come back. People did it all the time, lured by fairies, or strange lights, or, Jerek supposed, the very same impulse that drove him.
The One God would be unhappy, Jerek thought as he trudged through the snow. But then, if the stories were true, the One God spent most of his time unhappy - wasn't that why he was always striking down enemies of His people? Jerek supposed that the One God would just have to deal with it.
It wasn't long before Jerek came to a stream - a small tributary of the mighty Thiago River, for which the town of Riverbend was named. It was frozen over, being the dead of winter, but the ice looked thin enough in the center that Jerek could simply step through it, crash through into frigid water, and die more or less instantly. He decided it was worth a try.
With his first step, Jerek slipped on the ice and fell flat on his face.
For a moment he simply lay there.
He felt the coldness of the ice.
He felt the wildness of the waters beneath.
He felt the strength and living power of the woods all around him.
For a moment, he considered returning to his home, where it was warm, and safe.
Then he remembered Amanda.
"Take me," whispered Jerek, a prayer, not to the One God, the God who never listened, but to the stream itself, directly. "Take me," Jerek prayed, "I am yours."
And he got up, and he took a step, and he plunged into the icy water.
Just before he fell, he thought perhaps he caught a glimpse of a man - or was it an animal? If it was real, it was running toward him.
Yes, Jerek thought, in the last few moments before he died. It was an old man. His long white beard made him look like a wolf.
I wonder what he wanted.