Monday, September 22, 2008

An Announcement

From now on, An Epic Tale shall be updated weekly, on Sundays. This way, my life and yours can better achieve some semblance of order, and perhaps over time I can even build up an audience.

Plus, this way I can spend the time that others spend in church doing something that actually benefits my soul.

So tell your friends - An Epic Tale, updated weekly. Same Epic-time, same Epic-channel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

An Epic Tale - 7. The Half-Man

About a mile further on from the stream, it began to snow - soft, gentle flurries that caressed my cheeks like frozen kisses. I moved on, inconsiderate of the present in my newfound obsession with the past.

It seemed to me that I was dreaming - or that everything up to that moment had been a dream. Once-cherished memories had begun to squirm and shift away from my mind's eye, the details as vague as my future. The streets of Riverbend disappeared from my mental catalogue - and not just the cartography. I strained to recall what simple sensations I could - the smell of fresh bread, the chirping of crickets, the splash of water buckets emptied onto cobblestone streets.

With a shock I realized I had forgotten my mother's face.

I was Jerek no more. The farm boy was well and truly dead. Who I was now - that was an open question.

The old man had remade me. But in whose image? I had no idea, and even less idea if I could kill this Hermit, whoever he was. Wherever he was. To my chagrin I realized there was no way to tell which way I should be going - or even, in the darkness, which way I should be going.

I stopped moving. The hopelessness of my situation had just begun to dawn on me. I was alone, miles from anywhere. I had no food, no money, no possessions of any kind. Even if I found the other side of this forest, there was nowhere I could go. I had started this trip intending to kill myself, and it looked as though I would fully and finally succeed.

The snow was falling harder.

I sat down at the base of an old oak tree and leaned against it. I was exhausted. My failures had been building for years now, I realized. I hadn't understood Amanda, or saved her when she needed me most. I hadn't brought the butcher to justice. I hadn't even killed myself right. It would be easier, I realized, as I settled deeper into the old oak's rooty embrace, never to try anything at all.

I closed my eyes. The snow fell hard all around me, big, fat, yawning flakes. Each one made a tiny puff in the still air as it landed around me. It was soothing. Still. Quiet. The way I liked my winter nights.

I yawned. There would be no going back if I closed my eyes. By the time I woke up, the snow would have buried me alive.

I closed my eyes.

In my dream, I was floating on a bed of feathers. The feathers carried me up, high, into the clouds. Then it turned cold. I froze, and the feathers became snow. I fell, as a snowflake, and in every other snowflake I could see the face of someone I had disappointed. Chilled and hungry, I reached the ground. My clothes melted away and the snow became laughter - vicious, taunting, jeering, mocking laughter that burned at me like acid.

And I woke up, and I was still burning.

The laughter hadn't stopped either, but now it was of a more piercing, high-pitched, maniacal variety. I opened my eyes to the most terrifying sight I had ever beheld.

It was a man - or something like a man. He was angular, short and scaly - what I could see of him, that is. My view was obscured by his thick fur coat and the massive fireball heading straight for me.

I yelped. The strange half-man took no notice. The flames, I realized, were part of a stream being blasted out of his coat by some infernal mechanism.

"Hold still!" he shouted as I cringed from the blast. "You've still got some on you!"

"Some what?" I yelled back, taking a big gulp of hot air that scorched my chest in the process.

"Snow!" barked the half-man, and he proceeded to hose me down with flaming gases.

I was too busy on my knees coughing to point out to him that I knew the snow was there, and I preferred it to a crazed demonic midget with a penchant for burning things.

"You're attracting the most Worry Snow I've ever seen in one place," the half-man said. "We've got to get you inside. Come with me."

"But I don't -"

"You're coming," he said, so authoritatively that I was up and walking before I knew it.

"Where are we going?" I asked, when it occurred to me.

"That's the question, isn't it?" the half-man mused. "Can we ever really know where we're going? Arguably, random chance plays a greater role in our destinies than any action we ourselves might take."

"I meant, where are you taking me?"

"Ah! I misunderstood."

The half-man was silent. I did not ask again.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

An Epic Tale - 6. The Journey

I stood for a moment, in front of the raging coldness of the river, all of nature frozen and still around me.

I could go back, I thought. Slip into my warm bed, pretend nothing had changed. The cows would still be there in the morning.

Jerek's parents would say nothing to me; they had said nothing to Jerek for a long time. I could go for a long time with no one the wiser. Perhaps my whole life.

But I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to assume someone else's life, take it over as though it were still my own. And I somehow hated the idea of townsfolk looking at me and seeing the same old farm boy.

No, I decided; I would press on.

And a good thing too, as I realized I was stuck on the opposite end of the stream from my footprints leading home. Any return journey would require miles of trudging upstream until I found a safe place to cross.

That settled it; there was no going back. Not now, not ever.