Pimne looks at the breeches, then at the sky, then back. He pulls them on over his thin, ragged pair and stands up. He walks around a bit, staring at the way the colors blend and change in different light, but does not say anything. He looks back up at the sky, scanning the air. Turning in a circle, glancing left and right, he then lets out a breath.
“I just saw a man turn into a bird, why am I even doubting this.” He hesitates though, and looks at his hand where the skin is still a little red where he held the apparently flammable fabric.
“Won’t burn the wearer, huh…” He shifts from one leg to the other. “All right, here goes,” and he takes a deep breath, “Holos!” The breeches feel warm, even through the pants he wears beneath them, and as he watches, fire gathers around them, wrapping around his legs from the bottom up.
“Ahhh!” And he jumps about, then falls upon the snow, rolling around. He stops flailing about on the ground, sits up, and looks at his legs, which are still surrounded by flames.
“Hm, as he was saying, they’re simply warm. Nevertheless, it’s very alarming to see your legs on fire… glad no one was watching.” Looking around him, the snow has melted where he was rolling about. Reaching out toward his left leg, he pauses, then touches his thigh, and draws his hand back. The skin is unscathed.
“This is amazing!” Standing up, he walks around, watching as the snow melts around him with a wide grin on his face. He kicks the snow and water flys up into the air and then dissolves into steam. As he moves faster, the flames grow and his smile shrinks, but only a little. Running through the snow-plains he leaps forward, flying twenty feet across the ground, seven feet in the air at the peak of his jump.
“Woooooaaaah!” He comes down and stumbles, rolling through the snow once again, though it does not melt this time. He sits up, snow falling off his head, back, and arms.
“Owww, ho-ah, I was not expecting that! But now they’ve gone out, I wonder why… holos?” And the pants come to life again.
“I can see why that Veeho walks around without a shirt now, these are wonderfully warm.”
At this point the sun has passed its apex and is beginning its descent into the western horizon. In spite of the warmth from his borrowed britches he shivers a bit, staring into the darkening forest visible in the distance.
“I may not have been rendered homeless by skeleton men but being out in the wilderness at night is not for me. Perhaps I can find refuge in that village. Though I guess the real question is whether or not I can find refuge in those peoples’ hearts, haha!” And with that he stands up and starts making his way back to the pilfered village, smiling and half-hopping through the two inch deep snow.
Pimne is approaching the campsite again, the sun long since hidden behind the peaks. Time to find a hunter’s tent, he thinks as he watches the guards patrol. Qaletaqa is not among them. Hope I don’t pick his tent. Just as there is a gap between guards, Pimne dashes, hunched over and arms hanging and crooked at the elbow, towards the nearest tent. Reaching it, he peeks under the fabric, gripping it underneath the zig-zag pattern that decorates the border. Dropping it back down after seeing a person within, he dashes to the next and after another quick glance, pulls the edge up over his back and rolls into the empty dwelling.
Once inside he looks around again. The wooden posts supporting the fabric have various items hanging from them tied with leather straps – brown bags of spices and salts, an old bow, its string drooping, a single deer antler, a half-carved pipe. The floor is layered with thick furs – bear, deer, rabbit, and a woven blanket lays bunched up near the wall furthest from the entrance. Pimne creeps on his stomach and peers out of the minuscule gap that opens to the outside. There are only a few people around the fire now, and even as he watches, more retire to their tents. To his right there is a small pile of cooked meat and some squash and potatoes. So I am in the tent of a dead hunter, he thinks as he grabs the offerings and takes them inside. “Maybe I’m a reincarnation, for I have returned to my dwelling!” He chuckles to himself as he begins to eat. The food is cold and hard, and the potato crunches. He gulps it down and draws the blanket over himself, face hidden beneath its folds and and closes his eyes. He is asleep five minutes later.
He awakens to a sliver of flickering blue light dancing across his face, shining through the slit of the entrance. He blinks his eyes and props himself up on one arm, a frown upon his face. He gets up and walks to the opening, bent at the waist. As his hand reaches for the flap, the light extinguishes and he pulls his hand back. nothing can be seen outside, it is pitch-black and no afterimage of the pale blue light floats in front of Pimne’s eyes. He closes his mouth, his forehead creased, and plunges into the night.
Outside the tent, nothing has changed, at least in the sense that Pimne cannot see. He spins around. The tent still stands, in stark contrast from everything else. He walks forward and can feel the crunching yield of snow and frozen grass, but there is nothing to see below his feet. He stumbles and falls forward, arms out to catch himself. They are met by the feel of fabric and he curses, backing up on hands and knees, shaking off the un-seeable tent and rising to his feet again.
“Now’s as good a time as any. Holos.” The breeches blaze to life, and their light creates a wavering orb around Pimne. The ground is revealed to be grey, the grass and snow blending together to form a hazy mush. Shapes in the shadows are shown to be the other tents of the camp, illuminated by the breeches but retaining the grey hue that envelops the landscape.
“I’ll have to start telling taller tales if things like this keep happening to me.”
As he walks past the tents, shapes move in the shadows, transparent faces that rise from the dark. Pimne looks straight ahead, and his strides grows longer. As he walks, he passes by a tent, the flap open, nothing visible within. He takes a few steps back and looks inside.
“An empty food bowl, and nothing else within.” A face peers over his left shoulder, eyes doleful, a frown creasing the empty air. Pimne looks over his shoulder at it and then jerks his face forward again. He backs out and the flap closes, the abode dead to the world once again.
Pimne paces around, the spirits flowing in wide spirals around him, eyes shiny with reflected flames. Pimne’s eyes dodge their flight paths and he paces past his temporary tent, moving in the opposite direction of his earlier, recursive route. Three tents pass and the edge of his light reaches a pile of sticks and dead leaves, dry crackling in a wind of their own. He stops at the edge of the pile and folds his arms. He squints his eyes a bit and pinches his cheek.
“Well, I’m really not sure what to do here. Though I shall not sleep in the homes of the dead again. Feels like the spirits may have mistaken me for the former resident.”
“No, no, it is simply the night of our passing, though we know not how or why.” Pimne turns to face the gathering ghosts.
“So you do have voices. But how is it that you don’t know how you perished? Though I guess I’m not one to talk.”
“That at least is one thing we can be certain of. May I offer you seem freshly caught bear meat?” And the spirit holds out a clump of dirt with leaves interspersed throughout it.
“Not meaning any offense, but dead leaves and dirt do not agree with my palate,” Pimne says, waving his hand at the bony handful held out to him.
“You are yet among the living then, young thief,” and the spirit brings the debris to its gaping
mouth, where it enters and falls to the ground below.
“So you remember me at least.”
“Yes, and we forgive your rash behavior,” a few of the spirits shift in the gathering, “Well, most of us do.” The spirit looks at the others. “I advise that grudges and the like be left just as we left warmer climes for the safety of the cold, many years ago. Though in the end we fell prey to evil anyways.” The ghostly face lowers. “I can still feel the bite of… but no, that must be a memory of a past life.”
The spirits as a whole sigh, and the wind blows for the first time since Pimne has been in the land between life and death. The Sun’s breeches waver in the dry breeze, the smell of dead leaves and live pine. The light fades just a bit and Pimne takes a step back from the spokesperson and into the dregs of the bonfire.
“HOLOS,” he yells, his voice cracking on the first strained syllable. The breeches blaze to life once again, and the bonfire lights and begins to rise once again. The light is brighter than ever, and the sprints stand out in stark detail. None are without patches missing from cloth, circles of exposed muscle and sinew. They look at each other, wide eyes jumping from one wound to the next. The wind picks up again, but this time the fire brightens and climbs higher.
“What are these wounds? They do not… they are too small to have been made by animal or monster…” the spirit speaks, the beads and feathers of a chief now visible upon his head.
“The night watch! They came back, but they are not here,” a woman cries, clutching at her shawl.
“It was them! I heard screams outside and when I came out, there were three of them hunched over my brother, and they were… they were eating him! Eating him and stabbing him with their spears at the same time.” The man puts his hand over his mouth, beads of silver at the corners of his luminous white eyes. The other spirits begin to wail, a wavering crescendo that echoes through the void.
“It was them! It was them!” Pimne claps his hands over his ears and crouches down, his teeth bared and eyes closed as the noise continues to increase in volume. He begins to scream as well as the sound rips through his skull, his brain vibrating. There is a flash of blue light, this time all around them rather than just a glimpse through a tent flap, and the screaming goes silent, only Pimne’s voice continuing and then petering out. He opens his eyes and lets go of his ears, panting, his hair and face wet with sweat and the blue light dancing around him, its source at his back. He stands up, and as he turns to face it, it goes out.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )