There was no clock and therefore there was no time. He had a memory of a steady knocking, but that was no more.
As with most declines, it started with only the tiniest of momentum. However, the inevitable and irreparable course was set. There was a creeping realisation that movement was happening; he was passing trees whose branches were tantalisingly too far out of reach to touch or grab. He was aware of his brother behind him, appearing in the space which he had so recently vacated, and he was concerned at the growing speed with which he was travelling. Soon he would stop. He would be able to halt his decline. Before him yawned the darkness of the night and he feared for his outcome. The world was finite and he was about to meet it.
Before he could call out or scream, he was over the edge, about to fall into the abyss. He reached out in a last effort and grabbed for salvation.
Careful footsteps trod the snow. He was hanging from a rocky outcrop, his fingers taking his full weight, his legs touching the eternity of nothingness beneath. Above him, the footsteps came to a stop.
“Brother?” The voice tentatively enquired.
“I am here,” his younger brother responded.
The elder weighed up his options before inching into a plan. He took off his belt and looped it around one of the most daring of the trees that had taken root at the edge of the precipice. With that done, he wrapped some of its length around his ankle and tied it securely before crawling out to the point on the edge where his brother’s voice had come from. Inch by inch, he moved towards the gripping hands of his younger sibling.
“Where are you?” He asked.
“Here, as before.”
Feeling the belt pull tightly on his ankle, he blind-tapped his hands to where the voice had emerged. It was his right hand that found him and the left that grabbed him.
In the shadows, watching silently, a wolf waited. Below it, two humans struggled with the task of keeping life on their side. A blank moon stood sentinel to all that would happen.
The wolf did not howl.
He woke and was aware of no time.
He could not move. He could not see. He could not breathe. He was aware of nothing other than his feeling of falling. He knew that the world had continued outside, that snow had fallen, that things were covered; hidden. Yet, his hand retained the impression of another similar yet stronger hand. It pulled him upwards and he no longer feared the fall.
“It is okay, now,” his brother’s voice reached across the expanse. “You are safe.”
He had a belt tied to his ankle and that belt was tied to a tree. He bent down, untied and unbuckled.
“We are safe, brother. Nothing to fear but …”
The wolf had launched itself at the larger of the hunters. It caught him off balance and they both rolled into a struggle for survival that none of them would win.
The clock would have told him that it was six in the morning.
Outside, the dawn was climbing along the mountain ridges and the world waited rigid beneath the layers of snow. He was reminded of a toy he had seen when he was young. It was a world trapped in a glass bubble that could be shaken to make it fill with snow. There was not life, no movement beyond the floating flakes. But when he looked carefully, peered in through the lens of God, he thought that he could see the shadows of the wolf and his brother.
The ever-present pressure on his bladder was no longer there. This was the first time in years that he had not needed to make the break for the lavatory. His bed was warm and the knowledge of snow piling up outside his window no longer bothered him. It could snow for all it wished to snow, but there were some things that even snow could not cover.
He had watched as his brother and the wolf death-rolled towards the edge of the precipice. Below, was a sheer drop of hundreds of feet onto the glacier. He had stared as his brother had fought for supremacy in the battle for survival. He had been paralysed as they both careered over the edge and into a short oblivion of emptiness. He heard neither a whimper nor a scream. And it was done.
He stood waiting for some explanation that would not come. He inched closer to the edge in order to confirm what he knew. He did not expect to see his brother’s hands clinging onto to the lip of life.
“Brother, help me. Take my hand and pull me up.”
“I am not strong enough,” was his weak reply.
He moved. He knew, before he grabbed his brother’s hand that it would be useless. He was not strong enough. His hand reached out and touched his brother’s.
The knocking on the door had stopped. He was aware of footsteps making their way towards where he lay. There was an intense dry cold washing over him. A memory played: his brother’s hand, he was reaching for his brother’s hand, grasping the hand. And then…
the pain of release.
The glacier that had been melting now covered the world and out of it strode the remnants of another time now come to greet him.
The hand that he could not rescue, rested upon his forehead. A forehead that had been so very cold for so much time. In the valley below, A church bell rang tolled and morning arrived.
The winter returned to its recent course and the snow melted.