Run Down | Teen Ink

Run Down

September 3, 2019
By Rorschach2002 BRONZE, Sydney, Other
Rorschach2002 BRONZE, Sydney, Other
4 articles 0 photos 4 comments

I

Cold  

It seeped out into the whiteness, the deep red blood permeating the still purity of the winter snow. An arrow with a head of rough stone was lodged deeply in his stomach. He sat leaned against an old, heavy pine tree, his thick beige tunic soaked through with warm blood. Karl’s fumbling attempts to remove the arrow only caused him increasing pain, but the old man stifled back the groans to keep the boy calm.

‘Go. Go, take Jakob. Just go. They will keep coming and coming. Take him… and go.’ He said with a hoarse wheeze, ‘You must take care of him now.’

‘Don’t. You can’t. Not, not yet.’ whispered Karl, his long, bony fingers tightening around the shaft of the arrow. He exhaled, and jerked it free from the old man’s stomach. The guttural howl of an old killer echoed through the still, cold air of the woods. He gasped, and his deep, blue-eyed gaze found the boy’s own.

‘Karl…Karl, it’s okay. You must go. Take Jakob. Don’t go back to the village. Just keep moving.’ said the old man. The boy stared back at him in silence, his soft brown eyes filled with tears.  

“I can’t. I can’t be like you.”

“You’ll be better, son. You are better.” He said, taking a deep breath.

“Oh, so, this is it...” mumbled the old man. He looked up to the grey, empty skies for a moment. He watched the world, taking in one last whiff of all the trees and the snow and the animals. A calmness flickered in his eyes and a smile began to form at his lips. Then, he was still.

The boy stared, disbelieving, at the cold, lifeless body that was once his father. A once great warrior, feared and strong, but to his sons, simply a good father, trusting and kind. One who cared for his boys above all else. And now, little more than dead, bloody flesh in the snow.  

The boy looked to the snow-covered ground below, noticed he was still gripping a limp hand, and slowly rose to his feet upon letting it go. His legs shook as he looked out into the woods, scanning his view for hunters. From behind came the crunch of dry twigs under a boot, and Karl turned to see his brother Jakob staring at him blankly.

‘Jakob, Jakob, where were you?!’ shouted Karl anxiously. Jakob looked back at him, and saw the tears ins Karl’s eyes.

‘I heard a scream. What happened? Where is Papa?’ He looked past Karl, saw a body.

‘Who is that?’ The boy repeated his question, but was greeted with only silence. Jakob began to walk towards the body, and just as he was about to pass, Karl struck out an arm to stop him.

“Don’t… don’t look, Jakob.”  he said, his voice hushed to but a whisper. Karl pulled his brother in close and held him there. Held him and didn’t let go. He felt empty. He felt cold.

 

II

Hunted

Many cold, hard days passed since the two brothers had buried the old man in the frozen earth.  The younger boy, Jakob eventually returned to his naïve and relaxed self, convinced they would eventually reach the warmer country, as their father had told them. The two boys trudged through the cold, dry forest in silence, with the occasional question or remark coming only from Jakob.  They ate sparingly and were perpetually hungry as their food was running low. During the cold winter nights, the two brothers wouldn’t dare start a fire, should they be caught by Viggo’s hunters. Thus, they slept in bitter cold through the nights, many a time never getting so much as a moment’s rest due to the uncontrollable shivering.

***

When he woke, Karl heard shouting. The familiar sounds of men searching for the two brothers, as they had been for six weeks. Thankfully, it was still early morning and there was little visibility.  He kept low, and reached over to shake his brother awake.

“Jakob. Jakob, wake up.” He whispered. He shook his brother’s shoulder once more, and Jakob’s eyes groggily flickered open. He stared at an alarmed Karl, confused as to why his brother had woken him so early.

“Wha-What is it, Karl? It is still dark. Go back to sleep.” He muttered, irritated. Karl sighed, knowing there was no time for explanation. He stood, grabbed Jakob, and pulled him to his feet.

“Get up,” He said, “and follow me.”  Jakob stared up a him, dazed.

“What? Why?”

“Men. From the village. them.” He replied. Jakob’s eyes widened, and he followed Karl without a word through the forest. They kept low, crouching and darting from tree to tree to avoid being seen. After what seemed to be an eternity, the two brothers were clear of the woods, and had come out into an open field.

“Okay. We’re clear.” said Karl, relaxed. Suddenly, a shout came from behind and as Karl turned to look, his heart sank. A dozen men came charging out of the forest, roaring, led by a man on the back of a massive black horse.

“RUN! RUN, JAKOB, RUN!” he shouted, launching himself into a sprint. The two boys hurtled across flat open plains, but they were no match for the horse. It swiftly chased them, and within seconds had caught up to the two.

Karl turned, saw it just meters behind him, and his world slowed. He was certain he’d be caught, yet he kept going. His legs screamed at him in pain as he ran, and the last thing he saw was an ebony staff as it came swinging down and smashed into his face, thrusting his world into darkness.

***

When he woke, Karl wished he hadn’t. Wished that hit from the staff had killed him, so he wouldn’t be here. He sat up, his skull sore, muscles tired. The floor was cold and hard against his feet. It was a small and cramped prison cell, and as he rose to his feet, leaning against the iron bars, he looked out at the village. Men, women, children- they all walked past him without a glance, without the slightest notice. It seemed they’d all but forgotten him. He saw a young man, a friend of his father’s by the name of Finn, exiting a cottage a few meters away.

“Finn! Finn! Here, in the jail!” he shouted. Finn looked up and saw Karl, shocked. He looked around, then ran over. For the first time in weeks, Karl’s lips cracked a smile.

“Karl! Karl, where have you been? Where is your father?” he asked. Karl’s face became grim once more.

Silence hung in the air for some time, and Finn’s smiled faded away.

“Karl?” he asked.

“He’s dead. He was killed, and buried in the snow.”

Just as Finn was about to reply, a man emerged from the tent behind him. Viggo, Karl’s eldest uncle towered over Finn. Now that Karl’s father had died, Viggo was perhaps the most feared member of their clan, and though the fur coat covered most of his body, it was clear he was built like a mountain. He stood well above the others, bald with a large beard and grey eyes of stone. Finn wouldn’t dare look up at him. Viggo looked over to the cell, at Karl, who stared back at him, then walked away without a word. When he was gone, Karl  noticed Finn staring at him solemnly.

“Where is Jakob, and what will they do with us?” asked Karl.

“They have taken Jakob to the mountain already, and soon they will come for you as well.”

“The mountain? Why would they take us to the mountain?”

“They didn’t tell you? You are of age. It is time for your trial.”

 

III

Trial

The sun was gone, drowned in an ocean of swirling grey clouds. A cold wind lashed against Karl’s back and his wrists were sore from being tightly bound with rough, course rope. The climb up the mountain was cold and tiresome, especially with Karl’s hands bound behind him. They had taken away his boots, so the countless hours of bare soles against hard, roughly cut steps had turned Karl’s feet black and sore, and the cold, frigid wind against his lean but muscular bare torso had him shaking like a leaf in a blizzard. The entire way there, Karl thought about the Trial. He was weak and tired, his mind and body both fatigued. This thing will kill me, and once I’m dead, they’ll kill Jakob, too, he thought.

They eventually reached the top of the mountain, a flat plan reserved for the Trials. All the villagers had come up, and they stood crowded around Karl in anticipation, who was left bound and forced down on his knees. He gazed over and saw a small wooden shed with a bolted door. He knew what lay inside. Fear gripped him, like a snake coiling around his body. As the panic began to set in, his eyes darted around the crowd of villagers, who began to chant an old prayer. He called out, screamed in fear, knowing he would meet his end this day. He shouted and screamed and roared, but no one payed attention. Karl looked around, saw Finn amongst the crowd and called out to him, but was greeted with no reply.  One of the villagers began to approach the wooden shed. He stood back, behind the door, and slowly unbolted the lock. As soon as it was free, he hopped back into the sea of villagers.

There was a silence hanging in the air, a momentary stillness. Then, came a deep, guttural, wild growl from the shed. The door slowly swung open with a loud groan, and first came an ashen hand, fingers stretched over the earth below, feeling.

Then another, followed by a bald head. The creature slowly, gradually crawled out from its prison, serpentine, savouring the fear it saw in Karl’s eyes, who was quickly unbounded and thrown a sword.  The creature, now having crawled out fully, rose to it’s feet. Its massive, bulky chest swelled and depressed as it breathed heavily. Its skin was a pale grey, almost white, like ash. It’s frame huge, every muscle tight and pushing against its tautly stretched skin. Sharp blackened teeth contrasted against its pale skin and deep eyes gazed around. It stood, humanoid, but by no means a man, a monster challenged by nothing but a weak and frightened boy.

As the creature advanced towards Karl, the villagers began to squirm, and they all slowly backed away. Karl sat, rendered immobile by fear, his body turned to concrete by sheer fright. Suddenly, he heard a scream from past the creature. He looked over, and saw Jakob. Karl knew if he failed, Viggo would have Jakob killed and his body left to rot in the snow. The Trial was the only thing that had kept him alive up to this point, but nothing was protecting Jakob. Karl reached out, his fingers gripped around the handle of the sword. He began to rise, and the creature growled at him, hatred in its black eyes. He knew he had no chance, but he couldn’t let Jakob die for his failure, he had to try. His eyes found the creatures own, and there was a moment of acceptance. Karl brought the sword up, and charged toward the monster before him.

 

Once more into the fray,

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.

Live and die on this day.

Live and die on this day.

-        The Grey, 2011


The author's comments:

Image is random as the pictures would not load properly when I had to select one.


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