Snow fell in sheets and columns. Flew through the sky like an army of frozen gnats that fell and spiraled. They whipped through the wind, patrolling all the land. A blanket of ever-growing white upon the already hard landscape.
He flexed his fingers with tips numb. A stinging sensation shot from tip to knuckle to palm to wrist. He looked at the sun in the distance that stood with the promise of warmth and light and barely made good on half.
Already, he could see the steps he’d taken before washed away. Gone beneath freshly delivered ice. Tears of a frozen angels left falling upon a world that wore weary with so much sin.
Far in the distance, he saw fleeting images of a desolate peak. Fading in and out like the scattered worries of a half-broken dream upon waking. Like those dreams, sometimes it filled him with little more than the feeling that settled in hard and cold but refused to give a name to the sensation.
Other times…other times, it gave him the promise of a destination. The belief in something that made his tired legs, and frozen hands worth it. Some final prize that told him that his days were not wasted. His heart still beat for a reason that mattered.
His heart still beat…if only just.
For long and longer, many had searched and many had found. But like comets in the night, like a whisper on the wind…they could be found, but always they were lost. They did not nest upon the earth. They did not leave traces that spoke to the machinations of compasses and globes. They did not speak of electricity that they could be found with computers or science.
They simply were…and were not.
Those who had found them had always said the same. Always said that they disappear once you speak your words. Once you offer what your heart whispers…
He met new days with old convictions and saw those very elements that were once his consolation slip as the sweat from his brow beneath the heavy layers that barely kept him warm. His body at war with itself – hot and worn from exertion – frozen and shaking from the cold.
At nights, he could look out over the haze of white that looked like a veil of lace held up against the world. A cold aurora that made all the world a small television screen that was half-concealed by a station in poor reception – with a sheen of static rising to the forefront.
He saw the lights of old cities that were filled with the dreams of new hearts. Saw them as they dimmed when days grew too dark, and rekindle again as the sun frowned its way out of heaven like some angry father who trudged off to bed with little more than discontentment and last night’s poison pumping through his calloused veins.
Where sharpened crags gave way to ice so sharp and so clear that it looked like crystal, he climbed and slipped. He clawed his way up and forward, a battle of miles to gain inches. A war of days and nights to gain minutes. His body a slow-moving snake in the tundra that he was ill-equipped to endure.
He remembered nights when fires raged and streets were filled with great commotion. He remembered how odd it was that the riots had sounded so much like the great parades and celebrations. He remembered the way the sun burned when it used to stay for too long, and the way that nights had grown darker than dark when it had finally decided to leave them at the behest of some cold and spiteful intent.
When nights had all but burned through the tiny embers that barely flickered in his own soul, he came to where it now rested. There within a little hollow. Small and frail with a glow like a halo that ringed around it.
He could barely feel it in his hands when at last he held it. It promised him light and warmth, but he knew that so often…far too often…such promises are barely even half-given.
He made out the warped reflection of himself within the curvature. He looked for a tired face and sunken eyes. He looked for pale skin that was tinged with blue, for a chin that was filled with gray hair and frost. He looked for some last memory of who he was…or who he had once been. Whatever that once was…or was now…it was gone – maybe it always had been.
He held it there. Such a small thing. So frail. Little more than the size a tiny snowglobe. He held it to his chest and wept as he heard what felt like a voice of anything other than himself. A voice that asked him, “What is it that your heart desires?”
He remembered what he’d wanted as a child. He remembered all that he’d lost, all that he’d desired. Those stolen moments. Those “ones that got away”. He remembered the last time he cried and could not remember the last time he smiled.
He thought of the people he lost…and all the people he probably would.
When he woke in the morning, it was still there in his hands, glowing like a star from heaven. Like an angelic firefly in the jar of his possession.
When he rose to meet the morning with ears so cold they ached and the tip of his nose numb from the unforgiving world around him, he looked out upon the world from the peaks where, even now, the wind raged and snow swept through like empty wishes in the world’s biggest fountain.
He thought it would sound like glass, but rather, it sounded more like rain…or maybe that’s just what he told himself.
As it came crashing to the ground, shards and fragments flying up and away like sleet caught in rewind, he watched the glow fade and fade some more.
He thought of how long he’d spent his life, like so many others, asking what he might do if he found it. He thought of all those years that others had spent and lost in search of little embers in the cold remains of city-wide pyres. He remembered when last he cried.
The snow was already stopping when he looked down to see that nothing but ice and emptiness remained.
Maybe he just wanted to hear himself say the words that his heart had already given. Maybe he just wanted to hear his own voice…just one last time…since it was unlikely anyone ever would again.
He whispered, “I want it to stop…”