Do you know that sound that snow makes? It is not the quiet static of snow falling after nightfall, it is the loud noise of dry snow. When the snow is dry and it is too cold to snow anymore it crunches underfoot. It crunches and compresses and strains against the human foot. If there is nobody else around when you are walking through this type of snow it sounds as loud as a waterfall.
Of course, I have not seen snow in five years. I followed a river two years past, but it disappeared underground before I ever found a section of rapids. It was one of the last things I saw before the nights grew longer, and then seemed to take over entirely.
I don’t know how long it has been dark now, but it has been dark. And I have been walking for what seems like my whole life; I know I will be walking for the rest of my life.
Right now I am walking over soil so loosely packed it is almost sand. I can imagine, in the dark, that this was once a grassy plain, or an inhabited forest. Not the badland it has turned into after the night came. The moon is still there, lighting my way as I travel by “day,” but even without the moon my eyes have still become accustomed to this new world spinning in space. It is not as if I happen across much underbrush to impede my walks either. Some weeks ago, it must have been, a dove was cooing from its nest; cracked and empty eggshells were underneath her in the dry and dying bush. I picked a lone sprig with a preserved leaf still on it and placed it among the pressed mistletoe in my maille. I picked the dove up gently and stroked her neck, bringing peace to her. She fed me well that night.
Before that it had been a long stretch of hunger. I had found a pair of fox kits hiding behind a boulder one day. It seemed I could smell their fear of me. I fashioned their head and hides into gauntlets after tanning them by the light of the moon with some special soil I had found. These two siblings hang as trophies now, resting as spaulders atop my bearskin mantle. The bearskin was bought at market, long and long ago. Long before I started my mission. Long before I decided that this unending night was the end of our time on Earth, and that certain preparations needed to be made. You could hear the screams of panic in the night, especially those first nights when we still expected the sun. These people need to be brought peace, and I had set out to be that one to preach to them in their final hours.
I saw a pinprick of a campfire on the horizon at moonset the other day. I have been walking towards it for three moonrises now, and I think I should be there within the hour. It is not yet close enough to be too bright for my eyes, but I have a scrap of cloth when that becomes a problem. Why should this stranger light a fire to disrupt our peaceful night? How should they revel in the return of our sun if not first appreciating the deep night? I have not spoken with another living soul since the days of moonrisings first started. I have not spoken at all, save for with myself at infrequent intervals. Even now, thinking, the words seem strange and wonderful. I wonder how I will bring peace to this stranger at the fire. Shall I tell them that they are one of the last survivors? What if there are more than one, shall I give them a special sermon?
What if they are using that foul fire to burn their food… should I curse them for not appreciating the efficiency of their hunger? Should I curse them for giving in to a base emotion in pursuit of easier living? No, I think not. It has been so long since I have preached to friends; I would not start off by insulting these wonderful new strangers.
It must be a good sermon, this night, for the end of all things is nearing. I know this because there is a fire on the other side of the world, waiting to consume us. Late at night, long and long after the moonset, the sky grows faint. At first I measured with eyelid flutters and heartbeat halves. Later I had opportunity to gape in awe at the colors that appeared on the horizon, a hue I had not seen since… but then the color melded back into the obsidian night. Before the end comes all must be prepared and brought to peace. To hope to see the glorious chorus of Angels… no, one not prepared would not know what they saw. They surely would not appreciate it if not for me, trekking about my part of the globe, armed only with my sermons and my fasces – both are intricate in my mission to bring peace to the strangers scattered in my land. What brother of man would I be if I let these strangers face their end unprepared, unable to appreciate the heaven that awaits them? No, I must bring them their peace by showing them the other side of heaven; I must show them the underbelly of the cloudbank.
When I was still a young child I would cry to my mother’s skirts over rain and the days of gray thunderclouds. She would dry my tears on an apron, and tell me that I would love the sunny days all the better for knowing the contrast of such dark storms. I am more prepared than any for the coming light because of the darkness I have seen. Unfair it would be to not prepare my new friends, whom I hear now talking in racing whispers. They see me ascending the small hilltop they reside on.
I shake loose my fasces and recite the opening of the sermon in my head, I would be remiss to make an error now. For these strangers to love the hand that greets them at their own ascension they must know the proper darkness in order to appreciate that welcoming light. I can make out three distinct voices, one male, one female, and another female with a harsh voice. And they are screaming now, drowning out my sermon. This trio of souls gives me pause, briefly. Are there more survivors further across this new land? No matter; before the end all souls with any hope of redemption must first know darkness, they must first see terror.
And I will show them all.
I will let them see.