The freezing wind tore at him like the claws of some gigantic bird of prey, trying to drive him back, force him to seek safety behind the ice-covered rocks. He ignored it, just as he ignored his brethren who crowded around him. Who shared the same goal ...the Joining
Difficult enough just to scale the slippery ground and push forward, push forward and onward with his fading strength. How long had he been on this journey, how long since he had eaten or slept? He couldn't remember, didn't really want to remember. All he knew was that the time had come, time to free himself and reunite with those who had gone before.
At least the cold was no real obstacle. There were enough of his kind around him that between their body heat and his own efforts, the cold was hardly noticed. Hunger was another matter. There was a fire in his belly, but this fire was not comforting. But he had more important concerns than feeding.
Even in the howling wind he could hear it, the soft whisper of eternal promise that was now paramount above everything. When it first called he had awakened immediately in the middle of the night. He and his mate had looked at each other, then left their home and joined the others already beginning their journey to salvation.
Where was his mate? he wondered briefly. They had become separated not long after setting out and finding her now would be impossible. Even waiting for her was impossible as the force of those behind him drove him ever forward. He crawled over a rock, then the crushed body of one of his brethren. He felt a fleeting pang of sorrow for the fallen one. Everyone in his clan started the great trek to their ultimate glory, but not everyone succeeded. But only by reaching the great cliffs that overlooked the roiling ocean below could the Joining take place.
He continued on as the storm blew and the sky darkened. The snow was so intense it was almost impossible to see; everything in front was a white blur broken only by the occasional rock outcropping or one of his brethren. Yet the song of eternal promise remained above all, nearly to the point of drowning out all his other senses. They were going the right way; he was sure of that.
But as the day waned, so did his strength. How much farther? he wondered. How long before I reach salvation? He did not, could not, consider stopping, finding somewhere to hide from the wind and perhaps sleep. On this frozen plain there was nothing save ice and rock. And even if he tried, those behind him would have continued to push him inevitably forward.
The song continued to grow in volume and beauty as he struggled onward. He now passed more and more of his brethren lying frozen and motionless, victims of their own weakness. Some were crushed by those who had come after and he tried to avoid them as much as he could. But the press of the queue did not always allow that.
But there were other enemies besides the weather. Occasionally they would spring their attack from above and there was no way, not here, not now, that he could avoid them. Only their sheer numbers offered any protection. But the way his body was beginning to ache, the way he was gasping for breath, he realized that their attackers were the least of his concerns.
For the first time that day he felt true fear, fear that he would not reach salvation and unity after all. It was getting increasingly difficult to press on, despite the pressure of those behind. A step forward. Another. Concentrate, he told himself. Concentrate on the goal, not the pain.
He plodded on, scaling more rocks, more of the fallen. It should be nearing evening, it should be getting more difficult to see. Yet it wasn't, and when he realized that he looked up. And shuddered in awe and anticipation.
The storm-filled sky was glowing, not white but with soft yellows, greens, reds and blues. His heart surged as he realized his ultimate salvation was within his grasp. No thoughts of hunger or pain now; his muscles quivered as adrenaline alone gave him the power to press forward. To climb the final obstacles. To finally stand proudly at the edge of the cliffs.
Far below the cold ocean raged, the sharp crags waited. His attention, however, was focused upward, at the clouds and the promise awaiting him. The Joining.
No time to hesitate now. He leapt as far and high as his leaden legs would allow, trying impossibly to fly to his destination. But that was unnecessary. He felt them reach out for him, seize him with all their love and strength. Then he was part of them, his very essence absorbed into the great unity that he had sought his entire life.
Meanwhile his lifeless body tumbled down into the ocean, where the seals and other predators waited to feast on the victorious lemmings.
Patrick Welch received a B.A. and M.A. in English from Bowling Green State University. Proving the value of a liberal education, he has worked variously as a musician, dock worker, insurance salesman, full-time and substitute teacher, free-lance writer and assistant store manager.
He has published more than forty stories in e-zines and the small press. Currently, he also has two books available from Twilight Times Books, The Casebook of Doakes and Haig and The Thirteenth Magician.
Westchester Station (a fantasy novel) is available from Double Dragon Ebook. Other completed books include The Body Shop, Before/Beyond (an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories) and Brendell; Apprentice Thief.
Visit Patrick's web site.