We had forgotten long ago. All of our precious memories had been wrapped meticulously inside our red scarves and animal skin coats, free from the mind but kept close to skin for safekeeping. Like loved children bundled in winter fabric, we are fragile inside our layered past; like lost children forgotten by all we know, we wander aimlessly. Our minds are tainted with the constant ache of homesickness- the stars blazing overhead through the flurry of snow never stops urging us onwards, to seek the stars we remember from home.
In silence, our pack travels. The snow, our shroud, makes no noise as we step upon its banks; the forest, dead from the sting of winter, voices no protests as we wander in its depths; the pack, its individual persons scattered, fights the relentless wind to reach our unattainable goal.
Our ethereal bodies are unable to be touched by the world in which we once lived. Our boots leave no tracks in the snow, nor does our heaving breath leave fog in the air. The memories of our abandoned bodies still haunts us, it seems- those who had a weak leg still limp, and some still squint without the glasses they used to need. Our habits are melded into our very soul. We, a weary band of forgotten lives, faded dreams, and stitched-together remains of our spirit always wander on.
When the wind dulls and we have gone far too long without speaking, we begin to ache. Our memories swirl up like dust by an astray wind. It builds in each one of us until two wandering souls may bump into each other, and both begin to chatter without listening to the other. An endless babble, beginning with a recall of their death in perfect clarity before skipping ahead- the stepping stones of a river- to the important events. One by one, we join in- offering the tales of our own deaths, whispering the events that led us here. Our story, stored safely in a warm pocket, now plucked free to be exposed to frosty air and foreign minds. Cautiously, we unwrap it from our tangled memories and speak of when the gun left the bullet, when the knife ripped through vital tissue- whenever the axe fell on our bared necks. Our red scarves flash in the starlight, like an awakened fire.
He was the only one who refused to speak of how he had left the world. The fresh soul.
Like living beings, we tire of traveling alone- whenever we see one who leaves no tracks in the snow and watches us instead of seeing straight through, we welcome them. But even with our companions, each one of us knows we are alone.
The newcomers are always silent, but he resisted the temptation to share his story for longer than most. Many times I could feel him walking besides me, his breathing ragged from the strain of carrying every heartbreaking memory. His silence was oppressive, forced- ours was by our nature. He often stumbled, and when he did he would reach out for my shoulder for stability like a child would stretch for a handful of summer strawberries. I always automatically stepped away, watching him right himself and jog to catch up to his former place in the pack ( he must fight this on his own, carry his own weight.) He panted more each time, desperately trying to keep up and prevent himself from landing face first in the snow drifts..I watched and waited, knowing that the sorrows of an entire life a single man cannot bare.
Tonight, when the stars were blazing and the snow acted as our shrouds. Tonight, when our eyelashes blinked in the midst of that pallid cold. Tonight the newcomer tripped on one of the bony, exposed roots of a long dead tree and broke his neck on another. Tonight, we paused as we watched the snow turn red in his spilled blood- a vicious, rose petal red.
Our silence was now charged- curious, waiting.
The unknown name burst forth from my lips- familiar, but spoken as if by a stranger. My red scarf, the ends tucked into my coat, burned my quivering chest.
He. A boy who grew into a man. Wide smile, always for me. Always looking for me. His cheeks streaked with tears as he knelt over my body. His blue eyes begging me, pleading me to stay when it was my time to leave- the darkness that surrounded us had stolen my body from me, I was unable to answer. He was gone. I was gone. He. Michael. Michael..
A look of revelation was worn by every member of the pack. They watched the scene, watched his heart frantically pump all his blood out through his twisted neck. Names appeared on their own lips, they gazed down at his body with a hollow confusion.
“Laura? Laura!” One of them called out in worried confusion, and next to them two more joined in. The pack crowded round him with me, whispering the name of each loved one they left behind. My single cry of Michael was lost in the whirlwind of Katie and Sherry, Nate and John. Names in other languages, names so forgotten that the red scarves seemed to be twisting, contorting, their stored memories stolen. They reached for him, for whatever person they needed him to be. The whisper of names rose to a wail, fighting to be heard and remembered while I only cried over my Michael in silence.
The man blinked. His pale lips traced quiet words, masked in the uproar. He sat up, eyes hollow, with his own red scarf round his neck.
The pack wanders on.