Hello. Welcome to Flash Fiction by Phoenix. Here is another story to add to our collection.
I KNEW ABOUT ICE, towering, giant glaciers of it moving slowly forward, destroying anything in their paths.
Yes, I knew about ice.
And I knew about snow because it covered our northern forest home, not leaving much alive except us. Not even wolves. Only the tops of trees showed as our group of one hundred carefully made our way east. I gazed at the frozen land, and the wind burned my eyes. The air burned my nose and throat as I tried to breathe. Frost hung on my eyelids.
I had talked them into moving on, convinced them that life here was not going to go back to the way it was. Yes, we had rough winters before, but spring and summer had always returned with fresh grass, flowers and the trees filled with leaves. Bees fed on wild flowers, birds nested, and small animals scurried about, while we spent lazy, pleasant hours enjoying our life.
This time, there was no summer, and I told them we needed to move on, to search for a new home, a place that I was sure existed, even after this catastrophic weather had hit our land. The place was to the southeast. I had no idea how I knew that, except I thought I heard a voice on the wind. The voice told me there was a place where the sun warmed the earth, played sparkles on the water, and the grass and trees basked in its love. At night, its shy sister, Earth’s silvery moon, would come out and in a clear sky filled with stars, would sing us to sleep.
We were so cold and we were starving. That warm land had to be there. It just had to be. I simply had to believe I had heard a voice calling to me, telling me to go and find this place.
So that is how we happened to be on this dangerous journey. They all had listened to me and followed me as we traveled from our home in the north, moving eastward and then to the south through lands that were dark and cold, with moving mountains of ice, sometimes surrounded by turbulent rivers, and where thin and starving wolves and saber-tooth tigers hunted us.
As we climbed another set of mountains and came to a crest, the vista before us made my heart sink and my hope began to die like the trees and grass had. Below was a plain where the mountains ended, but there was nothing but tundra, bleak and frozen. We could not see even a speck of green.
I searched my heart and could not find the will to go on. I looked at my mates. They just glared at me with hate. I had led them here to die.
Then to further put my dreams to death, snow began to fall again, covering the earth and blanketing everything as we plodded down the mountain and finally reached the plain. The flakes fell on our fur hides, blinding our eyes. The grass had long since disappeared, smothered and dead. Here and there, a solitary tree stood, asleep as if the slumber protected it from the reality that there would be no sun to warm unborn leaves.
Our group plodded forward, heads down, and hungry; they all had long since given up. It was as if they were just waiting to let death take them.
Then I saw it. It flew over, appearing as just a speck in the cheerless, gray sky.
My heart pounded, and I let out a long sound, as if I were braying at the hidden sun.
“Come! Come here, all of you!”
They did not respond.
I called again.
Slowly they came to me, moving stiffly to circle me, vapor coming in puffs as they breathed the cold air. Then I saw their eyes. The apathy had changed, and the fear was gone. I had become the target for their misery and despair.
Eyes that held a look of murder surrounded me. They wanted to kill me. Their look told me everything. Their suffering was my all my fault. I had told them to follow me to a new land, and I had been wrong.
Tired, hungry and cold, I had to find the will to survive, to go on. Either that or we would die. I dug deep inside me and pulled out some strength.
“Listen to me,” I said. “We are close. I can feel it. I saw a bird. Birds eat seeds, and seeds mean plants. It came from over that ridge.”
They all turned their heads. It was as if they had not seen the mountains in the distance until that moment.
“We can make it. We will find what we seek over that ridge.”
Our largest male said, “That, as you call it, is not a ridge. It is a mountain range, and who knows how many more ranges we would have to travel to what? More tundra?”
“To a better world, warm and full of food. I can feel it. Just a little farther.”
A female said, “Yes, it is you who talked us into leaving our home. And now we will die trying to get over those mountains.”
“You would have died anyway,” I shouted. “The ice had frozen our world, killed everything, and threatened us all with death. We must keep going forward. We must keep hope in our hearts.”
Another male, one who usually spoke for the rest, said, “You dream of this better world and all we ever see is ice and snow. We need to go back. There is no food here. No sun. Why do we keep battling the ice, the cold, in this forbidding world?”
Another female rounded on him, “Go back? It has taken us nearly a year to get this far. It would take a year to get back. Stop taking this out on our leader.”
It was her mate that said, “Leader? You call him a leader? If I had any strength, I would take him on and take his place. He is wrong, and he has brought us to this dark, cold and turbulent place, this bleak tundra. He has killed us all.”
I backed up as they became very agitated and started striking each another, bellowing and screaming, taking their suffering and frustration out on one another. If I said a word, I would become the target of their rage.
However, I did say something.
I shouted, “BE QUIET!”
They all turned to me.
“I have a dream of a better world, one of sun and a land filled with life. We must keep moving toward the rising sun. We will find it. I promise you.”
They simply stepped aside as I strode through the group and marched forward toward the mountains.
I did not even look back to see if they followed.
However, they did.
We battled ice storms, and raging rivers, starving and cold. No one said a word. We just marched ahead as the area seemed to change. We saw several birds. Then live trees and foliage. A little grass peeked out from the snow. We gobbled it as fast as we could, our ribs showing on our sides like skeletons. Now and then, we saw more rabbits and deer. We fought off wolves and won.
Our hearts were feeling lighter with that victory when the bear crashed through the trees, scattering snow everywhere. He was ten feet tall and bellowing.
The herd backed away in terror, as I bellowed back and leaned down to ram him with my antlers, pawing at the snow with my sharp hooves.
We all breathed relief as he ran. My herd looked at me with admiration now, as they saw me as their fearless leader. We were still all alive.
We climbed a mountain, and when we crested the summit, there was another series of mountains ahead. To my surprise, no one stopped. No one quarreled. It was if they had heard the voice on the wind, whispering for us to move, to go, to trek over the mountains to our goal.
It took several moons, and we finally stood on a ridge. As far as the eye could see, there was prairie. Our hearts soared. Life sang from that lush, green expanse. I could feel the spirits of the wolf, the bear, and the eagle. There were herds of wide-horned bison and antelope. There were mastodon and on the ridges of the mountain we stood on, mountain goats pranced from rock to rock.
A stream fell from the mountains in a waterfall and meandered through the land that was fresh and new with pine, elm, maple and lovely willows, and a sky that made an azure ceiling in a land with no more snow and ice.
My herd of elk tossed their antlers, playfully nipped each other, and we ran toward our new home, filled with joy, a place that told time by the seasons, the sun, and normal cycles of birth and death.
We arrived and took our fill, grazing in quiet, listening to a light wind that ruffled the tall prairie grass, a soft breeze that whispered to us the secrets of the earth.
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Lee and Gary Jordan