Illustrated by Brian 56321
This place is impossible. It cannot exist.
If it cannot exist, then I cannot really be here.
Yet the place remains as real and solid as ever, and I remain real and solid - oh, how solid! - within it.
I wish I could go home.
The cold is astonishing. The worst winter blizzard I ever experienced would seem like a furnace compared with the supernatural chill upon my naked skin.
Perhaps this is hell. I had always believed hell to be a place of eternal flame and torment, yet this is as far from that conception as ever I could have imagined. There are no demons with flaming pitchforks here, no sneering imps cataloguing my sins and demanding repentance. There is only the cold, the silence, and the endless, helpless, loneliness.
A plain of ice stretches before me to the horizon. In the light of the tiny, cold sun the plain is almost featureless save for a few shallow depressions and elevations. There is no wind, no weather and certainly no living thing here. Upon the plain of ice nothing ever moves.
And I stand upon the plain of ice....
The cold is so intense that the ice is like rock, and so is my body.
The lifeblood in my veins has frozen. Even the air in my chest feels solid. Life is impossible here, yet I cannot die. I remain conscious and aware of my existence in this frozen body.
If this is hell then there should be a chance, however slim, for redemption. Yet in this place that has neither time nor life, how can there be hope?
Hanging above the ice and casting a pale reflection into it is a huge, bloated moon, completely unlike the moon I once knew. Filling almost half the sky, the enormous orb never rises or sets, but stares endlessly down upon me like the wrathful eye of God, its endless immobility mocking my own.
It is not perfectly round, but appears slightly taller than it is wide. Its surface is streaked and banded vertically in orange, yellow and brown and mottled with light and dark spots. Although it is hard to tell, I am convinced that the bands and spots are moving slowly across its surface. Whether the patterns have any significance, I have no way of knowing.
My shadow gradually lengthens toward the horizon. I am a human sundial and its own observer, measuring the long afternoons of my timeless existence. Day and night do exist here, although the tiny sun moves so slowly that one day here may be equivalent to half a moon in the real world.
Eventually the sun sets behind me and the ice plain is lit only by the pale glow of the huge moon. Even the tiny amount of warmth that the sun provided is gone. Then a dark crescent gradually begins to eat away at the top of the moon, growing larger and changing its shape over the course of what seems like several days until only an upturned crescent is left. And in the portion of the moon that has been swallowed by darkness lights flash and flicker endlessly, reminding me of distant thunderstorms.
The sun rises above the horizon, and for what might be a day its meagre warmth provides some tiny relief from the incredible coldness. Then it disappears behind the motionless moon and the narrow crescent along the moon’s rim is swallowed by darkness.
True night has descended upon the plain, lit only by the fiery flashes within the dark disc and their reflections upon the plain below. It is at this time, when the cold and darkness are at their utmost, that I know with absolute certainty that I will never escape this fate. I will never again see a blade of grass, nor witness a true sunset, nor hear another human voice. I am doomed to stand helpless in this frozen wasteland until the end of time.
And I can never kneel or weep to beg God’s forgiveness.
After what might be two more days the moon’s upper rim begins to develop a slender crescent, from the centre of which emerges the cold sun to illuminate the plain once more. The light raises my spirits a little, and from time to time I dare to allow myself the folly of hope.
The sun continues its unhurried progress over my head, and the lit crescent of the moon continues to grow. At last I begin to discern my shadow before me once more and the moon is fully lit. And so the cycle of day and night begins once more, here in this place where time has no meaning.
I wish I could go home.
STORY CONCLUDES BELOW
The Plain of Ice illustration © Brian 56321, September 2005, with grateful acknowledgements.
“So, Operative Threl, d’you get your last perp OK?”
“Oh, yeah. Real piece of work. Medieval warlord called Ranvel. Wouldn’t believe what he got up to - rape, torture, child abuse - the brief was to get rid of him before the Alliance officially makes contact with his planet.”
“Nah. I ’ported him right off his equinoid while he was out hunting. Easy to recognise him with that robe of his. Rematerialised the robe along with his other stuff but left his body dematted in the plasma tube.”
“So, ah, then what d’ya do with him?”
“Well, the bounty was for deposing him, not delivering him, so I ’ported him naked onto an uncharted ice moon along with a consciousness enhancer. Let him spend a few billion years on ice. Didn’t bother to record the coordinates - after all, it’s not like anyone’s gonna want to go back for him, is it?”
“Hate to tell you this, but I’m just getting a message that Operative Kedrick picked up Ranvel an hour ago.”
“What? But - but I already - ”
“Apparently Ranvel was ranting about a young squire named Vrenn who’d run off and stolen his robe.”
Author’s Note (2):
Thanks once again to Brian 56321 for his unsolicited artwork. In reply to his e-mail, I wrote:
Wow. Really nice picture. Very atmospheric and evocative. I like the little detail of his right heel being slightly raised, as if he's poised to take that next step that he can't ever complete (even if there was anywhere he could go). Thanks again.
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