Note: This prologue was originally a short story written for the Review Game's Writing Challenge Contest. I've since decided to try to expand it into a full-length novel; as such, this opening chapter may seem familiar to some, but the rest of the story is an ongoing work for 2013. I don't normally do these outside of NaNoWriMo so it will be a nice challenge to balance my time. As always, I greatly appreciate all feedback. While I can't guarantee a quick response, I will try my hardest to return all reviews over 2 lines (outside of Review Game functions). Cheers! -Lyra
Coarse rope chafed his wrists, tied firmly behind his back, but Theo was otherwise naked. This should have bothered him, and a long time ago it might have. But after months in the dark, in his underground prison, it felt good just to be out in the crisp evening air.
"What season is it?" he asked the elderly man beside him. The man was also naked, and stared dead-eyed ahead.
Theo dug his toes into the pebbly ground as the other prisoners were stripped and hauled out of the mines. The soil was wet but not over-saturated and the water held the memory of sunshine. Summer, then, or perhaps late spring.
A uniformed man shouted orders and Theo felt a rifle barrel in the hollow of his back. They marched away from the caves.
Prisoners were always kept high up in the mountains, Theo remembered. He had a vague recollection that this was so they could be put to work in the mines, and he'd done that too many days to count, but he thought there was another reason. The forest felt old around him but the pines and spruce were scraggly and stunted. The cold, then, he decided. That was why they were kept there, with the cold as deterrent from escape.
But, as the evening dew settled on his bare skin, Theo thought even that was silly. It wasn't a bad night. He wished he'd seen the daylight; he bet it had been a warm, sunny day. A promising day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. Certainly not the worst day to die. But he would have to settle for a nice twilight death.
Theo thought that if he closed his eyes it would be like he was just taking a stroll in the woods. If he ignored the pebbles bruising his feet, the creaks and groans of the other prisoners, and closed his eyes tight, maybe it would be just Theo and the trees, with the wind in his hair and the birds readying for sleep in their nests, and the war a distant memory for a brief moment.
A cold drop hit his shoulder, snapping him from the fantasy. First one and then a dozen raindrops began to fall. Soon the patter of rain on tree branches joined the forest sounds, along with the patter of rain on rifle barrels and bare skin.
The guards muttered. The pace quickened.
Thunder rolled in the distance. The sound brought him comfort though he couldn't think why. Theo pondered the forgotten memory lingering at the edge of his consciousness. It felt far away, long ago, another life almost.
Death was just a moment away and he was musing on thunder and ghosts. He chided himself for letting his mind wander; lack of focus was why he was on this last march anyway. "The mines are no place for dreamers," his mother once said, and now he knew the consequences of obsolescence.
Lightning split the clouds and Theo thought of thunder, the sound of rain, and his mother. He imagined he was home in bed and much smaller. Mother held him close as rain beat the windows; he had been afraid of thunderstorms as a child, wasn't fond of them even now, but especially then. She held him close and told him a story.
"When you were born there was a great big thunderstorm, with booms so loud it shook the whole town. It was so big it scared the old hermit on the mountain out of his house. He came down the trail yelling for all the world to hear that it was a sign, an omen. 'What sort of omen?' I asked him, as I was concerned for you. But he said it wasn't a bad omen for you. It was the mountain claiming you as one of its own. 'That's a real mountain boy,' the hermit said, 'and a mountain-'"
Theo tripped on a root and the memory fled under the pain in his toes and knees, followed shortly by a kick in the ribs. A guard pulled him to his feet as he wheezed. The rain fell, the thunder rolled; the line and Theo moved forward.
They climbed a rise and Theo and the prisoners found themselves at the edge of a cliff. He couldn't see the ravine below but he knew from the way the wind whistled and the tales it told his nose that this was their destination.
He imagined bones at the bottom, some with half-decayed faces and remnants of rope at their wrists. Maybe he would recognize some of them as he made the final drop. Would he have time to study the decaying skin, would he see a friend from the battlefield, or recognize a silhouette from the mines? How long would it take before he cooled under the rain that still pelted his skin and the dead and the prisoners? How long before insects moved under his eyelids and hummed in his throat?
Lightning split the sky, but the thunder seemed far away. He saw the eight men ahead of him get pushed toward the cliff. Most hunched and closed their eyes, resigned to their fates. Two cried out, one fell to his knees and begged; he was the first to go as the uniformed man beside him laughed and shot him in the head. The other guards lined up, took aim, and seven shots and thunder cracked. Six men fell backward, sliding neatly off the cliff; the guards rolled the other two down.
Theo's insides were cold. His pulse beat with the rapid fall of the rain and his chest ached as the rifle prodded him closer to the edge. The rain-slick mud oozed between his toes and he no longer felt the warmth of remembered sunshine. He felt the grave-cold ice leaching into his skin, and the slide of the cliff pulling him backward.
Their guards lined them up inches from the cliff's edge. They chuckled amongst themselves and gestured toward him and the elderly man who now stood two men to his right; Theo thought they were placing bets somehow. Wagering which would fall to the pit and which would be kicked down.
He felt his shoulders hunching, and his eyes closed. Theo became like the other prisoners, like the recently dead, like a soon to be dead man.
Thunder rolled and he realized this would be the last sound he heard. Thunder and rain, thunder and the shot, thunder...
And Theo heard the rifles cock but it felt distant now. He was in his mother's arms in a memory and she was telling a story. "'That's a mountain boy,' the hermit said, 'and a mountain boy is welcome to walk the woods and ride the rain as long as there's a voice for the mountain, as long as there's a mountain needing a voice.' So don't you be afraid of that thunder, Theo. It's just the voice of the mountain chatting with you. Listen and tell me what it says."
And Theo heard thunder, but now it was the mountain. "I've waited for you," it said. "Welcome home."
Theo turned his face to the sky and felt the rain stream down.
And he became the storm.