by Kathryn Mackel
Once upon a dark future...
A bitter wind blew, stripping the last of the leaves from the birches. The moon above was cold and bleak, its distance unfathomable, its purity an affront to the senses.
This world is dying, Josiah thought, trying to puff life into the fading embers of his fire. He had been away from his camp most of the day, hunting deer, only to find himself the one hunted. Surely it was a profanity to transmogrify whippoorwills—the sweetest of songbirds—so they bore a lust for tender flesh and warm blood.
The strongholds and their sorcerers were moving north yet again, using their mogs to batter villages and destroy opposition. If Josiah was to be free of them, he must again break camp.
Some spoke of an endless winter at the top of the world, where ice never yielded to soft soil, where the wind could turn a man’s skin brittle as glass. A land of stark danger but also a land of promise, some whispered; a place where bears and seals and wolves and birds roamed free from the sorcerers.
For now, Josiah knew. Only for now.
The world was dying but he did not know whom to beg to save it. He simply outpaced the mogs who one day would run too fast or fly too high for him to save himself, and where would hope be then?
“There would be hope yet,” a voice said.
Josiah drew his knife and slipped into a crouch. “Who’s there?”
“Oh, there is no need for that.”
His blade dropped from his hand but he kept his wits and kept low, ready to creep back into the same darkness from which this stranger had sprung.
“Please don’t. Please sit by the fire with me, instead.”
The spent embers flared to high flame, bidding Josiah to stay and be warm.
He sat on a log, careful to keep the fire between him and the stranger. The man was of ordinary build and plain face, dressed only in wool shirt and trousers. Josiah wore deer-skin jacket and leggings over his rough woolens and still he shivered.
“What is your name, stranger?”
“What brings you here, Evangel?”
“What brings you here, Josiah?”
“If you know my name, you know why I live where few else dare.”
“Do the mogs offend you?”
“The men who make the mogs offend me.”
Evangel moved to his side of the fire, keeping a neighborly distance.
“I have brought you a gift.” He pressed a book into Josiah’s hands.
“Thank you, but I do not know how to read.”
Evangel smiled. “Oh, but you do.”
Josiah took the book, wondering why he had not yet driven off or
killed this man who dared come into his camp uninvited. That was the
code of the deep forests, enforced through necessity rather than
custom. Yet he had not raised a hand against this Evangel or fled from
him. What had kept him next to a fire that blazed without wood and a
man who spoke without fear?
“Why should I fear when there yet be hope?”
Josiah took no time to marvel that the stranger could read his
thoughts. He was too entranced by the book, bound in rich leather and
edged in gold. Its pages were like silk, thin and smooth, with ordered
black marks that shifted and became letters, words, thoughts.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Once Josiah started reading, he couldn’t stop. Nor did he want to.
Somewhere in a night that stretched until the birches once again budded and the breeze rose with birdsong and honeysuckle, Josiah read on and on.
He did not look up until he had read every word of the book. Only then
did he find that summer had come on him, the birches full with leaves
and swarming with squirrels, the ground thick with deep-shade violets
and velvety moss.
“Evangel. Is He coming soon?” Josiah said.
“Soon enough. But there is yet work to be done.”
Josiah held the book to his chest. “Tell me what you would have me
Evangel bowed his head, for the first time in three seasons showing a
weariness. “Do you recall the story of the Ark?”
“You are to build another.”
Evangel looked up, his cheeks damp but his eyes clear.
mankind despised their birthright.”
“I don’t understand—” he said, but Evangel was gone.
Josiah went to fetch a hammer and start building.
Cool, huh? Off-the-map speculative fiction by
Kathryn Mackel right here on WhereTheMapEnds.