The straw bed was comforting. It was a cozy setup atop the mound he had built for himself.
Cassim looked over at the fire pit. He wanted to cook his catch from earlier, but never got the chance. He was unlucky enough to find a hungry wolf sniffing around the empty village upon his return.
When there were many people around they had no need to fear predators because the village was so large. But Cassim was alone now, and the wolf took advantage of this case.
Desperate for his catch the wolf went for Cassim. It bit and tore into him without any remorse. There was no intent to kill, just to take the rabbit carcass and run. But Cassim defended his prize and the wolf did not hold back. Knowing he would not win the confrontation, he fled. The beast chased Cassim as he made a run for the cliff that held the contraption, but the wolf caught him mid-way and he was thrashed about.
When it was all over Cassim managed to climb onto his mound, but he lost all strength after the effort. He could not pick himself up enough to set the mechanism, and had no viable option to set the pyre after he passed from his wounds, or starvation, whichever set in first.
• • •
Now through this final light, you may embrace the dark.
Cassim dropped his torch on the mound and set the pile ablaze. The robes on the body caught before the man at the straw bed.
Looking around at the trees above, Cassim could hear the birds chirping, their sound muted by the pyre. He could feel the breeze roll over his face, and pulled his hood down.
He looked down a moment, then decided to removed his robe.
He balled up the cloth and threw it into the fire. Anger consumed his face and the tears began to roll.
He found himself in the middle of everything. Truth and belief collided in his mind and in that moment, nothing made sense. He wanted to walk away from the fire but couldn’t decide to turn left or right. His body leaned one direction as it turned toward another. Any effort to move was inspired by disbelief, but it was hope that kept him in place. Faith. Fear, that immobilized him. Cassim found himself staring deeply into the roaring fire trying to imagine himself in the pyre and where he could end up next.
But all he could hear was the birds and the wind.
• • •
The world looked hazy. Cassim’s blinking slowed and he turned his head from side to side trying to look for a way out. He seemed like a very tired man who just wanted to sleep.
Thoughts filled his head of some kind of light shining down on him and granting him the strength to set the mechanism to prepare his contraption. Deep down he knew no such thing would happen. Deep down he could feel less and less.
Deep down, he knew there was nothing more.
Where were the saviors and lords he was promised as a child? How come his guards had not intervened for a man left so hopeless and broken? Where was his reward for being a loyal servant to the powers that be? Why did things feel so vast and empty now?
Cassim’s mind raged, but his body lay still. His breathing was similar to someone falling into sleep. He rhythmically exhaled audibly, first a strong sound, but each succession grew quieter.
The fogginess he saw grew foggier and darker as his eyes closed. But a faint glow of white grew as his breathing impeded.
Is this it?
Cassim’s last thought was filled with hope. His breathing halted and he did not open his eyes again.
Things were quiet.
His contraption above rested peacefully, waiting for someone to set it.
Nothing else moved in the empty village. Fires did not rage, logs were not carried, food was not eaten. Not a single villager remained.
Yet life went on, and the wind blew, and the birds continued to sing their song.