“Don’t take the road south. Here, where the air is cooler and there are few, it is safe. Travel there and you begin to see what led to our demise.
Where it is warmer and the air is set with dust and the sound of a child screaming is rare indeed. For now, there are but few children. And the people do not heed each other. It matters not, that a man’s bread is his own, that he built up a structure and called it his home. For these are but things, and things can be taken away from a man.
There, keep away from others and want not for their company. For nothing ranks so highly for a man than the food in his belly. And when a man is put upon by hunger, he will claim no power over his actions, and he will lay you low, if only to ease the ache in his belly.
Travel south, and you will get lost in the many masses of people. Dried out and spent up and filthy as the dirt they lay in.
And the stink.
Travel to the South and you will know it, when it comes up into your nostrils like so many unwashed and unbred, all their essence wafting in, so that you feel like something has entered you and you want to get it out.
Stay here son. Stay here.”
This is what Hadar Gromsbely tells me each night, when he sees me sit by the fire and he sees I have the look in my eye. That hint of wanderlust. And he comes to sit by me, he lowers himself gently into the seat. He leans in close, and he begs of me to stay. He is old Hadar. His skin is folded over with the many wrinkles that show a man’s age. He is old, but he is sharp. His grey eyes latch onto you, and make you think the man can read your very thoughts.
When he tells me this I nod and I pat his hand and I tell him that I will do as he says. But I know that he knows that I am not really listening. And he looks troubled, and then ceases his speak. And we sit quietly for a while, until he leaves off.
And I stay here, after he has gone. After everyone has gone. I am the only one here without family. Growing up in the Northlands, where every child is cared for, I could have mistaken anyone for my father. But my own image tells the lie. Everyone here is black haired, and brown eyed, thin and tall. And I am thick of build, with pale blond hair and blue eyes, almost as light as Hadar’s. And I sit here, by the fire. I stare right into its center. Curls of red and blood orange bringing me the heat and I sit there after it has faded and the dark turns inky and until it nears the passage of morning light. And when I feel it, that urgency–that won’t let me close my eyes, makes me stare out, past the stone huts and dirt paths that are my home, past the hills on the pathway south–is faded from me and I only wish for sleep, only then can I leave.
The south calls for me. I have seen pictures of it in its glory. Here, all around me, everything seems flat and dull, all grey and brown. And in winter, the palest white.
And the cold does not leave me. It settles into me. Set in my bones. It saps me of all my energy. I do not want to be here. And I think on that land. At the end of Southern Road. Where it is green, and there is laughter, and there is fruit, just like in the pictures. Where we need not forage and stock up on dried meats, to last us through many winter months. And I know. I know in my bones, that Hadar Gromsbely must be wrong.
And one night, when we’ve all sat around the fire. I look over at Hadar. He does not look back at me. So that I know that he knows. And when all leave, I see them go and I hold back. This time, I do not stay though. I gather up my things and take up my pack and I head for Southern Road. It is time for me to see it for myself.
N. L. Sakks is a PhD student in biology. While her daily activities are firmly rooted in fact, she is especially partial to the world of fiction. She previously won a short story contest for her piece titled Dreaming, and her work is set to appear in Bete Noire Magazine.SOUTHERN ROAD by N. L. Sakks,