Oliver D. Bernuetz's Stories
“Will you love me?” The hunter started at the unexpected intrusion, so engrossed had he been in his bloody work. Had he heard that or had it been some trick of his mind? Maybe it had been some mischievous daimone, a malignant spirit or a lonely ghost. Perhaps just some lingering memory from a bygone day? He looked around but saw nothing but the frost covered trees and the deep snow piled in banks everywhere except beneath the trees. Crouching, he returned to his work of skinning the fox. “Will you love me?” the whisper came again. No trick of the mind then. Concentrating on his work he ignored the question. Finishing up the skinning he rolled the pelt up, skin side out and stashed it securely in his pack. He scoured the blood off of his hands with the cold snow, cursing as he did so. He put his wolf skin gloves back on and reveled in the sensual warmth of the fur inside. He reset the deadfall, leaving the skinned fox as bait. After he had shouldered his pack he picked up his spear and doing a quick visual check of his snowshoes’ fastenings he headed back to his hut. “Will you love me?” followed him as he left the clearing. Without stopping or turning around he said most emphatically, “No.”
The trip back to his hut was uneventful. The forest was mostly silent as it sensed his presence. He heard the chattering of a squirrel though, defending its territory from the intruder but the rascal kept well hidden. Pity as squirrel would have been a welcome addition to this evening’s dinner. His snowshoes squeaked on the hard snow and he wished he had a pair of skis instead. He reached the edge of the clearing where his hut was and stood on the slight rise that overlooked the clearing. As always he carefully scanned the snow looking for new tracks. Seeing none he relaxed and took in the clearing. His hut was a source of pride, so well built and sturdy. He could see the thin wisp of smoke coming out of the smoke hole from the low fire he’d left in the fire pit. He allowed a smile to flash across his face at the sight of home but then his eyes were drawn, as they always were, to the space under the trio of black spruce. The place where his love lay buried. She had come late into his life and had stayed for all too short a time. And now she was gone and the world seemed so empty. Perhaps it was time to move on, travel elsewhere and start a new life, try and leave his memories here. He snorted at the foolish of this thought and shaking his head he headed down to the hut. As he bent to enter the low doorway he heard it again. “Will you love me?” Straightening up he turned back to the clearing. Still he saw nothing but he knew something was there. “Never!” he roared to the emptiness. His roar startled the birds in the trees and they rose up in flight. He stooped to enter the hut and whispered, “Never again.”
That night as he lay in his narrow bed, which had once seemed so close but now felt so empty he heard a noise outside. Grasping his spear he moved stealthily to the door. Opening the door a crack he looked out at the moonlit clearing. The sickening red light of the moon cast an almost bloody hue to the snow. He shook his head again at the stupidity of the Lunars following such an abomination. Allowing time for his eyes to adjust to the light he carefully scanned the clearing. He shuddered as he realized that he could see a faint figure beneath the black spruce. Whispering a prayer to Odayla he carefully crept outside into the cold. He snuck across the snow as silently as he could and approached the spruce. The figure did not move as crept up and as he got closer he saw that it was a young woman. She was standing over the grave of his beloved wearing nothing more than a shift. The moonlight cast a reddish tint to her features and he did not believe that he had ever seen her before. He moved closer, shivering in the cold and marveling in the fact that she didn’t seem to mind it. Forgetting the traditional challenge to a stranger in his confusion he spoke to her, “What are you doing here? Who are you?” She turned her pale face to him and asked, “Will you love me?” He dropped his spear and stared at her. He felt the cold and loneliness eating at him and thought about his life. What was there? Pitying himself as well as the woman he whispered, “Yes.” Picking her up in his arms, so cold she was, he returned back to his hut.
The rest of the winter passed as in a dream. The hunter asked her who she was and why she was there but all she said was “Will you love me?” He shook his head in his confusion and answered, “Aren’t I?” She always smiled sadly at this and he wished there was something he could do that would make her smile less sadly. He spent the rest of the season, when he wasn’t in her arms, hunting and trapping. He strove to bring back the rarest of pelts for her, even traveling to the Gods plane itself to return with storm marten pelts. But all she ever did was smile sadly and ask, “Will you love me?” “Of course”, became his answer and he stopped his trapping to spend all his time with her. She seemed to grow sadder as spring came near and only once did she utter anything but “Will you love me?” It happened when they heard the sound of returning geese. They were sitting and he was eating when they heard the honking and a look of panic came over her face and she said, “Will you love me?” A pause. “Come the spring?” He laughed at her distress and clasping her coolness in his arms he replied, “Of course.” She clung to him and he forgot her question altogether.
He could feel the spring coming and reveled in it. She seemed colder and ever more listless as the spring approached though and he decided to find for her the first flower of the spring. She didn’t want him to go and clung to him tightly. He removed her arms and laughed at her distress. “I will only be gone a few hours. Don’t fret. I’ll be back before you have time to even miss me.” She seemed to draw into herself and went to sit quietly, so quietly in her corner away from the fire. He heard the drip of water and smiling said, “There! Do you hear it? The snow is melting.” She shrank even more into herself and giving her another warm hug he set off.
The woods were slowly coming alive and as he walked along the paths it seemed to him that the spring was coming faster than normal. He searched all the warmest, most sunlit clearings looking for a snowdrop to bring back to his love and finally found one. Whispering a prayer to Voria he picked the flower and returned joyfully to his cabin. As he entered the clearing he stopped. Something was different about it, something wrong. He looked at clearing basking in the sun and could see nothing wrong. The hut looked the same but something was still wrong. Then his eyes were drawn, as they had not been since his new love had arrived, to the space beneath the spruce. Rather than something being there he sensed there was rather something missing there. He walked slowly over to the trees with a growing sense of dread. As he neared he saw that there was a gaping hole where his love had been buried. Why had he not noticed this before?
Turning to the cabin he slowly walked to see what the thaw had brought. His screams echoed through the woods.
Last updated October 07, 2016
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