He was old. So old, the new wrinkles in his face seemed to have seen more deaths than most people alive. His feeble body sprouted legs from beneath his torso, though they had shriveled from lack of use that they looked as though they more like twigs, ready to snap at any moment. His skin had gone from leathery to baked and hard. Blood spots appeared on his fingers as he moved them around. Yet still, he had to keep them moving. The doctor had said it was one thing to lose the legs, but losing the arms would be too much.
His face was shrunk as well, so much that he looked like a ghost. The one unchanged feature in him was his mind. His body had failed to weather the storm of time, but the mountain in his head was unmoved. The people of the village had dedicated a room in his honor, which was kept constant with fire so that he never felt the chill of winter. All they had asked in return were his stories.
Stories he had plenty. They enjoyed the stories from the time before, when people lived in the long abandoned buildings out beyond the hillside, but he preferred the one that followed. The calamity had destroyed many lives, but those that rose from the ashes were reliant on others. It was the great time, in his mind, of human caring. With no family to speak of, he was grateful he lived in such a time, where he would not have to fear being thrown out in the cold until he was ready to die.
That day was soon coming though, he knew. In their hearts, he thought all people knew, unless they were taken before their time by something unexpected, like a runaway bus. That had been a story the children had loved, though the parents had scolded them for laughing. But what did he care if they laughed? So long as they learned and lived, there was little worry if they laughed.
The days for laughter were long passed him. Now, some god had sentenced him to suffering. He felt like Tithonus, yet his Eos had died many, many years ago. They all had. At times, he pondered leaving the village. The cold would be good for him—he had known many good souls take their own lives in the cold. His best friend had done it, and it was said he rode great wild beasts in the dreams he lived, in those last moments.
Perhaps that day could be today. In the silence, after everyone left, he put his hands on the armrests and tried to lift himself. His arms shook, his skin cracked, and he heaved heavy breaths of air, but he could hardly rise an inch. He knew, deep down, even if he had risen, his legs would have fallen after a moment, and he would have had to crawl with half the bones in his body broken.
It was a vain fantasy, to wish to leave these good people alone, but one he greedily played in his mind. Over and over it spun, like the wheels of fire the men danced with outside. He could hear them now, chanting for the sun to come; for the cold not to claim too many of their babes. The mothers joined in to, and he listened to their voices. Strong. Loving. He listened until he felt the calm of sleep finally take him.
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