Note: This story was created as a writing exercise, inspired by a prompt from Sara Rodhjort.
Sleep doesn’t come easily for me. Dreams swirl, half-formed and half-remembered in my mind. They tear me back to reality, imagined cries waking me in the darkness. And so I rise amid the soft murmurs of sleepers, I shake off the visions that still cling to me. And then I walk into the night and its embrace, hoping to find the dawn.
Like the rest of the world, dawn slept late during the winter. It kept back its rosy glow, leaving the morning hours to night and its darkness—to its biting air and stars and winds. It held back the sun and its warmth as frost spiraled across leaves and branches and twigs—as it glazed the cracked and dusty windows of the sleepy town with its dirt roads and wooden structures. It kept most of the citizens in bed, nestled beneath their blankets, curled against one another as they desperately sought warmth. It kept most of them locked behind barred doors—most, but not all.
Alexa walked through the quiet town, the familiar weight of her bag resting across her shoulders as her eyes scanned the surrounding buildings. Already, her face was becoming numb, bitten by the wind that rattled the branches of nearby trees and tugged her pale hair from beneath her hood, tangling it in front of her face. And yet she enjoyed these early morning strolls—enjoyed the peace and quiet and the calm, the opportunity to order her thoughts.
The breath before the sprint. The instant before the plunge.
The air itself seemed to have crystallized that morning, freezing the world into a moment that seemed like it would last until spring. Even the clouds of her breath hung suspended in time—condensing in white puffs before the wind tore them away.
But it won’t last forever. The town will wake up and life will continue. Locks will be unbarred, doors will open and the Near Grave will have to be dealt with. A faint smile flickered across Alexa’s face as she pushed a few errant strands of hair away from her green eyes. Part of the job, I guess—always busy.
Her boots stepped lightly across the frozen dirt road as she rounded a corner, her steps taking her toward the lake. She could see the ice shining faintly through the trees—white in winter as the last of the stars flickered away and vanished.
Alexa paused, her hand falling across the hilt of the sword strapped at her side as she watched leaves skitter across the ground in front of her—as her body shivered in the cold. Dawn was beginning to rouse itself, its faint light turning the sky from black to deep blue. Soon, the others would wake up. Soon, the first patrols would start—men and women armed with guns and knives walking along well-worn paths. Soon, Alexa would need to run.
But not yet.
Alexa turned her face toward the rising sun, the cold stealing her breath away as pink and purple streaked across the sky. Gold-tinged clouds lightened from blue to grey as dawn slowly appeared, roused from its slumber.
Not yet. Because for one instant I can stand here and watch the world wake up. For one moment, I don’t have to worry. In this place and this time, there is nothing else but the feel of morning—the chance for new beginnings.