The Outer Pale

The darts of ice stabbed the face of Esromer, as the harsh winds of winter’s sorrow swept across the land.  While he gazed upon the infinite white plain of snow, the only feelings that enveloped him were the painful piercing flakes of frost and the chilling memories of a distant past.  Not even the fear of this new land enveloped him.  He had been walking through the desolate, deserted land for more than a few hours.  Esromer noticed, as he walked, that the landscape around him seemed anomalous.  An unusual ambiance filled the air and seemed to putweight; a certain heaviness on his body, as he continued through the light yet merciless snowfall. He was alone, his only companion being his thoughts.  His white hands were blanketed in the numbing cold.  Even though he was clothed in a warm wool sweater and long pleated trousers accompanied by brown leather boots, his hands were barren leaving them susceptible to the bitter cold. The snow, even though it was falling, did not completely engorge the white earth beneath it.  Rather, portions of it seemed to melt and dissipate almost instantaneously, leaving the original minute amounts of snow and ice unchanged.  As he walked further and further into the arid terrain he noticed a great hill on his right in the distance, almost a mountain.  Knowing that his hands could not sustain the bitter torment of cold, he started towards the mountain. 

            The silhouetted figure grew larger as he neared.  The pale white of snow and ice was all that could be seen throughout the plain except for the darkened mountain.  As he neared, he noticed something unusual – the mountain was not covered in ice and snow.  The connection of flat earth and base were distinctly separated by boulder – like rocks.  The unusual ambient energy and atmosphere seemed to grow the closer he got to the mountain, and he felt as though the air weighed down on his body.  As Esromer gazed upon the face of the mountain, he distinctly recognized a spider web of caves engraved in its side.  The rocks were shards, painful splinters that connected and weaved over its entirety to create this mountainous web of slivers.  It was as if the entire mountain was made up of caves, an intricate web of impressions along the mountainside.  Uncertain of what it was, why he had decided to journey towards it, or even how he’d arrived in such a strange land, Esromer’s curiosity, as well as his need for shelter, led him to investigate the mountain. 

            The craggy exterior of the cliff side proved difficult for Esromer to maneuver.  The boulders that lined the forefront of the mountain were three times the size of a man, sometimes stacked two or three high.  Their arrangement was so elaborately organized and sequential, it was almost as if they had been placed there to separate the mountain from the rest of the land.  Luckily for Esromer, he had found a foothold on a weathered stone unscathed by ice or frost.  He was able to climb and maneuver himself onto and around the boulder, sucking in his chest as he squeezed through the small inescapable gaps between the rocks on top.  After a slight struggle, he had made it to the other side, at the base of the incline.  The separation of stony mountain and the frost covered plains was obvious.  The wind seemed to die at the base of the mountain and the snow strewn soil was naked of any frost.  The rocks and stones that lined the mountain were sharp, pointy, and serrated in comparison to that of the smooth, giant stones at its base. The temperature was the biggest change that Esromer noticed.  It was no longer unsettlingly cold, but rather warm.  His hands began to turn the slightest shade of red as the numbness thawed away from the bitter coldness of his fingertips.  Yet a piercing pain also sprouted from the tips of his fingers as a consequence of this change.  After he had stopped for a brief minute to adapt to this new environment, he began his trudge up the vast incline.

            The distance to the first of the caves seemed to be an eternity.  Esromer’s pace did not change as he trekked up the sharp rocks and gravel.  He could see no light in the entranceway of the caves nor could he hear any sounds other than the sharp clapping of his boots on the stone.  It was eerie, unsettling in fact, that this lone mountain surrounded by a plain of painful snow was so unrelentingly quiet.  One after another Esromer climbed the rocks, grabbing at the slick textured stones and pulling himselftowards the caves.  Each step he took, he felt the weight on his body increase.  Esromer did not show many emotions, but something about the mountain frightened him.  An inner fear that reality may find its way back to him.  But he also longed for it.  He was drawn to it, addicted to the unknown and the curiousness of this unusual mountain.

            As he reached the first cave, the weight had accumulated on his body.  The mountain’s incline was sharp, leaving him peering up at the mouth of the cave with only a few feet left to scale.  He grasped the craggy lip at the mouth and pulled himself into the opening of cave.  As he peered into the cave, something odd caught his eye.  A silver glint glimmered in the darkness close to the rear of the cave.  Fearfully, Esromer continued into the cave, confused at what was shining in its depths.  Fear repelled him, but a thirst of curiosity, still unquenched, drew him closer.  The cave was vaporously dark, silence seemed to bite at his ears.  The stalactite shards of black rock coated the ceiling of the cave. But as he neared, the shining glint of silver grew into what he noticed almost instantly as a giant mirror.  Esromer stopped suddenly.  There was a man in front of it.

“Hello?” Esromer called to him. “Can you help me?”

            The man slowly backed away from the mirror, walking backwards towards Esromer.  His eyes never left the mirror, piercing its glossy reflective exterior.  As he moved backwards, Esromer noticed that he was like any other ordinary man – young, wearing a similar arraignment of clothes as himself.  He was short and a bit skinnier than Esromer, but his white blond hair was a defining characteristic.  Confused as to why he did not turn and face him, Esromer took a step back.  Still he did not turn, focused and intently staring into the mirror.  He stopped at Esromer’s side, and began speaking hastily, yet gently, “I cannot help you. No one can…”

            His raspy voice was unnerving, yet Esromer needed more information. “Surely, you can tell me what this place is?”  The man immediately responded, hastily speaking as though he had planned his words for this encounter. “No one knows. You were brought here by the Mountain because of your actions.  Your Hollow is farther up the mountain, in the vacant cave. You will find your unforgiving reality there.  I cannot leave this place. This thing will never leave me.”

            Confused, Esromer asked “Who are you? Why are you staring at that mirror? Are you from Earth?” The man raised his voice, almost yelling, speaking hastily again “I am Terger! Now go to your Hollow! You shall look into the mirror and see your unforgivable reality.  Every person has one.  That is why you are here.  You must go now!”  Startled at his tone, Esromer hurriedly left the cave.  Still confused as to why the man, Terger, would not look at him, he began his ascension to the cave that he had described.

            As he climbed, he peered into each cavern he passed.  All of them contained the same thing - one man in each cave, staring into a giant mirror.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of caves along this face of the mountain.  After scaling most of the mountain, he peered into one of the last caves he had left to encounter before reaching the peak.  It was vacant, with only the company of a large mirror at the back.  As he slowly approached its shimmering vastness, he recognized something extremely daunting.  There was a reflection in the mirror. However, the reflection was not only his own.  As he stood just feet from the mirror, he noticed a creature, clutching his shoulders and sitting on his back.  He realized that the weight he had felt along his journey was this “thing”. However startled and surprised by it, Esromer did not startle and attempt to remove it.  He was transfixed.  It’s grotesque head and abnormal body was more than unnerving.  It’s whitish, naked pale skin added to its already frightening appearance.  It was ugly. He stared into its eyes, and could not look away.  It seemed malevolent; an evil sin that prospered as his harsh truth. As Terger had said, this was Esromer’s unforgiving reality.  His truth no one knew.  His burden.  He now knew why he had been afraid of the mountain, yet also attracted to its magnetizing gravity.  Mesmerized, Esromer spoke gently. “I know what you are.  I know why I am here now. You hark back my transgressions; my sin.  I am engulfed, and indulged in you. What must I do to rid myself of you?”

            It continued gazing at him.  As it arched its head to the side of his shoulders, it replied, in a vacant monotone, “You must accept me, accept responsibility of me.  I am yours and you must look after me.  I will always be here.  You will continue to gaze at me until you can truly accept me as your own, for I am you and you are me – We are one.” Esromer replied, “I am disgusted by you.  I have avoided you all my life.” The creature responded, whispering, “Yet I have always been here with you, ever since that day long ago.  You still have not accepted me.”  “I can’t,” said Esromer.  “You’re unforgivable.”  The creature reaffirmed its grasp around Esromer’s shoulders. “Then you will stand and gaze at me until you are able to face me and accept me for what I am; reality.”

            Esromer stood before the mirror, eyes fixed on his reflection.  In silence, he stared at the evil, his evil, never accepting it as his own.  He stands there, still to this day, gazing at his memory, his reality, his unforgivable truth – his remorse.