An icy wind frosted pine needles and foliage as it snaked between trunks and branches, blowing from the northeastern evergreen forest and into the small village’s dwellings. The cold was natural for the coming winter, and yet something more seemed to be carried along on the gust. Pines creaked and bent as air swept across them, but they had stood strong for hundreds of years, and hundreds more would they weather.
Jarren could feel unease present on the wind, something of a normal experience to those who dwell so near the Pine Forest, and he sighed. The warm breath clouded as it left his lips, before it too flew away with the breeze. Jarren had been alive for fifteen winters, and knew that his time as a child had ended. He would have to venture into the Pine Forest for game to prove his worth to his village and hopefully return home with meat . . . or return home at all.
Due to a lack in decent farmland, his village had to rely on its hunters for survival, and even though it was a great duty to his people for every man to be a hunter Jarren did not look forward to the experience. The tales he had heard of that forest, the way the air seemed to freeze around you and how absolute the silence was within the Pines unnerved him more than he cared to admit. He also recollected tales from the experienced hunters, tales of strange creatures that lurked in the shadows. The thought that he would be going in alone nearly petrified him with fear when he had first heard it from the chief, despite the information being expected anyway.
Snow was beginning to fall now, clumps of powder rapidly whitening the dirt trail around Jarren and causing him to shiver violently. With a final look to the dark northeastern forest, Jarren attempted to calm his mind and trudged home.
The hearth fire of the young man’s cabin was pathetic indeed, its weak tongues of flame barely illuminating half of the dwelling and the heat’s radius stretching far less. Jarren could hear his teeth chattering as he sank into a hard wooden chair in front of the hearth, a chair made by his father’s hands. The walls and ceiling were stained black with soot and smoke, their clogging smell present everywhere. Jarren knew what the next day would bring; the challenges he would undoubtedly face in the Pine Forest, for either the celebration of his success or his very own funeral pyre would await his return . . . or in the case of the latter, his lack of return.
Jarren found himself thinking once again of his parents, the thought of them surfacing with the nearing prospect of entering the Pines. He wished they were with him, or that they were even alive to comfort him. He remembered the day the other hunters returned home to tell his mother of the man’s death, and how she too later died of some unknown ailment in the darkness of the night. Jarren was now the only one that occupied the cabin, and because he was fourteen at the time the boy had been able to manage the house alone.
Shadows stretched far as the sun lazily dipped below the tree-line, a reminder that his last day as a child had ended. Tomorrow was his life-day, and perhaps the only one he would not be looking forward too.