Finds the Land of Freedom
The prisoner stepped across the snow and ice.
The snow and ice lay in uneven drifts across the vast plain of open sea.
The prisoner had been walking across the uneven drifts of snow and ice since nightfall. As the sun rose, lighting the morning sky, the prisoner could no longer see the prison high on the bluff overlooking the sea. The small island had many bluffs which made it ideal for a prison. Lookouts stationed on each bluff gave the guards full coverage of the island and the frozen sea that surrounded the island.
The prisoner no longer heard his feet crunch in the snow and ice with each step. He did not even realize he could no longer hear his feet crunch in the snow and ice.
The prisoner tried to think how long he had been walking. Nightfall to sunrise gave him good points of reference, but he did not remember the time of nightfall or sunrise.
He tried to think what month it was. He knew if it was before the spring equinox then it was likely to be more than twelve hours between nightfall and sunrise, and probably even longer as the prison camp was at a high northern latitude. But the prisoner had no idea what month it was. It could have been mid-summer for all he knew.
The prisoner thought about his cellmate. His cellmate had talked about being able to work hard in any weather and being able to walk hard in any weather. He had made it sound easy. And with no fence around the island, the temptation had grown steadily each day for the prisoner to step out onto the snow and ice and find his freedom.
The prisoner had found his freedom. At nightfall, he had taken the decisive step and continued with additional steps onto the ice. He was undeterred by the fate of his cellmate who would have certainly walked to the mainland of the land of freedom, the land of snow and ice, if he had waited until full nightfall and not just dusk to set off across the snow and ice to find his freedom.
After only thirty steps, the guards from the lookouts had seen the prisoner’s cellmate and brought him back to the prison commander who had him beaten, tortured, and then executed in front of the full prison population.
The prisoner’s cellmate had speculated that the guards were basically indifferent to prisoners escaping. He said most prisoners were in no shape to walk to the mainland in even the best conditions, and the perpetual hostile winter environment canceled the need for any fences.
The prisoner and his cellmate had speculated about what kind of guards were on the island anyway. Probably not very motivated, and they had probably been assigned to the island as punishment for their own bad deeds.
The prisoner had said that such characteristics of the guards would make them mean. The prisoner’s cellmate had said perhaps, but in the right moments, such characteristics could also make them indifferent.
The prisoner’s cellmate had not chosen one of the their indifferent moments to try his escape.
The prisoner decided that he had chosen one of their indifferent moments for his own escape. Either he had chosen the right degree of darkness to make his flight, or he had chosen a moment when the guards were indifferent, or both.
And yet for his apparent success in getting off the island and making it through the night across the snow and ice of the frozen sea, the prisoner knew it was no time to start celebrating his success. The unending plain of snow and ice indicated the challenge that remained before him. If he considered the sea of snow and ice as a metaphorical fence around the island, then the prisoner wondered if he had in fact found his freedom. He decided that in one sense he was free, but in another he was not. He thought it better to not think about freedom until he had found his way to a place where he could sustain his life. Food, shelter, and human companionship.
The prisoner looked at the horizon. He looked at the horizon under the sun and knew he was heading in the right direction. Three days walking the cook had told him. Three days walking if no storm or guards got in the way.
The cook had been a guard once, and then for unspecified reasons he became a prisoner. In his bitterness, he encouraged as many prisoners as possible to set out for the mainland of the land of freedom. He managed to smuggle three days worth of food to any prisoner who accepted the challenge, and he gave detailed instructions for crossing the frozen sea to the mainland of the land of freedom.
The prisoner thought about the cook while he ate a small morning meal. He would have liked to have had a fire, but it was out of the question with no fuel around. The prisoner thought about the cook’s instructions. Three mornings walking toward the sunrise and he was bound to find the mainland of the land of freedom.
The first morning had come and the prisoner felt the warm rays of the sun while he ate his small morning meal.
Two more days to the land of freedom.
The next day, the prisoner watched the sun rise while he ate his small morning meal, and he knew he had just one more day of walking before he found the land of freedom.
The day after that, the prisoner walked toward the sunrise with a light step. That day he would find the land of freedom. He had made it two days and three nights across the frozen sea of snow and ice. The weather had cooperated, and the cook’s food had been sufficient to keep him full of energy and hope.
Not long after, the prisoner saw storm clouds gather on the horizon. But he also saw land in the distance.
The prisoner picked up his pace. He would have to make it to land before the storm set in.
And he did.
The prisoner stepped on the gravel beach just as the first snowflake fell, and he entered the cave just up the bluff from the beach as the blizzard began to howl.
Inside the cave, the prisoner found a light shining deep within. He approached it.
Human skeletons littered the cave floor, and when the prisoner reached the light, he found under it a piece of paper with a message written on it.
Congratulations. You have found the land of freedom. Although you might have heard it was a continent, a mainland, it is in fact a small island in the most remote part of the world. You will find after the blizzard passes that the island has no food, no shelter besides this cave, and no human companionship except the remains of those who found their freedom before you. Again, congratulations. It is a rare feat you have accomplished, and you should be proud.
The prisoner’s bag of food was empty.
By the time the next prisoner found the land of freedom, the prisoner’s bones were indistinguishable from the bones of those who had found their freedom before him.
To read more stories in the series, see the Becomes One Hundred Stories page.