“No.” As if Rune’s monosyllabic utterance was a command, the apparition above the lake vanished, leaving him staring up at the black canvas of night again. The hum of the turbines downstream also decreased down to its distant murmur.
Rune blinked, shook his head. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but had no intention of experiencing anything like it again, not this night anyway. Rising quickly to his feet, he picked up the footfalls he had left on the shoreline earlier. Light from the cabin that had lead him to the lake grew in strength, illuminating the snow in a pale yellow where his tracks had exited from the woods. He sighed with relief as he stepped back into the pillars of trees, his previous footfalls distinct, the path back to his home clear.
Trusting his eyes to lead him back, Rune allowed his thoughts to reflect on the apparition he had seen, or at least thought he’d seen. It had challenged, invited him; declining still seemed the right decision, but why? What motivated his answer?
The cedar that had temporarily trapped him on the way down came into view, the entangling limb now dangling limply, like a hanged convict. Rune smirked, reached out and grabbed the limb, pulled it free of the defenseless tree, tossed the dead branch to his left.
The Sea Goddess had made him an empty promise, he suddenly realized. Had offered to take him to a place where he wouldn’t feel alone, wouldn’t suffer the pain of loss — bullshit. Just another lie. As he picked up his trail again, Rune knew the answers he was seeking were only going to be found in this world, not in some distant land. The answers would not come easily in this ceaselessly cruel world, but finding them would be the only way he could find peace.
Through the woods, he saw distant lights. Perhaps his house, or another family’s — didn’t matter, really, if he followed the lights and exited the woods he would surely find his way back. Abandoning the tracks of his previous journey, Rune rushed forward towards the light, until he reached the other edge of the forest a moment later.