He opened the door wide on creaking hinges, letting the orange light of evening spill across the floor of the hut. The windows followed, shutters flapping open in the breeze that was just now rising over the empty prairies from the north. It blew gently through the hut as he busied himself with other matters, shuffling about on aching knees.
First, he swept. A slow task with the thatch-broom that he always kept in the corner. Dust rose in little clouds as he worked, glinting in the sunlight before the wind snatched it up and away.
When that was finished, he turned to the furniture. Not much: only a wooden table and chair. These he dusted, straightening the small collection of books on the tabletop, and put away the pewter dishes that lay scattered about. They would be useless to him on the journey. He smiled faintly, though, as he touched the books. They were dear to him. He would miss them.
Next, he hobbled outside, leaning on a stick that he had used for many years. Rounding the hut, he made his way up the hillside behind. There, he looked upon the pens of sheep and goats that he had tended for so long. A hermit must keep himself busy, after all, and what else was there to do on the open prairie but tend the animals and read and think? What more indeed?
He wheezed a bit as he stooped to lift the latch of the main pen. The gate swung open, and he tied it to a stake so it would not shut. Within, the livestock shuffled around but did not leave the safety of the pen. They held together, looking back at him with dark eyes. Sad eyes. He smiled at them, always grateful for their simple, silent company.
The descent from the hill was harder in the twilight. The hut seemed grey now, thatched with colorless reeds, fluttering in the wind. He stopped when he reached the door again, looking out into the distance.
South, he looked, and then west. The wind stung his eyes as he turned to the north, and he shielded them with one trembling arm. Soon, now. Soon he would go. The thought sent a shiver through his aged body, and suddenly he wept, for he was lonely. Here in the desolation of the prairie, with only the sheep and goats to keep company, he was lonely at last.
He had chosen this solitary life for himself, but now…now he longed for something else. He longed for speech and company…warmth on a cold night.
Soon he would go. Yes, very soon, and he was ready.
His hand gripped the wooden stick tightly as he turned from the door, leaving it thrown open to the prairie and the fading sun. With faltering steps he moved towards the chair, wheezing as he lowered himself into it. He wore a weathered cloak, and on his feet were traveling boots.
Now all was prepared. Yes, now was the time.
The hermit lay back as the sunlight fell away, and night crept up from the west. His eyes closed…
…and abruptly he went out…out from the sheltered place into that greater night where there are no stars. A dry land, with dark hills rising to a darker sky…
But above those hills, fitful and half-lost in the darkness, it seemed that a pale light flickered faintly.
Now suddenly he started forward on strengthening limbs, casting aside the walking stick, for he may now climb those deathly hills without weariness…climbing…climbing ever up.
Ever up, toward the light.
Hi folks. Officially, this is an entry for the Flash Fiction Marathon, following the theme "Preparation." Unofficially, this is the first COT short story I've posted on BZP. Funny how that works. It's a sad kind of story, but not, I think, too dark in the end. I hope you enjoy. Leave a comment or critique if the desire moves you. All such things are appreciated.