High in the mountains lived a hermit. Long ago he had built a sturdy hut from wood and rocks. He abandoned the modern world before it was so modern in search of peace. But after decades of relying on his two worn hands and the beautiful nature surrounding him, he’s finally neared the end of his life.

The hermit—who abandoned his name when he abandoned the modern world—knew the day would come when he could no longer provide for himself. He’d prepared in advance for this day; the day when his body gave way to old age. It wasn’t a stockpile of food to eat or wood to burn that he’d prepared. It was simply his mind.

Reduced to lying on the floor atop his bed mat made of woven plant pulp, the hermit shook terribly from fever. This wasn’t the first time he’d fallen ill in these mountains, but he knew this would be the last. He wasn’t a young man anymore. His body wouldn’t fight off the fever this time. And the heavy winter snow had made it all but impossible for him in such a sickly state to bring in chopped wood to build a fire. 

Once the embers from his last fire cooled, it was over. The temperature would plummet and he would freeze to death—if the fever didn’t take him first. But he didn’t care. He had lived a long, peaceful life in these mountains. And if it were to be so, dying in his sleep would be an acceptable way to leave this world.

Lying on the mat, the old hermit became lost in hallucinations brought on by the fever. Images of the city he’d left so many years ago flickered through his mind. He saw friends and family he’d left behind—left to wonder where he’d disappeared to that one summer’s night.

Like a dream he had no control over, he watched as the memories of his youth passed by in rapid succession; things he hadn’t thought about in many years. A deep sense of regret fell heavy on his heart. In searching for his peace, had he inadvertently dismissed what it meant to be human? By abandoning all those who had cared for him, had he tossed aside the most important part of humanity, love?

After the memories of his youth passed, one image stayed fixed before the old hermit. It was a still image of the majestic mountain peak as he saw it from the outskirts of the city those many years ago. He’d never planned on staying in those mountains beyond that one summer, but somehow the years floated by like a silent cloud. 

In his last moments on this Earth, the old hermit realized what mattered most in life. It wasn’t peace, or the tranquility of nature, or forging one’s own path. It was love. The love of family and friends. The love he gave up a long time ago. If only he would’ve learned this lesson before it was too late.

The final orange embers of the fire had cooled and turned black as night. All fell silent.

If you liked this, check out these other flash fiction pieces.

Smiling Jack

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