Wind whistled over the barren landscape as the boy climbed yet another hill. He paused for a moment when he reached the top, resting his legs and rubbing his hands for warmth, then pushed his way down the other side. With every step, his feet sank deep into snow.
He did not know how long he’d been walking. He couldn’t remember ever having done anything else. Every memory he had was of trudging through snow, one foot after the other, always cold and hungry and tired.
He didn’t know where he was walking to, either. He thought it must be someplace important, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone out into a blizzard like this, but it seemed he’d just have to wait until he got there to find out.
The boy noticed a figure in the distance. As it got closer, he saw it was a knight, riding on a white horse that was almost invisible in the snow. The knight waved when he saw the boy, and spurred his horse forward.
“What cheer!” he cried, pulling to a halt. “Might I ask why a boy your age is travelling all alone through these lands?”
“I don’t know,” said the boy, shivering in the cold. “I think I must be on an important journey.”
“Ah,” said the knight, and he smiled. “I, too, am on an important journey. My name is Sir Percival, and I am a Knight of the Round Table. I seek the Holy Grail.”
“The Holy Grail?” asked the boy. “What’s the Holy Grail?”
Sir Percival shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Some say it is a golden chalice, covered in rubies and diamonds. Others say it is a lacquered plate, and I’ve even heard that it could be a magic rock of sorts. I guess I’ll know when I find it.”
“I hope you do find it,” said the boy.
“What’s your name, then?” asked Sir Percival.
“My name? I don’t have a name.”
The knight laughed. “Nonsense,” he said. “Everybody has a name. What do people call you?”
The boy shrugged. “Nobody ever calls me.”
“Well then, what do you call yourself?”
The boy thought this was a strange question. “I don’t call myself anything,” he said. “Why would I?”
“Well, we shall have to give you a name, then,” said Sir Percival. “How about Johnathan? John, for short.”
“John,” the boy repeated. “I think I like it.”
“Good,” said Sir Percival, nodding. “I’m glad I could be of assistance. Best of luck to you, then. Perhaps we’ll meet again someday.” His horse walked off into the snow.
“Yes,” whispered John after the knight was gone. “Perhaps we will.”
Some time later, he saw another figure in the distance. As it got closer, John saw that it was a man in a dark suit, clutching a bowler hat on his head as if he was afraid it might blow off in the wind. The man waved when he saw John.
“Good morning,” he said, rubbing his nose. “Unless it’s evening. I can’t be sure. Either way, you shouldn’t be out here all alone, you know. You should be in with your parents.”
“I don’t have any parents,” said John.
“Well, you should be with your friends, then,” said the man. “I don’t have any parents myself, but everybody has friends.”
The boy looked down at the snow. “I knew a knight once,” he said, “but he was too old to really be my friend. I don’t have any friends, I guess.”
The man sighed. “What’s your name?”
“Johnathan,” said the boy. “John, for short.”
“Well, John,” said the man, “I wish I could help you. I really do. But I’m on my way to the office, and I can’t be late.”
John cocked his head. “The office?” he asked. “Where’s the office?”
“Oh, it’s here, there, and everywhere,” answered the man. “I’d stick around to explain, but I’ll be sacked if I’m late, and I really can’t afford to be sacked.” He walked off into the snow. “See you later, John!” he called.
“See you later,” said John.
For several hours, all John could think about was how much he wished he had friends, or a family. Perhaps that was what he was searching for, he realized. Perhaps his friends were waiting for him at the other end of the blizzard.
He began walking faster.
Some time later, a third figure appeared in the distance. As it came closer, John saw that it was a woman dressed from head to toe in a reflective suit. An odd helmet, shaped like a light-bulb, obscured her face.
She waved as she got closer, and John waved back. She stopped beside him, taking off her helmet and smiling.
“You look like you’re a long way from home,” she said.
“I probably am.”
“Where’s home for you, then?”
John shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. Maybe this is my home.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said the woman. “Nobody lives here. Where do you come from?”
“I can’t remember,” sighed John. “I just don’t think I have a home.”
“Everyone has a home,” said the woman. “Even I do, and I’m an astronaut. My home is the Tachyon. It’s the largest, fastest spaceship in the whole solar system.”
“Why aren’t you there right now, then?” asked John, wondering what it would be like to live on a spaceship.
The woman sighed. “It left me behind,” she said. “I was visiting a moon called Europa, but when it was time for me to get back onboard, the Tachyon had already flown away.” She looked sad for a moment, then blinked and smiled hopefully into the distance. “It’ll come back for me,” she said. “I know it will.”
“I hope it does,” said John. Then he had an idea. “When it comes back,” he said, “do you think I could come aboard, too? I’d like to see the inside of a spaceship.”
The woman laughed. “Outer space is no place for a boy like you,” she said. “No, you should get back home. That’s where you belong.” Then, before John could remind her that he had no home, she snapped her helmet back into place and marched off into the snow.
John continued onward.
He crossed snow-covered hills and frozen lakes of ice. He walked past distant mountains and through deep canyons and over tall glaciers. Many times, he wanted to stop, but he never did.
Much later, he came across a little house.
John was so excited that as soon as he saw the house, he picked up his feet and began to run. He stumbled through the heavy snow, panting and panting, and twice he fell, but he just brushed himself off and kept running. The house beckoned warmly.
This is it, he thought, though he could not have said what made him so sure. This is home. It had to be.
He reached the porch and clambered towards the front door. Heart pounding frantically, he raised his hand and knocked.
It opened a minute later, and a little girl stood there. She looked about his age, and she had dark hair and brown eyes, just like he did.
“Hi,” said the girl, blinking in surprise. “I wasn’t expecting visitors.”
“My name is Johnathan, John for short,” panted the boy. “Can I come in?”
“Of course you can,” she answered, ushering him through the door. “My name is Elaine. It’s nice to meet you.”
John walked into the house and stomped on the rug to get snow off his boots. He looked around. There was only one room in the house, but it was a large room, filled with chairs and sofas and warmed by a fire in a hearth.
“This isn’t actually my house,” said Elaine, closing the door behind him. “I don’t know whose house it is. I don’t plan to stay here for long, though. I’m on a journey to somewhere.”
“What are you looking for?” asked John. “The Holy Grail? The office? The Tachyon?”
Elaine laughed. “None of those things,” she said. “At least, I don’t think so. I’ll know what I’m looking for when I find it.”
John knelt down and began tugging off his boots, thinking of what to say. It was so good to talk to someone he could understand. “I’m on a journey, too,” he finally declared, looking up at Elaine. “But I don’t know what I’m looking for, either.”
She didn’t answer, only watched him thoughtfully. She was familiar, John realized. Undeniably familiar, as if, in some previous life, the two of them had been best friends, or siblings.
They both smiled, their shoulders sagging.
Many hours later, when the fire had died down, the two children left the empty house and began marching through the snow once more. The wind pummeled them and the snow made it hard to see, but they were on a journey, and neither the wind nor the snow could stop them.
Some say they are journeying still.