Through the cold winter wasteland he trudged, leaning into the harsh wind which spitefully tried to force him back. He was covered from head to toe in layers of thick clothing, layers of protection against the harsh environment. On he fought, searching, searching. He was working so hard. This must be the way.
In the distance he saw what looked like steam rising out of the ground. It rose a few feet and then was quickly whipped away by the biting wind. He altered his course and turned towards the steam, gaining some blessed relief as he turned his chapped face out of the gale. As he got closer, he thought he could make out voices. Their tone was unfamiliar to him – musical, relaxed and warm – their melody enticed him closer. Finally he got close enough to peer through the mist.
There before him was a remarkable sight. In the midst of the frozen wasteland, cut into the ground was a large pool. Several people were in the pool, they seemed to be floating easily without any effort. As they saw him approach, a woman called out to him.
Come in here. It is lovely and warm. You can just lie back and relax, said the woman.
I can't. There are no steps. The man replied.
Just jump in. It really is lovely in here. Come on. There's plenty of room for another. Another of the floaters joined in the persuasion.
But what if I don't like it, how will I get out? The sides are too high to reach up to.
Believe me, you won't want to get out. Come on. It is so good in here.
He stood for a moment, paralysed with indecision. It looked so much like the answer, but how could it be this easy? Just jump in? Lie back and relax? It couldn't be that simple. It must be a trick. He could not trust them. There was no way out if he changed his mind. He blocked out their warm invitations and once more filled his mind with grim determination.
On he trudged. Hours passed and his shadow grew long. Then once again in the distance he saw another cloud of rising steam. Entering the mist, a similar sight greeted him once more.
Come in here. You don't have to be cold any more, said one of the bathers in a gentle voice. All the faces in the pool turned to look at him. Warm smiles reached out to him but his eyes could not perceive them.
How do I get in? I can't see any steps. You are a long way down. He asked once again.
Just jump in. It is very deep. You will be quite safe.
But what if I want to get out? What if I get tired and cannot stay afloat any longer?
This is not like normal water, we are kept afloat without any effort. I promise you, you really will not want to get out.
But my clothes will get wet and their weight will drag me down.
You can remove all those layers. You will not need their protection in here. It is always beautifully warm.
But he could not bring himself to do that. Those layers were his protection, accumulated over the years to keep out the bitter cold. How could he now discard them, just like that? How could he allow himself to be so exposed?
On he trudged. Darkness came and the temperature dropped still further. Snow began to fall and the wind drove it into his face. Walking blind he carried on.
Then suddenly he felt some warmth in the air and the ground disappeared beneath him. With a scream he fell and his fall was broken with a splash. Panic overcame him and he thrashed around desperately until his hands touched a wall and he clawed at the smooth surface, loudly cursing the futility of it.
Then suddenly he heard a soft voice beside him. ‘Shhhh. It's OK. It's OK, said the voice in beautiful feminine tones. Just relax. You will be OK. Then he felt her hands moving over his body, searching then loosening his winter clothing. Layer after layer was gently removed, her voice continuing to sooth his panic until eventually he could feel the wonderful warmth of the water directly against his skin. It's OK, She said once more as she held him close in the dark. For the first time since he could remember, he fully relaxed and quickly drifted off into a much needed sleep in her arms.
He awoke to a wonderful new dawn. He gazed into the beautiful eyes of his rescuer and felt the wonderful warmth of the water around him. Then he heard footsteps above. A weary man dressed head to foot in winter furs peered over the edge of the pool.
Come in here! He quickly shouted to the man. It is so wonderful in here!
But what if I don't like it? How will I get back out? The man asked.
Believe me. You really won't want to get out, he assured the man.
Pete Hughes is the creator of and regular contributor to the website of his jolly bovine chum Happy Cow. Read more by Pete at http://www.happycow.org.uk