Death of the Iceman Ötzi

The following article was written for a writing class. I decided to put it here after I revised for a bit. We can only speculate how this man used to live with the technology we have now, but with my imagination and some beer, heh, here’s what I think.

Dark blood dripped along the ice-paved path leading to the shepherd’s last blow to the chest, when he collapsed and crashed into a piece of hard ice. From the deep cuts and open wounds his blood poured, reddening the icy ground surrounding this dying man. The most critical wound of all—the arrowhead in the neck, penetrated his thick leather garment and blood-stained skin, probably his bones as well, leaving him no more than a minute to remain alive and to wonder how all things had gone wrong. When the last trickle of blood froze, the arrowhead, as well as the body, had long been covered by the frigid snowstorm.

"11 HOURS BEFORE DEATH OF THE ICEMAN"

The arrowhead flew through the air like scissors cutting through silk, zooming swiftly through leaves, and shot right into the neck of an adult wild goat. Upon catching a hearty meal for dinner, Soot cheered and shouted as he threw his bow sling to his back and ran towards the bleeding goat which instantly died from the lethal shot. This young hunter took out his handcrafted knife from a leather pouch hanging on his shoulder and skinned the wild goat. Winter was coming and he must make sure his family could survive the harsh environment in the Alps with sufficient food sources, which really became his number one duty after his third baby had been born last week. He wrapped its skins and collected all the edible parts of its body as much as possible, before his hunting partner came to him in a hurry, with a horrified face so pale that Soot thought the winter frost came to him early.

“We must leave this place…. Now!” The older partner shouted frantically at Soot, staring into his eyes like he was begging him to do so.

“Wha-What happened? Something happened when you were in the village?” Asked Soot. He could now clearly observe the violent blood stains on his garment, and upon seeing them, Soot gasped and took a frantic step backward.

“The village…our village…was…” He was struggling to catch his breath when the nervous stillness in the air between Soot and the man was crushed by a sudden flash cutting sharply pass the two and burst violently into a rock behind them, causing a piercing spark on which the sign of doom carved. The only part of the projectile remaining out of the rock surface was the fletching, a sufficient indication to show the seriousness of the coming menace. The two escaped into the mountain as the sun descended, hiding from the unknown threat in the growing gloom. Finally, when the sky went completely dark, the search for the two seemed to cease as well. It was later that the man revealed to Soot what the threat was after they settled in a shallow but safe cave.

“Please tell that everything you have said isn’t true, uncle Ötzi.”

Soot had tried his best to control his shaking voice, but nothing could stop the silent tears running in the dark, after learning that his whole family, their whole family, up to their entire village, had been massacred in a raid committed by two of their neighboring villages, which, to their total surprise, teamed up to annex their hometown brutally.

Ötzi explained that he came back to the village from the hunting field earlier the day after he realized to have forgotten his pouch. He never knew he would come home to become the last witness of such a terrifying rape of their home. In silence, Ötzi put Soot into his arms. Tears never stopped rolling down his face until Soot was lost in despair. That night, they didn’t eat anything.

"2 HOURS BEFORE DEATH OF THE ICEMAN"

“On the day you were born, my brother…who was your father, told me that if any misfortunes occur to him, I will watch over you for him.”

Awakened but also confused by the words, Soot looked out from the cave to where the voice appeared but was then blinded by the daylight. He realized it was morning. Ötzi was sitting outside the cave, back facing him as if he was talking to himself. Soot’s stiff back ached from the poor sleeping posture last night, but he still crawled to Ötzi’s side. Upon popping his head out of the cave he could feel the chill wind stroked through his face like a mother. The Alps looked exceptionally magnificent from the height. The sky is crystal clear and the horizon can be seen behind thousands of spectacular silver mountains.

“Meat is well cooked. Eat.” Ötzi said with his mouth full of food, making his sound funny and confusing. Soot then realized he had been hungry for hours. He grabbed an enormous piece of meat in the center of the cooking pan but quickly tossed it back because it burned his finger.

“Food in the center is hot. Beware.”

“Yes, uncle Otzi.” Then he picked up a piece smaller than the last one and put it into his mouth.

"40 MINUTES BEFORE DEATH OF THE ICEMAN"

They almost moved on instantly after finishing the meal, for fear that staying any longer may pose the danger of being found by the enemies to them. Slowly they ascended the slopes of mountains in the Alps. Even with the extreme cold in the snowy mountain, they still sweated from the distance they had traveled. Ötzi, being an experienced shepherd, knew exactly where to go in order to keep them alive, as well as not to be tracked down by the attackers. They hiked along a small creek, for moving water would dilute their smell in the air, preventing them from being sensed by potential predators.

“Why do you think they are after us?” Soot asked, following his uncle on the trail from behind. He was still struggling to get over the harsh reality, as he needed an answer to the question, and to his anguish.

But upon hearing this question, Ötzi stopped his pace and stood there. Like a standing man froze to death. Something was not right.

“Uncle Otzi…?” Ötzi remained silent and still. Soot wondered how much he hoped his uncle to turn around and look at him graciously, something Soot used to receive when little. Tension began to rise as Soot realized the grave situation they had been in. His uncle was not thinking about his question but stunned by a small figure in front of them in distance.

“Foe ahead. Look.”

With eyes looking closely, they could easily tell whom was a warrior from the persecuting tribes.

And, apparently, the man saw them as well. He put something against his mouth and then a horn so loud that the sound could be clearly picked up from where the two were standing came to them like a death sentence. Minutes later, more and more small figures appear in the distance, while Otzi grabbed Soot in the arms aggressively zooming forward. He had never run this fast ever in his life, and that is also because his life would come to an end 15 minutes later.

"15 MINUTES BEFORE DEATH OF THE ICEMAN"

Zooming, racing, fighting for life. The two ran through thick layers of snow from last night, while all their surroundings flashed past them like one would see when dying. Dying. How grateful would I be if I die right now, Soot thought. His arm still being hurled toward, and his cloth being contaminated by Otzi’s dirty and blood-stained garment. Blood of his family.

“I’m sorry, uncle Otzi, but I want to see them now.” Soot tossed Otzi’s hand away and halted abruptly. Losing his balance, Otzi fell onto the sharp, icy ground which gave this poor aging man nasty cuts and bruises, then he glared fiercely toward Soot.

“What the hell are you even thinking about, kid!”

“My families! Mirama…Puru…Seufea… and little Isoc….I want to see them right now!” Overwhelmed by uncontrollable despair, the young man keened earsplittingly on the snow-covered mountain, so white and ruthless. The approaching enemies were less than a hundred yards away from the lost young man, and Otzi was making his hardest decision in his life to abandon his only family left on earth. A few yards from where he had stopped, or rather been too afraid to turn his head to look for Soot, he heard trampling from behind, with weapons clanging by the warriors’ sides.

"9 MINUTES BEFORE DEATH OF THE ICEMAN"

Soot helped bring some of the enemies’ attention away from Otzi, whose feet plowed through the thickening snow trying to run away. Bleeding from the fall, some sharp-edged ice also penetrated his thick leather and into the flesh. Drips of blood ran down from his open wounds while blood-colored roses from deeper cuts bloomed through his clothes. Apart from bleeding, he also suffered from lacks of oxygen and dehydration. Running away, he thought, has become meaningless to this point. He had lost count of his footsteps, and now he realized that he couldn’t feel his feet either.

He collapsed into the snowy ground. In the snow his eyes wide open.

Some may suggest a dying man’s thoughts are often associated with his significant ones in his life.

When Ötzi was born, he didn’t have any families.

His father was killed during hunting by a boar and his mother died shortly after his birth. He could’ve died as well, but a charitable man came. The man knew the villagers wouldn’t at all accept this infant due to the “demon’s curse” on him, so to raise him as a shepherd could at least ensure he was capable of feeding himself.

“Lovely one, I shall call you Ötzi, for your parents will be the Ötztal Alps, and you can roam as freely as your heart leads in the Ötztal valley, where the chill rivers, alpine forests and wild animals will be your siblings!”

Ötzi remained motionless. The only two strips of tears warmed his face.

His heart beating slowly, but in his mind his name could still be heard uttered by this kind man.

“…Ötzi! That’s your name!…”

“…You will become a good shepherd, Ötzi!…”

“…Ötzi, you are going to have a little brother!…”

 

“…Ötzi…”

“….”

“Ötzi, please do not cry like that.”

Ötzi remembered clearly. It was the generous man’s last day.

“…Please look after Soot for me, as you promised me on the day he was born…”

He felt like his heart was sliced in half. He still felt like this after many years to now. He remembered the unbearable pain in his chest when he tried his best to speak a word to this man, whom he considered much more than just a father.

“Yes…yes I will….”

There was no reply.

“I promise…I promise I will take good care of him….”

"3 MINUTES BEFORE DEATH OF THE ICEMAN"

The generous man had been long gone. Soot was executed on the spot. His family was burned to death at their own home. And Ötzi had three minutes left to live.

If what the folks said about the “demon’s curse” are true, then it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that an inevitable tragic ending is doomed to come to Ötzi. As our exhausted protagonist pulled himself towards, from nowhere in the blizzard an enemy archer with high accuracy showed up like Death.

Tracing up from the blood trail, Death slowly laid an arrow and pulled the silent bowstring, the arrowhead smeared with poison aimed at Ötzi in the neck. The blizzard had no sign of fading away, but Death saw his prey as clearly as an owl watching a mouse from above. The bowstring stretched to its limit, tight but without a shake. Death handled his bow with precision.

Calmly, Death held his breath. For a moment there was nothing but silence in the forest, with everything muted, even the snowstorm.

Ötzi, too, noticed the change in the forest and slowed down his pace.

The blizzard was silent and so were his footsteps. Instead, he could hear the life of a small creek some miles away. He surmised if he was delirious, or if this was a natural illusion a dying man would experience.

Little did he know that it was the sign that Death was about to pick him up.

The arrow with poison launched from the bow, swiftly and elegantly, some may even suggest slowly. Like a shooting star, the arrow flew through the sky, avoiding soundless snowflakes hanging in the suspended time.

Then in lightning speed, the arrow struck him down, crushing into Ötzi’s spine. Excessive amount of blood poured from every single nasty wound. The blizzard still raged like a madman and blew violently towards every corner of Ötzi’s bleeding body.

In the last minute of Ötzi’s life, he saw Death come to his side. It was the only thing he heard from Death before he turned away and faded into nothing.

 

"My blessing shall be preserved."

< end >

Story inspired by article “The Mystery of the Iceman” by National Geographic. Written by Michael Chuang.

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