I had to get away!
Through a veil of mist I emerged at the foot of the largest tree that I had ever seen. In truth, I was presented simply with a wall of wood. This had to be the place. There was nowhere else that could house such an ancient life-form. This simply had to be the place! I was desperate for this to be it. Even the radius of the mighty, wooden beast stretched to at least five large paces. Staggeringly, as I emerged to peer around the edge of my obstacle, I became aware that as I looked up the steep incline ahead the whole of the landscape was sprinkled with such behemoths. For as far as the eye could see, or as far as the now dimming light would allow, trees ruled. The mountain appeared to have its own army of gargantuan sentinels stretching upwards to heaven. With a last look behind me to the ever shifting mists, I decided to press on, and when I say on what I really mean is up. Very much up!
The ascent of the mountain’s lower reaches seemed a little to easy at first, low-lying grasses, posies of alpine flowers and the odd boulder, presented me with a surprisingly easy passage. Unfortunately, this was not to last. After perhaps an hour of persistent uphill climbing, I came to a ridge with what in any light would be a disheartening drop beyond it. Desperate though I was to reach my goal common sense prevailed. I decided to rest until the dawn and a time when I could more accurately appraise my situation.
Twenty minutes later, I sat at the entrance to my little blue tent eating straight from the tin a delicious dinner of cold baked beans. This was washed down by a bottle of ice-cold mineral water the sent a chill right to the tips of my toes. The label on the bottle stated that the water came from the purest source of the highest so and so mountain range: the irony was duly noted. If I’d been one of those men who seem to be able to magic a bungalow out of two sticks and a dead bush, then I’m sure I would have had a much better night than I did in my crappy little tent, but as you probably guessed, I’m not one of those guys. The night was hell. If only I’d had some matches left I should have been able to conjure up a fire of some kind; I didn’t though. What you gonna do?
It was a long, cold night of salvaged warmth and whispered words. I could have sworn that I’d heard noises outside my tent at least a dozen times. I dismissed this as wilderness induced paranoia. It was only when first light broke the monotony of the darkness, that I realised, I had! An Indian tracker would have been able to tell me almost anything that I wanted to know about the numerous tracks outside the entrance to my tent; numerical amounts of people, shoe size, height, favourite breakfast cereal, etc, etc. Unfortunately, I wasn’t an Indian, I hadn’t even been a Boy Scout. The deep imprints, of various sizes, led me to believe that I was not alone up here and I decided to move on without further ado. I was unsure why somebody or something would nose around outside my little tent, maybe its classy blue exterior had made them think I was not to be messed with, (mental note: always buy blue and not the mauve that I nearly chose).
A double-quick repacking of my equipment, (tent and blanket) and I was off. The deep drop to nowhere that I had perceived the night before had been nothing more than a gentle slope down into a pit, and the reverse to exit it. If only I’d had a torch with me then I wouldn’t have needed to stop here at all. Regretting my choice of accessories I braved a look up to the imposing heights I was yet to assail. The summit was so high that I all but fell backwards as I craned my neck to look up to it.
So far I’d been very fortunate, the weather and my choice of route had proven a good one; this was not to last. The first pitter-patter of delicate raindrops proved a precursor to determining my true commitment to my goal. Within what seemed moments a deluge to rival Noah’s flood poured forth from above. The battering rain descended with such force that a glass-like sheen of transparent terror lay below my sneakered feet within seconds. Every step rapidly became almost a dare to place, but I was ever conscious of the need for speed. The memory of those mysterious tracks outside my tent did little to temper my actions. If somebody, or something, had been following me then I had no intention of confronting them unless it became absolutely unavoidable. I shook the water from my hair and wiped my eyes. The landscape became in proportion equally less visible, as it became more sodden. Rivulets of rain running casually over the stoney floor were fast becoming torrents of waterfall proportions. Every step took me on the one hand higher, but on the other, to a place where discomfort was at nightmare status. I had never been as wet in my life. The straps of my tent dug terribly into my shoulder blades with the added weight of the water; I had to ditch it, there was just no other option. I pulled the offending article from my person, and realising that I would never need it again, simply let it fall to the floor. The rolled up blanket went next. The result of this clear out was instantaneous, my shoulders sprang back into their normal position and with it my head returned from its view of the floor to that of my normal eye-line. I inhaled deeply and smelled the winter storm mere moments before it hit.
The rain turned to sleet, then snow. Where there had been no wind, there struck up a gale. Where I was already saturated and cold, I was now frightened and desperate. I had to find cover, fast. I peered into the snow and wind that was trying its best to strip me from the mountainside. I’d long ago left the enormity of the patchy trees behind me, the only source of shelter that I had thus far witnessed. My luck, however, would hold, as I stumbled upon a half concealed opening in the rock face. Brushing grasses, weeds, and the remains of something that was once possibly a sheep aside, I forced my way into the compact space that seemed to be a natural cave in the mountainside. There was barely enough room to sit, never mind lay out, so sit I did. I remained curled up, cold and alone for a long time. I sat in semi-darkness listening to the tempest outside with a fear that I’d never felt before. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of soon being with you. I clung to that thought with a tenacity that no storm could diminish; it was all I had left.
Hours passed. Inevitably, there came a point were I had to make a decision, did I continue to sit here in my huddle or did I take a chance? There had been too much waiting, too much praying, and too much weather watching. The storm was not going to break, of that I was relatively certain. I had no other option but to get up and get out of this ridiculous squat. If it was difficult for me, then it was just as difficult for anybody else. Setting my jaw in a determined grimace I crawled out of my temporary bivouac and back into the tempest.
Ice winds immediately battered my body, tore at my skin. The ledge that I was standing on would have been treacherous on a lovely summers day never mind this blitzkrieg storm from hell. The snow must have accumulated close to two feet in depth. I shuffled, rather than walked up the narrow path, leaving twin furrows in my wake. It was so very cold. My right hand, which was holding my jacket closed around my neck, had turned blue. I thought that was just an old wives’ tale, one to make children wrap up warm on chill winter evenings, but the skin on my hand was quite literally neon blue. I must confess that by this point I did not care, all I wanted was to reach the top of this accursed mountain: I would reach the top.
It could have been hours or minutes; time had stopped for me. I was beyond cold, beyond thought, beyond caring. Instinct and sheer force of will had taken over. I had reached and surpassed reserves of strength that I never knew I had. Remarkably, almost as quickly as it had started, the storm broke. My frozen eyes looked out on a vista of stars; I had done it; I was here, the top of the world.
My right arm was locked, frozen solidly in place. Removing my left from the deep recesses of my jacket pocket I tried to raise my arm to the heavens. It was then that I heard them, my nightmares, homing in on me from the trail behind. They had found me! I closed my eyes, breathed in, concentrated. With all the power of my soul I stretched forward, reaching out my hand for the stars that seemed so close. I imagined my fingers curling around the brightest bauble in the night sky and the dream of it being you.
I may be a full-grown man, but when the demons are upon me, and the world wants to take away my heart, spirit, and soul, it’s the thought of you, mum, looking down on me; this is the thing that keeps me going. The thought of holding you again and feeling your love protecting me unreservedly from the evil in this nightmare world of mine. This is the thing I grasp for, the one thing that keeps me sane, my saviour.
The repetition of my nightmares are truly frightening and getting worse. One night, I know I shall reach the mountain top and the skies will not clear. My demons will advance upon me in the turgid light and rent me asunder. But not this night.
“Thank you, mum, yet again.”
Then I wake.