29 April 2017

Saturday Scenes 29 April '17

On the shortest night of the year, on top of the tallest mountain in the world, the wind had never stopped blowing. It was not snowing, but the wind picked up grains of snow fossilized into ice and flung them about with malicious intent. They trailed from the edge of the summit, creating an eerie, slightly luminescent flag downwind.

Something bated the wind, forced it to flow around where it had flowed through. For long, unmeasured moments, the hard grains of ice piled against the stop, forming in negative the impression of a curved cheekbone, the arch of an eyebrow, the hollow of a clavicle, the fullness of an immense breast. The eye blinked, crystals of ice making no sound as they shattered from unseen lashes.

"Where?" she thought, and, "When?" She turned her head, looking at the snowy lumps surrounding her. She looked to the horizon, saw the grey of the approaching dawn. Her temple. Her highest, her best, her favorite. The summit of her mountain was above eight thousand meters. Humans called it the death zone, for they could not come to her unprepared, and could not stay long once they arrived.

Long time past, her warrior-priestesses had gathered on this shortest night, and climbed the long rose quartz stairway to her shoulder, leading captives. At dawn on the longest day of the year, they had climbed the final staircase in solemn procession, and they had waited until the sun stood overhead, until the light of the sun shone through the eye of her gnomon upon her throne. Then, with blades of obsidian, the captives were given to her, their warm blood staining the stone; the devotion of her priestesses warming her core.

Nothing lasts. An age of the world passed, and neither priestesses nor captives came now. The grand stairway was buried in snow, and only vague lumps showed where her throne and stelae stood, the beating heart of the quartz slowed almost to stillness.

She exerted herself, and the heart beat, once, warming the blood-tinted quartz ever so slightly. She called the wind to pick up more snow, to clear her temple. Even that small effort tired her.

Why had she woken? So many solstices had come and gone unnoticed, unremarked, as she slumbered. What had... and she felt them. Two Humans, huddled in a makeshift shelter on the shoulder of her mountain where once her priestesses had waited with their captives. Humans!

She gathered more of herself, formed a body of ice in which to center her awareness, walked to the edge of her temple. For almost an hour she stood as still as one of the stele, her attention clearing ice from the rosy treads of the final flight of her grand staircase.

oOoOoOo

The wind died down at dawn. George pushed open the tent flap and struggled out like a moth emerging from its cocoon. He gaped at what he saw. "Andy," he said, "Andy, you've got to see this; you won't believe it."

The second climber struggled forth into the light.  "My god," she said. She looked around. The wind had calmed, the sun stood on the horizon, the sky was clear... and there was a miraculous staircase between them and the summit.  "My god," she said again, not knowing if it was a prayer.

"Quick," George said, "grab your pack. We're about to make history."

The two of them left the tent behind and ascended the staircase. Though it was firm underfoot, and the treads were almost perfectly placed, the air was yet thin, and cold, and they must take their time. Still, they made excellent progress. Just before noon, they achieved the summit.

"Look at this!" Andy exclaimed, looking around at the faintly blood-colored quartz pillars, engraved with bas-relief images of marching armies and battles long forgotten.

George wandered to the central stone, the great needle with its eye. "An observatory," he said, wonderingly. "We have made history, Andy, but not the way we expected!"

"We are not the first to the top," Andy agreed, going to sit on the large bolder with a vague seat-like impression. "Not by a long hike."

Noon arrived. The light through the gnomon touched the throne, bathed the climber. A voice, soft as the wind, spoke in her ear, "Andrea Irving, if you give your man to me, I will make you queen of your world."

Andy started, looking around. There was no one there, but an obsidian knife rested beside her. "Look at this," she said, picking it up in her gloved hand. "There's a hole in the hilt." She stood, took off her glove, dropped it. The knife fit her hand perfectly; her thumb went through the hole, securing her grip. It felt right.

She stepped toward George at the needle. Did she need him? Did she even like him? He had been condescending the entire trip, taking credit for everything, standing in front of her when reporters showed up, even though she was the more experienced climber, even though it was her money which paid for the expedition.

But a cloud passed before the sun, and the light in the temple dimmed. And Andy blinked, wondering at her thoughts about her cousin George. "Let's leave this place," she said. "We need to be back at camp by nightfall."

"Yes," George said, turning away. "And we'll need a second expedition, with cameras."

oOoOoOo

She sighed, watching them walk down the staircase together. Nothing lasted, she thought. Not the feast season, and not the famine. They would be back. They would bring others. She would drink hot blood again, and her power would return.

But for now... for now... she was tired. She released her awareness, and slumber returned to the mountain of the goddess.

1 comment:

Susan - No-reply by choice. said...

Oh, wow, a little dark, but so intriguing and so gripping. What great writing!