By Peter Baltensperger
The mountains loomed high above the valley, massive rock formations sculpted into a non-descript sky, gray clouds. Far below, a wide river sliced the valley in half, amalgamating tributaries of glacial water and alpine rain to take them to a distant ocean, shrinking distances into moments, flashes of thoughts. Marek cowered under the weight of the mountains, clinging to dreams of summits and escapes, triumph and release among the ever-shifting vicissitudes of his tableau, but the burden never lessened, the river never changed.
The gray clouds gradually morphed into black omens, driven from horizon to horizon by a high wind, but there was no rain. He was crouched on his hands and knees on the shore of the quiet lake half-way up the mountain, gathering stones and arranging them carefully into patterns to try and derive some meaning from their existence, find some credibility in their arrangements. He counted them methodically so as not to lose track of his questions, entangle himself in their multiplicity. He had done the same thing many times before, and he knew what he wanted to do, even though some of the stones always rolled out of his hands, refusing to yield their secrets, their innate connections to the essence of his mind.
At times, he felt as if the weight on his shoulders diminished when he counted the stones, but it was always back as soon as he sorted them into his insignificant configurations and tried to read into them what wasn’t there. At times, he was ready to despair in his never-ending search for answers, but the lake invariably drew him to its shore. It was better when the sky was clear and the wet stones glistened in the sun. It was the clouds that made everything more difficult, obscuring his vision as they did.
He was just fitting the final stones into his new arrangement when a beautiful woman came wading out of the lake, gathering vague threads of redemption from among the darkening clouds. She brought them ashore and spread them out beside his stones, then crouched down with him and wove them into intricate swatches of colorful material. With nimble fingers, she placed them into a cryptic order, matching size with size, color with color, and pointed at the overall design.
“See?” the woman said
“I don’t understand,” Marek said.
“I will show you,” the woman said.
She took him by the hand and led him into the lake. When they reached the middle of the lake, she grabbed his hand tightly and pulled him under the surface. He gasped in desperation to fill his lungs with a last breath of air, then gave himself over to the irresistible pull. They dove deeper and deeper until they came to a cave filled with glittering crystals and he realized that he was able to breathe again. He looked around in wonder, trying to comprehend the significance of her lair without coming to any conclusions.
“See?” the woman said.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
The woman reached out with her hand and covered his eyes, plunging him into an immense darkness of silence and confusion. He thought he could feel the sharp crystals puncturing his skin, but there was no pain, nor any kind of revelation. It was as if he had become trapped in an incomprehensible prison without windows, a nightmare of inscrutable shadows in non-existent corners. His mind was reeling with the mystery of her appearance, his ears deafened from the hollow silence of the cave. Yet he kept trying to peer into the darkness for a final answer, a redeeming word, his eyes burning with the futility of his search.
The next thing he knew, he was floating down the turbulent river towards the village, grasping at insignificant phantoms, apparitions, trying to keep afloat. A heavy rain was pounding the river, his body, his face, until he could barely see anything anymore. With his last ounce of passion, he clawed his way across the current and slung himself up on the shore. He collapsed in the rain on the grassy bank, panting and gasping for breath, his spinning mind wondering what happened to the mountain, to the lake.
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Peter Baltensperger is a Canadian writer of Swiss origin and the author of ten books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. His work has appeared in print and on-line in several hundred publications around the world.
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