I’m not sure how long I’ve been climbing the mountain. A long time. I’m told I’ve been climbing the mountain my whole life, but I’m not sure. There was always another step to take, and so I took it, step by step. Sometimes I lost my way, but I knew the general direction was up, so I kept on going. Eventually, I’d find the next stair going upward, and I’d resume the climb. Most of the time I didn’t even think about climbing. I barely even thought of the mountain at all, let alone climbing it. I just kept taking steps, and somehow I climbed the mountain.
And now that I’m up at the top, I’m bitter. At least, I think I am, but I’m not sure. Bereft is more like it, and I’m angry that I didn’t pay more attention to the climb. At the top of the mountain, I’m all alone. There’s no one else to congratulate me on making the climb. There’s no one else to commiserate with, no company for misery. And it’s cold, too. The wind doesn’t whistle, it howls. No, it shrieks. Sometimes I swear someone is screaming in agony behind me, but when I turn around, it’s just the terrible wind mocking me. Or maybe it’s me.
|There's a light at the top.|
The barren branches of the trees go click-click-click back and forth as the wind hurtles through them. They grasp and snap and beat at each other—click-click-click--and lower down the trunk, great groans and moans can be heard emanating from the foundation. Like wizened old men, the trees groan and sigh as they are forced to move. I feel the exhaustion and pain in my own legs as well.
The sun hasn’t shone for days. It died a while ago when the ice came. It was weak and the ice killed it. Oddly enough, when the sun left, so did the water. It could have been the other way around, but it doesn’t matter because now everything is dead. The snow is cold, the wind is harsh, and everything that once lived is now entombed in sheets of frozen ice. Like old wavy and bubbly glass, the windows into what’s beneath show only darkness.
Is this it, then? Is this all there is? It’s too much to bear, too much to think of. It’s frightening how nothing can be so much more than something, and so much heavier, too. So I just lie down then, a few feet from the top. The gift at the end is nowhere to be found. Wasn’t there supposed to be a gift? I have nothing to show. My accounts are as empty as my hands. I close my eyes.
“But you are not listening,” comes a voice on the wind. There’s no need to lift my head or open my eyes because I know no one is there.
“You are not paying attention to the beauty around you. You are thinking too much about the scales of man and the weight of gold. You are thinking too much about conflict and espionage, about outwitting your enemy, about betrayal, about loss. You are thinking too much about the power of man and not at all about the power of alchemy,” says the disembodied voice.
I open my eyes and no one is there, as I knew all along. I’m just a few yards from the top, and there’s a light somewhere up there. But if I go to the top and find nothing, no gift at the end, the last bit of my heart will finally crack. No. I’m going down again. I’m going back to the beginning. I’m going to resume the climb. What’s a half a century, give or take a decade or so? I’ve got time.
Back down I go, and like the magic of a wormhole, I find myself at the bottom again in what seems like just a few minutes. There’s a gazebo on a frozen and snow-covered lawn, and on this makeshift stage are several dancers, dancing to a Christmas jig. The dancers’ noses are bright red from the cold, but they are smiling and laughing. Click-click-click go their shoes, back and forth on the frozen stage.
There’s a crowd cheering them on and laughing, and there are many kinds of drinks being passed around. Half of the people are laughing quite loudly, and they’re quite inebriated as well. There are cheers and laughter, hoots and hollers, and a few drunken squabbles and shouts. Altogether it is a raucous din and howl, but no one seems to mind and most people are smiling and laughing. Click-click-click goes the dancers’ shoes, and the band plays on.
I wander over to a fire pit. It’s warm there and the smoke smells good. Someone good-naturedly presses a drink into my hand, and so I drink it. Now I am even warmer. The fire is so bright as the old tree trunks burn in it, and I find myself smiling. How strange to be smiling after being so miserable such a short time ago.
All around the fire pit, the snow and ice melts and water drips freely here and there. It runs down little avenues that have formed on the frozen lawn, like little rivers in a sunlit valley. I tell myself that there’s something about the water I should probably remember, but try though I may, I cannot think of it. So I forget about it and move closer to the fire. And now I am laughing and shouting too and drinking more than I should, and click-click-click go the dancers’ shoes. The crowd moans and groans and howls and laughs.
I’m not sure where the first step up the mountain is from here, but I’ll find it eventually. I’m not in a hurry just now. Tomorrow will be different.