Last week, I posted the first part of a short story I’m working on. It’s called After the Top. Here is part two. I’ll be reading this tonight to my writing group. I’m very excited about it. I already know they’ll love it.
After the Top – Part 2
By Ada Ireland
Four weeks ago, exactly one month before her birthday, Maya started having nightmares. At first, she couldn’t remember them. She just woke up, drenched in sweat, gasping for air, calling for someone. A nameless someone. Someone she didn’t know. Someone she’d never met. Someone who was part of her, without ever having been part of her life.
Then the nightmares started having images and sounds. She found herself climbing the Mountain. It was in her sleep that she learned its paths so well. It was as if its mysteries were coming forth from some dark, long forgotten corners of her mind. How they got there in the first place … that, she couldn’t tell.
Every night, the climbs got faster and faster. They always started at the bottom and stopped just before she could reach the top. She felt like Sisyphus: putting all her blood and sweat into getting to that top, only to wake up just before she could make it there. Then she had to start all over again.
She found herself going to bed half terrified by her nightly task, half determined to try harder, but nothing changed in her nightmares. She just woke up more exhausted. And feeling that she was failing.
Two weeks ago, she woke up out of breath. Her hands were clutching frantically at the sheets. She had blood on her pajamas and her bedcover. Blood under her fingernails too. There were scratches on her arms and the back of her hands. She remembered the feeling of reaching for someone in her sleep, of trying to pull them out of a dark abyss, of desperately trying to hold on to them … and failing. Loud sobs wrecked her body. Pain was choking her. She wanted to scream. To cry for them to come back. No sounds came though. She didn’t have a name to go with her plea. She just had a feeling of complete loss.
By the time she got ready for work, a decision already formed in her head. She arrived at her office a few minutes early, as usual.
Ella was already in the cubicle they shared, looking at her computer and reading to herself in a soft, dreamy voice. “Every soul receives a Call: How long will you linger here? Return to your true home …”
“What did you say?” Maya asked.
Ella looked up. “Oh, hi sunshine. Good morning to you too.” She squinted her eyes. “Are you OK? You look tired and …” She noticed Maya’s hands and gasped. “What the heck? What did you do? How did you get scratched like that?”
It took Maya a second to realize what Ella was talking about. She looked at her hands and tried not to twist her fingers in a nervous gesture. “My cat. He got scared of something last night. He freaked out. It’s … nothing. Tell me what you were reading.”
Ella’s head tilted forward. “Ahhh … the crazed cat story,” she said in a theatrical voice. “That dangerous declawed cat of yours.” She quirked an eyebrow and waited for Maya to say something. When it became clear that Maya wasn’t going to change her story, she turned her chair and looked at the computer again. “Well, it could have been worse. Remind me to tell you about the cat that plotted to kill it’s owner. It’s pretty funny actually, but it will make you think twice about allowing cats in your home.” With that, she let Maya off the hook.
That was one of the things Maya loved most about Ella. She was always there for her. She knew when something was wrong. Sometimes she pushed for answers. Sometimes she just gave her the unquestioning space and time she needed. But one way or another, Ella always had her back.
Still looking at her computer, Ella started talking again. “It’s a poem. That’s what I was reading. It came with my daily inspirational e-mail. It’s very good. Listen:
Every soul receives a Call: How long will you linger here?
Return to your true Home.
Since our Mount Qaf of Proximity is where you belong,
fly cheerfully like the legendary Anqa.
With such shackles of clay holding you down,
painstakingly undo the hackles from your feet.
Leave this strange land, travel toward Home.
We are tired of this separation, please make some attempt.”
Ella looked at Maya again. “It’s from Rumi’s Wings and Feathers,” she said. “Beautiful, isn’t it? There’s something haunting about it almost. I don’t know … “ Her eyebrows came together in a confused frown. It looked like she was trying to remember something. Her eyes looked … different. As if a strange, silvery shadow fluttered over them. It happened so fast, Maya thought her own eyes had just played a trick on her.
“I want to go up The Mountain this summer,” Maya said.
Ella didn’t blink. “You?” Pause. “Up The Mountain?” Another pause. “Just like that? Out of the blue?”
“Yes,” Maya said, holding Ella’s still unblinking gaze. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. This morning … I just knew. I n-need,” she stammered. “I want to go. I’ll be there for my birthday.”
The silvery shadow passed over Ella’s eyes again. This time, Maya knew she hadn’t imagined it. Was she going crazy? Is that what these past few weeks had been all about? Her losing her mind?
“I’ll go with you,” Ella said, sounding just like herself and yet completely different somehow. “Luke will come too. I’ll call the gang tonight and see who else wants to go. We’ll set everything up. You’ll have the birthday you wish for.”
That was it. That was all the questioning Ella did. After that, she just took care of everything, the way she said she would. And now, here they were, on the Mountain, for reasons neither of them truly understood. Maya was on a self-imposed race to the top. Ella just followed.
Less than ten minutes passed since they had stopped. For Ella, they had been a welcomed break. Her body started relaxing and her breath was getting even and soft. For Maya, the pain was getting worse. It started feeling … heavy. Its weight was settling in her bones. The longer she waited, the worse she felt. As if she was sinking into the trail, getting pulled inside the Mountain she feared so much.
Her hands started shaking. She pushed herself up, fighting gravity multiplied by fear, pain, and who knew what else. She picked up her backpack and gave Ella a pleading look. The kind of look which asked for help without questions or strings attached. “I need to go, Ella,” she said. She tried to think of something else to say, but Ella was up before anything else came to mind.
“I know.” Ella picked up her backpack too. “Let’s go. If we’re going to beat those guys, we might as well do it properly. Let’s set a new record, you and I, shall we? ” She handed Maya the water bottle again and smiled. “Drink some more water first. I pinky promise I didn’t put anything in it. But you need to stay hydrated or you’ll pass out soon. I can’t afford to have you slow me down now.”
With a deep breath, they started walking. Soon, it was almost a run. Rocks, trees, cold heavy mist were moving past them in a surreal blur. Forty-five minutes later they finally made it to the top. The trail opened up abruptly onto a bare, wind-swept plateau. There were no trees here. Just hardy grass, patches of moss, and plenty of rocks. A log cabin was just a couple hundred feet away, next to a small lake with the kind of clear water only mountain lakes have.
Past the cabin, you could see a sharply angled peak, standing several hundred feet tall. It reached into the sky, looking like a solid wall that separated heaven and earth. Or linking them perhaps. That was the true top of the Mountain, but the cabin was were all climbers stopped. And that’s where Maya and Ella stopped also.
Every cell in Ella’s body was starved for oxygen, every muscle hurt and begged for rest.
Maya? She looked bruised, scratched, dirty, sweaty, and … at peace. The physical pain that she was feeling now? That was nothing. It felt normal. It hurt, but it only hurt her body. That other pain, the one that clenched around her heart and felt like it was emptying her soul? That pain was gone. For the first time in a long while, she felt like she could finally breathe.
Maya knew she was exactly where she needed to be. Now she just had to wait and find out why.
P.S. I finally got my characters to the top of the Mountain. Now you have to wait for part three to figure out why.
P.P.S. If you already know that they are there for Maya’s surprise birthday party … well, congratulations. You’re right.