We are hiking, you and I. It has just rained, the smell of petrichor is still fresh in the air, and it is overcast, the weight of the clouds heavy overhead. The mountain rises before us, verdant with growth. I breathe the cool air in deeply, my legs aching slightly from the good hike we have taken to get this far, and follow behind a bit behind you because the brush is dense. I remember how my father called me his “little billy goat” when I climbed with him as a child, sure of foot and fearless. I feel more peaceful than I have in a long time.
We chat happily as we ascend.
I slip on a patch of slick mud and stumble forward onto my hands. Clumsy!, I think, as I pick myself up and brush my hair away from my face with my dirtied hands, laughing at my misstep. You laugh too. We continue upwards.
After a few minutes I fall again, trip over something hard, a rock maybe, and fall into a bed of jagged rocks. I can see tiny rivulets of blood running through the caked on mud on my palms. My jeans are now torn and I can see that it is likely to bruise a bit there on my thigh. Unfortunate, I think and continue upwards, climbing faster because you did not stop even though I cried out when I fell.
I fall again and again, scraping my arms, hands, knees, thighs, torso. I am battered and I can feel a deep and horrible bruise forming on my side, so bad that it hurts to take in breath. I hit my head on a knotted tree root, once, and I can feel blood seeping from my scalp, matting my hair. I have busted my lip as well, and the metallic almost sweet taste of blood fills my mouth.
You continue to climb, sometimes looking back at me, sometimes not. Sometimes I can see you stop and maybe you laugh. Maybe that’s just a trick of the wind, though. I can’t tell.
I call out to you saying, wait! Wait! I need your help, this hurts! Come back! Please!
You press onward, not as high as I thought I saw you last. Maybe you didn’t hear me, I think as I pick myself up again, groaning in pain.
I want to see the summit, I think. I want to stand up there and feel the calm of elevation, where the world doesn’t matter so much because it is small. I want to breathe freely. I want to experience the beauty, not this misery.
I fall, hard, on a sharp rock. I can feel my shin bone break and the jutting mass of rock has sliced my thigh so deeply that I can see the blood beginning to soak through my pants. I cut my jeans and can see the muscle showing through my flesh. I panic is I rip off a sleeve and make a tourniquet. My hands shake and I hope that it works.
Then I hear it. The inhuman noise, a keening howl that fills the mountainside. I realize, after a time, that it’s me. You do not start down to come help. I am stuck here, helpless and in excruciating pain, the kind of pain that you can almost taste. I cannot move. Reaching anywhere able to help tend my wounds is impossible by myself. I scream for your assistance and you look down upon me, staring.
And then you begin to laugh uproariously. Your laughter is cutting, callous, cruel. I can hear it over the whipping wind, over the pounding in my ears.
I am speechless, stunned.
You turn from me and take a step forward and I close my eyes tightly because I cannot watch you leave me here.
I always jar awake in a blind panic, my heart beating like a drum, my chest tight with anxiety. I grab for my comforter even though the house is warm, and curl it into my hand, clasping it to my breast. I try to settle myself, get back to sleep. I usually can’t.
I’ve had this nightmare three times in the past week. It haunts my waking hours, like the picture of Omega does. My father keeps it in his wallet, the picture of her and his mother as small children. My grandmother and my great-aunt, in black and white, a slight smile on my grandmother’s lips. I know nothing of Omega but the fact that her curls matched the ones I had as a child, and her eyes glint over her solemn mouth. I do not know how she lived, I do not know how she died, whether or not she loved, the great successes and terrible tragedies of her life.
I know that she took this family portrait and that she is lost to time, stuck forever in my mind as a six-year-old girl.
She haunts me and I know not why.