Friday, March 19, 2010

Out to the Horizon

This short story draft is a revision of one that was posted here a few years ago.

She stood on the beach, looking out to the horizon, her hair flowing back as if blown by the wind; but she was as still as stone. I wept at her feet.

The sand was cold, the sea was cold, the wind was cold. It rushed past us into the forest of palms some distance from the strand. I had met her in that forest one day as she went to bathe in the stream. As soon as I saw her smile I knew I loved her; and she loved me as swiftly.

She was a priestess of our people, newly consecrated. She served in the village beside the great rocks just south of where the jungle grows dense, where the pineapples, springing up like noxious weeds, render the forest impassable. Once a month she would walk to the base of the Unforgiving Mountain to offer a sacrifice of grains and flowers. Once, long ago, the mountain had destroyed almost everything for miles around; even now the mountain-gods growl and shake the earth to remind us all of their power. I do not know why the gods act this way; we need no reminder beyond the Mountain itself. Wherever you are on this island, whether it be the beach or the forest or the village, you can see the Mountain if you can see the sky. Its unimpassioned face glowers at everything that stands or moves.

A priestess of the Unforgiving Mountain is sworn to take no lovers. The Mountain is jealous, they say; it demands total devotion. She had given it that before she met me. Afer we met, such oaths and devotions seemed a small thing.

We would sneak away some mornings to sit on the seashore. She loved the waves, and named them as they came, treating each one as if it came bearing the treasures of the world. I loved her love of them. We would stare at them for long hours, looking out to their apparent source in the cloudy horizon. Sometimes we would discuss our plans and dreams. More often we would simply sit together in silence and feel how near the other was.

Not far from the beach, at the edge of the forest, I had long ago built a hut. It was not long until she began visiting me there at night, stealing away from the watchful vigils of the elder priestesses. I cannot clearly recall how long we did this. We should have known, and, indeed, we did know, that too much self-indulgence in this would awaken suspicions. We hardly cared. We could not stay apart.

One night, a full moon night, I lay awake in the darkness, trying to think of some plan to take her away, away from the forest, away from the village, away from the grim coldness of the Unforgiving Mountain. Outside there was no sound but the waves; inside there were only the sounds of her sleep as she turned into me and softly sighed upon my shoulder.

My thoughts were broken by a rumbling: the Mountain was restless. I rose and paced the room. Back and forth I went, trying to recollect my thoughts. The door burst open violently and I saw, in silhouette against the brightness of the moon, the figure of one of the elder priestesses. She saw my beloved and hissed. The mountain continued to rumble in the background. Pointing a finger at us she spoke a curse, and my beloved woke with a small scream. The mountain rumbled louder, then suddenly stopped; just as suddenly the priestess at the door was gone.

After a few more shudders of the earth, the Unforgiving Mountain subsided again. It had happened quickly but, as when the lightning strikes the tree, marring it forever, the damage had been done.

She could not return to the village; that would be death. Nor could we remain where we were. All those hours in which we had dreamed up plans of escape flashed through my mind, and in the harsh atmosphere of recent events, all those plans dissipated like clouds. They were nothing but the idle dreams of prisoners in an inescapable prison. Half the island was impenetrable jungle, where spiny plants grew so thickly that they could shred the flesh of the unwary. All of it was surrounded by vast, rolling hills of sea-surf; over everything, a tireless sentinel, the Unforgiving Mountain held vigil. Wherever one looked the gods of the Mountain held sway; wherever we could go they could pursue us with their vengeance, unresting, unrelenting, and no remission of sin or guilt was possible to us. We both knew this, and with knowledge came the sapping of hope.

I tried to set these thoughts aside. Whatever happened, I knew I must do whatever was needed to distract her from despair, to make some space, however small and slight, for a genuine hope. Perhaps also, still not understanding the brutality of the mountain-gods, I hoped, in giving her hope, to find some hope myself.

I seized her hand, holding it to my heart, whispering encouragements in her ear, sealing each encouragement with a small kiss. It was all in vain, for as I held her hand the gods of the Unforgiving Mountain began to take their most terrible vengeance. The hand I held grew cold; her body grew still. I pulled away and froze in fear. From head to foot where my beloved had been was solid stone, as if some demonic hand had perfectly carved her form into a stone from the Mountain.

The moment passed, and her flesh quickened again, but we both knew it would not last. She burst into tears; I pulled her close to me, fighting tears myself. Every so often she would become stone again, and the time she spent as stone grew longer and longer. In desperation we tried to do what seemed our only option: we held each other closely, in order to spend the last moments awake, catching every heartbeat of the other. But the mountain-gods were not so kind. As we lay trembling in fear they sent forth an atmosphere of heat and humidity so great that it dragged us both to sleep. We fought, but to no avail. The gods having determined that we would lose even our last moments together, we fell asleep.

When I awoke, she was no longer there. With a cry of trepidation I rushed out of the hut, and saw, with a terrible chill up and down my spine, what I had most feared. I flew forward and fell at her feet, which were washed by the careless waves. She stood looking out to the sea, her hair flowing back as if blown by the wind. It was not the wind that blew it, however, for she was stone, through and through, and with the coldness of stone she stood unacknowledging as I wept. So she stood, and so she stands forever, cold and immutable, looking out to the horizon.

1 comment:

  1. Itinérante3:51 AM

    Mr. Brandon, I live between the sea and the mountain and I will not see waves in the same way any longer! Every time I will take a walk down there I will try to remember to pray for all people who lost hope and that they will find it in Christ!


    (I think I read all the short story drafts here . I hope you will write some more, because they are simply amazing. It has been a wonderful wonderful time! Thank you!)

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