Inspirational Fiction Happy

I paused on the long path up the mountain. It wound around the mountain like a long snake coiled back on itself, like folded sheets stacked in the top of a closet. When I was younger I never understood its purpose. Why go back and forth and back and forth across the mountain side, almost crossing your own path, when you could just pelt up the sharp ridge to the top in half the time? I used to just race up the ridge, my teeth set against the burn in my calves and my lungs as I clambered up the steep, rocky side. You just had to plow ahead on that path, because even if you paused to catch your breath you couldn’t stand for long. The ground was so slanted that stopping on the ridge made your calves burn even more from the effort of keeping you from sliding back down to the bottom. You almost had to clamber up on your hands and knees, it was so steep. 

I hadn’t taken that path for years. Even this flat, gentle path up the mountain winded me. My knees and ankles ached, and all the vertebrae in my spine protested that all this was too much effort. But I had climbed this mountain peak every summer on the solstice since the year I turned twelve and I wasn’t going to let a little age stop me. 

I glanced at the time. Getting close to midnight. Would I make it to the top in time? 

Here in the land of the midnight sun, Alaska, 9pm was as bright as early afternoon. And on this mountain peak, on the day of the summer solstice, the sun would just reach the horizon at midnight. Two natural pillars of stone jutted from the peak and the sun would glow between them like a bright penny held between thumb and forefinger. If you walked between the two pillars at the moment, it was said that you would see your future, or you would regain your youth. The legends varied. 

I chased the sun every year. Some years it rained or was so overcast that you couldn’t see the sun at all, and twilight came early. I climbed up the mountain anyway, in hopes that this year sun and stone would work some magic for me. Some years I thought I saw things. Caught glimpses of silhouettes in the golden haze of the sun. 

In the end, I did it because I was greedy for the sun. I wanted my skin to soak in every golden drip the way soil soaked in rain. I wanted to stand at the tip of the mountain and reach my hand up towards the clouds, stretching up as if I could trail my fingertips in their wisps like one would through water. I wanted to stare out across the purple-blue shapes of the other mountain peaks, to memorize the green shawl draped across their shoulders, to ponder the tarns, the mountain lakes as blue as the summer sky above. 

Every year I longed for the solstice more, for the way the fresh air filled my lungs and swept away the heaviness, for the open air around me and the world at my feet and the sun golden in my face at midnight. 

My steps are slow this year. One day I won’t be able to climb up here on my own. Maybe that day will come tomorrow. 

But I shuffle around the final bend and up to the peak before midnight. I hobble over to the large boulder I have claimed as my throne every year and ease myself down on it. The journey home will be worse, climbing down into the twilight.

This year the skies are perfect, deep blue and scattered with wooly clouds. The sun gilds everything. Soon it will be caught between the natural pillars, the midnight sun at midnight on the longest day of the year. 

Maybe this year the legends would come true and I would glimpse my future, or my purpose, or I would regain my youth. The last thought makes me chuckle to myself. I can just imagine it now...the wrinkles smoothing from my skin, my hair changing color, my gnarled bones straightening. My own husband wouldn’t let me back in the house, concerned about the stranger at his door. Wouldn’t that be a disaster after all this climbing?

But here comes the sun. I ease myself to my feet and shuffle between the pillars just as the hand reaches midnight, and the sun shines between the twin pillars. 

Everything turns to gold. Warm radiance blazes around me. The sky is a sapphire, the clouds like snow, the mountains the crown of the earth. And sunlight, amber and honey, washes over me, over everything. 

And I see a silhouette in the light, a figure approaching me. Not a shadow, exactly. Just a figure eclipsed by the sun. 

I step out from where I was standing between the pillars. Am I seeing my future? It seems late for that now. Not much more can be left. What then is this?

The silhouette gains substance before my eyes--a girl, maybe in her teens. No. It is me. Age twelve, I think. 

“Is this real?” I ask, my voice merely breath. To speak aloud feels like breaking something sacred. 

The girl, me, takes my hand. Her skin is smooth, not dry and wrinkled as mine now. But she feels real, substantial.

“What is this?” I whisper to her. “What are we here for?”

She smiles at me and I can feel the warmth of the sun in that smile. 

“You know the legend.”

I look down at myself, but I remain unchanged. “But you cannot be my future.”

“No,” she concedes. 

“So, what is this?”

“You carry burdens today.”

“I carry burdens every day. So does everyone,” I say. “I don’t understand.”

“Remember what Mom used to say about this day? This place?”

“We leave the sorrows at the base of the mountain,” I say at the same time as the younger version of me. “And we treasure our joys at the peak.”

As the words leave my mouth, I see my mother standing behind the younger me. She doesn’t speak, just smiles at me fondly. It has been years since I have seen her eyes so vividly, sparkling hazel. They have been shrouded so long by the blurry sheets of memory. I said goodbye to my mother almost fifteen years ago. I hobble over to her and throw myself into her embrace, sobbing. She holds me, her hug soft and warm. She whispers into my hair that she loves me. 

And then I am twelve again, watching the sun set over the mountains, my first solstice with my mother. She runs her fingers through my hair. “Your hair is like the summer sun,” she says. I never wanted to dye it another color since that day.

And then I am thirteen, eating freshly picked raspberries, my feet buried in grass that tickles my ankles. The juice runs red over my fingers and the flavor bursts in my mouth. 

And then I am fifteen, in the passenger seat of the car as my father drives on the highway. I reach out the window, waving my hand in the current of the wind and basking in the sunset light shining through the windshield. 

These are all the moments I’ve treasured. The memories I have savored on this mountaintop. 

Watching sunlight glitter on the glacier lakes. Standing under a canopy of trees, the dappled light rippling over my face, the leaves glowing green. Reading on a rope swing, my friends sprawled in the grass around me. Eating sandwiches with my family beside a mountain stream. Standing in the arms of my love on the mountain peak as the sun rose, the sky blushing. My children chasing each other in the park, squeals of laughter in the air. Standing at the kitchen window with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand, listening to the birds serenade the new day. Dancing in a garden with my husband. Standing on the beach and watching the sunset turn the rolling waves copper and bronze from the inside out. Driving down the highway with the music turned up loud, a car packed with my siblings and friends all singing along. 

All moments washed in sun, in light, in warmth, in joy. 

I open my eyes. The sun has set here on the mountaintop. The blue of twilight surrounds me. I am alone, standing between the stone pillars. 

But the sensation of the sun on my skin and dazzling my eyes remains. I can almost sense the whispers, can almost glimpse the echoes of myself dancing here on the mountain. I look at my hands--still wrinkled and veiny. But I think I understand now the gift of the summer solstice. 

June 26, 2021 03:49

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Gerard Watson
14:44 Jul 02, 2021

Ms. Bowen, you had me with the wonderful description of the mountain oath, "like a long snake coiled back on itself". I can see that road in my mind's eye. I could not help but wonder what was at the path's end to make a person subject themselves to such physical discomfort? Your writing is chuck full of beautiful descriptive word pictures like this. be careful though, you wouldn't want to overuse that technique. Having said that, I thought your story was well written and a pleasure to read.


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Sherra Yeong
14:59 Jul 01, 2021

Good story, I like it. The descriptions are good as well.


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