Push – Episode 3

Fred Gillian looked in the mirror and disliked what he saw. The young man he had always been had been replaced by an aging man with gray, receding hair, sagging jowls, and a spray of crow’s feet at the corner of his eyes. The soft, taut skin of his youth had roughened like sandpaper, and the glorious five o’clock shadow that had made him feel masculine in his youth troubled him with its patchy gray. He no longer sported a full beard because of the gray. On this morning, like every morning for the past ten years, he shaved his face clean in hopes of keeping himself youthful looking. It didn’t work.

He grabbed a towel from the rack near the sink and wiped the steam away from the mirror so that he could see to shave. The mirror cleared, but the steam gradually crept into his one visible spot. He cursed beneath his breath. He was going to be late for work. He pulled the razor up his neck clearing the hair in a sharp line and repeated several times until he nicked his neck.

“Oww! Fuck!”

“What’s wrong?” his wife asked from the bedroom just outside the door of the bathroom they shared. Her voice sounded concerned or bothered. He couldn’t tell which.

“I cut myself,” he said curtly.

“Oh.”

His wife of 30 years seemed not to care. She didn’t come to the bathroom to check on him, but he’d cut himself plenty of times, and by now, she was probably used to it. Nevertheless, something bothered him about it. Some deep-seated worry nagged at him like a sixth sense had detected something was wrong but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. She had seemed aloof of late – a little less invested in him, a little less caring. Being together 30 years had blunted a lot of the charm in their relationship, but this felt different. Fred shook the thought from his head as he put a torn piece of toilet paper over his cut. How such a tiny nick could bleed so much, he had no idea.

He finished shaving and wiped his face clean with a hot cloth avoiding the covered cut as best he could. He dried his face as he walked into the bedroom. His wife stood near the window looking outside.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” she said without looking at him.

“It’s about time. I’m tired of the rain.”

Fred heard a noise downstairs and perked up. “Is Alan still here?”

His wife finally turned to him. Her tentative expression answered his question before she said anything. “Yes.”

“Why? He should be on the way to work by now. Do we still have to make sure he gets up for work? He’s 24 years old!”

“Fred…”

“Don’t ‘Fred’ me. What is he doing?”

“He’s not working.”

“What? What happened?”

“He was let go.”

“Let go? Why?”

“You know how he and that boss of  his didn’t get along.”

“So he was fired?”

“No. He quit.”

“He quit again? You just said he was let go. Why wasn’t I told this?”

“It just happened yesterday. I’m not sure if he was laid off or quit. He hasn’t said much about it.”

“You didn’t say anything to me last night. Why not, Shelly? You could have told me then rather than let me figure it out on my own. That boy can’t keep a job. He can’t live with us forever!”

Fred stomped out of the room before his wife could offer up any response. He picked up the pace to his anger as he stormed down the stairs. Shelly trailed behind him trying to get his attention and calm him down.

“Fred, give him a chance to explain…” she stuttered behind him. He ignored her, blocked out all of her pleading words. He’d had enough. His son had pushed him to his limits with his irresponsible and reckless behavior. He may be 24 years old, but he had somehow never made it past 16 mentally.

“Alan!” Fred yelled when he stepped into the living room and didn’t see his son. “Alan!”

“What?” his son replied. He stepped around the corner from the kitchen.

“What the hell happened to your job?”

“I quit.” Alan spoke defiantly, but Fred could see the fear in his eyes.

“Why? What happened?”

“I didn’t want to work there anymore.”

“That’s it? You’re just too lazy to work?”

“No, it was a crappy job, so I quit.”

“How many is that now? Eight? Nine?”

“I don’t know.”

“This is what happens when you go don’t go to college. You don’t have many choices. You have to take what you can get.”

“I know. You keep saying that. I know.”

Fred took a deep breath and clenched his jaw shut. His son was a monumental disappointment. His only child was going nowhere fast, and worse, he still depended on his parents for support.

“You’re going to have to move out. I’ll give you until the end of the month.”

“What? No. I have no place to go. I can’t afford rent anywhere.”

“Then, get a job fast because you’re going to need it,” he said as he turned to leave the room.

“Fred!” Shelly said as he stomped past her. “You can’t do that to your son!”

“Dad, wait!” Alan pleaded.

Fred ignored both of them as he bounded up the stairs. He could hear Shelly comforting their son. He could hear him reacting out of anger, his words unintelligible but clearly angry. Fred didn’t care. His son had threatened him before, but Shelly had stepped in and defused the situation. She had a hold on him that gave her extraordinary powers it seemed, but Fred had been pushed to his limits this time. Nothing she could do or say would change his mind. He was kicking his son out of the house, and he was changing the locks. It was time for him to grow up and move out. Fred was determined this time. He wouldn’t change his mind. Not like the last two times.

Push – Episode 2

Marvin Cantor had had another bad night like all of his other nights over the past few years. He drank too much, wandered the streets until the wee hours of the morning, and then collapsed next to the dumpster at Schulz’s Deli. At least he was purposeful in where he finally slept. He knew old man Schulz would give him food in the morning. He always did. Marvin needed the kindness of strangers. That’s all he had. He had lived on the streets for several years, and without that kindness, he would have been been dead by now.

Marvin felt something push against his thigh, a nudge. He shifted in his sleep and huddled closer to the dirty brick wall beside the dumpster. The rancor of rotten food filled the air. Someone had taken a hose and washed the alley next to the dumpster giving the area a foul, moist odor that would have made most people want to leave it immediately, except for Marvin. These alleys provided him with some measure of privacy. The crowds on the street stayed away from these alleys unless they had a specific need to be in them.

Marvin felt the nudge again.

“Wake up,” a disembodied voice said.

Marvin, eyes still clamped shut to ward of the pain of another piercing headache, moaned and buried his face into his backpack that doubled as his pillow. The backpack, torn and soiled, reeked like the dumpster. He kept days-old food in his pack in case he couldn’t find any other food to eat. He didn’t mind eating food that was beyond a few days past its prime. He couldn’t be picky. He had to eat.

“Wake up!” the voice said again, this time more authoritative and firm.

At first, Marvin had thought Schulz was waking him for his breakfast, but Schulz usually spoke lightly and kindly to him, and if Marvin didn’t wake up immediately, Schulz would leave the food next to him and come back to check on him later. Oftentimes, Marvin would wake to the food and leave for his day’s journey around town, begging for money and scrounging for items in the garbage that he could eat or sell for a few bucks. If he was still there when Schulz returned, the men would talk, or mostly Schulz would talk to him. Schulz always tried to talk him into going to the shelter for help. Marvin didn’t need that kind of help.

Marvin heard shuffling in the alley, like someone stepping toward him, and then, he felt a firm kick to his side.

“Wake the fuck up, you bum!” the voice said.

Marvin grunted and arched away from the force, clutching his back. The sharp pain competed with his headache for his attention. He wanted to cry. He opened and then squeezed his eyes shut trying to ward off the pain and the tears. When he turned over and opened his eyes, he held his arms over his head to defend himself from further blows, but the owner of the voice, through the veil of the hangover and his watery eyes, stood back away from him. Marvin couldn’t see the man’s face.

“You awake?” the man asked.

Marvin mumbled something unintelligible and grimaced toward the man as he scooted up against the brick wall.

“I ain’t got no money,” Marvin said.

“I don’t want your money. I have plenty of my own,” the man said, his voice mocking Marvin.

“Why’d you have to kick me?”

“I needed you to wake up.”

“I’m awake.”

“I have a job for you.”

The man stepped closer and his face came into view in the growing daylight. He squatted down and rested on his haunches for a moment. The man was relatively young but he had a hardness about him that suggested trouble. A long, slender nose dominated his trim face with two dark, close-set eyes peering above sallow cheekbones. Clean-shaven and doused in a lot of cologne, the man reeked in his own way even in the smelly alley.

A realization hit Marvin. “I don’t do that shit, brother. I’m not that hard-up for cash.”

The man shook his head and frowned as if he had been insulted. “Sit up, you dumb ass, I’m not into that. I have a real job for you.”

Marvin felt some measure of relief despite the threat that still hung between the men. He followed the man’s orders and sat up to be eye level with him. He mashed something in his backpack with his hand and shifted to avoid damaging whatever it was under him. He pulled his leg toward him and realized he had lost one of his shoes. He quickly scanned the area around him for his shoe.

“What’s wrong?”

“My shoe is missing.”

“Well, if you take this job, you can buy yourself a brand new pair of shoes.”

“How much are we talking about?”

“A thousand bucks.”

Marvin’s heart stopped and he caught his breath. He’d never seen that much money. He thought of all the booze he could buy. He could party all week on a thousand dollars. He could even get one of the ladies on German Street. His mind whirred in spite of the headache, and all he could think about was the money. Money.

“What’s the job?”

“In short, I need you to push someone onto the train tracks. Make it look like he jumped in front of the train. Like a suicide.”

“What?” Marvin sat up straight. His voice shook. “You want me to kill someone? I can’t do that. No way, no how. I can’t go back to prison.”

“Do you want the thousand bucks or not?”

Marvin paused and thought again about what he could do with that much money. He’d love to walk into Schulz’s deli and buy one of the fresh sandwiches and one of the pies, not the days-old ones that Schulz gave him.

“If you do it right, no one will know. You won’t go to prison.”

“How do you know that?”

“I have it all planned out. All you have to do is follow my orders and not fuck it up.”

Marvin thought for a moment, but his mind still reeled from the headache and he couldn’t think clearly.

“Okay,” he said meekly.

“You’ll do it?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Good. Here’s the plan.”

 

 

 

Strange Dreams

For my son. You always makes me laugh, and that, my boy, is the greatest gift you can give anyone.

I found myself sitting on a cliff on the south rim of the Grand Canyon with my legs dangling into the yawning gap below. The mid-day sun bore down on my head. I felt my hair melting (melting!) and dripping onto my wing suit. It was blue, that wing suit, with yellow trim on the fringes of the wings that flipped open when I shot my arms out to the side. I had yellow gloves to match with frilly little streamers of blue and yellow tethered near my wrists.

Fed up with my melting hair, I slipped on my helmet and pulled my goggles onto my eyes and jumped off the cliff throwing myself into the mouth of the Grand Canyon. A rush of rusty sediment cut by a roaring river filled my vision. My wing suit flapped in the wind and the streamers did their streaming thing, you know, old school streaming. At first, I thought I had a defective suit because that ground sure was coming up fast, but I flapped my arms like Coyote in those old Roadrunner cartoons and the wind caught me. My momentum slowed considerably and I glided to the bottom of the canyon landing perfectly on my feet. Not bad considering I had never used a wing suit before.

I removed my helmet and goggles and shrugged off the wing suit. My hair was no longer melting and had somehow become perfectly coiffed in the confines of the stinky helmet. I fed the equipment to the raging river and watched it disappear in the foamy rapids. Before I could sidle up to the river, I heard heavy footsteps behind me.

“You’ve disturbed the urchins!” said a husky voice behind me.

I whipped my head around to the voice and saw a man-goat standing before me. Well, technically, it was a man-mountain goat of some sort, but we’ll stick with man-goat for expediency.

“Wh-What?” I stammered.

“The urchins are angry!” man-goat said.

Perplexed, I asked “As in sea urchins? Sea urchins can’t survive in freshwater, can they?”

“Not sea urchins, you fool. The furry creatures of the scrub brush. The urchins!” man-goat said impatiently.

“Are they dangerous?” I asked, still skeptical of man-goat’s claim.

“They will eat you like a steak in a piranha pool!” man-goat said puffing out his prodigious chest like he was daring me to doubt him.

“What…I mean, who are you?” I asked, too bewildered to make much sense of it all.

Man-goat seemed taken aback by my question. He paused as if no one had ever asked him to introduce himself. I took a closer look at him. He stood a good six feet tall with a lower half built exactly like an off-white, hairy mountain goat. He had monstrous haunches and powerful looking hooves for feet. At his waist, the hair transitioned to human skin giving way to a v-shaped torso with broad, strong shoulders and muscular arms. His arms were as big around as my thighs. He had a chiseled face like something out of the old-time comic books and head of wavy brown hair. If he weren’t a centaur-like creature with a mountain goat bottom half, he’d be movie-star handsome.

“I’m Troy Goats,” he said finally. I had rattled his confidence, but he stressed the last syllable of his name like he had fought back his uncertainty.

“Troy G-o-a-t-s?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I heard the name right.

“No T-r-o-y G-o-a-t-z,” he replied correcting me in a way that seemed to ridicule my lack of knowledge about the naming conventions for man-goats wandering around in the belly of the Grand Canyon.

“Okay, Troy Goatz, about those urchins…”

“Oh, yeah. They’re going to kill you!” he said adopting the melodramatic baritone that had startled me in the first place.

I doubted what he said. I had seen no evidence of impending doom among the misty river rapids and the brilliant red rocks that surrounded me. The scrub brush lined the walls of the canyon sporadically, but it was not enough to hide an army of doom, no matter what these urchins were.

“You must leave now!”

“It’s going to take a while.” I pointed to the vertical wall behind him. “I don’t know about you, but it’s going to take me a long time to hike out of here.”

“You can abscond down the river.”

“Where did you learn that word? You have a good vocabulary for a man-goat.”

“I went to college.”

“Really, somewhere I’ve heard of?”

“Harvard.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I graduated at the top of my class.”

“How come I’ve never heard of a man-goat graduating from Harvard, and if you went there, why are you parading down in the Grand Canyon warning hikers of urchins.”

“I’ll explain later. We’re running out of time! To the raft!”

“What raft?”

“That raft!”

I followed his finger to the edge of the river to the yellow raft anchored in the shallows of the raging river exactly where I’d thrown my suit earlier.

“How’d that get there?”

Troy didn’t answer. Instead, he pushed, no pulled me, to the raft and threw me in. He unhooked the raft and jumped in behind me. His weight almost folded the raft in half until he sat back on his haunches to even out the weight. He threw me a paddle and stuck his paddle at the rear of the raft to navigate.

“Paddle!” he yelled.

We crested the first rapid and then a second before we came to a relatively calm part of the river a good half mile down from where I had landed. So many questions flipped through my mind that my mouth couldn’t articulate a single coherent one to ask Troy Goatz.

“I’m going to take a break,” he said as the boat drifted slowly down the river.

“And do what?” I asked.

“Eat a snack.”

“What?”

Without answering Troy reached into his fur on his right hip and pulled out a Mountain Dew and peanut butter sandwich. He took a big bite of the sandwich and a long swig of the Mountain Dew. I was thirsty, but not enough to drink Mountain Dew, especially after a man-goat got his nasty tongue all over the bottle.

I shook my head in disbelief, and finally one of my questions rattled loose. “How come I haven’t seen any urchins?” I asked.

Troy put the last of his sandwich in his mouth and shotgunned the rest of the Mountain Dew before he spoke. “Because I got you out of there before they could attack.”

“What exactly is an urchin and how do they ‘kill’ you?”

“It’s a small creature about the size of a Boston Terrier. It looks cute and all until you make it angry. Then, its mouth grows to four times its normal size and its teeth protrude like a buzz saw. It goes for your neck and basically saws your head off.”

As grisly as that sounded, I still doubted it. No such creature existed, but neither does a man-goat.

“Do you have any–,” I started.

“Here’s the next rapid!” Troy yelled.

I turned just in time to see the angry foam swelling up higher than the edge of our raft. I swallowed my question and grabbed my paddle to direct the boat away from the death knell of the rapid, but it was too late. I heard Troy yell as our raft tumbled down the rocky waterfall like a jalopy of a vehicle rattling down stone steps. The water devoured our raft and flipped it end over end. I screamed and grabbed hold of Troy but lost my purchase of his arm. The river sucked me under and I dug my fingers into everything around me including the goat fur on one of his legs. I held on tight, but the sirens of the river were determined to pull me under. I succumbed to their song as my lungs filled with water.

I broke through surface of the water gasping for air and flailing my arms until I realized I was in my bed in my room at home. It had been a dream. An awful, weird dream. My heart settled down and my breathing returned to normal as I focused my eyes on the picture of the Grand Canyon hanging on the wall opposite my bed. I had taken it on my vacation there last year. I had gotten lucky that the photo was so good that it was frame-worthy.

I smiled at the recollection of that vacation. I reached up to my forehead to wipe away the sweat that had formed during my nightmare. I realized I had something rough in my hand as it scratched against my face. I turned my palm over and stared at the swath of wet goat hair in disbelief.

Push – Episode 1

A gust of wind whipped up the stairs that descended to the subway. A distinct odor of urine greeted Fred Gillian’s nose and he breathed out quickly to void the stench. He held his breath and a grimace on his face as he walked past exiting passengers from the station. No one seemed to notice or care about his displeasure. He scooted past a homeless man sitting on the steps who reeked of a sour body odor, and he wondered if this man was the offender.

He let out a loud breath when he reached the bottom of the stairs. The horrid smells had given way to a stale, mildew stench like rancid moss on wet concrete, which was not exactly pleasant but better than tangy urine and body odor compressed in the small space of the stairway.

The crowd thickened noticeably. A train arrived, not his, and unleashed a torrent of harried passengers who bolted for the exits bumping and pushing against him as he went against the tide. His nose, always sensitive, caught a myriad of smells as humanity rushed by him – sweet perfume, over-done cologne, sweat, musk, and many others too subtle to recognize. He caught sight of a comely young woman in a tight dress and watched her vaunt her way through the crowd, hips swaying ever so gently.

His attention diverted, he bumped into a body. A grunt followed, a curse. He apologized, and the crowd swallowed the body before he could focus on a face among the sea of faces heading toward him. He angled his feet to his right and dodged his way to the edge of the crowd waiting for the flow to subside so that he could resume his march to his train.

In that instant, he smelled it again, that distinctively awful body odor from the homeless man he had tip-toed past on the stairs. He scanned the crowd rushing by him, both to and fro, but he could not spot the putrid man in the tattered clothes. He couldn’t remember exactly what he looked like, but he stood in such sharp contrast to many of the people around him, that he knew he’d recognize him in an instant, like finding a colored button in a drawer full of black and white ones.

He shook off the aural recognition and continued on his way. The crowd thinned and his steps became more natural. He pulled out his phone and checked the time. Two minutes. His train would be on the platform soon. He picked up the pace, his heels clicking against the dirty concrete.

With over 90 seconds to spare, he arrived at the platform. Another crowd had amassed on the wide tiled path along the edge of the tracks. He nudged his way to the front and stood a few feet from the bright yellow caution band that capped the platform. A sign etched into the concrete warned him to stay back behind the marked area.

He exhaled again but this time to relax. He had made his train. He’d be home on time tonight and by 9:30 he’d be in his bed ready to sleep away the frustrations that had made his day tortuous. He looked down the platform toward the tunnel. No sign of the train appeared. He shifted in place, hopeful that the train was not delayed. Greta wouldn’t be too understanding if he was late yet again.

In his line of sight, many people with necks bent stared down into their phones. Others chatted with people near them. A few children played near their watchful parents. The noises of the station filled the air and rose above the chatter of the impatient passengers. Shoes squeaked. Heels clicked. An errant horn echoed through the tunnel. A few pigeons fluttered through the air. Fred waited.

A faint breeze rustled across the platform. It slowly gained momentum, and Fred relaxed even more. The train was just a little late. He waited for the headlights to appear in the tunnel, and once he saw them, he could taste being home soon. He just wanted to get away from the cramped confines of the city even if for only another hapless weeknight.

In the instant that the train turned the corner and forced more air down the tunnel, Fred caught the scent of the homeless man again. He turned around and scanned the crowd. He didn’t see the man anywhere among the suits and dresses that surrounded him. The smell made him wince and unsettled his stomach. He stepped closer to the edge of the platform until his toe touched the yellow band. He hoped the homeless man didn’t get on the same car as he did. Being in such a confined space with someone who smelled so bad would be uncomfortable.

He stood on his toes as the train rattled closer to the station. The noise and the breeze engulfed him and swallowed the cacophony of the crowd. It felt as if he were hanging his head out of the train window as it rushed through the countryside. He felt the urgency of the oncoming train and remained poised to board quickly to get a seat before the impending crush of the crowd left him standing.

In an instant as the train charged toward him, he felt hands on his back. The force was so great that his head whipsawed before the weight of his body carried him over the edge of the platform. He had no time to react, nothing to grab onto to save himself. He only caught the blur of someone running away from him, disappearing in a crowd that had parted in horror. Fred screamed, a last gasp of fear as he fell from the platform.

Before he fell to the tracks below, the train caught up with him and impaled him with a blunt force that knocked him unconscious. A crescendo of screams filled the station as witnesses unwillingly watched the last seconds of Fred Gillian’s life flash before them. Many looked away. Others rushed to help him as the train ground its way to a stop. In the chaos that followed, no one noticed the lone figure quickly making its way toward the exit.

Jump

I don’t want to die. Not this way. I imagine falling from this dizzying height and crashing onto the rocks below. My heart skips a beat, my breath hitches. I back away from the ledge. My toe skitters on some loose rock and my heart jumps in my throat. My life flashed before my eyes in the seconds that I truly believed I had lost my grip on terra firma and was tumbling to my death. I fall on my butt and grip the earth with the heels of my palms, which are sweaty and now scraped and covered in dirt.

After many deep breaths, I stand up and walk away from the edge. I don’t look back or down because I will lose my nerve if I do. I need to gather my thoughts, feel the adrenaline. Why am I doing this?

I close my eyes and imagine success. I imagine jumping off the cliff and diving into the air like I would a crystal clear pool on a hot summer day. The refreshing water swaddles me. It doesn’t help.

I open my eyes and survey the horizon. The rising sun is behind me making the parachute strapped to my back feel like a burden in spite of its light weight. Sweat forms and drips down between my shoulder blades. It’s too warm to be chilled. I’m too nervous to calm down, but the view is amazing.

The canyon below positively glows in the sunlight. The rings of sediment on the exposed cliffs glisten in orange and gold. The deep blue sky sharply contrasts with the rusty landscape. Hot, dry air stings my throat.

I step toward the edge and look down again. The ragged rocks jut out from the vast canyon threatening to impale me should I fail. I swallow hard and my parched throat beckons for water. I pivot from the ledge and walk back to my car for one last swig. The water soothes my throat and tastes better than I remember. A lot better.

I reluctantly return to the launch pad. My stomach aches and gurgles in spite of the fresh water. I didn’t eat anything this morning because I was afraid it would come back up. It seems I’m afraid of many things. I talk to myself.

I can do this. Trust my preparation. I can do this.

I’m embarrassed by my lack of courage. I taunt myself for being scared hoping that this self-loathing will propel me over the edge of the cliff. It doesn’t work. At least not at first.

Finally, I close my eyes and clear my mind of all thoughts. I take one long, deep breath and suddenly I feel my feet rumbling beneath me pushing toward the edge of the cliff. I gain speed until I run out of ground and take one giant leap of faith.

The shock of leaving firm ground behind causes me to lose my breath. My mind swirls around thoughts of imminent death as the air rustles an alarm around me. I spin and twist in the space above the rocks. I become disoriented and panic at the thought of not being able to find my rip cord. My right hand desperately searches my body for the cord as I struggle for breath. The sun reflects on my goggles blinding me. I’m going to die.

I find the cord just where it should be. My hand had forgotten where to look. I stabilize myself using the air to buttress me so that I float more than fall. Seconds pass. For a moment, I think I’ve passed the point of pulling the cord, but I reassemble some coherent thoughts and realize I have a few seconds. 3-2-1…

I pull the cord and a whoosh of air grabs me and yanks me up as if I’ve reached the end of a bungee cord. The air goes remarkably silent in an instant. My head whips up as I settle into the harness like a comfy chair.

My breaths come easier and I can see more clearly. The sun is behind me again as I float down into the cavernous, winding canyon below. I sail past the rocks that intimated death. They don’t look so threatening now. A slight breeze cools my face, but sweat still trickles down my back. My hands tremble just a little. I probably couldn’t talk coherently if there was anyone to talk to right now. I don’t care. I just enjoy the ride down. I can’t believe I jumped.

Tiger Mountain

The sun has yet to climb Tiger Mountain, but the promise of a new day beckons. I can hear it in the birdsong that punctures the solitude of the forest, see it in the wisps of golden light that slip through the old growth trees like sand through my fingers on the beach. A blanket of mist also winds through the trees, chased by the light and warmth of the sun that climbs the side opposite of me.

My path, worn by many feet before me, seethes an earthy odor, a battle between rot and life. The cool, morning air laps my face, arms, and legs. I breathe it in deeply, satisfied and content. Every turn in the trail reveals more verdant life encroaching on the path as if to buffer me from the harsh reality of the forest, that relentless cycle of life played out on a grand, never-ending scale. Fallen trees decay giving sustenance to young trees and new plants. Insects feast on an animal carcass. The living things toil away against the inevitable.

Each step takes me higher. Each turn pulls me upward. The sun I cannot see taunts me as it races me to the top. Only my foot falls and determined breaths compete with the whimsical birds watching me from their hidden perches. I hear them call each other, warning of an interloper. I trundle onward, upward.

A clearing with its back to the sun reveals a lush forest still wrapped in the morning mist. A bunny hops gingerly along the fringes of the field nibbling on wild grass. Wildflowers limp under the dew still groggy from a night’s nap. A raven makes its presence known. The bunny startles and hops deeper into the tall grass.

I turn and continue my journey to the top, swallowed whole by the trees pointing the way. Each damp step leaves a mark on the path, but I know it will be swiped away soon by many more who will traipse along this mountain trail. The solitude engulfs me, pacifies me. I feel connected to something bigger, more significant.

The crest comes into view, glowing in the sunrise. My pace quickens, and I embrace the sun atop Tiger Mountain. It’s soft warmth has yet to turn to the glowering heat of late spring. The gilded view swamps my senses. The retreating mist slides down the mountain. Dark, aspen green with deciduous swirls drapes out before me. More birds rejoice in the new day. A wide smile cracks my otherwise solemn face. I breathe in deeply and take a seat to feel the sun warm my back and watch the world slowly come to life below me.