By Rebecca Bonallie
From up here, we can see only a dim illumination of what was once the sky. The clouds are a bouquet of dark sulphur squeezing out from between two pointed peaks. It is dusk and we are surrounded by mountain. Towering and pointed, the summits cloak the world in a mud-brown darkness. The air smells burnt, like someone has been spitting fire.
How long had we been climbing? It seemed like just an hour ago that Mary had put her hand in mine.
“Let’s venture up the mountain!” she had exclaimed, her dark curls spilling from beneath her white sunhat.
“I’m not sure we can manage that, Mary—“ I began to protest.
“Nonsense,” She was already on her feet, her blue sundress muddied and crumpled from picnicking in the dirt, “If those silly boyfriends of ours can do it, then we can.”
I had no choice but to follow Mary along the rocky path until we reached the beginning of the mountain pass.
“Oh Mary– we’re hardly dressed for a climb like this.” I complained.
“Let’s just go for a little while. Please? I want to see what the world looks like from up high!” Mary had pleaded.
She kicked off her shoes and continued barefoot across a crooked gorge before I could protest any further.
“How peculiar.” Mary murmurs, observing the sudden height– the sudden lack of light.
Trying to catch my breath, I sit on the mountain edge and rest. Charcoal-dusted mountain peaks tower above us. Something about them seems—soft, almost. They seem like a jagged veil that is cloaking the sky. I kick my legs out, dangling them over the crest of rock. I feel I cannot breathe properly. Beneath me is a shadowy void– a rift between the walls of the mountain.
“How can it be so dark?” I whisper, feeling myself lean in to look into the abyss. For some reason it feels like a portal, like there is something hidden and waiting on the other side.
“Don’t lean so far out!” Mary snaps. Her tone is off.
But I can’t help it. Within the silent blackness I begin to see specks of light. Tiny fluorescent orbs that float rhythmically from side to side as if riding upon a current. They rise up, like fragments of ghosts, and begin to dance around the mountain tops. My head starts to ache.
“It’s getting dark,” Mary says, her voice low and troubled, “I think we should head back down—“
From beyond the veil of mountain walls, a large owl careens around us. I feel dizzy as I watch its wings encircle me. They seem half as big as I alone. Drenched in a spectral glow, the owl seems to hover a moment, and regard us with its otherworldly eyes, before it dashes into the void. Something like loss stirs inside me. I reach out a hand in an attempt to grab a feather and I slip from the verge.
Mary grabs me before I can even begin screaming. My heart beats in my throat and I’m gasping, sweating, panting.
“What’s the matter with you?” Mary screams. It is now she who glows with that frightening light.
I can’t look at her. Her face has somehow become distorted and twisted. Her eyes and nose and mouth are in the wrong places. It’s like I’m looking at her reflection in a warped mirror. And that voice–
“I have to go—“ I stutter through short breaths.
I can’t look back at Mary as I stumble down the mountain path. I can feel her follow me, but she doesn’t make a sound. Her silence frightens me. I’m afraid that if I look round she’ll have snakes coming out from under her sunhat and she’ll turn me to stone. I’m afraid that if I turn round her gaze will send me down to the underworld to be trapped there forever.
I stop and I vomit into a stream.
“Are you okay?” She approaches me and her voice sounds calm again. I see her reflection in the stream and there she is: my Mary. Blue sundress, bare feet, rosy lips. I reach for her hand.
“I’ll get you home.” She smiles and wipes my mouth with a handkerchief. Suddenly unsheathed from its cloak of cloud and rock, the sunlight fills the mountain pass. I am filled with the uncontrollable urge to sleep.
Mary holds my hand as we run down the rock-strewn pathway. We run fast and reckless, like children raised by wolves– like faeries across the woodlands in search of blood to drink.
Later, we laugh as we listen to pop songs on the radio in Mary’s Impala. The night finally closes in, its shadowy borders eating up the daylight the way a bonfire eats up wood. The road before us grows black and deep. I feel like I’m looking into a deep, dark well. Mary’s hands stiffen on the wheel. I turn up the volume on the radio and try to sleep.
Since that day, I have never been able to look at the sky without thinking there is something beyond it. I have never been able to look into a hole without thinking there is something on the other side of the whispering darkness.
Sometimes I try to talk to Mary about it, but she shakes her head and she tells me not to look at her.