Knox had never thought of the Gods as funny – in his Sunday knowledge they were One and he was just or cruel, wise and ancient and mighty. It didn’t matter how many they truly were. They frightened him now that he had become their jest. They were vicious humorists who cackled at him through the memory of that night which was never far from him, from his dreams – the bridge, the frozen water, the man and his soothing, sad voice and the endless fall over and over and over again submerging, churning and resurfacing out of breath and out of mind.
Knox halted his step, catching a breath. That night he had laughed at the old man, laughed at his words, at his back turned to him as he had walked away leaving him to grow mad and ponder at the quiet warning.
“The Gods will surely find you. When they do they will have their way.”
And here, they had finally done so, leading him piece by piece, crumb by crumb to the mountain. Knox was thankful. It would be over soon. The presence trailing alongside with him increased, pushing into him. Knox resumed his climb.
Ascending this mountain alone was a ridiculous idea, and a dangerous one, but Knox was led by something he could only describe as supernatural, mystical, something with an origin belonging to another place. He succumbed to its guidance and no longer followed his own path but that of the glow. It was taking him further and further into the rocky towers and secrets of An Teallach. A sign screwed into the soil right beside a detour Knox took caught his eye. Written in bright red paint it read “Beware of the Goat”, but Knox shook his head; goats didn’t frighten him.
Hours rolled and the climbing became more exhausting. The terrain of the Northern Highlands was not to be taken lightly up here, the route rough and demanding, with steep ascents and descents. Knox was grateful that for now the glow was leading an easier path. The knife-edged crests were minor difficulties for Knox armed with the axe, but he still found the need to stop and catch his breath more often. At a different time, when the beautiful alpine skyline was visible the climbing would be more pleasing. Now it was a massive ghost palace floating in the skies, and Knox was walking along its corridors of cold stone.
At around noon Knox reached an unmarked narrow path below Corrag Bhuidhe, the steepest section he had read about in his guide. This was where the green glow had taken him. Knox couldn’t see where the improvised path brown and moist lead, but it seemed like a dead-end. The winds were high and merciless now. Knox lifted the hoodie of his jacket over his wool hat and prayed no rain will lash upon him. The eerie green luminance had disappeared from sight and with it the feeling of being watched.
After waiting a while without a signal from the glow he reached for the pocket guide and the map to try and retrace his steps back to the original, marked path, fearing he was beyond rescue, but the book along with the map fell from his gloved fingers. They had gone numb. Knox realized his arms and legs were aching too. He crouched and sat on a tilted rock, unable to stand any longer lost and tired and cold. The freshness of the water choked him, but Knox welcomed it and drank until his thirst was eased. He took out the apple and bit off it, the juice running down his chin.
He was trapped with nothing behind him but mist, milky and floating and in the far distance, the mirage images of other peaks unreachable and somewhat unreal. Ahead of him the route made no promises either. Knox traced it with tired eyes until the unchanging colors blurred before him. Then he spotted the glow. It had brightened and centered as a pulsating circle approximately 8 meters above Knox’s head on a rocky ridge erupted to the side of the path, tall and dangerously outspreading above the free fall to the side of the mountain. The embankment was solid though and had a somewhat good grip for Knox to scramble upwards and reach the glow. Reckless, he started climbing and the glow skipped further up teasing, playful.
The rock was slippery, greasy. It wept with ice tears that trickled down under Knox’s palms. He could feel how cold they were through his gloves. Knox searched for his rope and axe frantically before realizing they were not with him. His backpack lay tossed aside down by the tilted stone. How long was he going to keep up without a rope and without falling? Minutes, seconds? Knox wondered by what lunacy he had forgotten about his equipment. The glow was a rotating sphere hovering almost at the edge above.
Knox disliked the bulging mass. Now it seemed to him that it tilted even more to the right casting him outside of the small safety the path had provided. He thought about abseiling back down and to the left, but the steepness of the embankment made it impossible for him to see his steps clearly. A misstep would mean a broken ankle and soon after – death.
As if to avert his mind from such ideas the glow enhanced its green effect, shining upon man and rock alike. It rolled down nearing his anxious finger, but just as Knox tried to touch it the glow jutted harshly to the right and skipped back to its place at the top waiting, poison green and ghostly. Knox understood it wasn’t to be easy. There was no down, only up. And Knox climbed.
To be continued…