The azure mountains had been calling for a while now. But today was extra-ordinary. The sun peaked from behind, casting an orange glow over the snow, expressions changing with the shadows and moods of the clouds.
Hypnotized with the magical realm and sudden calm of the moment, I whispered, “Okay, I’ll come tomorrow!” The glowing peak smiled evermore, gorgeous in all its splendor, blushing a hint of scarlett, with its invitation being finally accepted.
I packed a few things along with my usual gift. Once a year, I would undertake the arduous climb to meet Vani, who guarded the mountain with her life. She lived alone, in a cave, with her five goats. I brought back produce she had made and bartered them well, to meet all her basic needs.
Packed and ready, I went to bed early, for tomorrow was to be a long day. The sapling of a gift sat wrapped in burlap, resting its roots impatiently in cool, freshly dug up earth. It had heard of the trek tomorrow and spread its joy in anticipation of the onward journey, smelling heavenly.
Since it was very windy at 8,000 feet, I would plant a tree enroute, below the snow-line every year, to break the force of the spiteful thrashing, wintry winds. Today my wistful older trees whistled, and spoke to me in a language only a mother can understand. The pine coney air enveloped me pleasantly, welcoming as if, a family member back home.
Past the tree line, now cold, tired, and hungry; I saw smoke playing hide and seek with the clouds, peeking past the hairpin bend. A flash of images went through my senses bringing forth memories of Vani’s home, from visits before. Her sounds, flavours, and squishy mother-like hugs loaded with warmth came back to me, and I stopped eyes closed, to enjoy the moment.
I looked around, “Where did she go?”
“Vani! VANI!” I hugged myself tighter, surprised, on realizing the good feeling that came from the imagery, was just as always the special warm dreamy anticipation one gets, closer to home.
The inviting smoke teased and wafted around and then suddenly formed words to give a message. A strange fear gripped me as I read, “Go where the earth, fire, metal, wood, and water meet. I will meet you there.”
This was very strange. Panicking, I ran up to the cave, screaming, expecting the worst for Vani. The bells at the entrance didn’t make the usual friendly sound as I ducked to enter the now dark, sinister, and cold cave. I looked around, spinning, searching furtively, “Vani! Where are… What’s going on?”
“The smoky message!” I searched high and low, “Its gone, too!” I wailed. Dumping the backpack and the nervous sapling, I ran to find her. I ran after her mountain goats, unsure-footed, now calling, now grabbing rocks and goat-tails, towards the waterfall.
Mumbling the message repeatedly to myself, “Where earth, fire, wood, steel, and water meet!”
“Where earth, fire, wood, steel, and water meet?” I froze and looked at the water fall. A few hundred feet from me. But not a soul in sight.
Vani was definitely gone.
“Earth, water, okay. Where is wood … And fire? Ummm … Metal.” My foot slipped and I rolled and landed with a clink and a thud in a pile of black soot. Laying down breathless, I stared at the skies. I stared at my black hands, soot.
“Fire?”I asked Billy the goat.
“What clinked?” I asked myself and searched the ground beneath my feet. I found her only knife, dented. “Metal!” I rejoiced.
And then I saw from that point, facing the waterfall, a wooden box, on a rock waiting. Watching. I ran and stumbled towards it. The sunset made the spot look like its on fire.
“Fire!” I said happily.
I sat down opened the box. “Oh, Vani!” A sudden whoosh went through me and took residence. I wasn’t alone anymore.
I saw my reflection in her tiny gold bejeweled mirror.
picture credit: free downloadable image from Internet.