Following on from A Mountain Shrugged. This is part 2.

It’s not what you think.

Stephanie could feel that the weather was going to change hours before the first of the black clouds appeared on the horizon. The door to her tent flapped in the afternoon breeze as it began to pick up speed and changed to the west.

She bent down to light the camp stove and filled the kettle with water from the stream which gently gurgled beside her tent.

As she placed the kettle onto the stove, a gust of wind blew the flame towards her. Looking up at the sky, the sun disappeared behind a large solitary cloud travelling quickly in her direction.

Moving the kettle onto the ground she turned the camp stove off. No point in risking a flame if the wind was changing direction.

Zipping closed the door Stephanie climbed back into her sleeping bag. She was a slight girl of only 17 years of age who spent her days guiding people off the mountain.

She picked up her book. “The chronicles of Abigail Stout” read the title. Her mother had given it her last year for her birthday and she had been unable to put it down since.

As she lay back to read, all the light went out in the tent as the cloud enveloped the canvas sides. Stephanie sighed and leaned over to flick on her battery powered lantern then settled back holding the book up to her face.

She was halfway down the fifth page before she felt the ground rumble under her. Out to the right she could hear the clatter of falling rocks and shortly after, a scream which seemed to get louder.

“Blast” she said to nobody in particular. “There goes another one and that was a good bit too.”

Stephanie got up muttering to herself as she unzipped the tent and looked out into the fog as if searching for the source of the scream. She knew what had caused it and berated the hill loudly.

“Why did you have to do that?” she asked. “What did that one ever do to you?”

There was no answer. There never was. The hill was as silent in its’ response as it was deliberate in its’ actions. That was to say, extremely.

It wasn’t long before the cloud moved on and the sun once again graced the slopes with its’ presence.

“Well you can wait until I’ve had a cup of tea.” Stephanies voice was firm. She wasn’t moving until she’d had her tea, lost soul or not.

Once again the hill stoically refused to answer.

“Ok, ok” she said in frustration. “I’ll go.”

A warm breeze passed over her face as she clambered out of her tent and turned to zip it back up. Every couple of months there was another one found lost on the hills or stuck in some crevice somewhere and Stephanie did her best to guide them down but it didn’t always work out that way. Some refused point blank to leave; and occasionally they burnt blue on the marsh where they had fallen in.

“So what was it this time?”

Stephanie was curious as to what outrageous sin this particular scream had committed. Probably had the wrong kind of binoculars or something. They were all the same. Odd little city folk who had come out to the country for the day, just so they could say they had done it and that they were super fit because they had conquered Arran or Scar or one of the many other mountains which lived around these parts. They usually meant well, but were always ridiculously under-prepared for the different ways the hills would test them before deciding whether or not they were worthy.

This one was clearly unworthy if he’d fallen at the first hurdle. This hill was always the same. Start off with a bit of wind and some fog, then on to more serious things like a rockfall and then finally a swamp. It was timid by comparison to some of the others who regularly threw in ice and snow as well as treacherously high, narrow paths; but those hills were rather more selective in who they chose to refuse access to and their guides only had one or two souls a year. This hill just did it to be mean.

It wasn’t long before she heard a voice calling out.

“Hello, hello. Is there anybody there? Please Can you help me I think I’m stuck.”

The voice kept repeating the same phrase. It was a fairly sweet voice. The kind that made you just want to cuddle up to it and pet it. Rather pitiful really.

Stephanie pointed herself in the direction of the voice.

“Please, is anybody there?”

“Ah there you are” Stephanie said to herself and marched firmly forward. There, in front of her was a small, slightly plump man with a bright red face whose leg was trapped under a slab of rock.

She approached him slowly.

“Hello. Who are you?”.

“I’m Stephanie” she said. “Who are you?”

“I’m Robert.”

Robert stared towards her, his eyes wide open and his face taught as if masking a pain. He looked back down at his leg and tried to lift the rock that was pinning him. It was a little pathetic really, it wasn’t even that big a rock.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to be a nuisance but please can you help me, I think I’m stuck.”

Robert sounded a little apologetic for having got himself trapped.

“I can try. I think I may be able to manage to lift that thing.” Stephanie bent down and pretended to struggle lifting the rock.

“So where are you from?”

“Oh I’m from Bellford just down the road a bit.”

Stephanie knew Bellford. It was a moderate sized town with a decent market. She’d been there once as a child and remembered the brightly coloured tents and juggling clowns.

“Oh I know that place. Does it still have the flower market in the spring?”

“They’ve moved it to the summer now. Better for tourism”.

That explained the recent influx of newcomers. She thought there had been a couple more already this year and it was only June.

“Oh. So what brings you out here?”

Robert looked down at the ground and very quietly spoke his reply.

“It was my doctors idea.” Robert sounded a little mournful.

“I’ve got bronchitis you see. He thought the mountain air would be good for me. A good brisk walk, a spot of bird watching. I didn’t know it would be like this, cold, damp and steep. I could barely breath on the way up.”

Stephanie looked back at him. She couldn’t quite bring herself to feel sorry for this silly creature. How could he not have researched where he was going? Especially if he was going alone.

“Come on then. Let’s get you back down off the mountain.” She effortlessly swung the rock to one side and helped him to his feet.

“So what’s that thing you’ve got there?” Stephanie expertly timed the question to bring his thoughts away from the fact he was stood up after having his leg trapped beneath a fairly heavy rock. More, away from the fact he wasn’t feeling any pain either.

“This?” He held up the camera in front of her?

“This is a camera. Chelf digital or something. 32 megapixel with integrated optical zoom. At least that’s what they tell me. I’ve no idea what it all means. I just want something that can take pictures.”

Stephanie tried hard not to roll her eyes but instead tried to force them wider in feigned interest.

“Oh right I see. So how do you see them then?”

She let Robert waffle on for a while about the ins and outs of his brand new camera before suddenly interrupting him.

“Should we make a move then and get down off this mountain?”

Robert looked a little confused for a moment.

“Oh, but I’m not ready to go down now, I was told I would see a barn owl up here. I’ve never seen a barn owl before.”

Stephanie sighed inwardly as she hoped he wouldn’t be awkward.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure we can find you a barn owl on the way back down.”

Up until this point it had seemed she had got away from the awkward questions but now Robert paused.

“How did you manage to lift that rock off my leg?”

“I didn’t, I pushed it. It pivoted on the other side”.

“But how come I can walk? I fell from up there.” He pointed up towards the top of the cliff and at that moment the realisation of just how far he had fallen hit him. His jaw dropped and he started to tremble.

He turned again to face Stephanie. “How did I survive that?”.

Stephanie slowly diverted her gaze towards the ground and Robert, sensing something might be wrong, followed it.

There on the ground before him he could see an arm sticking out from under a very large slab of rock. He recognised the black bracelet wrapped around it and and his face went ashen white.

“I’m dead aren’t I?” His voice changed from inquisitive to melancholic. “I was scared this would happen. That’s why I’ve been putting it off for so long.”

“Putting what off?”

“Coming out here. I was scared of what might happen if I did. I’ve never left the town you see.”

Suddenly Stephanie realised what had happened and almost felt sorry for him. He hadn’t come out here because he wanted to. He’d come out here because he needed to. Stephanie recognised it instantly because that was what had brought her here. And, just like Robert, it was that very same act which meant she had to read the same book over and over again in between guiding the people down off the mountain.

“Look you don’t have to stay here.”

“What do you mean?” Some of the inquisitiveness crept back into Roberts eyes.

“You can go back.”

“What do you mean I can go back?”

“Well you haven’t been dead that long. If we’re quick you can go back, have another go, get it right.”

“What do you mean I can go back?” Robert looked confused as he asked the question a second time.

“I mean, not be dead anymore. Go back to your life.”

“But wouldn’t that be cheating death?”

Stephanie raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t know.” She said. “Should I feel cheated?”

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