Friday, June 21, 2013

Night Hike

The trail is different at night. The swarms of sweaty tourists are sleeping between freshly changed sheets. The crunch of dusty boots and the labored panting of the over-ambitious has made way for a whistling breeze and the chirp of crickets. I am alone on the trail. I am alone in the world except for the dull yellow lights of the village above, perched on the edge of the cliffs.

The way slopes down, and my headlight illuminates the rocks and dirt in front of me. The rest of the universe fades to gray. There is only the sound of my breathing and my thoughts, which overwhelm the thick flapping of bat wings dipping and scuttling over my head.

I turn a corner and sense the night sounds’ sudden pause. A dozen eyes stare up from the trail that wraps below me. The eyes glare iridescent, but the bodies are shrouded in darkness. My nails dig into my palms.

I shift, and hear an echo in twenty-four legs running, grappling in the dust and rock, disappearing into the trees that grip the canyonside tenaciously.

I walk. I am alone until a bighorned sheep steps, dignified, in front of me. He turns his head and stares. His eyes glow brighter than my light. I freeze him in his stride, or perhaps he has frozen me. He dips his head to show his large and curling horns.

There is canyon to the right of me and sheer cliff to my left. The sky is peppered with stars, but the night is dark.

I’m only frozen for a moment when I remember who I am. I expand to fill my size and shape. I know that I am bigger. When I step forward, the spell is broken, and he runs to join the others; to hide until the intruder has gone.

When I walk back up, I hear my own belabored breathing and the crunch of my own footsteps. I feel the pull and strain along the back of my legs.

I turn and see the eyes for just a moment; mother-of-pearl insets flickering, until they blink—to wait—and blink and then blink out.

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