Towards Thunderbird Peak
The Wood Runner
The Wood Runner walks. His hip has a hobble. His eyes scan sky. Shuffling along a hill lip of loose bedrock encased in ice, he slides, rolls on a tender ribcage, feet first down a frozen stream caked by powder icing. He luges, carries slush snow with him, collides with blunt rocks, snaps twigs.
Then Jacques Éperdu tumbles up.
He shakes curtains of snow off the folds of his skins, which whisk in the wind, concealing, by furious falling flakes for a moment, the scene ahead. The curtain of ice dust dissipates in sashays to the ground, revealing the looming land. The sight of which nearly staggers him again.
Jacques Éperdu squints at snow-covered canopies of shrub, as sunlight squints lowly over long and high horizon lines under a sky blanket of deepest blue. The Thundery Mounts. Caught at the bottommost, this child of the cold cosmos peeps one look at the last sunrays left for him to wander within its Vale, in the wondrous immanence of sunset’s approach.
He makes his mark with a compass. It judges Northwest. 323 degrees. This divining device magnetized to Earth is strung about his neck. Its bone-biting metal stings, but nevertheless he keeps it clasped close to his heart. To be swapped or squandered under no condition. Touching it, he touches truth. It will tell him if his path stays true.
Placing trust in his compass’ bearing he breaks through settled snow, using stumpy pine and aspen trees as staffs when possible, staving off dreariness for a minute at most. Weariness was a dangerous rest, a physical pest, a tick sucking time that must be flung overshoulder and forgot.
Jacques, from The Wood Runners Co. walks through Thunder Vale, teetering between alpine and subalpine, for reasons frozen in perpetuity. From an afar and lofty angle of vision he would appear bearish compared to the truncated trees, even stooped; an animal able to manipulate tools, able to understand symbols simultaneously simple and enigmatic such as the remote mountains, and able to bend thumbs in pockets of hide.
An animal, yes, but not merely, no, a man.
To take stock of time his titled thumb measures off fingernail increments from the orange bottom of the helium husk hovering there, down to treacherous tips glistening with glaciers. Glaciers, where it was said no human has attempted to travail.
Twenty peaks of Thunder wrapped like arms, only one of which he was meant to mount, the head mountain, Thunderbird Peak. And only two dwindling darkling hours left to him till dusk in which to set sights upon it.
He spots it. It is obvious.
The Lost Path
Thunderbird Peak looks like lightning shot backwards to sky; its intractable crest is obscured in leveled halos of atmosphere, with wings of weird jut-rock, a frontal rock formation symbolized as the face of an ancient Empyrean white eagle, its beak a drooping crag collecting snowplumes.
Jacques does not consider the improbabilities of the task before him. To conclude as much is to admit defeat before he begins. So, he ventures onward, as light cut by The Thunders creates swaths of shadow cascading like competing hands over The Vale. These shadows crept, yet Jacques Éperdu foremost neglects his own.
Man must never follow His shadow, for that feat finds a Man made mad. Jacques is angry, but not maddened.
He fights fatigue and flounders in knee-high mounds of snowdrift. He seems to swim in snow, wades through snowfields, hovers above his body for the loss of sensation in his tightly bundled boots of tan-dyed leather, lined with mushy, muskrat fur.
Jacques cannot feel his feet for their constriction. His body cannot be trusted, as it will break before his brain does. To trust subconscious mechanisms without subservience to the mind, is to separate sensation from consciousness. To compartmentalize any internal apparatus from his mind is madness.
Reason. Planning. Those are the mountainous monuments of Man and his kind.
Jacques’ body needs his brain. When it will not act according to anterior processes of fore-thought, it can act for a time as the Reptilian posterior wills it to self-persevere.
Thus, constriction, loss of sensation in the limbs, that dumbing and numbing, could roundabout be considered the first steps towards madness.
Sensational stenosis presents the mind with phantasmal limits that neither feel nor know how close they come to failure. Man’s thoughts are his greatest obstacles. Though, these thoughts were abstract obstacles compared to the concrete cliffs that lay lastly upon Jacques' path.
The Last Of The Lost Paths.
So, Éperdu loosens his crisp laces and wiggles. Lets warmth of movement bring back tangibility to his toes. He trudges on, timing each step.
Jacques Éperdu feels fastidious about his flesh. If skin is salvation, a layer separating the injurious sins of Men from their natural surroundings, his skin seems as grains in an hour glass, loosening themselves of cohesion, flake by flake losing mass, falling where all flesh must fall eventual.
An individual is, by Nature, separable into substances, splaying upon unified fields of matter.
So, shall he hold himself still, shaking, and await the world to bring his body cynosure, its ultimate security? Death? An unfurling of flesh, like lone snowflakes falling to melt.
This is a scientific consideration of Man’s character, of his duplicitous state: to move or fall.
This card dealt, Jacques does not play at the thought, for pessimistic thought is similar to disorderly assemblages of snow; and so, with enough external pressure, and initial inertness, unable to determine its own direction, bad thoughts unleash frustration upon the human form, and as all things must move in some sense, the mind’s most chimeric qualities, indecision, chaotic contemplations, turned inwardly into tumbling avalanches of trepidation, spinning some persons uncontrollably until they clash with the concourse of trees.
Jacques tenses his eyes and trudges on. This man meets reality head-on with brutish grace. To take things slow and sure. To not fall is all he can command.
Alas, furies of the lungs catch his breath in foggy clutch, turning him to and fro. Jacques grasps at air in gulps, trying to find further traction for his feet, finding it increasingly difficult to coordinate breathe and body. Nasal passages completely sealed with frozen snot, he opens his cracked lips, cupping his hands there and letting his heart give heat.
To concentrate on matters at hand, he makes his hands move, to pump blood through pipes of matter and circuitry, to mechanize himself as a part and apart from Nature. For Nature is no foe, nor friend to Man.
Nature is naught but the amalgamating sum of individual parts. And Jacques was one such part.
His beard fell from his face as a frozen waterfall, composed of icicles, crackling here and there, drip drip dripping. His eyelashes too frosted fast with thick crystalline ice chips. Blue of the lightest hue was his skin, cheeks hollowed by the harshest winds of wild night. Frostbite was immanent, but its bite ceased to irritate. Nature’s cold hand slapped him like market meat, hanging him there on a sharp hook as a butchered, blackened beast.
But Jacques does not wail or flail. He pushes on.
To turn his head about was to tear at ligaments. Swiveling his spine stalk made him nauseous and swimmy, as he moved in slow strides through snow. He could breathe, but it hurt. He could walk, though it was plodding work. Mayhap any man lives as long as he stands upright and ushers his bones to bend. Jacques did not lie down to die. Forward was the only thought he afforded himself.
No pleasantry but perseverance. Mental landscapes devoid of death, that, his mind could maintain. Pain is a delight death does not know. Body and brain are sustained by pain, hunger and perpetuation. There, their connections are infrequently fully felt until they call caution to risk. Jacques shouldered these inseparably sore burdens as babes are slung to nursing backs. They cry. Praises! They are alive. Perseverance.
Who amongst us has seen a fallen tree, and evinced it dead. Then walking a ways yonder, we turn yet. A question lingers. A sharp symbol arrives in our inner sight. Whether, we saw, deeply rooted, at its core, that it could cry? Whether, it were, sweet sumac gum seeping from its rotted bark, weeping as it were for this world, it was departing, but not dying. Crying. Calling silently to stop and appreciate the last with tears through bark.
Jacques does walk.
The land was swallowed in snow. But not Jacques. Not thence. Through this lonesome valley, a vale nigh vacuous of movement, except for the slothful shaking of tree limbs, the thumps of snow clumps, and this man, who meant to move towards the perilous Thundery Mountains.
To move is to challenge mortification.
Jacques confronted cold with an equally cold countenance. He admonished no acceptance of fate from this naturally impartial and encompassing entity. Nature did not dream of killing him, nor did he it. Things turn over as they always have, but Jacques was determined not to be a turtle turned on its back to perish.
He could crawl farther if need arose.
Further, one cannot fight the cold by blows –for there, there is no gain- but by building bridges and walls, will the will survive.
Internally, build breathe as a bridge between what lies outside the fortifications of human form and in. Fort up the brain’s ramparts with its greatest ally, air. Externally, supplement skin with hardy heat-trapping shells. Fasten that trap-knifed phalanx of fur, that shield, that shaggy wall which fights wintry foes at every fleshy flank.
Bleached beaver hides provided The Wood Runner cover for his extremities and wizened scalp in these Northwesternmost Nationless Lands. He’d heard these lands were lawless. But Jacques didn’t believe that. All law is alienable.
The furs did not save Jacques from discomfort, but from succumbing to death’s clutches. Below the beaver cap suctioned by frost to Jacques’ brow he looked keenly at a jagged porcupine spine of ridge rock, espying a slender, smooth shelf, leading to a sheltered lair, a mouth in the mountain, eroded by wind and wet. It would be warm with him.
An extenuation of his heart for the night. If he got to it.
Jacques Éperdu did not question whether he would get there or not. If there was some shell left of him to get there, it would. If there was not, he would not.
The securing of a shelter filled Jacques with the flame of protection’s promise; albeit, his flame could not continue to stoke itself. It required kindling hope. Escaping day for free dreams by a sparkling fire, thawing his frozen fingers from the claw-like grip that cold fashioned them.
Yet reality ofttimes brushes beside speculative futurity. Destiny is a bedfellow to self-deceit. So it was, that cloud-pierced light presently slinked across the cave's frowning aperture, transforming it once more to no more than mere shadow.
But tomorrow was immaterial to him. Night was yawning. The cave it called.
Twilight was set upon the lowest layer of sky with crimson and grey climbing as the sun slept down beyond distant mountains encased in angelic tips. The Thunders.
Thunderbird, or Empyrean Peak, was somewhere inside the overlapping layers of rock. There, was his shelter. The shelter was no more than a wrinkled groove in the forehead of the gigantic ridges now, no more than the empty belly of a stone bird waiting to be filled by flesh and fire.
Following permafrost every day was the darkling. This fact drove Jacques’ delirium, having naught but a cloth-wrapped bundle of bony rabbit, bread which was nearly rotten sour, and one black wing of a bird, not to eat, but to belief with; however, Jacques had something slung across his shoulders which would warm him.
If he summited this maelstrom of mad reason he could count: four, dried bits of chalky elderberry bark, a bundle of staghorn sumac stems partially pre-heated aside last night’s fire, leaves of some strange black and golden aspen variety, and a fire starter set in elk bone, bought from a wolfish mountaineer named Mortimer at the middle marker of this trip to The Thunders.
The truest treasure Jacques had bundled to his back was a mangled ball of Spanish moss with trapped ash and cinder inside. His last resort for building a fire.
For this full day he demanded of himself to crest the Talon Mountains behind him, surmise Thunder Vale for a stream, collect its cold water, and continue on into autumnal dusk till day’s end demanded he end his venture towards Thunderbird Peak. Now it seemed he would have some shelter as a base camp before climbing. He had no crampons no rope no…
What would happen on the climb was tomorrow’s concern.
So far, the shelter he’d hoped to see was some distance further than his hopes foresaw. His hopes were always shortsighted. The wind was beginning to wail as a winter banshee and, although time slumped with the snow, it necessitated a newfound need to conquer both.
It was within sight. It was within his ability to bridge the gap between himself and shelter before night fell. Jacques Éperdu would prevail.
Though, night falls fast after Fall’s preparation.
The sun too sets to hibernate this far North.
Jacques’ jerky hobble quickened to a trot.
The staff set across his shoulders warbled with slipstreams of wind in frightful whistles. It was notched with deep grooves at the handle, laced with recently ripped cloth the color of soot and dried sweat. The handle cloth came from his cotton undershirt weaved by a woman named Silke. The staff was white Cypress wood, whittled by Silke’s husband. Carved into the wooden handle was a creature of flight, so carefully rendered as to resemble a brilliantly plumaged bird in amber, its crest composed of flute-like apertures to allow it song through five hollows.
There was an artful correspondence between the head of his staff and the symbol of The Bird-like Peak. A coincidental correspondence perhaps, but he kept the staff tucked tight as treasure in the straps of his pack with his fortunes of fire, fearing the freeze would find his fingers quicker after clutching such a conductor of cold.
Fortuitously, the wind was at Jacques’ back. It threatened to knock him downward face, yet almightily graced him eased momentum towards the glorious mounts. Golden in that majestic obscuring. Hailing the black blanket that cometh afore moon’s morning. The wing tips of Thunderbird Peak were translucent and smooth, as glaciers thousands of years young. The Peak shone lastly, an optical miracle. Then, latent darkness snuffed its Illuminance.
Jacques Éperdu did not mourn his state. The secret of his preceding successes along The Lost Path lay in the staff and compass. He dared not unstrap his staff. It invariably stayed sealed to his shoulders, or slept at his side. Its wood whispered into his ear that the world was right with him. It whispered with the wind. Said the Silke’s foresight of a Fiery Stone was on the mark.
For reassurance he conferred with his compass, when wind waylaid him from his course. 323 degrees. Northwest. It stayed true.
On the mark.
The light of time was the way to track distance. Now it was a sense, a speculation, that told him thirty minutes, une demi-heure, until a shallow snowy embankment, a hop upon the ridge, and a short shuffle close to the rock face, to come crouching into his weathered cave. Time he had.
Wind whistled through the truncated timberline and through the hollows of his white Cypress wood staff.
Suddenly, fog on wings swooped across his path, obscuring the boulder bridge that would take him to his sanctuary across the smooth shelf. His sight faded in the fog to two sluggish feet in front him, fumbling for footing.
Two birds plummeted in piercing whips through the slowly draped linens of cloud and perched upon the highest aspen trees. Skywards his eyes turned. The limbs of the aspen trees were intricately bent, stretched, entwined into an arch, a gate of thicket.
The birds showed brilliant black plumage.
One was female, with a wider wingspan that pressed flat upon the branch, its beak titled towards Jacques. The second was smaller, the male, with a mottled gold crest that sprung like an oriental fan, as it lifted aloft frayed black wings into an arrow point.
They clacked beaks, announcing themselves Vultures of Thunder Vale.
“Foudre”- Lightning was on Jacques lips, like the last word.
Jacques pressed on, pretending not to notice his avian observers. Then he heard his staff whistle, as under the aspen’s arch he went, with the two twittering birds above. The staff stopped him short of clearing the limbed gate.
The male struck a shrill note, concordant with Jacques’ whistling staff. Jacques gazed through gloved hands, a mask of furry fingers, catching the flighty figures.
The female cackled, then the male shrieked. Both cawed, matching a resonant grumble crack from a cauldron of clouds swirling with splaying sparks above.
Jacques Éperdu did not hear the stream of multicolored light zig and zag to him.
He barely saw it through the albino beaver skinned gloves before it geysered the ground at contact.
Electricity consumed and deafened him. It struck two feet in front of him, shuffling the sleeping snow into a flurry and showing a bowl of burnt ground half a foot below.
He sank in the dark depression, unsure, and unthinking, as to how his body absorbed the shock.
The birds disappeared in an electrical discharge, the color of exploding blueberries in goat’s crème cloud.
Jacques bent his body to walk with wild jerking bounds. He appeared a huge rabbit, cloaked as bear, tromping out of the smoking indentation left in shadowground.
Jacques’ eyes became glacier blue, drawn to ashen dusk. The hollowed cheeks filled with air, the frostbit bits of his blackened face and blue skin hue faded, and he was fire, fire all over, from fingers to toes.
The scalding shell that is Jacques continues. It seems The Wood Runner’s shadow foremost forward walks, as even backwards running is time. Lie down to die, Jacques does not, but perseveres, pressing towards Thunders’ peaks.
His brain carries body, and body carries brain.
In his frazzled, spotty sight, was night, the mouth of Thunderbird mountain, its intestinal shelter, and black birds flocking above, swirling, forming flapping funnels into the inky firmament, speaking monotonous caw over The Thundery Mountain Range, like Vultures, seeking carrion.
Jacques hears naught. Nor hears he his staff warble and whistle, time around turn. Jacques Éperdu’s compass needle joggles at 323 degrees, sees to light no longer needs he. He is a man on the mark, during dark even. His compass stays true towards Thunderbird Peak.
What rate thou?
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- Professor Pestilence
During closing time at the diner the customers sat, shackled to their seats... vacant of... expressions except latent fear. An entire table of friends slouched, face down in their dinner.