The Long Awaited Return

A Short Story

 

The Long Awaited Return

She felt her lungs explode as blood pooled in the capillaries of her wind-burnt face. Her legs smoldered with fire and brimstone, while her knees dangerously considered total revolt. She kept her eyes riveted to the path in front of her.
“Just keep walking,” she repeating silently to herself over and over like a mantra.
She concentrated on following her goat-like guide up the steep mountain terrain. They had been hiking for hours, but she couldn’t even pronounce the name of the peak they sought, nor speak her guide’s language had she any words of complaint for him. Her physical discomforts mercifully pushed the logistics of why and how she found herself here aside. Just one foot in front of the other was all she could think about.
Finally, the trail leveled out and the hiking became easier, but still she craved relief from the relentless uphill grind. Minutes later her prayers were answered. Reaching the crest of yet another rise, she saw the footpath ribbon down into a green valley. There, on the far side was a spike camp. Tents were scattered among the trees. They would spend the night before pushing on in the morning.
The sun sat low behind a neighboring outcrop, undoubtedly obstructing a stunning sunset, and the shadowy dusk settled quickly around the freshly lit campfire. She thankfully relaxed, listening to the crackling songs of the dancing fire while her guide prepared a simple meal. Later, on a worn and weathered guitar, he played traditional folk songs impressing her with his extensive repertoire. She was grateful once more when she climbed into the bedroll he had laid out for her in one of the tents.
Within minutes she teetered on the precipice of deep sleep, but a chorus of coyotes sang out loud and lively mere feet from her door. Thankfully some other errands soon had them forgetting about moon songs and off on other pursuits, so she quieted down once again but no sleep came courting. She tossed and turned struggling to relax. She was physically exhausted, but couldn’t quell the internal banter that kept the shutters of her soul from closing up shop for the day. Finally, her mind relented and she fell into a dream-filled slumber.
She dreamed she was climbing down into a dark cave. She was scared and anxious. The walls felt slimy and wet on her cold hands, but she dare not pull them away from the edges. Her dripping-wet hair clung to the sides of her face and she became aware she was naked.
She suddenly noticed a pin-prick of light she hadn’t seen before and headed for it. The harder she tried for that dot of salvation, the more an unseen pressure wrapped around her, squeezing. She stopped stabilizing the pressure, relieving it slightly and convincing her to keep going. Focusing on her goal, she found that all her efforts so far had been in vain. She was no closer to the light. Panic set in and her breath came in short unsatisfying gasps. She felt like she was suffocating. She thought she might be crushed. With all the strength she could muster, she reached out to the light and in a blinding flash broke its surface.
Filling her lungs with a gulp of air, she cracked open her eyes only to find herself safe in her own bed. The dawning morning sun, much welcomed after the depths of darkness that only moments earlier had encompassed her.Crawling out of the tent she found her guide already up, packed, and cooking breakfast over a small fire. With every bite of food, she felt herself calming until the dream seemed miles behind her. She had all but forgotten about it by the time they started the last leg of their climb.
It was a grueling job picking the right footholds up the thin rocky trail, but as the sun reached the zenith of its path across the sky, they crested the summit.
The view was everything she’d hoped for. The green leafy jungle fell away on all sides and she felt as if she, and she alone, inhabited the earth. The guide called to her pulling her from her daydream, and pointed down over the craggy southern slope drawing her attention to a city visible from their precarious perch.
It was almost a disappointment to be able to see the evidence of civilization far below them. She was able to make out skyscrapers and office buildings. Smog rose into the sky from the working factories and she could see the ant like cars snaking along the interconnected roadways. She felt robbed of her ‘only person on the planet’ feeling.
Her guide again got her attention and pointed out a small capsule wedged into a crack in the granite summit. Extracting it, she found it was a collection of the signatures. All the people who made it to the top were listed. Excitedly she added her name to the assemblage. After exploring and taking endless pictures of the breathtaking vistas, they retreated to a smaller spike cramp located at the trailhead which led up to the alpine crown they just vacated.
The guide lit a fire and together they ate a celebratory dinner. The day’s curtain began to fall signaling the on coming night, and again her guide played his guitar for her. She sat listening filled with a sense of satisfaction unlike any she had ever felt before. For the first time, she had a sense she could do anything. She was invincible. The warm feeling of accomplishment stayed with her as she nestled into her bedroll, and without any trouble closed her eyes descending into the inky blackness of sleep.
She became aware of herself floating in a dark cavern. She felt safe and warm supported by the water surrounding her. Her face was immersed, but she found she could easily breath under the water. She plunged down to the bottom of the pool and pressed off the bottom with both feet. Although solid, the bottom had a giving quality about it. She decided she must be inside a ballon. She tested all sides of her watery cocoon, pushing into them and bouncing off.
Suddenly there was a loud rushing sound and all the water began flowing out of a small breach in the rubbery wall pulling her along with it. Before she knew where she was, she became aware of the same all encompassing pressure she had felt the previous night. Echoes of the panic were audible in her, but this pressure had a feeling of determined purpose peppering it. She remained calm. She set her resolve and pushed on. Her perseverance was met with a burst of light and a feeling of being expelled into space.
She awoke with a start and found herself sitting upright in her bed. The light inside the tent was dim, but there was something about it that set her on edge. Unzipping the flap, her eyes fell on her guide standing just outside, his neck craned back looking intently at the morning sky. She came to stand beside him, looking up into the heavens. The sight that met her fledgling eyes left her without the ability to blink. Speechless as a new born babe, she watched unable to describe what she saw. What she didn’t see was the sky. Every inch of the canopy that, until now, all living thing on earth believed a universal constant, was filled with… The Return Of The Gods? Armadas of hovering ships hung silent, creating a halo around earth. There were numbers upon numbers of them. Intricacies never seen before, displayed in the finer details of those alien crafts. She could see symbols displayed and knew instinctively what they meant but was unable to articulate their meanings into words. Just gazing upon them she felt her mind flooding with new ideas and indescribable images, colors never dreamed of, smells never smelt, tastes never tasted before. She thought of her dreams. Was she being reborn?
She dragged her eyes away to look where just hours before she had seen a city. It was ablaze, yet dark, foreboding. Even from that distance the bedlam was obvious. A frenzy of fear and unknown consequences causing the unstable masses to self-destruct. Through her feet she felt the trembling of the whole planet. She could smell the fear expressed worldwide at this, the realization of the prophecies.
She swung her eyes again towards the celestial fleet. A feeling of tranquility and peace misted down from them. With gratitude generated from within every cell of her body she thanked the gods for meeting her here, where the womb of the universe surrounds the body of the earth. Her eyes filled with the sight of god, and she wept tears of joy heralding in the second coming.

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