She was half-deep in icy mountain lake water when it began. The sun was dipping behind the ridge; the light compressing into a thin line of gold on the ridge line. She looked up, across to the other end of the lake, smooth as a glass, and then down at her hand, pale and fleshy in the cold water.
“I must be dreaming,” she thought to herself. She didn’t wake up.
The fire burned low and hot in the makeshift fire ring. Coals glowed and sparks spit. The darkness was all-enveloping. Deep down, she knew she was happy. But she also knew she wasn’t anywhere at all. Speech flowed around her and she nodded, her round face bobbing in the orange light. Gritty dirt and bits of twigs clung to her clothing and something was wrong.
A fish flopped against the sloping rock surface. The water was quiet and still save for the rising of fish brothers and sisters. Our fish was dying, and so she took a sharp stick from higher on the rock and, with a swift inhalation, shoved it deep between its eyes. The fish twitched before it gave one last jerk and gasp. She dug the blade of the knife into its stomach and cut jaggedly backwards. Blood flowed freely over her fingers and she held the slick fish tightly. With one finger she fished out the guts, and they fell to the rock. She squatted and examined each organ carefully before she tossed it into the still lake. The fish was pregnant. Whispering a quick and guilty prayer, she roughly sawed the blade over the bones holding the head to the body. It took several minutes, but the head was finally free, and this too she flung into the water.
August snow lay cradled in the green valley. The trail climbed up and over the treeline. Breath came hard and fast and rough. The dizziness was terrifying but indistinct. Standing on a rock overlooking the next drainage, she let the vastness of the mountains awe her and hold her steady. Only from here could she acknowledge the complexity of the mountains, the intricacies that lay behind her childhood home. Their infiniteness was comforting. Burdened by unrealized illness, she took a few moments to let her caged thoughts come to a standstill.