As she stared down the mountain, she knew.
Her feet were in front of her, moving faster than her eyes or mind could, but she knew deep down what she was truly running from wasn’t her pursuer. Twigs and leaves breaking and crunching underneath the shoes pounding down the hard earth didn’t muffle the sounds of her ragged breath, not at all; if anything they amplified it, provided a sharp background against which her panic and adrenaline created the soundtrack of the cool evening. The bare canopies of the trees above let in most of the moonlight, and her eyes were well adjusted, except for the creepy shadows looming around and atop her.
She didn’t have time to pause and consider where she was going, grasping onto the hope that some subconscious and primitive part of her brain wired to survival remembered the general direction of the parking lot. There, someone might be waiting – she wasn’t sure. She didn’t even know if the lights would still be on, or if there would still be a car. In the moment, all that mattered was to keep going downhill as far away from the top as she could manage.
The mountaintop had been barren, as if someone had dropped a bomb onto the very dome of it to clear it of all wildlife and greenery and life, the air so crisp and clean it didn’t seem to match the winds that rattled the fruity bushes further down the way. The summit wasn’t all that she had been expected. Matter of fact, it had been rather anticlimactic, the water below all but dried out by the relentless weather and the view hidden beneath thick, ghostly fog and clouds.
That’s what her focus chose to remember, in that moment, when the steps were getting closer, when the branches in her way seemed to finally have turned the battle and started to demand her blood in tiny pricks and scratches from her face to her ankles. All that climbing, all that work, and what for? A disappointing view and now having to run for her life? She sighed, ever the stubborn kid, refusing to listen to anyone but herself. But some pursuits were necessary, she thought, if only because one had to see it with one’s own eyes otherwise the truth wasn’t a beacon but a mirage, wispy as the clouds that had made room for the moon in the sky. That’s just it: sometimes one needs to grab onto the truth and feel that it’s real, even if it’s a stem full of thorns.
She saw light, in front of her – a flickering light post, the same one from earlier. Her eyes darted to her sides, then she turned around, if only to make sure she was still being followed, all the noise she was making in her frantic march back down the mountain enough for more than one person, or thing. Her legs froze in place; her breath stalled. Though every rapid heartbeat sounded like they were touching her eardrums, everything else was actually silent.
Eerily so, the kind of quiet that is more like a river than thin air, wrapping itself around you so tightly it required effort to move. The tall branches suspended in the air against the night sky, climbing up the length of the sloped earth as testimonies of her escape, were still. Unmoving. Not a brown, dried leaf made a sound, and nowhere in the dark did she again see the pair of eyes that locked onto hers. She turned her head from maple to bush, from twig to the insect sounds in the distance, but nothing was there.
She had thought it – that it was a trick of her mind. Adrenaline ran through her veins nonetheless, but prompted by her fear, not the threat. Did it matter?, she thought, as she finished her trek much more slowly. If you believed something was real, and your whole body and brain reacted to it as if it was, did that mean it didn’t happen?
Did it matter?