• All he wanted was a fish Sandwich.

What a sad epitaph! Sounds almost like a joke, but do we really have to kid ourselves? While we are getting accustomed to the adage that the last human being will pass away not with a bang but with a whimper, a Fucushima power plant keeps stuffing the ocean with curies. Soon our tuna will be glowing in the dark like Locusta St. Iohannis in flight. If that would be our only problem, it would be bad enough, but there are about a dozen more bigger woes at hand and only God knows how many more are creeping in the dark, yet unknown. Some of those demons are marching over us and don’t even care to hide their horns.
Once I took a four day walk in Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Northern New Mexico (I've relayed some of this experience to my novel, The Passenger, which I hope will come up in print one day). In the valley of Las Vegas was hot New Mexican May, but high in the mountains the elements were murderous: by late afternoon air was getting into low thirties, with snow flurries, frequent lightning and blueberry-size hail pelting our heads like a heaven's scourge. With every mile slogged up the icy rocks, the trip was turning more and more into a suicide mission. After spending a miserable freezing night on Elk Mountain we reached the eastern end of Skyline ridge. The ridge was covered with ten to twenty feet of soft, grainy snow. We tried to move over it and soon realized that it was impossible: it didn't hold us with our fifty pound backpacks. We needed Snowshoes, and it was my fault, because someone offered me to take them and I didn't believe that we would need them. Now we have to give up the idea of ascending Truchas peak - the aim of our trip, and to turn back. We were high in the mountains, and yet it was a low moment - we were shivering from cold, exhausted and defeated.

On our way back we took a different route, and I remember the creeping feeling of relief coming from walking down, toward the valley. Perhaps, we were defeated, but yet we were alive. It was, as if we had been frozen and now were thawing with a rush of blood slowly reclaiming our numbed hands and feet. However, our mood had changed when we took a dark forest road, or, actually remains of a road, just a trace of it. The place was palled under some inherent darkness as if it was haunted with almost tangible, preternatural gloom. And it felt kinda out of place. It was a gloom which one, perhaps, may find in the heart of Schwartz Wald with its millennia of bloody history, but we were not in Germany, we were in nearly pristine wilderness of the New World.

Since it was going along the mountain, the road was taking hairpin turns here and there. And at one of those turns we walked to a roadside grave. It appeared suddenly, at the turn: three steps back I was unaware of its existence and then three steps later I was standing in front of it, at the foot of a huge wooden cross, blackened from time and rough weather.

It was one of those old time makeshift graves. You can tell that the body was not buried in the ground, as it was impossible to dig in the rock. Instead it was just laid by the shoulder of the road and covered with six feet of rocks. There was something scribbled on the cross, but was it a name or a date, I couldn't tell - the time and weather made the inscription illegible. What happened? Who was buried there? A raider, or his victim? A homeless tramp'? A bewitched maiden lost in the mountains? An abandoned child? Who knows?

This image of a forlorn grave on the side of the mountain road where barely anybody ever walks, its black cross, its moss-covered rocks had etched under the skin of my memory like a spiritual tattoo. I can't tell for sure why: after all it was just a grave, not a Southwest Bell phone booth, it fit perfectly into the mountain gloom, and yet I remember it as a subtle sign, and more than just a sign, an omen. I can see it in my mind as if I’ve seen it just yesterday and not twenty years ago.

Perhaps this could be a good metaphor for an end. Life has hairpin turns too, one, another sharp turn and you will be standing at the foot of a cross. But this this time it will be your cross. And what will come then? A bang? A whimper? The answer is not given to us by design: We ought not to know before we take a turn. In the meantime, well, enjoy the walk.

Bela Abel.

End of Time: Death



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