“It's not essential that you are able to ride a horse but it would help a great deal, some skills with 4 x 4 vehicle driving and the ability to prepare meals for up to twenty people would also be useful.” James listened as the manager described a few more details of the job. “Ever done any survival training? Know a little about first-aid and can you use a high powered rifle?” James eyes glazed over as the words slapped against his ears like the back of his mother's hand. He cleared his throat and prepared his answer, he tried to summon up a confident voice and curb the almost uncontrollable desire to blink. “I can turn my hand to most things and yeah, I can survive up there, spent a few winters with my grandfather in Norway, he taught me a few things...” James let the sentence tail off and watched for a reaction from the manager. “Ok, maybe you are what we are looking for, you seem to have a handle on things, these mountains are tough, trouble's always just around the corner, let me take five on this.”
James took a few steps back, the light was poor and he was unsure about what was directly behind him, he wasn't thinking straight and he told himself so. The manger who was staring the other way turned around suddenly, just in time to see James fall backwards into the dark. “Whooo!” In a second he was gone, over the edge, two hundred maybe three hundred feet, the manager ran forwards as if to make some kind of a late grab for the boy, all too late.
When James woke up he remembered very little, he was warm but his arm felt sore and there was a dull pain at the back of his head, his tongue explored his mouth and he could taste blood, he coughed. Over in the corner a light came on, held in a long grey hand. James blinked and tried to focus. The light turned slowly but could see through to the source. He was inside a large, airy space, it felt warmer than it should have, there was no wind and there was the smell of fire and burnt timber. The light came closer and the long grey hand shrank back to a more normal size.
“Hello, I'm Grace, I found you near the foot of the gully, I brought you here, you're ok now.” James swallowed but couldn't find a voice to answer with. He saw that Grace was cloaked, whispering and now leaning over him. She seemed to be an old lady. He found some kind of voice, “who are you and how did I get here?” “Peace”, she said, she stood up and swayed a little, “I may just have saved your life.” James tried to answer but no words came, just a grey coating of sleep that overcame him and that pushed him back into the place he'd just stumbled from.
A bright hospital light was burning, burning up in a green sky, shining down like some foreign sun, warming and warning. This time James woke with a start and arched his back upwards, spitting like a drowning man hitting back through the surface. The room was empty and unfamiliar but was a hospital and he was alive. He sank back into the pillow and tried to put the pieces back together. The job opportunity, the manger talking to him on the hillside, the fall, the time and then Grace bringing him back to life in the cave or bunker or cabin, whatever it was. He drifted back into sleep.
“A lucky lad, out there, at the foot of the hillside, this time of year and with those injuries, no wonder he's been out of it for ten days.” James heard the words drifting by from the far end of the room, his eyes stayed glued shut. Sleep and some impersonal anonymity seemed a good place in which to remain.
“We were amazed that we found him, the fog came down and the weather turned, it was the dogs that found the body, we'd given up.” James felt like he was climbing stairs, step by step, up the inside of a skyscraper, ringing concrete steps ignored by everyone else, they were all in the elevator.
“Funny thing was that he was wrapped up, wrapped in a blanket, placed out there, like he'd had some care, the head wound had been cleaned, the arm was straightened, somebody had found him.” James' thoughts were as grey as the hillside, there were no colours, no shapes, just the voices floating by. Then a light came, a light wrapped in a memory, days old and indistinct but real. He remembered the light, the hand, the cloak, Grace.
In the spring when the weather had calmed James returned to the hill, alone, still puzzled, still none the wiser. In the clear air he walked the path and saw the spot where he had fallen, near to the manager's cabin. He stood in the clearing looking down, he studied the rocks, the edges, the boulders, the plants clinging onto life two hundred feet below. A silver stream threaded through, running north and out to the head of the valley. No caves or cabins, no landmarks, just the sharp V stretched and cut across the landscape. James walked back down the path, back towards the road turning for one last time to look. It was then that something caught his eye.
Over on the far side he saw a figure, moving away between the scrub, no bright colours, no hi-vis or backpack as you'd expect with a walker or climber. “Hi!” he called across, maybe three hundred yards between them. “Grace, Grace, is that you?” The figure turned, slowly, as if it took great effort a hand motioned a feeble wave. At that moment the sun emerged from the clouds and a light passed between them, instinctively he shielded his eyes. The moment passed and he looked across, the figure had gone, the landscape turned backwards, empty, unforgiving, hostile.