On the ridge, a shrewdness of apes. Against a red sky. Still black silhouettes, palings, menhirs.
You watch them. Were they moving before? Have they stopped, is it you they are watching now? They seem to have paused there, on the ridge, that stony moraine calved by ice and gnawed by lichen. High in these mountains, where no trees grow, why are they passing here? The sun has fallen below the horizon, the air is precipitant with dying light.
You watch them. They do not move, but this is deceptive. What do they carry? A long blade of grass? A shaft of bamboo, a spear? A basket heavy with desiccated fruit, a recalcitrant stone, a curled child?
You watch them; it grows darker. The wind shifts. The cold seeps from the granite, falls around your head. Your cheeks are burnt with darkness. The scent of minerals in cold water, algae, salt-carved wood. Then something else: warm hair, dry skin, sour milk. Sweat. Preserved flowers. Motor oil. Baking bread. Coffee grounds. Your tongue when you wake from a night of painful dreams.
They have not moved. They are waiting for something. They do not move, but almost beneath hearing, there is a sound. A paper cup on a glass table top. A piano string plucked by the curious hand of a child. A shoe falling from a shelf. The flap and decay of your tent fly. The huff of a steam engine. A distant rock slide. Gunfire. The bite of an axe blade. A glass cracking with heat.
The light is gone. You stand watching in the chill night. Shadows, ice in the wind.
In the morning you will climb the ridge. The new sun will paint the stones with heatless pastels. You will be alone with the boulders, the lichen. You will cross over into another valley, brimming with mist.
Neale Jones is a Californian. He has studied writing at San Francisco State University and wilderness skills in the Cascade Range. Some of his writing and sounds can be found at nealejones.blogspot.com, and in various journals. He is at work on a novel, set in a future San Francisco.