Wet Feet of Huascaran
A Tale of Giants and Men
Yetsu walks under the overgrown brush from the thin banks. Icy waters sit at the base of the ravine. Brown vertical walls cut steeply from the mountain tops above to meet the boy meandering with a fishing pole, a book, and a cold stare. As he touches his bare feet down on the rocks they reveal themselves as turtles and grow fins. He looks behind him and sees his stepping stones swimming away. Upriver he goes. There is but a sliver of light each day, and already it is fading. He has never ventured this far up the gorge. Few have.
Amidst the unruly vegetation reaching for the river in a show of favoritism, a small clearing shows a sandy beach. Inviting him to rest in waiting for the warmth of tomorrow. He dozes off reading to the sound of rushing water as the shadows climb the eastern walls of the canyon. Night falls quickly in the depths of the boy’s resting place. As he sleeps a new light forms with the hesitant rising of a full moon. It exposes the vines behind him and the black behind them, the cave that speaks. There is no wind, but the vines quiver rhythmically from the vibrations deep in the dark. “Yetsu,” the cave echoes blowing hot air on Yetsu’s cold body, “come.” And so he awakens.
Yetsu woke easily, calmly. He knew these mountains held spirits, and those spirits held voices. But he had not heard them himself. As a young boy his father told him the tales. The tales of the Giants who had once roamed the lands in harmony. The tales of these Giants who had to flee Men. How the Giants had left the coast seeking refuge in the mountains. Exhausted, they fell and landed into a deep sleep. They dreamt of peaceful times, times before they were ousted by the small, innumerable Men with their fire and hunger. Some Giants absconded to lands of ice or vast deserts where not even greed can reach; others stayed, accepting the fate as the reign of the Giants was dwindling to the violent, ant-like Men. Those that fled the avarice (which is to say civilization) were forgotten, at least in the legends of the mountains. Those that stayed disintegrated in body, but their spirits remained eternal in the mountains, slowly forgetting the peaceful times. And the spirits would whisper to those who would listen.
The mouth of the cave is dark. The moonlight seems to make it grin, centering on Yetsu. Breathing warmth, welcoming yet forbading. In these cold mountains carved by glacial streams, warmth is alien. Yetsu takes a step toward the darkness. He feels the cold melt from his toes. He crouches and squints, searching for anything in the darkness. “I hear you, do you hear me?” Silence rings in the vacuum. He continues closer, curiously, separating the vines and entering the mouth of darkness.
He knows that if he stays by the river he will freeze by morning. “Am I safe here?” The vines at his back answer with a hiss and slither together, barring the moonlight and guarding the portal from any passage. He turns to walk deeper, leaving the glissading snakes at their post. His warming feet are now treading through ankle high water. The water is warming as he walks deeper. The humidity is becoming insufferable and he is pushing through the melanoid void that this cave has quickly become. “Yetsu,” the whisper growls from within, “stay warm.” A fire is lit ahead on muddy grounds. And as if commanded, the water begins to boil beneath. He painfully slogs to the illuminated mire. He sees his toes turned to leeches, embedding themselves into his barren feet. “WHAT ARE YOU?” Yetsu yells past the torch and a different voice echoes back the same question but with a whisper.
Now crawling on hand and knees, he thinks back to the tales. He thinks back to the time when he lived in harmony. When he was a Giant. He tries to remember his life before the stones swam away. He remembers a family and a fire. There were Men. They wanted their land. They wanted what his father knew. They wanted him. His mother and sister hid. His father said “Run, don’t come back, the river won’t let you.” Yetsu grabbed what he could and fled. In the canyon he was safe from the fire. He had walked this canyon many times before. But never had he seen the beach with the cave.
Crawling in the thickening mud, he thinks where am I? Tears well in his eyes and as they drip from his cheeks they fly towards the light, moths incinerated by innate destiny. His gaze loses the cold inquisitive stare he had grown accustomed to wearing. He is suffocating now. He reaches for the stalactites above and as he grabs them to pull himself out of the sludge; his hands become spiders, biting his wrists and forearms before climbing up the cave ceiling. He is sinking now in excruciating pain. The cave floor becomes viscous and the growling whisper voices one last time, “I am you. This is harmony.” As his torso is engulfed, the pain disappears. He closes his eyes and thinks of the icy waters and thin banks covered in overgrown brush.
Yetsu opens his eyes to a hexagonal room, four walls adorned with bookshelves. These bookshelves are lined five high and are filled with the tales of the Giants. He’s in the library they call the universe, benignly looking at his hands and feet. In front of him sits an open book and a familiar voice echoes in a room nearby, “Welcome.”
There are Giants and there are Men.