It’s Dark in the Mountains

Art — Staring into the abyss

The night seems icy in more ways than one. The cobbled road along the river is empty and dark, the tall pine trees stand motionless and silent, observing as I make my way past them.

I can see the silhouette of the mountains towering over me, and if not for the company of a man walking several paces behind me, I would’ve been a little disconcerted.

The path is desolate, and the houses down the winding path seem deserted at this late hour. The only sounds I hear are of the river, my laboured breathing, and the gravel crunching beneath my feet. I glance back to see if the stranger’s still behind me, and yes, he certainly is, albeit a bit closer now. I’m fine by it, because if a car full of drunken men passes by, they’ll assume the stranger is with me and leave me alone.

It’s late, and the empty mountain roads aren’t exactly a safe place, for both predator and prey. It’s a treacherous place; lose your footing and you might disappear into the gushing river forever. My breath’s foggy due to the cold, the fresh chill in the air making me feel calm and fresh, my senses on alert for potential danger.

We’ve all heard the stories, our small town buzzed with it, the foreigners who disappear up in the villages, never to be heard from again, the gypsy-children who are kidnapped by shady men, who wander with young boys as their companions to lure the children in, the girls who are trapped in an abusive relationship of convenience with local men, and many more.

I am quite aware of the darkness that lurks within the majestic deodars and behind the genteel smiles, and superficial innocence here. A few of the villagers here are helpful and protective, so that does work to my advantage. One scream and someone will come to my rescue, unless there’s only the sombre forest to listen to my screams, like the boy who cried wolf until he met his grisly end.

I glance back again to make sure I haven’t lost my distant companion, who is a lot closer than I anticipated. I can hear his laboured breathing in sync with my own. I feel a prickle of unease, but nothing that’ll terrify me yet.

Women are paranoid in the dark and empty corridors of the world. But now, we have to watch our backs even in broad daylight, after all, the perpetrators aren’t always strangers.

The man is now walking beside me, and he’s isn’t a stranger, but a familiar face. It isn’t surprising in a small town like this. But beware, because when it’s dark, you do not know who will emerge out of the woods.

He nods at me, trudging silently, wobbling a little due to the copious amounts of alcohol consumed here on the daily. Low inhibitions are sometimes taken for granted, and you could always blame the alcohol. Me? I blame the person, you can’t just become what you’re not, all alcohol does is help you embrace the “you” that lurks beneath.

I refrain from alcohol, it’s a disease that plagues the locals here, bringing out their inner need to embrace capitalism all the while advocating superficial centuries-old traditions that are meant to control the women here. It’s a sad state, don’t get me wrong, I’m no “man-hating-feminist” giving you my opinion, I’m just telling you the reality of the situation.

The men here lust after foreigner girls, while hypocritically marrying local girls so they can exert their hidden narrow-minded control, who will serve them while they go on their weekly rampages.

While they lust and list the benefits of being with foreigners, they also do not like the fact that they’re free to make their choices, money and love, so in the end, they marry girls who will be compliant to their wishes and lifestyle. These wives toil in the fields, work hard, bear children, and suffer through traditions that make no sense in this age anymore, while their husbands have “intellectual” debates on the value of “progressive women”.

Of course, these “progressive men” marry foreigner girls too, and then leave them behind in remote villages to help the family, while the men stay in towns to earn a living, with a new woman in tow.

These are the men that disgust me. They act benevolent by spending money on the girl, and tell her so, expecting something in return. They also act indignant if she accepts this transactional relationship, all the while feeling entitled over her body and choices.

This thought is so deeply-entrenched in the most well-meaning of men and women. We are pitted against each other from the very beginning, and aren’t taught to value each other. It’s too late to do anything about it now, it’s survival of the fittest, isn’t it?

The familiar face is one of these men, and he’s known to lust after many. His eye is constantly wandering, lingering on your chest and violating you with his eyes. There were rumours about alcohol lowering his inhibitions around women, which have led to a few encounters that, let’s just say, weren’t pretty.

My heart is pounding in my chest. Cold sweat lines my forehead, my breathing slows. What if he tries something? Will I be able to defend myself? What if he’s stronger? I clutch at my shirt, the leather of my gloves scrunching in protest. He wobbles and pauses, and looks back at me, as if suddenly struck with the realization of my presence.

I attempt to smile, but my face forms what can only be a combination of a sneer and grimace. He stops and so do I, he’s close enough for me to smell the alcohol on him, cheap alcohol that will surely lead to your demise by the time you reach your fifties.

What an utter waste of space.

He peers at me in the darkness as if he recognizes me, but his vision is clouded. I remain silent, and try to move past him. He grabs my hand and smiles with his nicotine-stained teeth. I wrench my arm free and begin walking fast, you can’t run in the dark in these mountains; like I said, one misstep and you’re done. At least his drunkenness will be an advantage for me.

As these pine trees loom over us, and the crunching of gravel begins to sound menacing and urgent, I feel like my heart is in my throat, is this how it ends?

I walk a few steps further and hide in the bushes near the path beyond which the cliff falls into the river below me. The man is agile given his stupor, squinting and blinking as he tries to look for me.

I shift, and a loud crack makes him swivel towards me. He knows where I am, and stumbles over to me quick. I’m ready and as soon as he’s close, I grab at him. The moon is bright now, glowing and lighting up the surroundings. It illuminates my face, and he widens his eyes as we grapple, “It’s you!” he gasps, surely realising his mistake, shocked that I survived the river that runs beneath full-force.

He among many others presumed I was dead. After all, he was the one who pushed me in. The deep scar that runs down my face the only clue of my past. I’m now an urban legend, only discussed in hushed whispers. Some call me mad, others call me insane, not quite there. It works to my advantage.

I smile wide, and it frightens him.

He struggles against me, to no avail. I pull him to the edge, laughing. He begs and prays, spittle dribbling down his chin. One push, and the only sound I hear is a crack and the roaring river against the rocks, silence reigning once again.

I trudge down the path, suddenly exhausted. An unfortunate accident, people will call it. The sound of wind through the pines comforting, as I frame a letter in my head to his wife, informing her of the task she requested that’s now complete.

A job well and truly done.

I take her letter out of my pocket, scrunching it, before I toss it into the river below. My reputation precedes me, and I know tomorrow there’ll be another letter waiting, another job at hand, and I’ll wander down these shadowy paths again.

Which is why I urge you to watch your step.

After all, it’s dark out here in the mountains.

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