By: Tessa Rose
Her uneven breath puffed out, illuminated only by distant clouded light in the chill mountain air. The forest was thin on this side of the valley, where tall wooden frames curved towards the gray skies above, capturing her in a comforting cage of trees. Cold nipped at her nose, intensifying the fresh pine scent that hung itself between branches. The first snow of winter had fallen just a day ago, leaving a frosted layer of cold on the small path that crunched under her boot. She would have put on a heavier jacket if she hadn’t wanted to get out of the house in such a hurry. Leftover bits of snow fell from the sky, clumsily swirling down in their late arrival, adding slowly to the layer of white that already crowned the forest floor. It would have been a peaceful scene, but the highway was still nearby, the humming engines echoing audibly. Construction workers hammered on a house down the street as well, eager to finish the foundations before the neighborhood was hit with true winter. It was all too much noise, the clash of metal on wood and the constant zoom of cars passing, which crowded her ears, clogging her brain, making true escape from civilization quite impossible.
Releasing a mental sigh, the girl to unfurled her earbuds and shoved them into her ears. She scrolled through her music library, but nothing seemed to fit the moment, and eventually tapped the shuffle button allowing fate to decide. After a moment of muffled footsteps and static, artwork of a phoenix erupting in fire displayed brightly on her screen. The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky was playing—a symphony she hadn’t heard in years, not since she quit piano lessons.
Soft strings ominously started, too quiet to make out the melody or block out any manmade noise. The girl tucked her chilly hands into her pockets, and aggressively pushed up the volume button, needing to be elsewhere. She turned onto the Upper Flume trail, knowing eventually it would lead her away from the houses and cars, and even farther from home. And her ascent began.
The girl, tense and unfocused, stomped and trudged her way through the snow mostly in spite of her critical mother.. Her angered lungs heaved from her rigid movements and inability to breathe correctly. Out and in. She told herself. But her breaths were mostly puff out, in, in, in, stop. Why am I not breathing? Out again, quick and short. She chortled. If her mother were here, she’d probably tell her she was depressed, that she wasn’t breathing right, like a normal human being, you should go see a therapist, I think you need it. Except Mother had already said that.
Horns introduced themselves amidst the strings, easing into the music, looping between octaves. Breathing was suddenly was easier. Chords began swirling around one another, not quite settling on the main theme. There was no lyric or poetic chorus that came with the piece, but it described something much deeper and simpler without words. The girl could feel her heart swell and fall with every inflection, and although the trail began to climb, she could have sworn her heartbeat slowed. She felt herself navigating the trail, turning around switchbacks and hopping over roots, as she had many times before, but paid no attention to the landscape before her. She was lost in her head; the music had conjured up something inside herself, forming something new and raw inside her head. She had forgotten the world, her life, even who she was amongst draping chords and swaying strings.
She had forgotten her mother, who was currently at home pacing around the kitchen wondering where her pest of a daughter had disappeared to. She forgot her father, who had already seemed to have forgotten her among piles of work to feed the family. She forgot all her schoolwork and her toxic friends and the world that laid waste to her youth. She forgot that she was just another teenage girl. She forgot the desires she had to be someone different. She forgot her older brother whom she hated, who in her mother’s eyes was perfect and never needed a therapist. And she forgot that she loved him.
Most importantly, the song made her forget that it was snowing. In her head, a weedy meadow sprouted up around her, with thick tall trees that had forests of their own growing on them, coated with verdant mosses and vines, speckled with golden light from a promising sun, surrounded by oceans of blossoming lupin. The image filled her with needed warmth and pushed her forward, prolonging the daydream with every step. She wondered what else could take her to where she could feel the golden light, beginning to panic as the melody of the song began to transform into something much more sinister. She spotted the sloping side of the boulder that cut across to a higher trail and has the strings swelled forebodingly, she clutched the rock determinedly, eager to get higher up the mountainside.
The wind surged with the altitude, pushed and searched to find the girl, who had scaled far up the rocky slope, shying from the harsh cutting wind, forcing her fumbling feet to cling to cold stone, and starting to move her limbs to the rhythm unconsciously. The drums slowed, the flutes and horns were muted, only the soft warning hum of the strings remained, allowing room in her head to listen to her heart throb and lungs wheeze as she pulled her body over the top of the boulder.
A sudden drop; a sharp dark chord sounded, and her heart threatened to climb out her throat. As the rolling sound filled her head, it pierced her eardrums like a strong gust of wind. The horns shouted at her as if some wolf was in close pursuit, threatening to shallow her whole if she didn’t bolt through the woods like a frightened deer. And despite her human condition, she obeyed their blaring cries, and her legs picked themselves up, scampering to the upper trail. The music chased the girl through the woods and out onto a snowy ridge where the trail was just packed down enough to walk across carefully, but she came to it practically running. Her foot plunged through the delicate snow bank, which held tightly onto her limb until her body followed it to the ground with a single hard thump, extinguishing the warmth she had built in her core.
The world turned cold, and the light in the world grew dreary, and the girl knew she wasn’t going to find her golden light, not here. The trumpets finished their malevolent verse as hot tears fell on frosted cheeks. The girl remembered.
The music seemed to have collapsed as well; the piano softly conjured minor chords as the bass clarinet and a lonely violin sung a somber tune as if they were the final trees standing after a wildfire, coated in ash and death. The girl wondered what her mother might be thinking, or if she was worried that the sun was setting and her daughter hadn’t returned home yet. But the girl wouldn’t go home: she was too angry for the words they had spewed at her and too afraid for what she might encounter if she did go back. A part of her knew she was being irrational and sensitive, but another, stronger part of her wanted to feel without guilt. She loved her mother. And her brother. But her heart was so full of shame for the words she had said, she didn’t know if she could face them. But here, on this mountain ridge with the sky slowly catching fire, she was completely alone.
The trumpets returned, reviving a new benign theme that awoke something inside the girl’s stomach. A fervor of some distant hope stirred deep within her belly; climbing into her heart, it wound its way into her legs, surging them to stand. The symphony played its way into her blood, flooding her body with fire. She treaded lightly and deliberately at first, afraid the snow might grab at her again, but the strings urged her onward, and as she came closer to the edge of the trail, her legs strengthened, backed by the harmonious chords of a new song of a glorious resurrection.
Reaching the lookout over the valley, the girl saw that the sun had settled in the west, gleaming against white-capped mountains. The dying sun had ignited the valley before her, licking the mountaintops with the glow of an unseen fire. Everything around her was blazing with a quiet stillness; a haze of glorious golden light blanketed the sky. The trumpets chanted out their final theme, the drums plunged into their last resounding verse, and the piano worked its last sparkling chords. Her earbuds went silent, and she pulled them from her ears, submitting to the sounds of the world.
Melodies of evening songbirds surrounded the girl, howling wind above, and the crisp scent of pine swelled in her nostrils, filling her head with complete clarity. Her breath billowed around her like dragon fire, commemorating that she was alive, perhaps more so now than she ever had been.
The golden light of sunset was slipping away. The girl stood, her feet bringing her to the edge of the lookout, desperate to hold on to the last bits of dimming holy light. Perhaps it was the purging cold or the utter exhaustion in her body that drew her closer to the edge. But when the girl stepped off the ragged viewpoint to fly, her only thought was of home. And as her body plummeted towards the darkened Earth, she had convinced herself she would be reborn in fire.
Her body lay frozen that night, cold and dead as her mother paced across the kitchen distraught, worrying where her beloved daughter had disappeared to.