The Girl on the Mountain.The Girl on the Mountain.Alex was lost. It was not the place or the time to be lost as he knew all too well. Being lost might, in other circumstances, be merely an annoyance; a frustrating delay perhaps but essentially trivial. There were other circumstances however when being lost was a much graver condition; a circumstance in which it was a serious danger and one that placed you in mortal danger of your life. This was one such an occasion.Alex bit his lip in anxiety and glanced around; the seeds of panic beginning to gnaw at the back of his mind. It was his own fault he reflected. He had set off on his long hike over the mountain early enough to be sure and had climbed easily enough to the summit before lunch time. It had been a glorious day and the peaks of the mountains had shimmered in the heat of the summer’s day looking almost gentle and benign against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. He had stopped for lunch at the little Berghaus on the summit and dined heartily on big grilled sausages in onion gravy with a mound of rosti; Swiss style fried hash brown potatoes, that was a standard fare in these alpine guesthouses, and washed the whole down with a bottle of Feldschlossen beer, out on the sunny terrace in front of the Berghaus, drinking in the panorama of the great mountains all around. Perhaps he had dined too well for a strange lethargy had overtaken him after he had finished his repast. The sun had been just that little too welcoming as he had leaned back on his bench against the stone wall of the guesthouse and stretched his legs. The Alpine Choughs, the little black crows of the high mountains, had been wheeling around the Berghaus in small flocks lulling him with their odd chirruping calls. He had watched their aerobatics in amusement and rested, replete and content, at peace with the world. He had ordered another bottle of beer in satisfaction, careless of the knowledge that he had another three hours hike ahead of him to his overnight stay in the mountain hostel in the little green alp of Roggenwis beyond the high ridge in the distance. It had been nearly half past two in the afternoon before he had stirred himself once more, shouldered his rucksack and set out for the rugged terrain of the ridge.He was paying for that tardy departure now. It was an axiom of hiking in the high mountains that you started early and finished early. The weather was capricious at these high altitudes and the summer storms nearly always closed in during the late afternoon. Even the clearest of summer days could turn within minutes into thick clouds and threatening thunder heads, boiling up and engulfing the peaks in obscuring menace. It goes without saying that the very last place in the world you would wish to be abroad in during a thunder storm was an exposed mountain ridge. You could end up being not so much as under a thundercloud but actually within it. It was terrifyingly dangerous. People were killed every year in the mountains from lightning through ignoring the perils of changing weather conditions. Alex knew all this and yet he had still neglected such simple precautions. He had only himself to blame.The lethargy that had set in over lunch had even persisted into the afternoon for he had set out to conquer the ridge with no great sense of urgency. He’d ambled along almost in a daze pausing often to admire the alpine flowers along the trail; the entrancing little tufts of moss campion, the louseworts, the arnica, the exquisite little gentians, auricula primroses and compact clumps of rock jasmine; beguiled as always by the beauty of life clinging to these high rocky peaks. There’d been butterflies on the wing too; drab ringlets and gaudy fritillaries, jewel like blues and dashing clouded yellows, small tortoiseshells and a big flamboyant Apollo. There’d been the gruff calls of ravens around the cliff faces and the croaking calls of ptarmigan from the scree slopes and boulder fields below the track. He’d watched in bewitchment a solitary, buck Ibex grazing quietly on a rocky patch of alpine grasses; its great long curved horns looking oddly ungainly on the shaggy a****l. The alpine marmots, the large fat ground squirrels of these high climes, were waddling about between their burrows on the edge of the scree slopes and issuing loud piercing whistles of warning at his approach. He was alone on the trail and, as the afternoon air grew ominously still, he’d wandered along almost entranced by the glory of the world about him.The folly of that leisurely pace and the procrastinations of lunch did not become apparent until he was already high up along the craggy ridge that ran like a barrier of jagged teeth separating him from the sanctuary of the SAC hostel in the alp at Roggenwis. The ridge was a nightmare of tormented rock and terrifying sheer cliffs looming over the abyss to the west where they plunged down in horror onto the tortured cracked surface of the glacier hundreds of metres below. It was a place to keep your wits about you; perilous and hostile. It was bad enough in the best of conditions. By the time Alex reached this malevolent landscape the conditions were anything but the best.The clouds seemed to manifest themselves from nowhere as if somehow effusing themselves out of the very rock of the mountain; dark, damp and cold. Within minutes they had engulfed the entire ridge and blotted out visibility. At this inauspicious moment Alex lost track of the trail. It would have helped of course had Alex been more familiar with the route but he had only climbed over this ridge once before and that some years ago. There was no track as such. The way through the jagged landscape of the ridge was marked solely by daubs of red and white paint applied at intervals to the rocks by the Swiss Alpine Club. As the cloud obliterated visibility on the ridge it was all too easy to miss one of these markings. Alex undoubtedly did exactly that and before long he had no idea where the safe track lay.In rising panic Alex stumbled blindly about among the rocks trying to relocated the trail all too conscious güvenilir bahis of the cliff faces that lay on both sides of the ridge; cliff faces ending in certain death far below. Desperately he tried to retrace his steps back to some place of the trail he might recognise but it all looked the same now under the grey oppression of the thick clouded fog. Disoriented and increasingly frightened, his efforts became more frantic. His tardy pace up the ridge was now a matter of deep regret; urgency at last asserted itself. Feeding this urgency was a growing sense of the static build up in the cloud about him; an almost palpable sensation of electricity in the air. There was thunder in the atmosphere about him.Alex had no idea how many precious minutes he squandered in scrabbling around in the rocks seeking egress off the ridge. The world about him had turned to a monochrome of gloom and ominous peril. His fear was betrayed by the rapid pulsations of his heart in his chest and there was a sour sick taste in the back of his mouth. He found himself almost whimpering aloud as dread threatened to overwhelm him. In this crisis he would have snatched ay any straw of hope and, as even hope appeared to vanish into the gloom, he found it. It was a track. It wasn’t much of a track to be sure; just a hint of a trodden path among the crushed debris between the rocks, winding between sharp clefts. In fact it would have been quite possible to regard the track as merely an illusion born of desperation; a treacherous will o’ the wisp to lure the lost even further astray. Under clearer circumstances you might have dismissed it as simple a gully of loose detritus finding a natural course down between the rock surfaces; an accident of nature and no artefact of man. But to Alex it seemed an alluring arrow of direction. It appeared to weave in the right direction as far as he could remember although the enveloping fog had obliterated any view around by which he could orientate himself. Most importantly the track was heading downwards and Alex was desperately aware of the urgency of losing altitude from that bare exposed ridge. Eagerly he began to explore the track.Within a few yards however the first gnawing doubts had insinuated themselves into Alex’s brain. The track seemed to lose cohesion and credibility with every yard; became less and less convincing with every step. It was getting steeper as well; so steep in fact that Alex found his boots sliding on the loose material underfoot and the necessity to steady himself against the slabs of rock at the side. Once he slipped and grasped at a rock to stop himself falling. Tentatively he worked his way downwards but the fog seemed thicker than ever and he could barely see a yard in front of him. He was descending by sense of touch alone, dabbling his feet ahead of him to feel the track in front. A mounting feeling of unease began to grip him; a sensation that something was terribly wrong. The track, such as it was, seemed to vanish ahead into a blank oblivious wall.“Don’t move! Stay where you are!”Alex jumped at the sudden sound of the voice behind him. It’s tone was instantly commanding and imperative. He froze on the spot and turned in bewilderment. “What? What?” he blustered.“I said don’t move. Stay just where you are. Wait!” Unbelievingly Alex looked back up the trail. It was a girl; a young woman perhaps in her late teens or very early twenties. She was stood on a flat rock above him looking down. Alex caught his breath for he had rarely seen such a heartbreakingly lovely girl. Her hair fell in a waved cascade of great golden locks over her shoulders, framing a face of ethereal loveliness into which were set eyes as grey as the fog about them. She seemed ill dressed for the prevailing conditions for she wore a red dress that seemed to glow like a flash of vibrant colour in the grey blankness of the world about her. She was but a few feet off the track Alex had been following. He must have passed her by only a couple of yards in the fog. Only a temporary break in the cloud allowed him to see her now. She was stood very still, looking down on him with a serious face, her brow furrowed in concern.“Wait?” asked Alex in confusion, “Why?”“Look ahead of you!”Slowly Alex turned his head and looked down the track he’d been following. The swirling cloud about the ridge had lifted momentarily, a gap in its cloying intensity had opened ahead of him. Less than a yard from the toes of his boots, the loose gravel dipped sharply and vanished over a ledge. Beyond was a yawning chasm. With a thrill of horror, Alex suddenly realised where he was. He was teetering on the very brink of the precipitous cliff face of the northern edge of the ridge. He was just a yard from the dizzying abyss, suspended five hundred vertical metres above the glacier far below. Another step, perhaps two, and he would have walked straight over the edge and into the void. “Oh my God!” Alex gasped and cringed against the rock beside him. For one awful moment his feet scrabbled at the steep loose scree. A piece of rubble dislodged itself from under his boot and rattled down the slope to disappear over the ledge; vanishing into the chasm below. No sound of it striking bottom would reach him. Alex felt the blood drain from his face and his mouth grow dry in fear. He stared, wild eyed, at that evil gaping gap below. “Just come back up.” The girl told him gently, “Come slowly and don’t dash.” Her voice was soothing and reassuringly calm. “You’ll be all right.” she told him. “Just come away from the edge slowly. It’s not your day to go over the edge.”Alex nodded numbly. With infinite caution he began to edge away upwards from the chasm. Easing his way upwards he was aware of just how steep and treacherous the loose debris really was. It would be so easy to lose his footing and slide down and over that horrible edge. The very thought of it unmanned him. He felt his knees shaking uncontrollably and his hands trembled as he clutched for holds on the rocks. The girl watched him and spoke to him calmly; directing his route in soft words, bahis firmaları her eyes never leaving him; grey pools of support and comfort.It took perhaps a few minutes but it felt like an eternity to Alex. But he did come back from the edge and at last he was safe among solid rock, blessing its security and firmness. He crouched on hands and knees his chest heaving, coming back from the edge in his mind and knowing just how close he had come to death. He looked up and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. The girl had sat down on her rock clutching her knees. She was smiling at him in almost c***dlike fashion; amusement dancing in her grey eyes. “You should be careful where you walk!” she told him quietly. “The glacier is hungry!”Alex stared at her, his spine tingling at her strange words. “I… I…” he began, finding trouble to articulate his words. “I… have you to thank.” he managed at last. “You… you saved my life! I… I’d have gone straight over that cliff! Thank you! Thank you very much!”The twinkle to the girl’s eyes seemed to increase. “What is your name?” she asked.Alex swallowed “Er it’s… Alex…. Alex Greschen. Er I’m…. I’m very pleased to meet you.”The girl’s smile was a shaft of sunlight in the foggy gloom. “Well Alex Greschen you must be more careful. The weather is closing in. This is no time to be caught up here on the ridge.”Alex nodded at the justice of her words. “I know, I know! I’m late and I got caught by the weather. I… I lost the trail.”“And where does your trail take you Alex Greschen?”“Well…I…. I was trying to get over to the SAC hostel in Roggenwis. They’re expecting me.”The girl laughed suddenly and sprang to her feet. “Well then I had better see you on your way! Come!” With that she skipped across the rocks. Alex watched her entranced. She seemed as light as a feather as she danced across the rocks as sure-footed as an Alpine Ibex; the wild mountain goats of the high alps. She paused and looked back over her shoulder, an eyebrow raised inquiringly. “Are you coming?”Alex shook his head. “Yes! Yes of course! Thank you.”The girl knew her way through the tortured landscape of the ridge it was plain for she picked out a path unhesitatingly between the rocks, skipping lightly along, the skirt of her red dress dancing around her shapely legs, as Alex laboured heavily in her wake, bewitched by her surety and charm. The feeling of ominous dread had left him now to be replaced by an inexpressible joy; a joy of the presence and delight of the beautiful girl who led him with such certainty through the tormented limestone slabs of the ridge. He had no doubt whatsoever in his mind that he followed her to safety and some joyous sanctuary.Alex realised that they must be close to the end of the ridge and the descent into the alp at Roggenswil but he lost her momentarily in the fog. Then her voice came merrily from ahead. “Over here Alex Greschen!” he followed her voice. She was sat on a large flat slab of rock, her legs dangling over the edge. She was looking back at him as came up to the rock, her eyes shining in amusement. She patted the rock beside her. “Sit for a moment.” she told him.Perplexedly Alex eased himself down onto the rock beside her. “Where do we go now?” he asked her.The girl looked up and around her as if seeking some clue. “One moment.” she said, “Just one moment and you’ll see the way.” She was right. It was almost as if she must have detected some change in the cloud about them for the fog opened out and revealed the land below them. A shaft of late afternoon sunshine found a gap in the cloud and shone in glory into the little green vale below. The track was plain to see weaving down off the ridge into the alp and there, in the distance, was the comforting solidity of the Swiss Alpine Club hostel, the sun glinting on its grey stone walls and the Swiss flag a dot of red and white on its flagpole. The view was beautiful.The girl’s mood seemed to change to a strange wistfulness. “Do you believe in heaven Alex Greschen?” she asked suddenly.Alex blinked, taken aback by her question. “I… I don’t know. I… I’m not very religious.”The girl looked thoughtful. “I didn’t ask you if you were religious. What’s heaven got to do with religion?”Alex looked at her in bemusement. For the first time he noticed the tiny flower that the girl carried in her hand. It was a little sprig of Edelweiss; the tiny elusive and strange flower that grew in these high places. She was turning it slowly in her fingers. He swallowed. “I… I suppose heaven is where you find it.” He ventured at last.She nodded carefully. “Yes. It’s the place we all look for. If we’re lucky, we find it.” She pointed at the trail falling away from them. “Well there is your path Alex Greschen. You can’t go wrong from here. Just follow it down into the alp.”Alex blinked in surprise. “But you’ll be coming too surely.” he said. The girl smiled sadly and shook her head. “No you must go ahead on your own. I don’t go down into the alp anymore.”“But… but it’s dangerous up here now. As you said, the weather is closing in. There could be a thunderstorm!”The girl laughed shortly. “I’m not frightened of the thunder Alex Greschen. No you must go down to the alp alone. That’s your path. I have my own path to follow.”“But where are you staying? Are you going to be alright?”“Oh yes Alex Greschen. I’ll be all right. These mountains are my home. I live here.” She glanced sharply about her and frowned. “There is a storm coming Alex Greschen. You must go quickly!”“Listen I…. I didn’t catch your name.”She looked at him, her grey eyes misty and her brow creased in thought. “Did you not?” she glanced down at the flower in her hand and paused in silence as if her thoughts were far away. “Carmen” she said carefully at last “My name is Carmen.”Alex felt an odd lump in his throat. “It… it’s a beautiful name.”She looked at him curiously, a strange melancholy in those beautiful grey eyes. “You must go.” She told him again. “You must go before the storm.” “I… I would love dearly to see you again.”She shook her head sadly. “I’m canlı bahis siteleri afraid you cannot.” She glanced once more at the flower she held and then, as if in sudden decision, she held it out to him. “Take this.” she said firmly. “Take this to remember me by.”His spine tingling, Alex took the flower from her hand. “I…. I will treasure it.”She lowered her head. Alex thought he saw a tear at the corner of her eye. “Now you really must go.” she repeated softly. “You must go down to the alp. I would see you safe. I will watch from here to see you safely on your way.”“Please come with me!”She shook her head firmly. “It is not possible. You must leave.”Faced with her adamant refusal Alex rose to his feet. “I owe you my life Carmen.” He told her. “One day I will find you again!”Her grey eyes were unfathomable as she gazed at him. “Perhaps …. perhaps if my heaven is the same as yours. Goodbye Alex Greschen. Remember me.”The cloud cover was kind as Alex picked his way down off the ridge for the path ahead lay clear even while darker clouds gathered behind. He paused often to look back. She was still there perched on her rock, the red dress almost luminous against the blackening cloud behind. He thought he could hear snatches of song as if she were singing softly to herself as she watched his progress down into the alp. Then the cloud closed in behind him and she was lost to sight. A rumble of thunder caught his attention and he hastened his steps. Even so he glanced occasionally behind him in the hope of a last view of her. But the clouds were boiling in dark anger over the ridge now and there was no sight of her. He felt a terrible sense of loss in the last melancholy dash across the alp.He reached the hostel with barely a minute to spare for, no sooner had he reached its haven, than the storm broke upon the alp with lashing rain, the flashes of lightning and deafening crashes of thunder. Alex staggered gratefully through the door and stood for a moment panting. He had run the last few hundred metres with the storm snapping at his heels. But he was safe and the common room of the hostel cosy and warm from the iron stove in the corner. An elderly man emerged from the kitchen upon his arrival and smiled at him. “Ah! Gruezi! You must be Herr Greschen! Willkommen! You’re late.”“Yes…. yes I’m sorry. I lost my way up on the ridge.”The old man shook his head and tutted. “Well I’m glad to see you safe. It’s no place to get lost in this weather!” A loud report of thunder rattled the window panes to underline his remark. Alex nodded grimly. “Yes it was a bit scary I’m afraid.”“It’ll clear up by morning. Breakfast is at seven o’clock. Are you dining this evening?”“Yes I thought so. What’s for dinner?”“Gerstensuppe.” The hostel proprietor told him. Alex’s stomach jumped at the thought of the thick barley soup with vegetables and pieces of mutton and good crusty brown bread. He was hungry. “Dinner will be in an hour.” the proprietor told him, “So you’ve plenty of time to freshen up beforehand. We don’t have many in tonight so you’ll have plenty of space in the dormitory. Can I get you anything to drink before dinner?”“I could kill a bottle of beer!”The old man grinned and turned back to the kitchen. “I’ll fetch you one straight away!”Alex eased his boots off gratefully; his feet aching after the long hike. It was then that he saw the photograph. It was a black and white enlarged photo in a frame amidst the pictures of alpine scenery and the Chamois horns hanging on the wooden walls of the hostel. He had left the girl staring out of the frame less than an hour before up on the ridge. In excitement he walked over to the picture. It was her! That lovely smile and those twinkling eyes were unmistakeable. She must live up here in the mountains at least in the summer and be well known to the people that ran the hostel. She probably worked in one of the mountain guest houses or hostels. Many of them were family owned. She might be the daughter of one of the owners! No wonder she was so sure on the mountain! She’d probably known these mountains since she was a little girl! The guest house where she lived must be on another route off the ridge. That’s why she’d not come with him to the hostel. Alex tried to remember the location of the other guest houses in the region. He’d have to look at the map. Surely there couldn’t be many. He could find her! The thought was enormously exciting.“Your beer Herr Greschen.”Alex spun around. The proprietor was laying out a bottle of beer and a glass on one of the rustic tables in the common dining room. Alex tapped the picture on the wall. “This girl… this girl here…. do you know her?”The elderly man nodded sadly. “Ah yes Carmen Maierhof. Such a lovely girl.”“Yes… yes she is! Where does she live then?”“Nowhere anymore Herr Greschen. She’s no longer with us.”Alex stared at him in bewilderment. “What do you mean?”“She vanished up on the ridge sir. Went missing on a black night. They think she must have fallen from the cliffs onto the glacier and been swallowed up in a crevice. Nobody knows. They never found her body.”“Nonsense! She’s still alive!”The old man shook his head again. “I’m afraid not sir. It broke everybody’s heart when she went missing. She spent all her life up here. She loved it among these mountains. Everybody knew her and loved her.”Alex clenched his fists. “But she’s not dead I’m telling you! I’ve seen her this very day. I’ve spoken to her! It was her that helped me find my way down off the ridge!”The old man looked at Alex gloomily. “God bless you sir! You must be mistaken. You must be mistaking her for some other girl you met.”“I’m not damn it! I swear it was the same girl! I’d know her anywhere.”“I’m sure you’re mistaken sir. Even if you’d seen Carmen she wouldn’t look like that in any case.”“Why? What do you mean?”“Why she’d be an old woman now Her Greschen. That photo was taken the year she went missing in 1962. It’s nearly fifty years to the day since she was lost on the mountain.” The old man turned away. “Such a lovely girl she was and how she loved these mountains. I’d best be seeing to your dinner sir.”Alex stared at the photograph and fingered the little sprig of Edelweiss she’d given him. He heard her voice echo in his mind. “Do you believe in heaven Alex Greschen?”************************Michaela