Man on a Mountain

Photo by Konstantin Pudan on Unsplash

‘Gotta keep moving, gotta keep moving. One foot, then the next, there we go.’

Fonyas had recited that mantra in his head more times than he could remember, it was forging tracks into his brain, causing pain with each thought like the slow dripping on stone that erodes mountains.

How long had he been here?

Where even was here?

He looked up, the craggy grey peaks of the Dermplats cut through the purple aurora like the mangled teeth of an eldritch horror tearing through space.

Dermplats – that was the where, he remembered – a mountain range on the fringe wilderness of Colony-12 on Mov, the purple planet. The night sky beyond the haunting aurora twinkled playfully, uncaring of Fonyas’ plight.

The how long he had been here was a different story all together.

As he pulled himself up the last icy ridge onto a somewhat safe plateau he collapsed panting and took stock. His hands were blistered and healed and blistered over again, the gloves torn through to the point of uselessness and his finger tips were hardened black from frostbite. He could see the long whiskers of a mangy beard pushing out from his face. Weeks? He would be dead if he were out here for weeks… Whose blood was this?

It stained his beige parka, in a panic he gripped at his clothes, trying to scrape off the dried evidence. It had killed them, it had killed them all and he had run off into the night, their screams at his coward’s treachery spurning him on. His suit’s name tag had been ripped free… had he done that?

Then he remembered the terrible creature that had caught him in the dark, tearing at him. He slipped away somehow, it must have been torn off by its claws.

He heard the roar on the wind, the chilling beast that hunted him was near.

Fonyas gathered what resolve he could and scurried from the edge of the plateau. He headed into the nearest cave which shone with a foreboding crimson glow. He would be safe in there though, the beast was huge by all accounts; it had killed his team…

Had it?

Where was he?

He crawled – fearful of what he did not know – towards the source of the glow. Pulsating mushrooms throbbed with the sound of a dull throb.

“Mountain hearts.” Fonyas said, reaching for one, his stomach growling in hunger.

He recoiled, he had learned something terrible about this plant… or it had taken something terrible from him.

There was the crack of an enormous footstep outside, another mighty roar and the whole mountain side trembled as Fonyas recoiled into a huddled corner of the tiny cave.

“It can’t get me in here.” He said as he rocked back and forth.

He reached into his pack and pulled out a crushed mountain heart – ‘When did I gather these?’ – He munched into it, the glow fading with each bite until the cave was dark and he drifted into comatose sleep.

                                                                                  #

The next morning Fonyas crawled out into the almost light that passed for day here on… where was he?

He shook off the confusion as he noticed a fresh rock slide near the cave he had sheltered in. The wind howled through the dim purple lit peaks like the roar of a mighty beast. He chuckled to himself as he pulled his hood down further over his face. That sound would send a superstitious man into a fearful frenzy.

He did not know exactly what was going on. His companions had played a nasty trick on him, forced him to eat some alien plant that caused disorientation. It angered him, they were out here to rescue a group of climbers from some catastrophe… Where were they?

All he knew was that he was heading up; the campsite would be around somewhere. Then he could organise his team. It would be good to refill his water bottle, his mouth was dry and the snow was too painful on his bleeding gums.

He began his ascent up the steep ridge, a gentle but foreboding crimson glow emanated from the next platform… He remembered his camp being near somewhere like that. His blackening fingers blistered even more as he pulled himself up with his pick axes and his lungs burned with the effort, his legs screamed for relief.

The dim daylight set and the almost eternal night set in over the Dermplats, the purple aurora blending with the crimson glow of the mountain hearts. The wind began to howl and roar and the mountain shuddered with rock slides and avalanches. He could have sworn that some of the rock fall was the stomping of some terrible beast, that he could hear it roaring after him on the winds. He finally pulled himself up over the ledge and collapsed onto the ground, panting.

He looked across to see a ruined campsite, strewn tents, over turned crates and several bodies scattered throughout the place.

Then he remembered what had pursued him into the wilderness, the terrible beast.

His breath caught, seeing the unfamiliar ground, there were fresh tracks in the new snow and several of the bodies had been moved.

He glanced around the ridge – no creature in sight. He quickly shuffled on all fours, keeping low, conscious to conceal his quadrupedal tracks by mimicking the strange path that the beast had left and investigated the closest body.

Their face was frozen in a petrified scream, their body punctured and torn by terrible tooth and claw.

Fonyas held his pick axe at the ready, his breathing quickened – ready to fight, to kill. He went to the nearest tent, ransacked and blown over and he searched for any viable supplies. Found a water refill station, it should last a group this large a week but it was half empty. No matter, he filled his water and shuffled out to leave, he wouldn’t linger for food and he could eat the mountain hearts if it came to starvation.

He scurried out of the dead camp site and tripped over a body hidden in the snow. He scrambled  to de-tangle his ice boot from her frozen flesh and he froze himself once he saw her face. He knew her… was it… was this his campsite?

Her hand clutched to something in her mountain assisted rigor mortis, something that he had a horrible gut feeling about.

He pried her fingers open and examined the evidence, a name tag…

“Fonyas.”

It stared accusingly up at him, as did she.

“No, no, no, no.” He clutched his head, “There was a monster…” He had flashes of conflict play through his mind, he ate something bad… it disoriented him, he was so angry, so scared, so confused. “NO!” He shouted and sprinted from the darkening campsite and towards the crimson glow.

Something had killed them, something was after him. He grabbed some of the mountain heart, shoved a handful into his mouth to stop the dread from setting in and stumbled into the wilderness – reciting the same mantra to get him from the horror and to safety.

‘Gotta keep moving, gotta keep moving. One foot, then the next, there we go.’

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