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The ridge

Dear reader, this short story is a work of fiction, and not a very realistic one at that. Any resemblance between this story and real events, in your life or that of other people is coincidental. Of course it mentions real places... but that's just because I did not have the time to invent a completely new world to set that story. Maybe another time.


Sensation of bitterness, something sticky. In a fitful half-sleep, his disarticulated silhouette, incongruous in the surrounding chaos of cables, of threaded material, of yellow plastic and blue straps. Uncontrollable shaking and pulsating headache, and then, slowly, like the reptation of a larva, reluctant, half-conscious resurgence, the excruciating awakening, and the sideration. Why the smell of smoke, why silence where whirring should have happened, and why this different noise lanscape? The wind whips him, and with a painful start, he wakes up.

Unspeakable desolation in the cabin, as if a demon of hell has been let loose here, unrestrained, to unleash on this sanitized microcosm its malfeasant violence. The demon has gone, leaving in its wake row after rows of corpses, aligned in disarray. Seats and bodies are no longer accorded, the icy breeze whistles through the torn fuselage, and the half conscious man wonders why so many passengers have their arms in the air... and why him too? He wants to lower his arms, but it requires the effort of raising them. He is head down. The world has no sense. He should be in Hong-Kong, but the idea of Hong-Kong, the very idea of this voyage, what he knows of the world, everything is erased. Through the aeroplane crashing, through the confusion and screaming, through his pill-induced slumber, he has seen nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing.

A dry click, and here he is, tumbling down on the ceiling, like a bag... Beware of falling objects he remembers mechanically. For a minute, he experiences utter disorientation. As his body is screaming with pain, his shoulder does not seem to be willing to move, he desperately hangs onto the idea that there was an important meeting, results to present, a client to convince, restaurants to visit, and this intimate brothel where he liked to go from time to time. And then everything dissolves again, annihilated, by the show on display through the sheared cockpit. Ridges, edges, peaks, valleys, luminescent whiteness, wind carrying mineral notes and powdery rocks, mountains, eventually, gigantic mountains, titanic neves, the Himalayas like a serene giant cradling this demended chaos, and him, in the middle, floating, unreal, stumbling on snow that crunches like sahara sands... surviving, alone.

His aviator watch, gift of his latest partner, reminds him that it is eight p.m. London time... It must be close to one o'clock in the morning. The night is not dark, the snow reflects the stars, a nearly full moon underlines a mighty black sky that he imagines warm, so cold it all is, here, in the white. He gets suddenly busy. Boots, coat, gloves, scarf, goggles, water, food, he frantically scavenges around to get warm. Survival, the great adventure, the impossible challenge, and yet... he must. The pain in his shoulder quiets down, in the kit of another passenger, looking for eternity at nobody knows what through revulsed and glassy eyes, he has found strong painkillers and taken a triple dose. In his head a chorus, haunting echo of his childhood... "Protect, alert, rescue" the trifecta of first aids. Since he is alone, alerting really is the only question that makes sense. The time for protecting has already passed, the one of a hypothetical rescue remains way too distant.

A ridge on the horizon, upright, haughty, ambitious, daunting... Abandonning the idea of finding in the crushed cockpit any remaining communication equipment, the man decides to walk. The apparent illogicality of his decision quickly vanishes from his mind, unbound by the painkiller, fuelled by his voracious appetite for performance. No pain any more now, just the breaths of the wind and the man, the one blowing staves in the space on which the rythmic notes of the other, inscribe their monotonous cadence. A step, a breath, the wind, a step, a breath, a peek towards the ridge, already paling in a polar dawn. No more cold, no more fear, no more pain, just this tension towards the goal. He is expecting a treacherous ennemy, the crevice hiding at the foot of the rimaye. He knows he risks falling in it, but he plays the game. Under the faint light of a blemishing sky, he reads the snow, peering between the elongated and pointy shadows of the moonset, to see it coming. He trusts that he will know how to traverse it. In one step, in one bound, he will overcome its vertical void... after all, has he not just survived a far more dangerous and tragic fall? And just for a beat, he feels invincible.

Higher comes the rimaye. As the sky slowly fans blushing strands, he climbs a detached ice block like a bridge over the abyss, scaling it with small eating knifes planted in the snow like children ice axes. A step, a breath, the wind whipping his face, its bite sharpening as he nears the ridge, he slows down. And just like the inexorable progression of a function towards its limit, he feels the summit approaching. The ridge is several meters large, crowned by a dome of eternal snow packed by the wind of eons. He does not know much about high altitude, but distant memories of alpine vacations rush back to him like old landmarks, he estimates that he is beyond five thousand meters.

A step, a breath, a last step. The flask of lukewarm coffee, cookies from first class, the mini bottle of Gin. Dropping his haversack, the man sits to witness the birth of the world. In this glorious dawn, curtain after curtain of mountains reveal themselves in nascent daylight. Greyish shadows, leaving the the dark luminous blue behind him, the dismenbered plane receding in darkness, him sitting on the ridge already tinged with a fuschia dye, and before him, the fantastic opera of himalayan sunrise, silently unfolding its sublime majesty.

A breath, the wind, a warm then tepid sip, a breath, the edging sun, the wind... a last breath.

Between the man, now sitting still in his improvised orchestra seat, and the half-burried aircraft, a thin thread stretches out, of footprints, of blood drops, already dried and blackened, between death and night, between day and life.


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