For years and years I climbed the mountain: up and up, on and on. Never once had I seen its peak. Even on the clearest of days looking up was no different from looking down. My starting place was as lost in the distance as my destination. If I looked out over the plain I’d left to begin my climb, I thought I could see the ground. It was a dark shadow under the sky, but the horizon was indistinct. A bland blurriness where land and sky met. I could not even recall exactly how long I’d been climbing.
I had tried to keep track of course, to estimate how far I’d come along the slope and upwards. But what was the point? At the end, if I ever got there, I would have a few numbers in my head that, while surely impressive, were merely trivia.
I think the air thinned as I’d climbed, but I could have been fooling myself. I was older, more tired. If it was thinning with elevation the rate was miniscule. I was just as unsure about the plant life. It seemed more scraggly, more weathered, less dense, but maybe that was just the monotony. I still found enough berries to eat, wood to make an occasional fire to roast an occasional animal I’d managed to snare. My diet was as dull as the horizon, but I never starved.
While I could not say how far I’d come, or even how long I’d been climbing, my more recent memories were fine. I could give a reasonable, if dull, account of the last couple decades. It had been a few years since anything interesting had occurred – that being my last encounter with a living person. A woman who’d claimed she was coming down. Not for having given up, but from the top. From having reached her goal. (Or maybe not, who was I to say her aim had been so low.) She was mad and I, so unused even to sane conversation, had struggled simply to understand her.
Mad or not, the encounter with her had buoyed me. For several months before that I’d been morose over the last person I’d seen. A dead man, who had killed himself with a sharp rock his temple. One could hardly blame him.
Madness was not ideal, but it was better than braining myself.