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Crane's Track

© 2017 Anna Lee Walters

This day was clear; air sweet, pure. This day, mountains were soft, very near. Spotty melting snow gleamed on the sky line. Tiny whirs arced in space.


    Outside an open window, chatter came and went in its daily routine. She ignored that, keeping to her quiet sanctuary.  Then came a buzz of excitement.

    Someone running to her door, panting, footsteps slapping ground.  A youthful voice on the other side urging, “Come lady! Three men have arrived. They are here, outside your door. You must greet them now.  To your place they have come.  Lady!   Such strange people, too!  Their friend, or brother, someone close, has expired.  On one of these peaks he expired.”


    She leaned her forehead against the door but curiosity soon pulled her outside to the road passing in front of that door.  Sniffing air, tasting its sweetness, she looked right and left at the pillow softness of the mountains surrounding her house, then made her way to strangers settled serenely on the ground.


    Truly, a strange trio they were, past middle age.  Earlier their hair had been black as coal.  Now that dark luster was almost gone and up there hung puffy little clouds.  Their faces creased into faint tracks of cranes and lightning streaks as their expressions flicked and changed, but they were silent men.  Their lips puckered, pursed, and zipped.  No sound. The one in the middle lay on his spine, cradling the back of his head in gnarled glistening hands, waiting.

 

   The other two sat on both sides of him, legs crossed. Bulky wraps covered their arms, legs, and feet.  Their rough disheveled appearance told her they had traveled long and not without sacrifice. 


    All three gazed intently at gleaming peaks, seeming to ignore her and others passing by.  They spoke not a word, appeared content to just sit and stare at certain far-away points this day. 
 

    She spoke up then in a presumptuous way, “Guess what, old men? There are people in this village who know the way to any peak around here.  If you want to go….  If you don’t know those people already….” When they didn’t respond, she added, “What is it you want anyway?” She laughed, but it felt wrong right then because the laughter came too fast, her words too impetuous.


    Their eyes turned to her, snapped in a unified grand sweep. Squinting.   She studied each set.  Very sober dark eyes they were.  Her gaze was met and returned, and in that exchange stretched an invisible fence between her and them.  In her mind, she gingerly touched the fence, exploring, and pulled back.

 

    Then their unified gaze calmly and thoroughly swept her face, penetrated skin down to curved bones, whisked over her body, and again filtered right through it before settling on the peaks again.


    She bit her lower lip and walked past them. Looking back over her shoulder, they hadn’t moved at all.  They were waiting.


    Her attention came back to this day.  Sweet, clear air to see very far away, or very minutely.  And she noticed a thing on the side of the road ahead.  At once she knew it belonged to them, the three sitting back there.  An earthen bowl or strange drum in which water swirled with something floating on it.  She peered down into it.  A deep throaty voice came out of the bowl, “Awk!’ it said over and over.  The voice was sharp, piercing, and went round and round in the bowl.  How startling! Her face scrunched up, between great fear and great wonder.  


    It stayed that way for a time.


    “What can this be?” she asked herself, recalling hasty words to them, recalling their gaze sifting through her bones to a point on the other side of her dense body.


    The little bowl quieted but its water continued to swirl and the object on it continued to swish round and round.  Her eyes looked back at the disheveled travelers who still seemed to take no notice of her but were quietly waiting. She thought and thought.


    “I see,” she finally sighed.

    “They don’t need to climb peaks at all.  Men such as these already know what occurs up there and how brothers expire.  It’s not the reason they came.”


    She sucked in her breath, sighed.  Rubbed her forehead.   “I’m foolish and arrogant indeed.  Such a blessing I missed this day after a lifetime of waiting!”


    She quickly looked over her shoulder but this time the trio were gone, vanished!  Bare ground.  The bowl at her feet was no longer there, either.


    But the day hummed. Whirs shot out of clear empty air around her face and ears.  She waved them on and turned back to the house, to begin the long wait again.   For that a once-in-a- life-time chance to come her way again.