The snow crunches lightly, collapsing to powder beneath my feet. It’s a peaceful sound, though a little lonely beneath the moon’s cold glare. But he’s still here. Our tracks wind together down the mountain path behind us, and our breath mists the air in front. I close my eyes, taking comfort in the muffled fall of his footsteps. He’s still here.
A ledge rears up before us, and he’s at the top before I’ve even gauged its height. Wordlessly he offers me a hand, and wordlessly I take it. And in wordless, familiar silence we continue up the slope to where the summit waits. We take our time, content in each other’s company. There’s no need to hurry when you’re already where you want to be.
But where the path curves around an outcropping of stone, another path splits off, rising up and out of view. As we draw level with it, I lurch to a halt as though physically held. I close my eyes to listen, and I feel it in my chest: a deep, aching tug like a half remembered song. Alluring. Irresistible. I take an involuntary step before turning back, remembering myself.
He’s watching me, head tilted as if to better hear my thoughts. But for once we are divided. He doesn’t turn from the path, and I know then that he can’t feel the pull. I take another step up the slope and look back helplessly. I can’t remember a time when I looked behind me and saw only my own footprints. I don’t know how to explain: this path is mine–and mine alone.
He holds my gaze for a long moment and then smiles, though his eyes are lined with worry.
“It’s alright. I’ll wait here for you.”
“I’ll be right back,” I promise. And then I’m bounding away up the slope.
Up where the path ends, I find a shallow cleft in the rocks, its interior fired gold by countless candles. I pinch at one of them curiously, wondering how they’ve withstood the wind. On reflex I jerk my hand away, a yelp ready on the tip of my tongue, but the flame is no warmer than the mountain air. I examine it warily, brow furrowed. I wish he had come, now. He would know what to make of this. But the cave seems harmless enough. The candlelight flickers off the walls in a friendly, winking way, reflecting off facets in the stone.
But is it stone? It seems too bright, glaring like the moon, but with fire’s warmth. I turn towards the cave mouth as the light becomes painful, but there is no exit anymore—only the relentless, surrounding glow. And now the rocks are ringing, louder and louder as the light beats at my eyelids. The ground drops gently from under my feet, as if I’m falling, or floating away. I scrabble for a handhold, crying out for help, but there’s nothing around me anymore. Too far, I realize, heart sinking as I rise. It’s too far. He can’t hear me.
His name, I think suddenly. Why can’t I remember his name? I can no more grab hold of it than I can the floor of the cave. The light is so bright now; it splits through the shelter of my eyelids and forces them wide. The light congeals into blazing glass, and the ringing hardens into the harsh blast of an alarm. “I can’t go,” I whisper with my last conscious thought. “He’s waiting for me.”
And then with a gasp, I wake.