Dark Path

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Eve faces her fears of the past

Dark Path

Dad ran the kitchen at Dark Path Hotel and Mom took care of the dining room. It was a small stone fortress tucked into a mountain. As you drove up the hill, the spruce trees grew thick to the ground and it looked scary.

Once you got inside the lobby, there was a comforting fire. Little lamps glowed in the corners. It was this sheltering cave that welcomed you in. Many a guest scowled angry, until they smelled Dad’s meatloaf.

The train stopped at the bottom of the mountain and every Friday Dad looked at his watch, “Evie, go check on the train.” So, I’d run down to the station master and he’d give me the thumbs-up if the train was on time. When the guests piled in off the shuttle bus, Dad’s pot roast greeted them at the door.

The men  wore heavy business suits and choking ties. The women wore high-heeled shoes that clicked down the halls. Back then there was a dress code in the dining room. We’d be rushing around to get them fed, then they’d all go out on the porch and sit in the rocking chairs.

Mom called it the blue haze. They’d be full of blueberry pie and rock back in those chairs and gaze out as the mountains rolled on forever. The sky would blaze purple and red as the sun set and this peace would descend like a blanket. They’d breathe out a big long sigh and stay that way for the weekend.

Behind the hotel, the path climbed steeply up the mountain. A granite archway marked the entrance to Dark Path. A treacherous climb to the summit, dangerous with shadows. You couldn’t see footholds. Cracks stepped off into nothing. So far, eleven climbers had plummeted to their deaths.

There was a memorial wall in the lobby with pictures of the ill-fated climbers. Some had stopped at the archway just before their ascent. The words Dark Path were chiselled into the granite where they smiled for the camera. The senator’s son who’d stood there one summer morning, then plunged to his death when the bolts gave away on his climbing ropes. The four laughing  young men who came for the weekend and, in a way, never left.

One picture drew me. It was taken in 1880 of a boy named Adam. He had this glow on his face. This cocky smile, this light in his eyes. So young, starting out.

Maybe because his name was Adam and mine was Eve, I don’t know, but sometimes, I’d be running the dust rag over his picture and feel him. Know him. How splendid he looked on that day.

At night, the old hotel held secrets. Sometimes, walking the darkened halls I’d feel Adam happy on his last night on earth, excited to be fixing his pack. One time I felt him standing in the little alcove - waiting. The light moved in and out of the shadows. Hey, Evie, climb with me. 

Of course, there were the real men and women. Young and athletic, who’d pile their packs in the entry hall and wait for the guides. When they got back, they’d be loud and boisterous inside the dining room. It was fun to say, “I climbed Dark Path,” when you got back.

I never went there. Mom instilled such a fear in me, I didn’t want to go. Dad forbade me to go through the archway; he felt it would lure me. And it troubled me how their faces smiled at the camera as they started, so bright and hopeful. Sometimes, hours later they’d be  lost.

The summer I graduated high school, Dad’s uncle opened a fancy restaurant in upstate New York.  He asked Dad to run the kitchen and Mom to handle the dining room. One morning I climbed into the back of a U-Haul and left the peaceful mountains where I grew up. In the space of one day, we moved to the bustle of busy streets, honking horns, and thousands of cars. It’s never left me how quickly something can change and never come back.

* * *

Mom and Dad left so I could go to college. It was right down the street from the restaurant. So, I waited tables and went to college and later worked there in the psychology department. I had so many questions. Like - why do people climb mountains? Was I afraid to climb Dark Path? Afraid to die, or afraid to live?

One Friday evening, I was climbing the fake rock wall at the gym when I sensed Adam beside me. I pulled myself up the steepest incline and felt him waiting. Young and full of himself, such energy and snap. I breathed the light in his eyes, his unchanging grin. “Hey, Evie, climb with me.”

I looked at my watch. It was blue haze time in the rocking chairs. That time when the mountains stretched out so peaceful, and for an instant, the blanket of hush held safely around me. I was twenty-seven years old and had never been back. I’d never  been in love, or had a baby, or leaned back in a rocking chair and took a deep breath.  

* * *

I drove slowly up the mountain and squeezed through the spruce trees. The small stone fortress  looked exactly the same. A stronghold of peace tucked into the mountainside. This capsule of safe and slow where you could relax. A few of the staff remembered me. “You’ve grown up, Evie. Want your old job back?” I laughed, ate pie, leaned back in that rocking chair as the mountains rolled on forever and took a deep breath.

Adam’s picture was gone from the walls of the lobby. No sign of ill-fated climbers smiling at the camera. Guests sipped wine on the balcony now. A horse drawn carriage and a beautiful bride.  

That night I walked down the darkened halls and a fake tree was standing inside the alcove. Shadows shifted across the branches. A tree that didn’t grow or get sick or ever need to be watered.

At sunrise I walked to the granite archway and stood by the chiseled words.  Below me the old hotel was coming to life. Lights appeared in the windows. There was the smell of coffee as the sun gleamed across the valley like a golden ball.

I felt the lure of the craggy peeks. Felt Adam smile and beckon me. I took a selfie and walked back down. I don’t want to climb Dark Path and die or almost die. I want to fall in love and have a baby. I want to get a house and a dog and come back  someday and sit in the rocking chairs -  happy to be alive. 


Submitted: July 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Suzanne Mays. All rights reserved.

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Comments

D Mays

A great read. Very well written. Thank you for posting!

Tue, July 13th, 2021 11:10pm

Suzanne Mays

Thanks for reading, D. I climbed some mountains when I was younger and they almost killed me. Not anymore.

Thu, July 15th, 2021 2:40pm

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