I awake suddenly with a start. It is dark as death. Dark, and terribly late at night. The sky is filled with barely visible clouds whipping across the void.
I am standing on a hillside, almost a cliff, a sheer tumbling down, plummeting down to the pitch black water. I sense rather than see the saltbush and stunted shrubs that cling for dear life against the sea, churning so far below.
The air is full of the roar of the waves, grinding and casting and moaning against the rocks far beneath, bellowing and sighing, as though great Behemoth were gnawing away at the precarious handhold life has here, trying to drag it, spinning and circling, into its foaming maw.
I can smell the salt fresh of the air, the tang of it, sea spray ice-cold across my face.
Across the black sea, made velvet by height, shines the moon, huge by the horizon. It is as though she has drawn close for some oblique, esoteric reason of her own, casting her light like a highway.
There is hope, then, but mediated. If the sun were risen, how different it would be. I wrap my arms around my body, holding in my life-heat. It is still deep night, as though the sun were dead, leaving only an unreliable memory, were it not for the moon, relaying his light – reflected, lessened. A token, a remembrance, of hope then, rather than the hope itself. Just enough to see the next step by; not enough to warm me.
I have to move, to walk. I can barely see the faintest of paths, rocky, muddy, treacherous. If I slip, if I miss my footing, then I will join the rocks and be consumed by the all-devouring mouth of the sea.
But move I must. To stay here is death as well, ossifying in the despairing cold. Though I can barely see, there is just enough light to walk the next step of the path, hesitantly and with painful delicacy, gripping onto plants, as they loom out of the night, revealing their branches against the dim sky.
As I walk, following the dim path carefully, painstakingly, along the cliff edge, I have a subtle sense that, though I can see no-one through the black, and hear no-one past the inexorable crash and roar of the sea, I am not alone. Someone has walked this path before. And the faintest echo of laughter, the scent of the best wine kept for last, a fragment of sun-warmed dust seems to brush against my skin. The faintest of hopes, when hope seems lost.
Alister Pate (Pate 2011, 10)