The piano notes rang at an alpenglowish andante, gently shaking the dewy midnight air that thoroughly saturated the first, lazily eddying thoughts in my not-yet-fully-conscious head. My eyes were unopened, and I rested on a soft, but not completely identifiable, object. I waited, my sensory abilities coming back to me in waves, streaming in from all sides. A window was ajar somewhere: dense, alpine air was leaking in, coupled with an ancient, brooding silence that is inherently incomprehensible to humankind. At some point I became aware that I was swathed in blankets. The piano continuously released notes that fervently ascended, sounding like they came from a few rooms away; yet, I easily followed their nimble trajectories as they subsequently alighted into the viscous state of my convalescent mind. The tunes were the same: three repeated bass notes slowly swimming under a fickle melody which always ended on the highest note played thus far. Never a flat nor sharp, the notes were exclusively natural.
I couldn’t move my legs, and my arms were in only slightly better condition; however, my body was warming up gradually. The weight on my eyelids was lifting and dissipating, and my vision sharply and powerfully shifted from blackness to stark white, colors breaking in through the gaps. I saw a spotted log-ceiling from which icy spiderwebs hung, forgotten. I strenuously raised my head, and from a table behind me came the noise of a mug being put down, and after, a deep, drawling voice:
I slightly turned and faced him, but my physical state didn’t allow me to respond, and I fell right back down to where my head was resting. His face didn’t alter when he spoke, and any expression of inquisitiveness or curiosity solely emanated from his clouded green eyes. He continued:
“Yep, you’ve been sleeping for about five hours, maybe six.” He got up, picked up his mug, and moved his chair so that he sat in front of me. He was a wide-legged, broad-shouldered man who only looked old by the lines on his face, and his overall youthful vigor was easily apparent by his posture and size. His hair was long, thinning, and faded brown, and his beard in contrast was full and flowing. I was fully awake now. The piano notes continued, but in this newfound consciousness they sounded more glacial, not melding with my mind as easily as they did during the abyssal depths of slumber.
“Where am I?” I slurred.
He sipped his steaming drink and bellowed, “You’re in my cabin on the base of Mount K––––, and if I didn’t find you out in the high ridges you’d be a fossil by now. You were out cold! What the hell were you doing out there, boy? All alone?”
“Hiking! What kind of prudence is that then, to not bring anyone with you? Do you understand that you coulda died?”
Vaguely ashamed, I looked away and tried to remember the details of my expedition. I was angry, I needed to get away, and the icy arêtes of Mount K–––– presented me with the exact kind of isolation I viscerally thought I needed.
“Now look at ya, you’ll need to wait and thaw, that is if your legs weren’t already bitten off by the cold. Nobody comes up here, you easily coulda died and gone and nobody’d know… better if you’d have brought… prudence…” Any word after that was a mumble under his breath as he got up from his seat to put it back under the table. I didn’t move, and I looked out the window he was in front of and I saw nothing except the quiescent, infinite black of the lightless mountain.
From the kitchen, the man roared in his rusty, sparingly-used voice that he was brewing me a cup of tea. I was relieved when I felt the blood start to run through my veins, and I slowly got up to the point that I sat reclined with my body against the back of what I now saw was an old couch. The man stayed near the kettle while the water boiled, and I listened to the ongoing music from the far-off dulcet piano, which was at that moment just a fluid brook of repeated bass notes.
He brought the tea and placed it down on the low wooden table in front of me, and he took a big gulp of what was now his second cup, while I waited for mine to cool. He stared at me for a moment, then looked away and said:
“We’re going to wait till you’re sure you feel better. You gotta be fully recovered if you’re to go back in that hoarfrost. We’ve got an extra bed for you upstairs, don’t worry about a thing. I think you’ll be ready to go in about a couple days, then we’ll take you back into town.” He cleared his throat and became somewhat pensive, and he took another big gulp of his steaming tea. As I nodded solemnly and prepared an immense expression of gratefulness, the music that I had not heard cease since I awoke stopped. From the room near the end of the house was a tapping, slow and precise, followed by a long scratching on the floor. A woman eased into the living room, her white cane scanning the area, her hand against the wall guiding her. Her eyes were blue, empty.
“He’s awake, honey” said the man, and she turned her head into the direction of the couch where I was sitting.
“Oh, thank heavens,” she said with an illuminating smile that warmed the rimy night, “what were you doing around here all alone, dear? You gave us quite a fright. You know, you could’ve died out there.”