We spiraled down the thousand stairs to the river shore. Our arms floated alongside, separated from our bodies by the currents of air rising from the warm waters below. The air was heavy. It gave lift to our arms but slowed our descent, keeping our feet from escaping us.

Not too fast. We were certain not to make our way too fast. Haste was always met with disdain. But it was something against our will as children—slowing down was antithetical to being a child. Carefree and full of aplomb were our true natures. Still we held our emotions and our raw energy in check, careful not to disturb the peace.

It was a peace that didn’t happen often. But when it did it we were made to abide.

I turned back to see Robert coming down the stairs in unison with my steps. The shaded spiral of stairs was hewn from flagstone slabs shingled like fallen dominoes. On their surfaces colonies of moss crept, claiming squatter’s rights. They defended their territory with ferocity—one misplaced step and the moss would grab the underfoot and push it away, sending its victim tumbling to the rocky shore below.

We were keen to the moss. We tread the stairs by its rules. It slowed us down, maintaining the balance between our world and the adult world: the same world we fled every morning. The stairs were our escape to the one place we were allowed to go and just be kids. As long as we played by the rules—no running, no speaking on the stairs, and return home at our assigned times—it was the only freedom we would know. It was school for the summer, scheduled play to remove us from the adult world, where we were nothing more than in the way.

The moss was quiet. It never spoke, but only listened to our approaching footfalls.

Robert’s stride had a sense of hesitance. On his face was a lack of reassurance with the placement of his steps. Still he continued, not slowing, although it was not of his own will. He did all he was told: he spoke nothing and held his feet in abeyance to his arbitrary speed limit. It was too late to avoid the fall, guided by an unseen hand.

His body sounded off like a balloon releasing its pressure, the wind expelled from his lungs by the hardened stairs. His face was full of fright; it ignored me. I watched as it slid by in slow motion, passing beneath the banister, and fading from memory. He slipped into the darkness below and was swallowed by the maelstrom of waves gnashing at the shore like hungry teeth.

I stopped and planted my foot. The moss caught my sole.

I never saw Robert again.

Errant Release

In the riparian edge to the glen the hollow met its terminus, its darkness collapsing to the green carpet granting its welcome. Hushed silence thundered from the hollow to be swallowed by the songs of sparrows flitting to and fro, evading its advance. There was a lightness to the air, a gurgle in the stream, and light shattered by the canopy above, its shards littering the stream’s edge only to be refracted back to the heavens from where it had come. A deep breath takes it all in, only to be stunted in release, then swallowed by the hollow.

The reeds surrendered to the weight of it all, only to resurrect themselves to conceal their new-found treasure. Around it they kept silent vigil, the crickets’ rising chorus adding dramatic crescendo to a private affair. Down to the loam of their circumstance they celebrated this offering, born of lust and sent their way by a false cupid’s errant shaft adorned with plumage of a foreign land.

With the mistral of the mountain the hollow shuddered, its being cast out into the light of the glen, batting the reeds and rippling the current at their edge. An errant catkin made its freedom from that which it adorned, bestowing upon the current a promise of life yet to come. All this done in exchange for the gurgle of the creek, replaced now by pierced light that fled from the hollow to rest among the reeds. Peace, again, with this offering made, the chalice on its side, foam running over and spilt to the ground.

Shards of shattered light bounced off the beam made wide by time, finding their way above the canopy, repaired and intact, gracing the pastoral beneath its filtered glow. No man’s trophy, escaping instead to solemn decay, its light releasing itself, returning borrowed nourishment to the glen.