Our ship looks quite desolate, floating motionless in the middle of the bay. One could imagine it to be deserted, but we know it isn’t. The stewards will be rushing about, tidying cabins; the galley will be steaming and redolent of onions and fish and sauces; the bartenders will be artfully wiping glasses and stacking them neatly on the proper shelves.
We continue up the hill to get a better view. The bay is at the end of the fjord, the settlement only accessible by boat. There is supposed to be a village here but we see no sign of it. This place is as remote as one can get in this part of the world.
Most of the other passengers on this excursion haven’t gone far. We saw them turn into the little café that is next to the jetty. They will be sipping sodas or beer or strong coffee, idling away the time until the tender takes them back to the ship.
We have lost count of the fjords we have explored during this ten-day cruise down the coast and I don’t fault anyone for wanting to sit this one out. But we, that is Carsten and I, are more energetic, despite the drizzle, and intend to get the most from this foray on land.
We come upon a pretty wooden house surrounded by beds of flowers. From the other side there must be a magnificent vista of fjord and mountains.
“Do the people who live here even see the view anymore?” asks Carsten, striking a pensive pose. I know what he will say even before he opens his mouth: the same things he has said at every other fjord we have visited. He has a gift for making innocuous comments about nothing.
“They’ve probably gotten used to their surroundings,” I answer. “It’s human nature.” Who gives a damn what they think, I say to myself. We are standing still, side by side, and could easily be taken for garden ornaments. Carsten snaps a few mandatory photos.
It is pointless, this gawking and admiring and photographing. I am so weary of it all I could scream. Without a word we turn and continue up the asphalt road. There are no vehicles and hardly any other walkers about at all. Carsten and I have little to say to each other. Everything has already been said.
Our small map doesn’t indicate altitude and we are surprised to find ourselves mounting a rather steep hill. It will be worth the climb for the view. Along the way there are well-tended bungalows, a hay croft, pastures with cows. Surely they don’t appreciate the scenery either–or do they?
The drizzle has let up and the clouds have lifted a bit. The fjord must be lovely in fine weather but I don’t really mind the gentle precipitation; it creates a somber and eerie mood. I know that Carsten is unhappy with the turn in the weather because he ranted a bit this morning. Does he really expect the sun to shine every friggin day? The weather during our cruise has been, for the most part, quite good. There should be no complaints.
This trip was Carsten’s idea. I acquiesced only to maintain the peace. I keep my own counsel and maintain a pleasant mien but, in truth, I yearn to be alone–alone without pleasantries, without company, without photo opportunities. Even without Carsten, although he would not be pleased to hear that.
When we stop to read a historical marker Carsten becomes immersed in a conversation with two of our fellow passengers, the elderly Swiss-German couple who have an insatiable curiosity about everything. We know them from breakfast where they always eat lightly. They are very sensible people. I sense that they are fascinated with us, two men traveling together, but are too polite to ask any pointed questions.
I will leave him to it then, and continue on down the road without him. Carsten won’t even notice that I have left. This route will lead to the jetty where we can catch the tender that brings us back to the ship. But there is another path, unmarked on the map, one that continues on straight, further up the hill from the coast, and then into the forest. The opening is not far.
I stop in my tracks at the sight of it. The allure of the magic forest is the stuff of fairy tales, Hänsel and Gretel setting out to see the witch, dropping breadcrumbs along the way…
I cannot stop myself as my feet turn onto the dirt path covered in pine needles. It is a bit muddy, but no matter. My heart beats in anticipation, of what I don’t know, as I penetrate into the darkness. The heady scent of evergreen, of dampness and decay, overcomes me. It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. There is no sound, not even the chirping of birds. I continue on, both frightened and enthralled.
The path wends its way through the density of trees and I soon lose my sense of direction. I don’t know how long I have been walking when I see an object, not twenty feet in front of me. I stop and consider what it could be. It is a red fox, a fine specimen, sitting in the middle of the path as if it were waiting for me. It exhibits no fear whatsoever. We both remain still, regarding each other. The animal then trots on ahead, looking back now and then to see whether I am following. It leads me to a place where I can see a faint light. The fox disappears in the undergrowth.
I have reached a ridge where I have a view of the bay again. The ship is no longer there, the farms, the café and the jetty are gone too. The landscape before me is devoid of all human presence. I seat myself on a rock and breath in deeply, contemplating nothing. The drizzle has resumed, the perfect complement to the ineffable solitude.
John Mueter is a pianist, composer, educator, and writer. His short fiction has appeared in many journals, including the American Athenaeum, Lowestoft Chronicle, Halfway Down the Stairs, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Simone Press Publishing, Fiction on the Web and the Bethlehem Writer’s Roundtable. Website: http://www.johnmueter.wordpress.com