Life has take on a certain regularlity these past months. The day's first ray of sun is not something I have felt for some time now. Time is coming to be on the move again. A colder, higher home. An old friend. There is plently of time for stories. Stories are sustenance in old age.
I made it on to the town afer that. Only one more bout of nausea overwhelmed me on the rest of the journey. We arrived damp, reeking and unsure why we embarked on the mission in the first place. There had to be a better way.
After the fire, the league member's thoughts turned to survival. We were in the field and most of our dry food supplies had been consumed in flame. The safest route was along the creekbed by foot to get back to town. A nine-day trek. We would go hungry for the last two. But we would make it. We soon realised contamination was leaking from the burnt-out site of the hut. It caught up with us down stream. I was racked with twisting gut pain. I vomited up precious rations on day six. Helplessley watched the nutients splatter onto dry leaves. But no member could be afforded any extra. I would just have to go on with an empty stomach until the next morning.
The fire was a turning point. It was an end to a life that had been all encompassing and a black and inauspicious start to the next chapter. I remember flattening belly-first against the timber floors to escape under a fallen beam. Then the undignified scramble downhill and the realising. All that work. The hours of collecting. The men had poured their efforts, their dreams and plans into this hut in the woodlands. It had only been a matter of weeks. It felt like a whole season. The league members had spent their evenings sifting through the detritus of the day, and expounding on theories long into the night. Now all the material of the study consumed by flame.
There is great comfort in a woman's lap. Tonight I'm thinking of Sylvia. She was nothing special to look at. I knew her back in the days when I had less grey around the temples and more length to my stride. Knew her well enough to tell what was on her mind by a certain tone to her voice. She cared for me, I always knew that. Our times together were good times. But when it came to leaving I didn't think too long about it. She never had any claim to me. I wonder what she's doing now. Because now the comfort of a good woman and a familiar place to rest your head after a long journey is one of the best things this life has to offer.
So there we were, surveying a ridgeline. We'd been trekking for what seemed like days, but no-one in the party could recall for sure. One of the league members had torn an anterior crucia ligament, so the rest of us had been taking turns at supporting him to the top. The dark was rolling in fast as we crested the hill. Rushing in towards the party, in competition with our ailing spirits. I could sense that hope among the party was flagging. We sat, sweating, the steam rising as if from a pack of spent race-horses. Then we saw it. The rare, rufous mountain deer. It wandered to the front of the coppice in front of us, looked to the east, paused to graze on a willow, and then was gone. Bill managed one fleeting shot while it was in range. All the league held its breath, hoping his quick shutter click had captured the magical creature. There hadn't been a mountain deer sighted in this region for 41 years.
Fog covered the city this morning. A damp grey gauze that reduced the world to a couple of feet outside the window. Fog like that gets into your bones. My leg ached. It reminded me of our long march out of the highlands in '93, every muscle screaming to rest. A story for next time.