I am sick with a sea sickness from top to bottom of a bottle. The waves rush against the boat, but I don't know if that's tilting me or if it's the high making my head feel weighted. I'm a wreck, but damn I'm not shipwrecked as I'm looking at the shore becoming closer.
On the island in front of me is a large hill constructed of stone and sand. It's peak is flat, covered in trees that only take on the shade of brown, dead. My eyes are swirling between focus and haze, and I don't notice the shore.
Hitting the sand harder than my bottle hit the dock as I left, my body is thrust from the boat and face pushed into to the ground. Gagging on wet sand while resisting the urge to puke, I swallow the lump and think 'this can kill me too'. My hand reaches, yet feels nothing besides air between fingers and thumb.
How long have my eyes been open because I have no sight, but I see? What I see, still don't comprehend, are the steps of stone carved and placed into the side of this summit of lives. I lift my feet one after another until the stone cools the soles of my feet through leather and thread. One step, three steps, another, and another until I stumble, catching myself against the cracked hillside. There's no railing to support me. Those priests wanted me to fall.
That's why the steps are carved here. People would walk all the way up and away and wouldn't fall back down alive. Parents warned their children that men and women were tempted by the Devil telling them to take their own life and they would be rewarded in death. People don't realize the Devil doesn't work that way. He doesn't promise salvation.
Eventually the priests who kept order and controlled this area in the name of God heard the tale through their spider web of people. They used it to their advantage. Any person they deemed a sinner would be forced to perform a "Walk of Grace". When the Walk became too dangerous at times the frost slicked the ground, it was decided that a walkway be made. Unwilling to let the masses know their intentions, they used members of their own coven. Construction steadily progressed until priests began to go missing near the plateau at the very top. People started to notice the absences, but the priests professed to the people that their own brothers had merely fallen into the Devil's words, raising the fear towards the fallen angel.
Only seven priests remained after the steps were done: six of which never stepped foot on the plateau, and the other never spoke of what he had seen. He went mad, but so do we all after so long. The deaths continued and the population was dwindling down to few until soon the people found God or some sense. They realized who the "sinners" were. Forcing the priests to walk the steps on their own Walk of Grace, the people waited at the bottom until one, two, three, all six had left them.
Corruption killed the priests. It's tainting me now. The steps are passing quickly beneath me or maybe it's just my vision blurred.
"Why are you doing this?" asks a woman's voice. I turn, eyes lazily searching between the gaps in the empty air. She is nowhere. She sounded raw and strained like her throat was cut and exposed to the sun for too long.
"I can't hear her voice anymore," and I couldn't. Her voice disappeared when I was sober. I heard her again when the high brought her voice back to me. I keep doing more and more, but her voice went far away where I couldn't follow. "I need to hear her voice."
"You need to go back."
"No! She isn't back there. She's up here!" I point to my head. "And in here!" I grasp onto my heart, clenching at it's beating, wishing she was still here, but she's gone from me; only left in memories.
"Who is she?" the voice asks.
"She was sunshine. She was rain. She was a hurricane I wish had drowned me." My pace increases. I won't falter in front of a disembodied voice.
"Why do this for her?"
I remained silent.
"Tell me why," the voice said softly. It almost sounded like -- "Tell me."
"You can't do anything for the dead. They don't listen. They don't speak." Almost there. The voice doesn't reply. The air is still. Not even the waves are crashing, they're tip-toeing.
The last step is just above my line of sight. I can see the top of the trees to the back of the landing. All my focus is on the trees when my left foot catches against stone and my right lurches onto the last step, and gravity starts pulling me towards the center of the landing. Under my feet is grass greener than the emerald was in her ring, but it grows on top of stone. Dissimilar to the life on the ground, the trees are covered in cracked, peeling bark splintering the air.
Is this sin showing me that we began so alive, then as we grew we died? Or am I as deranged as the priests? Sinner and a holy man inside of me. Heaven and Hell, I, suspended between the two. They call it purgatory, but frankly I don't give a damn about a name of a facade. She would've called it the best part of death: life. She would've danced in her rain and smiled in her shine.
"I would've slept in your shade and sang among your stars."
I forced my eyes shut. If I had a lock I would prison my sight behind my own skin. "No. No, not you. You wouldn't," I spew, distressed.
"Open your eyes."
"No! You're not there!"
"I am. Look at me."
Her voice. Her voice is soft. It's light. It's the breath I felt inside my lungs on nights I couldn't sleep. It coaxed open my eyes. Slowly, I lift my head, eyes roam, starting at her feet, bare and pale, resting on top of the grass, then up her calves to her steel knees that wouldn't let her fall. Her skin was soft where thighs touched below her hips. Her stomach had hipbones and ribs pressing gently from beneath her skin. Chest completely bare, but I remember most what her neck did to me. Above her pointed chin, those lips. God be damned I can still feel them against me. Cheekbones, high and freckled, lie just below her eyes. "I'm looking."
"No. Look at me, into me," she commanded.
My body trembled underneath its own skin. I tear my eyes from her cheeks making my way to her lashes. They're so dark. Her hair was the only part on her body or mind that leaked darkness aside from her eyes that I now refuse to glance.
"Please," she pleaded.
Her plea shatters me, making my own knees nearly fall out from under me. Raising my eyes to hers I can see what I remember them to be. they are dark. They are life. They are the bark of the trees before the water runs dry and suffocates the leaves.
"Why did you let them go dull?" she asked, moving towards me.
"I didn't let them. They turned into the dirt that covers your coffin." She was staring at me, waiting for me to say more, but I can't.
"You let them leave with the liquor down your throat. They were there when the dirt covered me. I saw them." She is only a few feet away. "I did."
"No, they were fading right there! I felt them go. I couldn't stop it!"
"Bring them back." She is in front of me leaning her face close to mine. "Bring them back," she repeats.
"I can't." She smells like lace and spilled vanilla.
"You can," her face is inches from mine. She's waiting for me.
"I tried!" I murmur, crying. She starts walking backwards. "Don't do that." She keeps going. "Come back!" She's nearing the edge, and I force my legs to step towards her.
"Goodbye," she is fading as she takes her final step back.
"Don't leave me again!" I plead.
She whispers as she's falling backward, "Follow me."
And I do.