The sky is torn from a page in a comic – speckled and streaked with vapour trails – white scratches that spread into turbulence and cyclic vortices. The mountain is steep. When a cranked tree, perched halfway up offers shelter I accept and squeeze myself into in a tiny puddle of shade – curling like a woodlouse. The water from the damp soil clambers into my trousers. On the slopes I can see animals grazing; white specks like mould on bread. Farm buildings climb up the mud brown tracks and park in the chromium sun. The song of the lark fills my good ear. I hear the twill of notes wrapping into the branches of the tree. The sound enlivens me – I want to join in but I don’t have a tongue.
Lunch is lazy as a stopped cat. I’d picked up provisions from the farm I passed two hours below. My cheese clamours with pizzazz and crystallised calcium – cheese that bites back. Bread torn apart, crust crackling – the inside a sponge springing beneath my eager fingers. The food settles inside me like the memory of childhood Sundays. I sleep with one eye open, watching the vapour trails evolve and disappear – a giant exhibition, refurbished in blue and white.
When the tree’s shadow crawls away, sunlight tugs at my trousers and hat, urging me on. I climb, often on my hands and feet – the mountain is steep. The spear grass grows dark in patches of wet. It cuts at my skin. Past half dug quarries filled with sunbathing sheep. I stitch in and out of dry stone walls where grass wraps tumbledown sections like yeast left in the fridge too long.
I am at the top. The blue sky is carved from a single precious stone. Where the ground levels off the water is trapped; it forms sprawling lakes like silver windows. Mud sucks at my boots, trying to swallow me whole.
There are two ponies – I have only ever seen one before. I smell them before I see them. Their purple coats weave the sunlight and magic spills electric. They are basking in the Jakeolith’s reflected heat – the concrete tower has been warmed in the sun. When they see me they spread their wings, great blankets of colour darker than the solstice sky. Shimmering. They pass close enough for me to hear the sound of air on their wings. I see their striped underbellies – hooves spilling clods of earth. They circle the tower and head out, north to the reservoirs. It is a long time before I realise I’ve forgotten to breathe. I’m transformed, no longer and empty space disguised as a human. Even the skylarks have gone quiet.
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