You see some funny things at altitude. Up near the pass on an afternoon when low clouds raked the peaks, I was leaned against my knapsack pecking at sharp cheddar on stiff bread tasting faintly of dust when up the rocky trail that wound towards the pass, two figures apparated out of the mist.
Two bright figures. One yellow, one orange. Together, they were like the sun stepping down from the low sky.
Two women in Sunday dresses with wide belts, canted hats, glossy purses, and high heels trundled down to my lunching spot.
There was nothing for it, but to stand and tip my hat. “Howdy ladies. You having a good day out?”
“My yes,” the lady in the yellow dress answered. She wore white gloves. They both did. “We’ve just come from the tower.”
“The tower,” I repeated, hesitantly.
“Yes,” the lady in the orange dress reassured brightly. “The views from the tower are exceptional.”
I knew of no tower hereabouts. Fact is there was nothing for miles on either side of the pass. Only the trail. “I’d fancy a look," I told them wryly. "Mind directing me that way.”
A white glove pointed back up the trail that faded into the mist. “If you've come this far, you can’t miss it,” the lady in the yellow dress encouraged.
I didn’t want to seem contrary, but, maybe because of the altitude, maybe because of their spotless gloves and dresses, I had to say. “Sure don’t recall any tower hereabouts. I’ve been up and down this trail all my life.”
The lady in the orange dress beamed. “Do you hear that? All his life.”
“So sweet. A lifetime on the trail. That’s what we watch for. In the tower,” her companion added.
I tilted my head so they’d know I had questions.
“Will you go up?” the woman in orange asked.
“What’s there to see that ain’t right here? This view’s satisfying.”
The two ladies leaned together and their wide brims caressed. They snapped open their smart purses and compared the contents. A breeze fluttered their dress hems as they conferred in whispers.
The woman in orange lifted an object from her purse. She offered it to me.
I took it and my knees gave a bit.
“Will you go up?” she repeated.
Much simpler now to answer, “If you ladies will be okay. Peculiar as this all is, I don’t fancy leaving you here.”
“We’ll see you back at the tower. Watch for us,” the lady in yellow encouraged.
I nodded and picked up my rucksack. It had no heft.
The ladies clicked shut their purses and headed down the way I’d come up.
I held the object as it held me. A pocket watch. My father’s. Lost when he was lost atop the pass. So cycles are spun. Hours, minutes, seconds. Lives.
All my life. The ladies had beamed. Their yellow-orange apparition now descending, tempting me to ascend. To watch, like them, for what was to come.
Carried on an updraft, I caught the faint tatting of high heels, like tumbling leaves across cobblestone.
Shouldering my suddenly weightless rucksack, I checked my father’s watch still keeping time and gauged when the ladies might return. Their passing would surely fill the mountaintop.
And then me.