"Garbage memory" by Max Mitenkov.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
by Cull Strider
Little survived this far up the summit. The rocks around him were sharp and cold. A knuckle flashed white as a slick hand clasped stone.
Fifty more steps.
A breeze sighed. He hoisted himself farther.
From his angle now, the man could no longer see the cabin nor the summit it lay upon. Earlier, squinting against the too-bright sky from the valley below, the cabin appeared like always: more distant than it should have been, a flickering, shy apparition with a red roof. There he had harvested memories that were now long overripe. And he had left many times. Of those, he usually remembered but once—her eyes struggling and shimmering like a frozen river beneath spring sun.
Wind picked up steadily over the last hours, pressing the heaviest clouds closer. Soft drizzle grew less timid.
Images from his past had not assailed him today, the man thought. No, not them, who were usually his companions in solitude, only the jealous sun that pierced so angrily when he turned eyes upward. Yet he found himself impatient and searching for the cabin, again.
Fingers wove deep through a thick carpet of lichen, a firmer hold than rocks. Feet kicked away shale while the man pulled himself forward, straight up the sheer face.
Rain began to fall from stars. Wind howled. The man muttered something back. Full with a hunger fed by hope, he crested the summit, and took the final steps.
The cabin's door was absent and the slate roof was full of holes. All the floorboards had rotted through to mud. Cascading raindrops large as marbles gathered inside the cabin to greet him. Moonbeams darted like bats.
He entered and came to rest between embracing shadows, readied his voice, worried if he still knew how to speak her name.
“Noora?” said this man, forever-still broken by guilt and loneliness. Her name was said with eyes down, back bent, in something that was less than a whisper, but so much more than an expended breath.
Echoes reached long through the hollow.
Cull Strider lives near the Tombstone Mountains, which rise jag ged above the Yukon Territory in Canada's far north. "Red Cabin" became his first publication when it appeared in Thick Jam this year. It is reprinted here, and forthcoming in the audio magazine 4'33". You can follow him: @CullStrider.