Solitude

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimers: Sue, me? Sorry the names Karen, not Sue, You got the wrong person ;o)

Spoilers: Angst, Sorrow, Angst, Desperation, Angst, Heartbreak, Sorry did I mention Angst??

Chapter One

The aged willow creaked gently as the rockers played across the boot-worn floorboards, the pop and hiss of wood logs splitting in the flames in the huge stone fireplace the only other sounds in the room. The old mellow log walls of the cabin absorbed and captured the sound of the outside before it reached the ears of the warm body, wrapped tenderly in a woollen throw, gently lulled to sleep by the rhythmical rocking of the chair.

The light slowly faded through a sky of orange and purple hues. Clouds spread out across the valley wispy and tinted pink in the light. The red and white painted barn was bathed in the early evening light as the mustangs made their way back up the pasture for the shelter of the rocky overhangs. The last song of the birds settling to roost finally stilled in the rapidly cooling mountain air.

The chill in the air was more noticeable tonight, and the leaves on the trees were finally succumbing to the autumn breeze blowing over the mountains. Fiery copper, umber and reds swept down the foothills of the stark granite cliffs, bathing the whole valley in a carpet of fall colours. The grasses of the pastureland yellowed and paled as they started to die back. The odd scattered pine tree stood alone in its greenness, bringing a sharp contrast to the deciduous trees around it. The lake water ruffled in the breeze as a sea eagle soared low across the surface, finally seeking its goal. As it sank, talons first, into the chilled water, there was a flash of silver and pink as the last rays of sunlight lit against the trout's almost translucent scales as it was plucked writhing from its home and carried skywards on silent wings. Water droplets reflected the sunbeams like prisms as the water returned almost immediately back to its ruffled gentle waves, as though nothing had ever been there, as if nothing had ever happened.

But something had happened, the Lake almost mirroring why they were here, why they had chosen to head up into the mountains to try to put behind them the previous weeks of horror and heartache. The sudden kill of the eagle and the way everything returned to normal so quickly was nature's way, but nature's way wasn't working, feelings and emotions that nature hadn't banked on were at work today, and it was going to take time, not nature, to overcome them.

The drive up into the mountains had been a long silent one, neither of the Jeeps occupants speaking. They were lost in their own worlds, in their own grief. Thoughts and memories spiralled though their minds like the early morning mist, dragging the ghosts of the past into the present. Words that had remained unsaid now raised into their minds unbidden, to torment, to ravage, forever to remain unspoken. The trees grew darker as they travelled onwards, almost merging into a sea of trunks rolling across the tumbled jagged edges of rough-hewn granite stone monoliths. The road cut deep, winding between sheer cliffs of towering granite, the white backdrop, almost blinding. Broken only in places by flashes of cascading water plummeting from the precipice to the earth in a halo of spray and rainbow light. The crystal clear water of the lake shone in the sunlight as the Jeep rounded a corner. It was another world, an oasis in the middle of a granite wilderness. Light blues merging with the deeper azure blues reflected the depths beneath. Along the shoreline, the white hulks of splintered boulders from age old landslides scattered the relentless push of the forest, beating back the trees strangle hold on the realm of the eagle, bear and puma. Stopping in the little town on the shores only to pick up supplies, the occupiers of the Jeep drove onwards, heading towards a goal of their own.

The tyre's ground out a steady beat on the tarmac road as it twisted deeper into the forest and the mountains, which confined it. Growing narrower now, the trees closed in on the road, the sunlight filtering through branches curving overhead.

The tyres crunched off the tarmac as they met the gravel side road and pressed on. The climb was steady and relentless, winding around the side of the steep cliffs, the lake spread out below like a blue blanket, one minute visible shining bright, the next masked by the trees. Finally, the trees overgrew the road, and the track got heavier and heavier. More than once, the Jeep had to be stopped and backed up before taking a different deeply worn rut. Twenty miles seemed like two hundred by the time the ever-tightening hold of the trees slackened and before them lay the lake and the start of a fence line. Old worn fence posts silver with age leant precariously, held in place by the equally silver rails. Rusty and broken barbed wire nestled amongst the wild flowers long since gone to seed. Beyond them, deep rough pastureland spread Northwards as far as the eye could see, and westwards down to the edge of the lake, nestled in the eastern lay of the huge towering granite wall, the valley shimmered in tranquillity and peace, undisturbed for decades in time and space. The Jeep crept slowly along the dirt track to the end of the fence. Turning in, it stopped in front of an old worn gate. Silver grey wood encrusted with lichen balanced precariously on hinges rusted through. Grasses grew up through it, seeking the light from its shade.

Climbing out of the Jeep, he walked over to the gate, slowly running his hand along the top, memories of childhood flooding back to him, memories of a time long past, of a time never to be again. His hand caught on the weather-hewn wood, and he pushed aside the creeper that had grown around the top rail. His fingers meet the old wood nameplate, now broken and hanging in two. A smile slowly spread across his lips as he pulled the two pieces up and together and ran his thumb fondly over the deeply cut word, so old yet still so clear in the aged wood. His lips moved as he read it: "Solitude"

Lifting the gate, he managed to pull it free of the grasses and tangle of wild flowers that had held it firmly seated in place for decades. Stumbling through the deep grass clumps, he half dragged, half lifted the gate open. Hinges rusted through with time finally gave way, and the gate fell back into the overgrowth. Staring down the long track in front of him, waist high in a haphazard tumble of neglect, he sighed, the sadness reflected in eyes bluer than the lake shimmering in the autumn evening light. From his vantagepoint, he could see the whole valley laid out before him. He drank in the images surrounding him. The cabin still lay out of sight, tucked into a cleft in the cliffs about a mile or so further on, hidden now by the trees that had grown thick and heavy over the sides of the pasture, gradually reclaiming the land that had been taken from them when the old homestead had been alive and new.

Climbing back into the jeep, he looked over at where she sat, her golden hair tousled around her, no longer sleek and beautiful but lank and uncared for. He shivered at how her clothes hung from a frame once perfect, now wasting away, her eyes, greyer now, staring into nothingness, glazed and unseeing. He had no idea if he could reach her, no thoughts on how he could help her from her misery and suffering. He was barely dealing with his own, but he knew he had to try; he would never forgive himself if he didn't try. Throwing the Jeep into drive, he forced it up the overgrown track towards his goal. The grasses flattened under the off road tyres as he fought to control the wheels, jumping on every tussock, then bumping off. Finally, he reached the turn in the road, the fenceline just barely visible above the brush growing wild. Swinging the jeep round, he saw the cabin sat nestled into its shrouding blanket of rock and steadily cut a swathe to the barren bedrock it stood on.

It had been over almost 40 years since he'd last seen his grandmother's house, her dream that she'd given up everything to live. The cabin had stood solid against the ravages of time and weather, the big oak trunks faded to the same silvery grey of the fences. The shameful neglect cut through him as he stepped down from the jeep and tentatively tried the steps. They were old but, like the rest of the house, sound. The house had been built to last. Sheltered from the worst of the weather by the granite bluff, it still managed to command the most amazing views from the front porch, across the land that his grandmother had lived and died for.

Over the years, his memories of the place had dimmed, but now they shone bright as he reached out and opened the external shutters on the front window, moving along until he had opened them all, allowing the evening light to spill inside. He hesitated as he reached the front doors. The big half glazed doors with their diamond cut pattern threw him back in time, and the hand that reached out and turned the door knob was once again a small 8-year-old boy's, not a middle-aged man's.

The door opened smoothly on ancient hinges. The dust swept backwards across the floor in an arch as he stepped into the room, the fast fading sunlight reflecting off it as it rose and settled in the stirred air. Stepping sideways, his right hand instinctively reached out and ran along the now dustsheet encased edge of his grandmother's desk as he lowered his eyes to the floor. The sigh that escaped him was heart wrenching.