“It’s up there somewhere, Val,” said Edward, waving his hand towards snow-covered mountain peaks, far beyond the valley that held the roadside café we’d pulled up at.
I put a mug of pungent coffee down onto a weathered wooden table, it was too hot to hold in any case, and with my binoculars, scanned the forests of snow-laden pine trees, the bare, grey stone crags and endless snowfields. It looked like I could reach out and touch them, yet when I put the binoculars down, the mountains seemed impossibly distant. “I don’t see anything.”
Ed laughed. “The road’s on the other side, up Mount St. Leonards, twenty hairpin bends they say, then the cable car runs three times a week.”
“Is the lodge near the top, then?”
“No, it’s three miles from the top. You have to go by Land Rover.”
“Seems like a hard place to get to.”
“That’s why they call it Villa Nowhere!”
“Hey, I think I see something.” At the very top of a snowfield, black structures that could be pylons. Scanning downwards, something brown at the edge of an area of pine trees. The sun must have got to them as I could just make out green boughs.
“C’mon Val, let’s make a move.” Ed swigged back the last of his coffee, pulling a face at a sludge of undissolved sugar mixed with coffee grounds that had slipped through the filter.
Ed was an artist, as adept with charcoal as he was with acrylics, and no mean photographer either. He was thirty-nine, twenty years on me. I was just a kid with a vision, a vision to get away from my parents. I don’t know why we’d hooked up, there was nothing sexual, not yet anyway. But beneath my flyaway straggly blonde hair and goofy teeth and heavy woollen jumpers was a young woman, a young woman whose body yearned for something I hadn’t yet rationalised.
But Ed was Ed, a good guy, easy-going; he never got mad, even when I’d spilled burning cocoa down his neck one time, and he was a great artist, and I mean great. Maybe not ‘recognised’ great, but he sure had something. As for me, maybe he liked me for the way I was – young, innocent in many ways, I guess. “Hey, Val, you gonna stick around?” he’d ask. I’d just smile, bite my lower lip and nod.
Two days later we were ensconced in ‘Villa Nowhere,’ a ski lodge like no other. We’d left our car at a garage, gawped at the views from our swinging cradle as it creaked its way towards the peak, half-expecting the cable to snap at any moment. Then had our bones jolted as the driver revved his Land Rover over the snow and ice at the top.
Ed hadn’t said why he wanted to go to such an isolated place, he wasn’t a great skier. He’d just smiled and said he wanted to spend some time sketching and painting, and taking photographs in the wilderness. “Who knows what we might find up there?”
There were just two other families at the lodge, Helmut and his wife, Kirsten, and an English couple, Rupert and his elderly, but physically fit, mother, Dolores. Helmut was an odd one. He wore black ‘lederhosen’ shorts that contrasted with his thin white legs, and he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in the sauna. Rupert was very ‘proper’ with his ‘Good morning, Valery’ and ‘Good Night, Edward,’ spoken with an exaggerated ‘BBC-type’ voice.
Ed and I shared a room. The concierge didn’t even raise an eyebrow. But it was single beds, and whilst I lay, with an ache inside, fantasizing, Ed snored in his distant cot.
The third morning dawned to a shock. Edward wasn’t in his bed. I thought perhaps he’d gone for an early breakfast but by the time I’d showered and got dressed and gone down to the small dining room, he was nowhere to be seen.
“I think he went for an early morning walk,” said Greta, the elderly lady who ran the lodge with the help of her grandson, Karl. “I heard the front door open and close, about six o’clock.”
Karl and I followed footsteps in the snow for what seemed miles until we came to a cliff, and at the bottom, something, someone, poking through the snow in a white ski jacket with black leggings, the clothing Edward had worn the previous day.
The cable car brought a doctor, along with a team with ropes to extract the body. Ed was pronounced dead from injuries sustained during his fall and subsequent hypothermia.
“This was found by his body,” said Greta, handing me what appeared to be the horn of an animal, long and straight but spiralled. “I do believe it’s an alicorn.”
“An alicorn, what’s that?”
She smiled, “It’s the horn of a …, well, I believe it’s what he came here to find. He was an artist and photographer I understand. I’m so sorry.”
I hugged her and I cried and cried, and she held me tight.
But now I sit, ten years later, turning that strange, smooth, spiralled horn over and over in my hands, still wondering what really drove Ed out onto that icy path in the dark morning, and if I could have done anything to have changed his mind.
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