How did I come to be here? Well, let me prepare some tea and food while I tell you my story. You get settled by the fire; you must be frozen.
It was some years ago, I am not sure how many — it could be five or fifteen; time seems not to move here. Like you, I climbed that rocky path on the north side. Did they tell you down below not to take it? Yes, they told me, too. But my sense of adventure — and my pride, it must be said — got the better of me.
For half a day I trudged up the path, which, as you know, gets very steep and tricky after the first full bend. I was having problems — slipping on the shale, making very little headway. I could have gone back, and that would have been the sensible thing to do. But my pride again.
So I went on, and in the late afternoon, when the snow started, I found an overhanging rock that afforded me some shelter. It snowed for two whole days. I finished the little food I had brought with me and got to thinking that I might never leave the mountain.
Then on the third day the blizzard stopped and I dug my way out of the snow that had accumulated around the rock. It was a brilliant morning, the sun throwing sparkles onto the immaculate white carpet that covered everything around. I guessed the direction of the invisible path and, though feeling very weak, endeavoured to continue on my way.
It was hard going. I did not have my snow shoes, and my legs disappeared up to the knees with each step. But I knew that it was a question of going on or going back, and while my legs were faltering, my intent was not.
When I reached the top of the first ridge on that third day, I was horrified to note that the summit and the valley beyond were much further away than I had imagined. I made a quick assessment of the situation and came to the conclusion that without food or snow shoes, and with the fatigue I was already feeling, there was no way I could make it now. So I took the painful decision to go back, and I was actually about to turn when I saw the first wolf.
It was standing near the tree-line to my right. I was downwind from it, so it could not detect me by scent, but I do not know why it failed to see me. Then two or three other wolves emerged from the line of trees. I did not wait around to let them spot me. I waded through the snow and plunged into the pines to my left. The wolves started howling behind me, and I just kept going.
After what seemed like hours, but it could have been mere minutes, the howling began to fade and I breathed a little more easily. The problem was that by now I was completely disoriented. Following my tracks back might have meant coming up against the wolves, so I slogged blindly downhill. Then I saw it.
Through the tops of the pines, a thin plume of smoke. There is no smoke without fire, and here on the mountain, I surmised, no fire without shelter. So I made for the smoke, and after another half hour or so I came across this cabin, as you did.
How is the tea? Warming, yes?
He made me tea, the man who was in the cabin before me. He told me how he had come to be here, rather like I am telling you. How he had also got lost and had come across the cabin. After a few minutes, my eyes began to droop. I imagined that it was the fatigue — the lack of food, the climb. The man smiled at me, and that smile brought me to my senses; it was an odd mixture of pity and euphoria and it chilled my blood. As did what he said next.
“Before you slip away,” he whispered, not unkindly, “I have to tell you what is happening and what will happen next. The thing I have put in your tea is sending you to sleep. It will be a deep sleep. When you wake, I will be gone, and the cabin will be yours. You will try to leave but you will be unable to; something will hold you back at the door. I do not know what that something is. I wish I did. Like me, you may spend your time here wondering just that. You will stay here until the next person comes to take over — to be the next keeper of the cabin. This is exactly what the person before me said, and she told me that I was to pass this message on to you, as you will pass it on to the next.”
I can see that you are nearly gone. Please do not think badly of me. When you wake, it will be as the old man before me said. Do not panic — I know that is easy to say. But there really is nothing you can do, only wait. Wait for the next.
And so, my friend, I bid you farewell.