Contains references to human sacrifice and bloody imagery
This is what it means for a girl to die in the Andes.
First she is chosen. Her selection is a great honor, say the priests, say the nobles, say her parents, through their tears. She is fed, clothed, worshipped like royalty. Villagers prostrate themselves at the feet of her procession as it leaves the capital and climbs upwards, ever upwards, and on an ice-white point overlooking the world attendants chant as she is wreathed in silver and macaw feathers and gold—while her blood steams in the thinning air. A famine ravages the land. Her death will once again draw the favor of the gods to the Children of the Sun.
Below her, nations rise and fall. Snow envelops, winds race, stone formations erode and are built again. Slowly but surely, the mountain encases her. Embraces her.
These days the Children of the Sun no longer answer to that name. Their gods—terrible, imperious gods, gods of sun and moon and mountain—are asleep, or scattered to the winds. But the girl remains.
Hers is a solitary existence. But it is never lonely. For she belongs to the mountain, now, and the mountain belongs to her; and how could a mountain be lonely?
Time passes. Whether it passes in seconds or centuries is of no concern to her. She will weather the passage of time.
She always has.
Listen: the snow crunches. She notices her visitors. Two ragged men, barely into their adulthood, have made their way to the summit. She has never seen their style of dress before. They are seeking help, she learns, for they are the strongest of the survivors who huddle together in the wreckage of a machine that fell out of the sky and crashed into her mountain.
Their ascent was three days of grim horror. They are weak from hunger, from thirst, from sheer altitude, and up there, the snow piles up to your waist. Up there, the only constant is the storm. On the second night howling winds threatened to sweep them off the mountainside entirely.
They will call it a miracle, when these men find their way out of the mountains. A miracle in the Andes. But they cannot stop now. If they stop, they die, and the others will die alongside them.
On the mountaintop, the sun has just begun to rise.
A vivid kaleidoscope of color unfurls across the sky. The jagged landscape is awash with gold. For the girl this is a common sight; the men, however, are stunned.
She cannot understand their speech, but she sees the trembling of their fingers, the tears in their eyes, the strange peace welling in their souls, and she understands what they are saying to each other now
“Can you imagine how beautiful this would be,” says one, “if we were not dead men?” He takes the hand of the other.
The men continue onwards, down the mountain, towards their miracle. The skies are clear and blue.
Ferdison Cayetano is a student at the College of William & Mary, where he is majoring in history. You can find him on Twitter @ferdwrites. Please offer him jobs.