Rock and Ice – 1

By Christopher Zoukis

Image courtesy

The gravesite is high and cold and detached.  No one knows its precise location anymore.  For it’s been nigh onto forty years since they took him up there.

Back in 1974, his ashes were poured in an urn, which was placed in a backpack, which was strapped to a man’s back as the ascent was made.  Next to the urn in the backpack was a hand drill, like a small rotating auger.  When the drill was energized by human strength, razor sharp stainless steel blades performed the cutting.

Two men accompanied the urn on the climb, which took hours.  One of them, tanned and strong, carried the backpack, leading the way.  The other followed behind, moving cautiously, like a virgin toward a sacrificial altar.  For this was not his normal environment.

Once the proposed location was reached, the hand drill came out.  As the blades of the bit bored their way into the ice, the man cranking the drill looked around.  Snow, glazed ice reflecting the sun – the reason for his sunglasses – and black rocks were all he saw.  He felt the cold wind cut through his down-filled jacket, his wool sweater, his shirt, his thermalite t-shirt.  And it was June.

He shook his head thinking, what a Godforsaken place.

Checking the spinning cutter, he pushed a little harder, trying to hasten the action.  A few minutes later, he stopped.  Pulling the device out and setting it aside, he examined the hole.  Six inches in diameter by twelve inches deep.  Orbiting the edge of the hole was a pile of sliced ice, like potato chips made of frozen water.

He gave his companion – a priest – a firm nod.

The priest uncapped the urn, and began pouring the ashes into the icy hole. Caught by the wind, the ashes rushed away, as if trying to avoid glacial bondage.  So the priest placed the neck of the urn into the hole.  After shaking the urn to get the last white granules out, he handed the urn to the other man, who tucked it into his backpack.

They both stood, shivering, as the priest mumbled something vaguely religious.  He really didn’t know what to say since the ashes belonged to a man who, at best, was vaguely religious.

Finished, the priest gestured to the other man, who dropped to his knees and used his gloved hands to push the ice shavings back into the hole.  He patted it down to make sure.  Then stood and stomped on it with one of his boots.

The two men looked at each other for a moment, then ducking their heads into the freezing wind, left.

Behind them, the glacier on Monte Rosa, on the Italian side, glistened in the sun.  A cold tombstone for a cold man.

Who was this man who wanted an entire mountain for his tombstone?