This is the fourth part of the story I'm writing for a dear friend of mine. Grab a cup of coffee and get caught up on the first three parts of the tale if you need.
The Photograph Part 1
The Photograph Part 2
The Photograph Part 3
The figures in the photograph have been transformed into strange, inverse images of themselves as they're repeatedly reflected on the inside of my windshield. The night, the amber glow of the sodium lamps and time have colluded to change the shorter one's hair from blonde to brunette. Time itself has rendered the other figure's hair a different shade.
The interstate is behind me now. The illumination brought by the roadside lamps is more constant, but the period of the sweep from the photograph's reflection is short, more stuttering. It is no longer a lengthening and stretching; now it is more of a ghoulish reflection, flashing sporadically on the inside of my windshield. The image's pulsing apparition matches my heartbeat; the rapidity at which the picture appears--reflected, reversed, inversed--mimics the crush of emotions spilling from the depths of my memory. Some happy, some sad, but the entire gamut comes to the forefront as I stare at the photograph itself while waiting for an interminable light to change to green. The blue glow of my phone's screen sheds a differing contrast on the image, making the reflection all the more ghastly.
Finally, the light switches green. I turn to left, the image stretches and follows along.
The alarm went off at a disturbingly early time. The night was still dark, and the world was quiet. The rain from the previous day had brought with it a lingering chill that clung to the night air. I did not bother to shower, but my Saint Alban's shirt was hanging in the bathroom of the cottage, drying from the previous day's drizzle that had soaked through the fabric. Though the shirt had dried in the hours between my walk through the emptied streets of Bar Harbor and the insane predawn hour I roused myself, the night's chill saturated the garment like yesterday's rain had. Shrugging it on, I waited for my body to warm the inside of the jacket before leaving the cottage. It was the warmest piece of clothing I had brought with me, and I was not going to leave without it.
There was a road to drive up the mountain, but I opted for the more difficult way of trying to decipher the labyrinthine trails that lead to Cadillac Mountain's summit. The night was cold and the sky was dark--a perfect dome of diamond-encrusted black stretching forever in all directions. Not even the meager light offered by the sleeping town below dimmed the lighted symphony of the night sky. Though the tree cover was thick along the trails, I could see through the canopy enough to keep an eye on where the north star hung in the black tapestry. Like so many mariners before me, I navigated my way through the night by that one unmoving beacon as the rest of the stars danced in slow circles around that singular point of white.
I did my best to keep the North Star before me so that the east was to my right, but the trails wound around and up. The paths were not simple to navigate, and I cursed my stupidity for trying to climb a mountain in the dark. I could hear other cars on the road climbing the mountain, so I knew I would not be alone when I finally made it somewhere that I could clearly look out over the ocean. Cursing the people who took the easy way up, I pushed forward, sweat running down my brow and between my shoulder blades despite the halo of frost hanging before me with each breath.
Finally, I came to one of the areas on the top cleared for people like me--those who mistakenly thought that they would be first thing the sun would touch when it came over the eastern edge of the world. Already, the eastern sky looked bruised along the flat line of the horizon, greens and lighter blues replacing the deep blue and black of night. The moon had set hours ago; the stars were now retreating from the oncoming sun.
The viewing area was already populated, though there were not many people around. As I looked out over the inky spill of ocean forming the distant horizon, I caught slivers of clandestine conversations. People complained that it was cold, that it was early, that they were tired. I tried to push their voices out of my mind. Instead, I watched silently while the eastern half of the world began the gentle move toward morning.
The change was gradual at first. The darkness of the eastern sky faded and the soft hues of dawn climbed slowly into the sky, a reverse rainbow spreading across the horizon from one edge of the world to the next. The waters slowly transformed from liquid black to soft gray to a strange, colorless liquid that seemed to swallow the light from the sky. Shapes slowly began to emerge from the night-dark sea, and I could see the beautifully-folded rocks that comprised the shoreline tumbling away into the waters of the Atlantic.
For lack of anything else to do, I lit a cigarette while the edge of the world faded from pink to orange to the yellow that rides before the sun's actual emergence above the eastern horizon. The waters of the Atlantic flushed with color as the thinnest edge of the sun finally came over the rim of the world. An orange sliver of brilliant light slipped above the perfectly straight line where the water met the sky, and I stood, breathless, as the day slowly spread over the world.
Somewhere farther to the north, they saw this happen a few seconds before I did, but I did not care. There are very few things in the world that are more beautiful than watching the sun rise over the ocean, but to do it from the top of the tallest point for a few miles around goes beyond breathtaking. It was as if the world was coming alive with each drop of sunlight that fell upon it.
Something within me moved, and for a moment I thought I was going to have an emotional breakdown. I felt my mind spinning out of control, all the stresses of the recent weeks suddenly breaking free and jointing the torrent of emotions swirling within my head. Taking a deep breath, I tried to drink in the morning. I felt the sun's warmth finally fall on my face, the chill slowly ebbing away with the night.
I watched as the orange ball slowly began to emerge over the horizon; to my back, the last vestiges of night were being swept away while the earliest moments of dawn seized the sky. For just a second, as I took in my surroundings, trying to look at everything at once as the beauty of the day broke before me, I felt a calmness surge up and through me. The emotional wreck that had threatened to drag me down a moment before was gone; in its place was a serenity that I had not felt in years. At the edges of the warmth that burned within my chest, I could feel something dangerously akin to happiness. Involuntarily, a smile tugged at the edges of my mouth.
Perhaps the old man I met in the diner had been right after all.
The wind changed, switching around and blowing in more from the ocean, carrying the sweetly bitter iodine scent of the water with it. Even the smell of dying and rotting sea weed had a calming effect on me.
"Hey!" someone barked, "You can't smoke that up here. It's state property." He had a kind of hipster smugness in the smirk he shot me after castigating me over my half-smoked cigarette. It was the kind of look that would start a fight in a bar. For half a second, my hand curled into a fist before I reached up to my mouth and plucked the burning stick from my lips.
"Lucky for me that I just quit, huh?" I said, taking the cigarette and crushing it against the sole of my foot. Ash and unburned tobacco fell to the ground. I took the dead cigarette with me as I turned and began to walk back down the mountain.