The High Tatras of Czechoslovakia

High Tatras trail, Czechoslovakia

Eventually, Ariel reached the rugged High Tatras, the mightiest peaks in the Carpathian chain. He found them because their bulk beckoned, jutting out of the Polish flatlands and foothills. The High Tatras were like all giant mountains: indifferent to suffering, worse in the heat than in the cold, simply too big in scale for humans to comprehend. 

Even before Ariel started climbing, he knew that he was dying. He had not touched food or water, and by now he could barely think straight or feel his own limbs. He labored higher and higher, often on his knees beneath the incandescent August sun. His shoes were long gone. His naked feet bled, the fine rivulets staining the moss that grew so bravely out of the crevices in the stone. 

High Tatras lake, Czechoslovakia

After all the years of yearning for one thing or another, Ariel had only one desire left—to find his and Miriam’s vision of the lake beside the Trail of Tears. On the third day, he crawled to the top of a granite cliff and peered down at a snow-fed black pool nestled far below among jagged rocks. His search was over. Trembling in every joint, his wasted muscles sighed in distress as he struggled to reach his full height. Instinct alone made his toes grip the scree-covered lip of the precipice. 

Now that Ariel had managed to stand upright, he recalled having to do something he could never undo, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was. 

From “Kidnapping of Svnoyi,” Chapter 8: Ariel

High Tatras meadow, Czechoslovakia

High Tatras meadow, Czechoslovakia

From then on, Anichka seldom left Ariel. She set his bones and healed his grievous wounds with fragrant salves made from the flora that Jaroslav gathered along the steep mountainsides. She breathed air into his lungs, all the while massaging his icy limbs. She fed him the nectar of the precious-juiced flowers from the meadows, being extra careful not to let him choke. And so Ariel continued to survive in a deep coma, his mind living a life of its own in far-away times and places. 

From “Kidnapping of Svnoyi,” Chapter 8: Anichka