The Cruel Mountain
 

John Thomas Mann Gomperz
 

Edited by P. G. Woodhouse
 

© Copyright 2001 by John Gomperz

 

Why dont you start your story at the end ? - said Jeeves

That doesn't make much sense.

The whole story doesn't make much sense - said Jeeves

Our stay at Lake Balaton was nearing to the end. Oszi's car, a classic Trabant could handle only two passengers and there were five of us. We agreed to rent a car so we can do some sightseeing. Badacsony is far from a swarming Metropolis, we needed a place with at least some excitement. The rental place was about half an hour away, George agreed to go and get a car. By the time he got back the better part of the day was gone.

Oszi insisted to use two cars to be more comfortable. I had a slight suspicion, there is something more to it. I just couldn't put my finger on it. These guys have not seen me in 50 years. Who knows maybe they are still mad at me for not showing up ten years ago when they invited me. The convoy took off, Oszi in the lead car with Andris, us following without knowing where we are heading. The main road was just wide enough for two cars. Suddenly we veered of to the right and started to go up on a mountain road. I was hoping there is no traffic the opposite direction. If a car would come down the hill who would yield? Us,
crazy foreigners or them stupid natives.

The Trabant was about 5 car length ahead of us when Oszi swerved to the side of the road, all 3 feet of it, barely missing a very
old man, who started to wing from right to left and back. George had enough sense to stop our car as the old man picked up
speed and heading toward us with his arms flailing on this steep road, faster and faster. Then the unavoidable happened. He hit
the hood and disappeared from sight.

Where is he - shrieked George.

This was completely out of character for him. Not that he yelled, but that the last few seconds his mouth was shut. Usually you
couldn't put in a word edgewise. The sight of the staggering old man evidently paralyzed his body from the neck up.

Ivan jumped out of the car while my dignified self was extricating my imposing body, stomach that is from the passenger side,
pushing the door against some old dried out bushes that kept me from rushing to assist my friend.

Come on John, I need help with this man.

I know, I know just hold your horses until I get there.

Did you ever try to move a 200 pound body through a 2 inch opening? You could understand my predicament. I finely made it.
Grabbed the left arm of the old guy who was laying next to our car. Ivan was pulling on his right. The man gave us no help.
Actually he seemed amused how hard we were trying to help him. It probably was a new experience for him.

George, get your behind out of the car and help. The three of us managed to get the old fellow on his feet. Checked him over
for injuries, which he had none. We asked him if he is feeling any pain? I think that was the first stupid question that came to our
mind. Ivan was carefully examining the man, like a doctor. Come to think of it, Ivan is a doctor. He was hoping for a liver injury,
he would be very comfortable with the subject being a gastroenterologist.

No, nothing hurts, I just want to get home.

Ivan probing mind came up with the next question. I was wondering where that came from.

Have you been drinking a few glasses of wine?

A few glasses. A few bottles would be a better recounting.

By this time we were slowly walking up the street, dragging the old guy step by step.

Would you mind telling us how old you are - said Ivan just to keep the conversation alive. The answer stopped us cold in our
tracks. This oooold man was younger than any one of us. I was wondering what Jeeves would say if he was here.

Ask him where he lives - said Jeeves

Just up here.

Up where?

Now if you are not aware, Badacsony is wine country. Grapes growing everywhere In everybodys front and backyard. On this
hill side there were a few scattered homes peeking out between the vineyards but no human bodies were moving around. The
only one in the whole area, we had to run into.

So where is up here?

About 200 meters ahead.

At our speed 200 meters was about half an hour away.

Hey guys, lets try to get him in the car - I said

Okay

And that exactly what we did. The old fart was very comfortable on my seat so I told George

You fellows go ahead, I follow you on foot.

George, Ivan and our new found friend took off and soon disappeared behind a curve in the road. That was the last time I saw
them for the next hour. 200 meter is not bad I can walk 2 miles if I had to.

Never trust a drunkard estimating distances correctly - said Jeeves

After a mile I slowed down. After 2 miles I became suspicious again. This was all pre planned. They dropped and left me to my
wits to figure out the next step. Just at that second George showed up with the car. I had to wait til he found a spot where he
could turn around. No drunkard, no Ivan in the car.

What is going on George?

Well, that drunk lives quite a ways up the road. We tried to get him through the gate after he found his keys. The keys just didn't
seem to work. Than he said he has to piss. We stood him up on his feet and walked back a bit to be out of danger. If you know
what I mean. We tried to open the gate and finaly just gave up. We told the old man we will come back later and try again.

Where is Ivan?

Oh, I left him at the fork in the road.

As that old sage and philosopher, Yogi Berra said: When you come to a fork in the road, take it!

This time it was Andris who stood at the fork as we got there.

Oszi said go to the left and he will find us.

We drove further up until we reached the end of the road. We got out of the car and waited. Suddenly Oszi was yelling at us
from about 200 meters down, just where we came from.

Hey, get down here !

On foot or with the car?

I don't care just get here.

I heard Jeeves whispering in my ear - as long as you are paying for a rental car, may as well enjoy a few seconds in it. We
joined up with them and miraculously our group was together again. Oszi, standing at the bottom of an incline, pointed forward.

Let's go. We are walking up here.

Ivan took one look at the terrain and reached in his pocket and slipped a Nitro pill under his tongue. Oszi was half way up, so
we followed him. George was mumbling under his breath about climbing and slip sliding but being a good sport stepped on the
trail. I was the last one. Protecting my back from any unexpected attack. It wasn't really that bad of a climb. We reached a nice
forest path that suddenly ended at a narrow, dusty and extremely steep, threatening looking, unused part of the woods.

This is the last climb we have to do - said Oszi - it is very short, just take small steps. It's only ten yards or so.

Ivan put a second Nitro under his tongue. George started to curse and cuss at all of us for going up at all. Andris was seconding
him. But like good sheep we followed the leader. One step forward, two steps sliding back. It was amazing how we still
managed to make headways after grabbing for every branch, rocks and whatnot trying to steady ourselves. Oszi giving us the
heeveho at the last step and we were on a nice and pleasant walking path again in the woods.

Now three of us lead the pack, George and Andris brought up the tail end. They kept bitching about the whole affair, upsetting
the calm and serene atmosphere of the Mountain. Suddenly I spotted a large animal charging toward us. I stopped. So did the
beast. I motioned to the guys to stay still but the two at the end just kept talking louder and louder.

It's a deer - said Ivan

No it is not, it is a huge rabbit. Look at his ears.

Harvey the rabbit had enough out of us, he took off and never saw him again. Now I was set to observe some more wildlife. As
a highly trained Boy Scout I knew my chances are very slim as long I stick with the noisy crowd. I started to walk at a faster
pace and soon I put some distance between myself and the rest of them. Now the solitude of the forest was interrupted
occasionally only by the hammering sound of builders, seeping up from the Valley. I walked and looked, walked and looked
and saw nothing. Suddenly the wind whipped up. Dark storm clouds gathered above the trees and the woods became
somewhat eerie. It was time to let them to catch up with me. Found a nice solid granite block and sat down. The sky became
darker and more threatening. Lake Balaton has a strange history of storms. They develop in minutes, after overturning and
sinking a few sailboats they disappear just as fast. Ten minutes later I decided to return and find the group of ninnies who can't
walk fast enough to catch up with me. The further back I went I increased my speed. It made no sense that I don't see or hear
them. Aha, the plot thickens. They decided to abandon me. Now I was running and reached that fatal ten yards of steep dusty
path. Oszi was half way down and Ivan stood at the bottom.

There you are John - said Oszi - I'm glad you kept up with us Just take short steps, very short steps as you come down.

I did and that's all it took. One short step for mankind and...... It felt like somebody just planted some extra dry dust under my
feet. Suddenly my body was twisting and sliding, my feet out from under me served no useful purpose so I let go of them. The
rest of it in all slow motion. My back pointing toward the ground, my hand reaching for a steadying branch found a dry twig that
put the first wound in my falling torso. My camera flew out of my hand and started a fast descent toward the dark abyss I was
heading for. Head first I followed and my lifetime passed through my mind not missing any important episode as I was falling
from the Mountain.

I got your ankles John, I am holding on, don't move!

That was Oszi hanging on to my legs. I was hoping he will not strip my shoes and socks off. By now the athletes foot syndrome
had to take effect and I did not want to offend him with the sweaty odor. As I said before I was a highly trained Boy Scout with
at least two merit badges who cared for others more than himself. Poor Oszi was gripping my ankles so hard that the blood
stopped circulating. Next step, gangrene.

Please let go off my feet

Okay, but just stay calm and try to prop your feet against a tree. Something stronger than the twig you grabbed, coming down.

Did you ever try to make a sensible move laying on your back, hanging down in a 120 degree angle? I'd say not. So I slowly
turned my body over to my well padded stomach bringing down my right arm that stayed way up in the air for some
unexplained reason. That did it. All the dry shrubs with 2 inch stickers tore into my unprotected body and I started to bleed
profusely. The first casualty were my brand new shorts, I just bought for this trip. It was getting soaked and I was getting angry.
My Hawaian shirt did not matter, it had all kind of colors in it, some more red hues can only enhance the design. Now I was
determined to survive this almost fatal accident thinking of the TV show: Survivors. I could feel what they went through, though I
never watched that stupid show.

I reached the trunk of a tree with one foot while maneouvering the other to set on something solid.

Just move slowly, taking small steps, small steps, small steps.

At this point Oszi's entire vocabulary was mainly occupied by two words, small steps. This would be funny if you spoke
Hungarian. Small steps, translated also means one third of glass of wine filled with sparkling water. Opposed to a long step that
is half and half, occasionally also called as a spritzer. You needed a Hungarian idiot to learn about some Hungarian idioms. I
needed a wine drink like a few more wounds on my smarting body. A glass of gin, maybe. But no such thing existed within a
hundred miles.

The cruel Mountain at last let go of me. I was back on the path, standing next to Ivan who at this time slipped all the remaining
Nitros in his mouth. His face was ashen, he was ready to faint from seeing all the blood. In an operating room it is all right but in
the woods that is outragous. Let's put things in the right objective.

We finally reached the car. The Trabant. The rented vehicle was gone.

Where are the other two jokers?

They wanted to see some of the village, so they took off.

Well they didn't expect to see me back alive, just left. Their well planned murder scheme just went awry. Wait till I see you two.
You went out of your way to help an unknown drunk but your old pal can go to hell. Real fine friends you are. It crossed my
mind not to pay my share of the rental car. Now that would be punishment, well deserved But as Boy Scout I stayed true to my principles and discarded the thought. It would have been fun to watch their faces when shelling out more money than they
counted on.

In the Trabant we found a century old emergency kit. It was only a few years older than the car itself. The Band Aids fell off
faster than Ivan was able to put them on. All the time informing me about the bill I can expect in the mail. With every fallen strip
my bill went up and when I suggested to use just plain old gauze, it doubled. It was time to take stricter measures. I brought up
the possibility of a report to the AMA. He just snickered, it had nothing to do with Canadian doctors.

The Trabant was moving slowly and I was bleeding faster. There was a chance for applying a better bandage in Oszi's kitchen
while Ivan kept telling me, You should really see a doctor. He meant when I get back to Los Angeles but here and now it
sounded ominous.

EPILOGUE

There were two troubling thoughts racing through my mind.  Was there a conspiracy to do me in as Lisa Doolittle would            have said and Why in the hell did we have to go up the Mountain?

Ce la vie - said Jeeves.

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