The mouth of the tunnel was an orangey glow in the darkness of the night. The first of the runners came out of the tunnel and started to circle the tarn: the tarmac of the road gave way to a smooth gravel pathway. Portable lighting had been erected to guide the runners, to prevent accidents. The path came to an end: the bright white lights were set back from the end of the path to allow the end of the path to fall away into increasingly dense shadow.
As each runner reached the last light, they were handed an unlit candle. Walking now, contemplative, they followed the path to the edge of the water, and lit their candle from a tiki torch that marked the start of a short pontoon. Walking to the front edge of the jetty, each person knelt, floated their candle on the cold, inky water and bowed their head for a moment. Five hundred candles had already been lit and floated in the centre of the lake; a light breeze, and the natural movement of the water, drew the candles to the the others, where they joined the lazy swirling gyre. Each watched their candle drift off into the darkness before moving away to allow the next to take their place
The elite race, longer and over more rugged, although still taking in a circuit of the lake, had finished some hours before. The weather had not been conducive to personal bests, being too hot and humid, although the Canadian Paralympian Birt Davies had threatened the course record. The competition though was besides the point: they’d had a good turn out for it, and Maisy Andrews, the organiser, was pleased that everything had gone well, but only in as much as the competition covered the costs of the event this evening. There had been no dramas: even Davies and his arch-rival Carlos Xu had steered clear of one another. Perhaps they sensed that their usual antics, played out for the camera, would not play well today.
Maisy handed over a candle to each runner as they came by. Some she knew well: they had run this course every year since the memorial began. Others were new faces, come to take over from someone who could not make the pilgrimage anymore, or who had found that they had a connection, or just that they felt they wanted to pay their respects. There were fewer runners in the evening, and it did not take long for them to pass by. Maisy didn’t know how long the event would continue, how long people would come keep coming up to the tarn; she only knew that she would continue to organise it for as long as she was able. Certainly there were those who asked every year “You’ll be doing it again, won’t you?” anxious to be reassured that, yes, the memorial would continue. Running the course herself was beyond Maisy, these days, although she had been one of those who had run up the mountain when disaster had struck. But even if she were the only one to turn up, she would walk, and she would light the five hundred candles, one for each person who had died, and she’d do that every year that she could drag herself up here.
In the last few years, the observance had seen the addition of a party back down in the town. A wake for a lost friend, not too raucous, but a celebration rather than a lamentation, with poetry, music, and dancing. No doubt Ellis O’Neill would be holding court, following the annual declamation of his Lay. These days, this was becoming the only overt reminder of the tragedy that had brought the lake itself into existence.
Maisy and Mervyn, her brother, used to sit together and look at the moon. He would tell her about the craters and about the Moon mopping up the meteorites that would otherwise have hit the Earth. And then he’d tell her about the ones that snuck past, relatively small, but moving so fast that their energy, released into the crust of the Earth, created craters tens, hundreds of kilometers in diameter, created trillions of carats of diamonds with the heat and pressure of the impact.
Liberty Tarn was much the same, albeit on a smaller scale, although it was a significantly more recent addition to the geography of the Earth. It was named after the Liberty space station that had been deorbited by Earth First terrorists. They had planned to drop the station on a major city. Mervyn, with two others, had managed to regain control of the flight deck. They hadn’t been able to save themselves, nor anyone else on board, but then they hadn’t expected to. Doomed, their last act was to control the re-entry of the station, as best as could be managed and prevent the E1 group from achieving their goals.
The station had come down in the mountains, wiping out a piece of road and severing the connection between two towns. A small mercy, there had been no one on the road when the crater was formed. The impact caused localised quakes, landslides, destruction. Another small mercy, the impact site was relatively barren, with sparse wooded slopes and so the fires that broke out died as quickly as they started. Another 5 miles further East and the vast forests surrounding the area would have caught alight, a veritable tinderbox after a long, dry summer.
Mervyn didn’t know that his sister was staying in one of the nearby towns, visiting a college friend before heading back for a new academic year. Woken by the noise of the impact, she joined the group that went to see what had happened, driving into the mountains, only to find the road blocked. They scrambled up over mud and rocks. An engineer in the group insisted on checking the tunnel whilst the rest waited impatiently. No one really knew what to expect, coming out of the tunnel. In fact there was little to see. A big hole in the ground, small fragments of this, that and t’other.
Maisy walked to the end of the jetty. She took off her walking sandals and placed them neatly side by side, and sat down next to them, trailing her feet in the water. She watched the candles floating on the water. She watched the stars flickering in the humid air. Alex, her husband arrived and sat beside her, draping his fleece lined jacket over her shoulders, as the night cooled. Together they watched the moon rise.
© David Jesson, 2018