Bob looked out over the white valley and understood what it meant to feel shame, to want to hide from purity. The view was stunning.
The mountain peaks stood before him like the first saints of the natural world. The valley of snow stood still and silent below them like their flock of faithful followers. As Bob worked his way down into that valley, his feet falling through the thin crust of snow and sinking up to his knees, he felt the judgement of creation. The sky was an unearthly blue above him, and the sun shone as if it were the very light of heaven itself. Despite the clear skies, the air was thin and cold and stole the oxygen from his blood. Before that silent audience, Bob plead his case.
He shuffled his body through the snow with a cautious determination. As he made his turns, shaping his path accordingly, he kept his eyes down. He didn’t want to see the small plane that had crashed into the hillside. He didn’t want to believe that what was happening was reality. The pilot had done a masterful job of landing, no doubt about that. He nearly saved so many lives. Yet in those efforts, he only condemned Bob to a worse fate. His stomach grumbled as he pushed through the snow. His throat cracked with dryness.
When he finished the ‘H,’ he fell into the soft snow to rest. His feet were numb. He looked at his shoes and pant legs. He had wrapped them in torn plastic that he recovered from the plane, but snow was still getting in. The death of cold snuck into his skin. The sun rolled off to the west and the towering saints and their congregation looked down. Bob knew what they were waiting for. “I don’t want to die out here,” he said quietly to himself. “I DON’T WANT TO DIE OUT HERE!” The words drifted off into the valley and were taken in by the snow. He heard no echo.
He pushed on into the afternoon and completed his ‘E.’ He wanted to go up the side of the mountain to see if it was shaped correctly, but he didn’t have the energy. The sun was pushing hard on the horizon and the shadows from the mountains were stretching their length across the land. Bob ate snow to soothe his burning throat. It didn’t help much.
Darkness surrounded Bob as he finished the ‘L’ of his word, or so he thought. The moon remained hidden, and the cold stars withheld their light. A thin layer of clouds swept over the night sky. It was the congregation that gathered in the night.
Bob pushed his numb feet and numb legs into the snow to try to make it back to the plane. He collapsed halfway up the hill. Snow trickled in around his collar, but he didn’t care. His lungs gasped for more, just a bit more, rest here and we’ll recover. The darkness and the cold took him and embraced him. He took comfort in their gentle care. He died peacefully, and the snow fell. The letters he’d exhausted his life over, ‘HEL,’ were carefully filled in.
In the morning, the sun rose, and the eternal congregation gathered once again.