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First "Easy" Hike of 2018

Everywhere the sound of mountains thawing. The waterline in the reservoir is frighteningly low, we assume to make room for the water raging down from above, gurgling all around us. It's a warm day in the middle of April. And the place is almost deserted.

We go left around theSchlegeisspeichersee (Schlegeis reservoir), home to one of Austria's most powerful hydroelectric plants, a body of water that would wash away the little tourist town of Gerlos if it were given the chance. We go left because we know there's more sun after a short jaunt through the woods. We've been here several times before. It wasn't our first choice today, but the lifts aren't open yet, and we don't usually walk down mountains.

Andrew the Walrus Tusk Polisher's Assistant suggests anice easy walk around the Speichersee. Austrian, Italian and German families come here with their kids. In summer, people sunbathe here and drink Aperol Spritz. Groups of elderly hikers with their dogs tramp up to the mountain huts. This is not a place for rugged mountain climbers or endurance athletes with high-tech shoes. It's easy.
And the first two hours are just that: a walk in the sun, fresh air, the pleasant sound of a gregarious spring thaw. We're alone, and that's fine. We don't really enjoy the chatter of crowds. But the absence of tourists on this amazingly beautiful, warm April day is eerie. At the halfway mark we sit on a bench and eat our lunch. Andrew the Walrus Tusk Polisher's Assistant's: an orange. Mine: a ham sandwich on a burnt gluten-free roll. Not a dream picnic, but OK.

I say hello to a guy on a mountain bike, the first person I've seen since we started hiking two hours before. He's cycling toward the treeline, where we'll be headed after we finish our lavish lunch.

"The breeze is remarkably warm for April," says Andrew the Walrus Tusk Polisher's Assistant.

I nod. It's hard to talk when choking on a crusty, burnt sandwich.

When we finally head back around the right side of the reservoir, we come upon our first obstacle: a stream that is usually a trickle, one that kiddies splash through without a care in the world. This time it's babbling, meaning we'd get our feet wet if we tried to cross. We have to walk upstream a few hundred meters to find a place to cross. This should have been our first sign--that easy was over.

The right side of the reservoir is not in the sun most of the day, so there's still snow. By the time we figure this out, we've walked too far to turn around. Call this lazy; call this practical; call this adventuresome. The snow is a minor inconvenience. We're not really equipped to walk through snow, but we're also not wearing flip-flops. At this moment we see our cyclist come back toward us. He does not say, "Hey, don't go into the wood. Why not? I'm glad you asked. There are dozens of enormous trees down blocking the path, making it impassable. You'll be a mess when you're done with that, so just turn around now and cut your losses." He does not say any of this. He says, "Hello."

The first few trees we have to crawl under or over are fairly typical for fallen trees. The next few downed trees fall--get it?--into the category of devastation. The next dozen or so are straight out ofThe Lord of the Ringswhen the armies of Saruman went on their felling spree. There must have been an apocalyptic storm or an avalanche. I didn't take any pictures after we started dealing with the trees. I was too busy not breaking bones or skewering eyes on jutting branches.

Rather than turn around and walk around the reservoir the way we came, we--meaning Andrew the Walrus Tusk Polisher's Assistant--decide to tumble down through the wood to the reservoir and walk along the shore. The waterline is so low that we think this will be possible. To get to the shoreline, though, we have to get through an obstacle of knee-deep snow, which is very refreshing actually. Have you ever walked along the waterline of a reservoir? The surface of this one is clay that cakes on your shoes, making them heavier and heavier. There's nothing left to do but trudge back through the knee-deep snow, back into the wood. We find the trail. We always know we'll find the trail. We aren't lost, just inconvenienced. But the situation still reminds us just how fast something fun and harmless can go wrong. Bright side: the knee-deep snow cleans the clay off our shoes. And I do not have any scratches all over my arms and legs, which I can't say for Andrew the Walrus Tusk Polisher's Assistant.

I must be off,

PS. Have you bought my new book of flash fiction? In the US, you can buy it on Amazon. And I'll send you virtual cupcakes and kisses.


Christopher Allenis the author ofOther Household Toxins(Matter Press) andConversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire). Allen's fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in[PANK], FRiGG, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Speculative anthology,Indiana Review, Night Train, Juked,SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Yearsanthology, and Lunch Ticket, among many others. Read his book reviews in[PANK] blog, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, and The Lit Pub.His creative non-fiction has been featured inBootsnall Travel, Chicken Soup for the Souland lots of other good places. A finalist atGlimmer Trainin 2011, Allen is a multiple nominee for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net,The Best Small Fictions,storySouth's Million Writers Award and others. In 2017 Allen was both a finalist (as translator) and semifinalist forThe Best Small Fictions. He is presently the managing editor ofSmokeLong Quarterlyand a consulting editor forThe Best Small Fictions 2018.

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