At times she wondered if she’d just collapse where she trod. Every step felt full of effort. The act of dragging her own form forwards was almost more than she could bear, but that was nothing when compared to the weight of the burden.
The burden shifted endlessly, even as she tried to maintain an even, balanced, gait. Its restless turmoil took her by surprise at every turn and she grew weaker with the effort of bearing it. Even though she knew that to stop, or to try to set it down would only make things so much worse.
Her feet were sore, the toes red and blistered, heels cracked and arches fallen from the force of the weight on her exhausted body. Her shoulders were a mass of knots and her spine cracked ominously when the burden rolled as they approached the next bend in the road.
The rocky landscape had remained unchanged for days and it was a relief to turn the corner and be confronted with the view of so much green. The valley spread almost endlessly below and it was with aching limbs, but a lighter heart, that she began the descent down the long winding track.
A river rushed beside the road and the burden shifted less frantically. Maybe it was soothed by the shushing of the trees, the babbling of the water. Tentatively, she stopped at an inlet on the riverbank and stood only a few feet from the water. She slowly unhooked the clasp from around her torso, easing the heavy canvas pack to the ground, setting it down softly on the moss.
The burden seemed to sense this abrupt cessation of its journey and it, too, ceased its wriggling and writhing. For a few moments she stared at the pack on the bank and idly wondered if she should simply open the flap and let the filthy thing crawl away into the undergrowth. But her memories of the underground chamber, the terror of the dark and the slime were enough to remove those final doubts from her weary mind.
Gently, with one hand braced on the trunk of an overhanging tree, she shoved the pack towards the river’s edge and let go a long sigh as it toppled soundlessly down the bank and landed with a muffled splash in the river. The pack writhed as it fell and was tossed in the current, before disappearing into the foaming torrent of the weir.
The woman allowed herself a grim smile of satisfaction before turning back the way she had come. There would many more burdens of possibly equal or even greater weight still to bear. She rubbed her shoulders with calloused hands and trod lightly as she went.
Arwen is a London-based writer, special education teacher and mother. She writes poetry and fiction and sometimes writes for freq.org.uk about music. More of her work can be found on her blog at http://curiouslittlebooks.wordpress.com
Story © 2012, A X Bennett
Photo © 2019, Alison Stedman