by Jo Dearden
The guide book blurb sounded promising: A mountain train journey to an icy paradise. The hotel concierge was persuasive. ‘You can’t leave Interlaken without going up the Jungfrau. The views are quite spectacular. A breath-taking experience.’
The day began with breakfast on the terrace and the warm sun on their backs. It was still quite early but many of the other guests were also enjoying the delicious hot coffee and croissants looking out across the lake in front of the hotel. The water gently lapped against the wall below where John and Alice were sitting. Tinkling cow bells resounded in the clear, refreshing air. The tranquillity was intoxicating. No-one seemed to be in a hurry to get on with their day.
‘Switzerland has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth in the summer,’ Alice said as she gazed into the distance at the snow-capped mountains with lush green valleys below. ‘I’m so excited. Just being here is one of the best things I’ve ever done, but going to the top of the Jungfrau, well that must be on everyone’s bucket list’. John slowly sipped his coffee. He seemed slightly edgy this morning, not quite himself. Alice wasn’t sure. Perhaps she was imagining it.
The small mountain railway station was packed with skiers. Alice felt out of place. Rucksacks, woolly hats, thick socks and sturdy boots were everywhere. The temperature outside was a pleasant 25 centigrade. Perhaps it would be cold at the top of the mountain. It hadn’t really occurred to either of them that they might need warm clothing. Alice wasn’t even wearing socks and her summer trousers suddenly seemed very thin and flimsy. She shivered. ‘Let’s come back tomorrow,’ she pleaded, but John had already bought their tickets.
Before she had time to think, the mountain train came bustling into the station. John pulled her through one of the doors and grabbed one of the double wooden slatted seats ahead of the woolly hat brigade. The train lurched forward with such a jolt that some of the rucksacks and skis clattered to the floor. Alice looked out of the window as the train trundled out of the station. Swiss chalets were dotted amongst grazing cattle in the ripe fields. Wild flowers cascaded down the hillsides like floral water falls.
In the distance Alice could make out a black shape in the side of a mountain. It beckoned eerily with its icy stare. ‘Look John. Is that where we are going?’ she asked nervously.
‘Yes, I think so. The guide book said we would be travelling through the North face of the Eiger to get to the top of the Jungfrau.’
The sun disappeared behind a cloud as the train approached the gaping rocky hole. Some of the other passengers gasped as a gloomy darkness descended on the carriage. Alice clutched John’s arm. She felt claustrophobic travelling on the tube in London. How was she going to cope with this, she wondered? She closed her eyes as the train entered the mountain tunnel.
The interior lights flickered and came on. Sighs of relief could be heard as newspapers rustled, drink cans popped, and bags of sweets and crisps crackled. After a few minutes, the train jerked violently as it seemed to turn a sharp corner and slowed down to almost a walking pace. This was the narrow part, which Alice vaguely remembered reading about. She could hear a child crying at the end of the carriage. She looked out of the window. To her horror, all she could see was rock, brown, jagged and menacing. It appeared to be pressed up against the train. Any moment they would all be crushed to death.
Alice felt a few tears beginning to prick her eyes. John grasped her hand. ‘Don’t worry love. We’ll be there in a few minutes. Just think of the view.’
He was right. The train emerged from the blackness into dazzling daylight. They all tumbled out of the train, almost tripping over one another.
‘I feel as though I’ve been on a terrifying roller coaster ride,’ laughed Alice.
Exclamations in a variety of languages echoed round the tiny alpine station as the vast icy plateau greeted them. Its brilliant whiteness was blinding. John and Alice stepped gingerly onto the glittering snow. Skiers swished past them as they slithered in their inadequate summer shoes.
‘Let’s see if we can get some lunch over there,’ John pointed towards what looked like a restaurant in the distance.
‘But our feet will get wet. We shouldn’t have come John. We’re not wearing the right clothes.’
‘Oh, come on, we’re here now. Look there’s a path over there.’ John grasped Alice’s hand as he led her towards the building.
The warmth was overpowering as they staggered through the large glass doors. John managed to find them a window table. Alice kicked off her wet canvas shoes and glanced at the menu. John’s mobile started to ring. ‘There’s no signal here,’ he said as he got up from the table and walked towards the entrance.
Alice sat drinking a steaming cup of hot chocolate. She looked at her watch. John had been gone for nearly an hour. What was he doing? She went outside but knew she wouldn’t get far in her light summer clothing. She asked a few people if they had seen a tall, blonde slightly overweight 35-year-old man wearing khaki chinos and a denim shirt. As she stood shivering, wondering what to do, she heard a shout. A man had been found. He had slipped and broken his ankle.
The journey down the mountain was a hazy blur. An ambulance was waiting with its blue light flashing. As John was lifted up on a stretcher, his phone slipped out of his pocket. Alice picked it up. A message popped on to the screen. It was from someone called Jane: ‘I can’t wait to see you.’ There were several kisses underneath. Alice let go of the phone. The glass screen shattered as it hit the ground.
About the author
Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times. She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently attending a creative writing class., which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.