Written in response to inspiration provided by Elisa (call for inspiration 3):
The sun was climbing. It urged, nagged at the old man like a burning fuse. The beads of sweat on his brow ran across the river system of creases that strapped his face until they fell to the ground. He reached behind him with his good hand and painstakingly unclipped his bottle from his belt and shook it. Half full, he thought, should be enough. If I’m careful. The bottle slipped from his grip and fell to the ground. He slid to the ground to retrieve it. The wet ground was cold against the thin material of his pants. He clipped the bottle to the front of his belt and got up.
Back home the old man had smirked as one by one his mates had moved into retirement villages. He had been concerned as their fishing groups whittled away one by one, as everyone decided to stay closer to their children, and the doctor’s surgery. He looked down at his limp right arm. Yes, he thought, I understand how they felt.
The panther had been following him since early morning. It was the antithesis of the sun, a core of nothingness moving through the jungle shadow. There was something frightening about a panther; this jaguar wrapped in darkness.
He was chasing the day; the night was chasing him.
The Urabamba Valley called to him beseechingly; mocked him with cries of delight; cried at his sorrow. The man didn’t care. He reached the peak and saw it. The stone work capping the natural beauty around it. The man smiled.
He was going to make it.
He began his decent. Machu Picchu waited for him. The Intihuatana stone waited for him.
The sun would not wait. The panther would not wait. He felt himself balanced between the escaping day and the looming night like a boat caught between rolling swells. He made it to the city and put his bare foot down on carved stone. He thought of his wife and the way she explored the world in bare feet, never one to keep shoes on unnecessarily; always ready to engage her “spare set of fingers”. She would have smiled now.
He heard a throaty purr and hurried into the city. He had thirty minutes.
The old man pulled himself onto a ledge with his good arm and looked around. There were no workmen here today, just as the guide had said. Still, he was surprised that no other traveler had taken advantage of the fact that the ruins were closed. To see the solstice in relative solitude.
When he found the stone he lay down on the smooth side. His legs dangled over the edge. He was thirsty. Uncapping the bottle he discovered that it had run dry, the bottle corrupted.
Everything was quiet. He breathed heavily. The sun almost directly ahead, his eyes tearing up beneath its stare. The purr of the panther vibrating in his ear until he could no longer hear the jungle. Where was it? Could he hold on long enough, keep away from it long enough, long enough to tether the sun?