We stop the rusted loop of wire which was all that remained of a billy, which by urban legend had been hung there by a hiker on his last hike before going to war. He said he would fetch it when he returned but he didn't make it back to claim his property and it was left hanging on an old grizzled King Protea and legend had it that if you spat into the billy you were assured of good weather. When I first saw it was still vaguely recognisable as a billy, but time and rust had eaten away at the metal the billy and now there was just some rusting wires that represented the handle and a top rim. It marked the half way point across the flat ridge we knew as "The Plateau" and was a welcome place to stop and stare at the Strydomsberg towering over the surrounding kloofs and ridges. I spit at the billy, more out of habit than out of belief that I would get anywhere near. And as usual I miss by a wide margin and my hiking buddy George laughs and spits neatly and accurately through both loops that I could see.
"It's easy. You must just relax."
I mutter darkly and glanced up at the peak ahead. "Lets get going, I want a swim before the sun sets."
"You are obsessed by that pool, Brian. It is just a hole in the ground with some water in it."
"Peasant. It is the only pool in the entire world, the entire universe that has emerald coloured water in it and that I cannot reach the deepest part of."
"Can't take the cold. Weakling."
We grin at each other and turned to Gene the third of our hiking triumvirate.
"Well? You gonna spit or you gonna condemn us to awful weather for the rest of the weekend?"
"Doesn't work." Gene muttered. "Peasant superstition."
Gene is the monosyllabic member. George and I provide the noise, Gene? Well he is just sort of, uhm. Gene. Monosyllabic, completely indestructible. A tractor and a total hiking natural.
Laughing we turn and walk toward the beckoning mountain another hours walk away. As we walk across the plateau, I recount the story of my hangover I got from trying to keep up glass for glass with an Irishman. Tim is a friend of my father. A tiny Irishman who my father swears is more leprechaun than human. He appeared out of the blue one evening when my parents were out, quizzed me about my next to Chasers Kloof and in the process got me horribly drunk. Before I staggered off to bed he fed me some vile stuff he said would cure my hangover. It didn't, if anything it made me feel worse exacerbated by terrible nightmares. George and Brian hoot with irreverent laughter and we move on to other topics until the rhythm of our walking lulls us into silence.
In a sort of meditative trance I find myself looking 300 m down into Chasers Kloof, the river visible in patches and faintly audible in the stunning silence. Without a word, Gene steps forward, lowers himself onto one foot, kicks the other out in front of him as a guide and pushes off down into the dry water course comprised of sand, stone and dust. This is one of the highlights of the hike. The water course is about 15 degrees off vertical so you have to lean back to prevent yourself from tumbling head over heels down the side of the kloof. The slide goes about three quarters down the slope and ends at the top of an old avalanche. Just before the avalanche trees stand on either side of the river course providing the only braking method along the whole distance. The idea is to grab onto both trees and let your feet shoot out in front of you, then let yourself slide down slowly onto the top of the avalanche and walk down to the river and our camp site.
We establish the camp site with speed born of repetition. Gene disappears down stream to commune with nature or whatever he does when we first reach the river, George lies down, feet resting on an old tree trunk, covers his eyes with his hat and is almost immediately asleep. I turn and go upstream to the pool. George is of course right. I am obsessed with the pool but for very good reason. I am a strong swimmer, competitive swimming from the age of 9 and now racing for a lifesaving club I am more at home in water than on land. On land I stumble, I trip and quite often fall, but put me in water and I change into a fast moving, lithe confident creature. Deep diving is fun, body surfing, snorkelling, anything to do with swimming is my joy. And of course water is the essence of my joy. Wild water, unchained, untreated, free to flow is wonderful stuff. The stuff that lurks sulkily in swimming pools carrying ear and nose infections is ugly stuff. I love free water and Emerald pool is my idea of heaven and to make it even more alluring, I cannot reach the bottom of the pool. I can see it but I cannot reach it. 15 m is not deep, but the cold, the unearthly colour of the water, its taste, its softness combine to defeat every attempt I make to get to the bottom. The pool lies in a round hole in the mountain. It looks as if someone gouged a circular chunk out of the mountain and let water into it. The deepest side lies under a water fall that is probably the same height as the pool is deep. A small water fall drains water from the pool on the shallow side which is where I am now standing. The reason that the pool is called Emerald pool is that view from any side, the water is an emerald green due to the local east cape flora. The deeper the water is, the more intense the green becomes. The stuff rippling around my toes is almost yellow. The pool is best viewed by standing close the the high water fall above the deepest part of the pool where the utter beauty of the pool can be appreciated. We don't approach that way because of the difficulty of getting down and to our camp site below the pool. Our camp site is chosen to give us easy access to the narrow kloof that runs 10 km downwards ending up in Groendal Dam. There are jumps and slides. The sky sometimes disappears as the cliff faces of the kloof close up over our heads. It is one awesome kloofing spot and not fully explored yet. We are doing that, not for any other reason than it is a challenge, it is fun, dangerous and we, of course are immortal.
I sit with my toes in the water, drowsing in the sun, psyching myself up for another attempt on the deep dive. I wont do it without back up, but I am content to sit and stare at the pool, my soul at rest. I am far away so when a voice says: "Its really beautiful isn't it?"
I jump, spin around and being the complete bumbling idiot that I am on solid ground fall flat on my face.
A peel of female laughter echos off the cliffs.
"You, young man will go very far. Falling at my feet like that."
I find myself staring up at a woman in her early twenties, hair that is raven black, deep violet blue eyes that sparkle with intelligence and a figure that I dreamt of in wildest dreams, but never met.
I manage to haul myself to my feet, smile as brightly as I can, keep my eyes on her face rather than her breasts that are obviously not covered by more than a light tee shirt and turn, once again to look at the pool.
"It is more than beautiful. It is . . ." Words fail me, I shake my head, hold my hands out, and find myself blushing slightly.
"The most beautiful pool in the world?" she finishes for me.
She stares at me for a long while then looks back at the pool.
"Pity we cannot get on top of the waterfall, it must be very beautiful from up there."
"You can climb up there. You use the crack along the left hand side of the pool. Look you can see where the tree palms stick out of the crack." I lean over her shoulder, place my hand on her back, point out the path and breath in her musky perfume.
She looks dubiously at the row of palms while I bask in erotic dreams.
I nod, realise she is not looking at me, shrug, "Would I lie?"
She swivels back to look at me.
"I don't know. You will have to prove it to me."
I squint at the sun. We still have another 40 minutes before the sun starts to disappear behind the mountain and the kloof gets cold and dark.
"OK, but we will have to hurry."
She waves me on, "Lead on sir knight."
I walk over to the first tree palm and hoist myself onto the base where it emerges from the rock. She is still down there, looking dubious.
"You will have to help me up."
I reach down and try to pull her up. It doesn't work, so I jump down, grab her by the waist and boost her onto the base of the palm. I manage, accidentally to brush my hand against her breast, it is firm and warm and I realise that this climb is going to be like no other I have ever done on this particular path. I lift her, I boost her by pushing her on her buttocks and all the time she chuckles, wiggles when I touch her and climbs slowly sexily up the path. It takes longer than it should to get up, but we are up far sooner than I would have liked. On climbing onto the top ridge of the pool next to the water fall I realise that the effects of helping her up the path are easily discerned in my shorts and I try ineffectually to hide my arousal. She notices, bursts out laughing.
"Oh, my, that climb made you all stiff."
Not much to be said about that is there now?
We stand and admire the pool. Actually, she admires the pool and I admire her. She succeeds in distracting my attention away from the pool.
"Have you ever jumped off the edge and into the pool?"
I shake my head. "Too much of a slope, you need to move out wards at least 2 metres when you jump and there is no run up. Just too dangerous."
"Chicken." she says and before I can stop her she leaps out over the water, she hangs in the air like an angel and then disappears beneath the surface, only to emerge, laughing and spluttering.
"Cummon! Or are you gonna climb down like an old codger?"
We stare at each other and then I jump. I hit the water at an angle, creating a huge splash and a tidal wave, but I miss the rock by a tiny margin. "Stupid fool." I mutter to myself. She is already climbing out of the pool, her clothes clinging to her, accentuating her beauty. She looks down at her self, laughs and turns and runs down the slope and into the forest. By the time I get out she is nowhere to be seen.
I walk back to the camp site, Gene is back and George is awake.
"Cummon guys. Play lifeguard while I try for the bottom."
George sighs theatrically, "Why bother, you will never make it."
Gene shrugs. "Light is fading fast. Lets get this attempt over with."
We walk back up to the pool and swim slowly out to the deepest spot. The water is really cold and we are all shivering by the time we get there
I take a huge breath and I dive, and as previously, I swim and swim and swim and the bottom seems to recede in front of me. I am just about to give up when I hear her voice. "Chicken!" and I keep on swimming downwards against all sense, furiously angry, dangerously out of control. The black spots in my eyes from lack of oxygen are becoming blocks of dark, my heart is thundering in my chest, my throat is pulsating. I realise I am about to black out and in desperation, I throw one hand forward, find the bottom, grab a stone and turn to swim back up. I look to the surface, Gene and George are tiny figures in the distance, my lungs are on fire and my body is rising far too slowly. I feel the urge to open my mouth, to breath in anything, just to get something into my lungs. The world has turned dark and I am losing consciousness when my head breaks the surface. It is Gene who grabs me before I slip down again.
He grates out, "Fucking idiot." and it is the finest thing I have ever heard. They tow me back to the side and I lie on the edge of the pool gasping in lungfuls of fresh clean air. In my hand is a tiny round river stone that nearly killed in the retrieving of it.
We get back to the camp in the dark, make supper and drink our carefully hoarded beer and talk nonsense. As the fire sinks down to embers and then to ashes, we slowly become quiet, bed beckons. I stumble out of the flickering firelight and into the darkness for a last draining of the bladder. I stand gazing upwards as I always do, looking for stars amongst the trees. I find a light scattering of stars, but nothing identifiable. I am just finished and turning to return to the camp when I notice a shape moving silently toward me. I start. There are leopards in the mountains. I have heard them growl and grunt in the night. Occasionally I have heard the baboons scream as a leopard catches for a late supper.
I stare at the moving shape which slowly resolves into a human figure. It is the woman from this afternoon.
"Hi." she says shyly.
"Hi." I look at her. She is just as gorgeous as she was this afternoon. Now she is wearing a loose fitting dress, almost a caftan. She has a checked blanket over one shoulder."
"I hoped I would find you. I am going up to the pool, I want to see the stars reflected in the pool. Will you come with me?"
I look at her and realise there is only one possible answer.
"Going up to the pool." I shout to the guys and there are a number of rude comments about obsession.
She takes my hand and we cautiously walk up to the pool. When we get there, she spreads the blanket on the ground on a small rise just before the tree fern path and we sit on it. We can see the stars in the almost glass like surface of the pool. It is incredibly beautiful. We sit in silence for a while and I become more and more aware of her scent, her warmth, her gentle sighing breaths. I turn to look at her and she is staring intently, not at the stars, but at me.
"Kiss me." She says.
I don't hesitate and the kiss turns into heavy petting and the heavy petting gets to a point where there can be only one outcome if I don't pull back now. Reluctantly, very reluctantly I pull back.
"No, don't stop."
"I, I don't even know your name."
She giggles. "Karen. And yours?"
She formally shakes my hand and then wraps her arms around me, falling onto her back pulling me with her. I find myself between her legs. Poised, trembling, I hesitate, uncertain.
"What is keeping you?" I pause no more and she cries out once, sharply and then murmurs gently, quietly and it seems to me contentedly.
Lying there under the stars, I am not sure what to say or do as she cries on my shoulder. When her tears stop, she rises to her feet pulling me up with her.
"Cummon. Bed time."
"I want to see you again." I stammer. "Please"
She laughs. "Come see me next Friday, 45 Fordyce Road, Walmer. Be on time now hear? 7 pm. My father will open the door. His name is Kenneth Palmer. Just so you know"
And before I can stop her, she is gone, skipping away into the darkness, leaving me to stumble my way to the camp and my bed.
The other two are asleep when I get back so I quietly pack away my kit in the old hollow tree trunk that we use as a storage to discourage the depredations of baboons during the night. It is intensely quiet tonight and I work slowly and methodically, unwilling to finish the task and head to bed. The nearby river sings a soft ever changing song and I am almost asleep is I finish packing my kit. Still squatting, I look upwards through the trees where an almost full moon has just risen over the ridge, bringing a magical, mysterious beauty to the scene. I am far, far away. Peace descends on me, when suddenly there is an enormous, loud shout behind me. I leap to my feet, swivel and crouch in a fighting stance looking for whatever made that noise.
Then I hear Gene, chuckling.
"Scared yah didn't I? Saw the moon light under your feet you jumped so high. Thought you were a baboon, digging for breakfast so I decided to give him a fright."
"Fuck, you bloody well gave me a fright. Nearly had a heart attack."
"Serves you right." George weighing in. "Staying up late. We got an early start and we don't need to drag you kicking and screaming out of your sleeping bag."
I snarled something uncharitable, then realised how funny it must have been, laughed and climbed into bed. The camp descended into silence once more and before long, Gene is kicking my feet.
"Gerrup. Coffee in five minutes."
The fire is burning, a pot of water nearly boiling and a new day ready to unfold before us. I think of telling them about my liaison the night before, but somehow it seems wrong, a betrayal so I keep my mouth shut.
The day is a wonderful mix of swimming in pure, clear water, sliding down water falls and wondering at the beauty of our surroundings. The only downside of the trip is climbing back up to the plateau, to avoid the jumps and waterfalls, then climbing back down to the camp site as the sun set. Supper was quick and little is said. The days exercise taking its toll we collapse early and long before the moon rose the camp site is quiet and we are all asleep.
Karen, if she called again did not rouse any of us and she slips into an almost dream status by the time I wake in the next morning, climb back out of the kloof and headed on home.
The week passes slowly with the daily drudge erasing the peace and serenity that I had recaptured during the weekend. Karen inhabits my dreams and every night I relive that night under the stars with her. The stone I recovered from the bottom of Emerald pool takes on an almost a talismanic status in my mind and I wait, impatient for Friday night to arrive so that I can see her again.
Needless to say I scout out the address she gave with me, so I knew exactly where it is, and how long it will take me to get there from my home. Despite these precautions, I am still 10 minutes early so I loiter around the neighbourhood as it slowly darkens and the magical hour of 7 pm creeps slowly nearer. Despite the loitering, I am still 3 minutes early. I straighten my clothes, my hair and generally behave like a horny uncertain teenager.
As I get to the door, I can hear voices, I knock on the door and the voices stop. I wait. Nothing happens and I am debating as to whether to flee or to knock again, when I hear footsteps inside. The door opens a fraction and a man, older than my father from his looks, looks out.
"I was up in Chasers Kloof last weekend." the look on the mans face stops me dead in my tracks.
He looked angry, sad, furious, confused, grief stricken. I start to back away. There is something really, really wrong here.
"Kenneth? Who is it?"
He looks back over his shoulder.
"He has come."
"Who? Who has come?"
He looks at me again. "I am sorry. Please, you met Karen?"
I nod and and he seems to shrink, bowed under by a huge weight. I am ready to turn tail and run.
"No." He seems to read my mind. "Please come in. We were told you would come. We didn't believe it. Don't be afraid. Please."
Another face joins him at the door. A woman his age. "You met Karen?" She ask softly. I nod and the door opens fully "Please come in. I am Agnes and this is Kenneth. We are Karen's parents." We shake hands formally and I walk into Karen's home totally and completely freaked out by the two people.
We go through to the kitchen where they had obviously been having supper.
"I am sorry, I didn't realise. She said . . ."
My voice trailed away.
The man turned to a cupboard, took out a glass and a bottle of whiskey, he poured a generous tot of whiskey into the glass and without asking me, put it down in front of me.
He holds up his hand, "Wait, you may well need that before the evening is over."
"Tell us how you met Karen." her mother was staring at me intently.
I tell my story, heavily edited. We met at the pool, we climbed up, we jumped down, we met later that evening to view the stars in the pool, we parted. I excluded the sex completely.
There is silence for a while then the woman sighs
"Did she dare you to do something really stupid?
I start to shake my head, remember the jump from the waterfall, and her soft voice "Chicken" as I dived beyond my limit.
Agnes interprets my confusion correctly, looks at Kenneth. "He was right, she did try to claim him."
He nods sadly. "Said she would be angry and confused."
Agnes looks at me steadily.
"Did you make love to her?"
I freeze. I couldn't move or speak. What can I say? What a question?
"Wait, before you answer, let me tell you why that answer is important."
My mind is in a whirl, how could the question not be important? Their virgin daughter? A complete stranger. An one night stand of such short duration. I want to run, to hide, to be anywhere but there. I snap my mouth shut and stare at Agnes.
She sighs, looked a Kenneth and then starts.
"How old are you?"
"Karen would have 35 this year." The sentence does not make sense. The Karen I knew, made love to was in her early twenties, I start to shake my head.
"Wait." I stop and wait.
"Karen was a very, religious girl. She said she was going to wait for her marriage before having sex. It caused huge problems with her fiancé who was less religious than she was. She held out and held out and slowly the relationship started to go bad. Eric, her fiancé started pressurising her and threatening to leave. She was hugely conflicted about the whole issue. 14 years ago it came to a head. Eric gave her an ultimatum, either sex or the marriage was off. He was a good man, a strong man and in my opinion," she pauses here "In our opinion she was going to lose a good man for a religious scruple. We urged her to rethink her position but she was adamant. Then some days before they were going on a hike and just before Eric's ultimatum was due to expire, something changed her mind and she decided that he was more important than the religious scruples holding her back. She told me she was going to use the weekend away to make love to Eric on the edge of Emerald Pool. She called it "The most beautiful pool in the world?"."
I pick up the glass and take a sip of whiskey.
"She took a checked blanket that she said was to be their bed."
I take an even larger sip of whiskey.
"They arrived at the camp site early and the whole group walked up to the pool to swim. I am told it is an incredibly beautiful pool. She had planned to return later, when it was dark and the stars were out." I nod, eyeing the whiskey glass.
"As they walked back from swimming, she slipped, fell hard backwards, broke her neck. The autopsy showed that she was dead almost immediately."
I do not remember emptying it, but Kenneth reaches across and refills my now empty glass.
"After she died, we kept her bedroom as if she were coming back and started to mourn her. Then she did come back. And since then, when moon is full we hear her packing her hiking kit and then twenty four hours later she returns and cries bitterly. We tried everything, exorcism, prayers, talking to her, praying for her. Nothing would console her. Then a strange little man with a strong Irish accent arrived. He told us that he had been sent to "sort things out" for us and for Karen, but mostly for Karen. We threw him out. Next month, just after the full moon he was back. He just would not give up. Karen's misery and his determination eventually wore us down and we relented. He spent a night in her room and we heard them talking. Just a soft murmur, nothing we could hear or understand. The next morning before he left he told us that "all being well" after the next full moon, Karen would return only on the Friday but not on the Saturday. He added that a "young, gentle, honourable man" would appear on our doorstep. The little man did add a caveat before he left. He said parts of Karen were angry and they would try to kill his emissary and if they did, his plan would fail. Karen returned last on Friday and packed her kit, as normal. We were not hopeful on two accounts. One was that we did not believe he could pull off what no one else had. We also worried that his "emissary" would not make it, and so we watched and waited." She paused.
I grit my teeth. I promise myself I will kill Tim the next time I see him.
"She didn't?" I had to ask. “Come back?”
"She did and we could hear her singing in her room, she was packing stuff, we don't know what, but she was packing. All we do know is that in the morning, the checked blanket was lying on her bed wet and soiled."
"It strongly smelled of sex." Kenneth added dryly. "So? You did make love to her didn't you? You took her virginity and in doing so, you released her and you released us."
The sharp cry as we made love made sense now. I looked at my hands for a long while, remembering.
I reach for the whiskey glass, look at them both sitting there, see the tears in their eyes;
"Yes. We made love on the edge of the pool." I pause, "After she tried to lure me to my death twice." I shrug, "Even not knowing what I know now, I would still do it again. She was a beautiful woman. I will never forget her"
I shake my head, drain the whiskey glass, get up and let myself out of the door.
I will return to Emerald pool just once more. I will take the stone, swim out to the deepest part of the pool and drop it. I will watch it sink, twisting and turning into the dark, green, haunted depths of the pool. I will never go back. In future, Gene and George will go there without. They won't understand and they never will because you see, I cannot tell them the story, it would seem like a betrayal.Back to Stories