THE SECOND LIFE

 

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Synopsis

 

"Ice and snow gave birth to me."

These words captivate Viola, a young New Zealand woman, travelling in Europe to get her "overseas experience".

The man "born of ice and snow" remembers nothing of his past, just an inner voice telling him to have a second go at life.  He lay naked and unconscious on a glacier in the Austrian Alps.  His rescuers named him Ertsie, reminiscent of Ötsi, the prehistoric mummy found once in that area.

Viola chances upon a peculiar way to set Ertsie free, so he would travel the world to discover his origin and his future mission. Several times, Ertsie is tempted to forget about his past and to start a new life - but a nagging suspicion of having left a family behind drives him on and on. Viola's and Ertsie's lives tantalisingly ally and sunder for a whole year until Ertsie's second life traumatically collides with his first!

The story is told by a remarkable woman, who is herself transformed by associating with an unusual man and his mystery.

 

 

Chapter 1 (of 58)

 

“Ice and Snow gave birth to me,” he said, in German. 

I stared at the man.  He didn’t look like a nut case.  His grey-blue eyes looked at me frankly; his nose stuck out audaciously.  Life’s struggles had framed his chin and mouth with deep lines.  Silver grey streaked through his thick, dark, wavy hair.  Fleetingly, the evening light spilled golden glow over it.  He was not older than perhaps forty.

 

He pointed towards the glacier, “I began life up there.”

“Cool,” I said, wondering what sort of joke he was trying on me. 

“Literally,” he quipped, without a smile.

“You speak with an American accent,” I blurted out and then asked sheepishly:  Sind Sie Amerikaner? (Are you American?).”

 

He sat down the tray on which he was gathering dirty dishes from tables on the terrace of the mountain chalet.

“I know, I don’t speak German like an Austrian.  Odd, isn’t it?  After all, we're in the Austrian Alps and I'm the dogs body of this chalet.”

Then he looked at me expectantly, almost like a child:  “Which part of the United States would you say I come from?” 

I blushed and felt annoyed about it.  Switching to English, I regretted: “I'm sorry.  I’m from New Zealand and haven’t had much experience with American accents.”

Schade! (Pity!).  Would you believe that I can't answer you in English, though I understand you perfectly?”

 

I was twenty-four years old and considered myself a mature woman, with the body and the mind to prove it.  I used to get upset when someone called me a “girl”.  People claimed I looked very young, perhaps because I was slim and had short hair.  Having just finished my horticultural studies, I had been eager to go for my “overseas experience”.  Now here I was, in Austria, where I had spent the first two years of my childhood.  I was reasonably fluent in German, but could never hide that I was a stranger to this country.

 

The high altitude chill of the late afternoon drenched the air on the chalet terrace.  A cloud, billowing across the mountain crags, spat out the sun for a few moments and golden sheen jumped on our surroundings, wantonly touching things.  A party of four who had been chatting at the neighbouring table rose and prepared to leave.  I looked around.  The terrace was almost deserted.  I checked my watch.  If I wanted to catch the last cabin of the funicular down to the valley, I would have to leave soon.

 

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” the man continued.  “What’s your name?”

“I’m Viola.”

“Lovely name.  It suits your pleasant personality.” 

I blushed again and cursed myself for it.  After all, he had made this compliment blandly, unsmiling, matter of fact.  Peculiar!

 

A big woman appeared in the darkness of the chalet door.  Her silhouette almost filled it.  Ertsie,” she called: “Aren’t you coming?” - and dived back into the hut.

"Ertsie?  You've got a strange name!"  I remarked.  Then I sneered: "Do you really want me to believe that crap about starting life on the glacier!"

"That's right.  I remember nothing but ice and snow.  My story is strange and short.. I may tell you later."

The big woman poked her head out again: "Ertsie, we NEED you!"

 

He excused himself and followed the bossy woman.  The silence around me was only needled by the distant humming of the funicular cables.  I looked at my watch again.  I would have had to run now and yet - I lingered.  It was as if this man had cast a spell over me and I felt a powerful urge to listen to his story.  I had no immediate commitments, so I decided to book myself a bed in the chalet.  This decision changed my life.  I would not only hear the man’s secret, but also follow him on his journey to discover his past. 

 

This is the story of a recent year in my life.  However, it is also the  story of Ertsie, or rather Ötsi, as this name is spelt in German.  Much of his side of the story I did not witness, but intend to describe the way I perceived it, when he told me.  I'll plait these stories together, just like they were intertwined in real life.  My imagination may carry me away at times and Ötsi might have kept some details to himself.  Nevertheless, I believe this will be a fairly accurate account of what happened.

 

 

Chapter 2 (of 58)

 

For aeons the European Alps have been standing essentially unchanged.  Glaciers have crept down into the valleys and retreated, many times.  Wind and rain have lashed peaks and flanks, causing little change compared with the impact of human technology that happened within a geological blink of the eye.   In winter, monsters of steel creep up the highest slopes, flattening the snow.  Skiers, ant-like, speckle the slopes.  Cable cars and mountain lifts take endless streams of people right to the very tops.

 

From their small gondola, Hans and Rupert saw snow fields and rocky ridges slowly glide past, as the funicular was moving them towards a high mountain saddle.  A few skiers and snow boarders dotted the groomed part of the slopes.  Both men were in their prime of life.  Tanned weather-beaten faces betrayed their outdoor lifestyles.  They wore ski attire and their skis stuck up outside the gondola in a separate locker.

 

“It’s the end of the season.  We won’t be able to ski right down to the hut, Hans.”

“I don’t mind walking a little.  God, how often have I climbed up here, skies on my back.  Now everybody gets pulled up in a fraction of the time...”

The gondola swayed in a gust of wind.

“Hey, Rupert!  Oh, I can’t see it any more.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I think I saw a body in the snow.”

Rupert laughed: “There are other people on the slopes, you know!”

“It didn’t move and looked strange.”

“An animal carcass?”

“Perhaps.”

 

The snow felt soft once they skied off the prepared piste.

D’you still want to search for the mysterious corpse, Hans?  The snow’s like porridge.  So if we want to gain speed, we better head straight downhill.”

Hans did not answer, just motioned to Rupert to follow and pushed off sideways. 

 

Under the line of the softly purring funicular the men stopped.

“The thing was almost straight below us,” Hans said.

They skied downhill in short turns.  The glacier sloped down steeply, then more gently.  Wind eddies had created bumps and grooves that would easily hide objects.  The men stopped.

“Nothing!” Rupert said.  “It may have been an illusion.  Or an animal that has since disappeared.”

“It would’ve been a large animal, the size of a chamois.  See that bluff over there?  With the long icicles?  The snow’s piled up along it.  Something could be stuck in there.”

“You want to walk back up?  Don’t be silly.  Forget about this phantom, whatever it was.”

“Wait for me if you like, Rupert.  I’ll have a look anyway.”

Hans started stepping up.  Rupert followed, shaking his head in protest against his mate’s obstinacy.

 

When Hans reached the bluff, he stopped abruptly and whistled through his teeth.  In the snowy trough along the bluff, there lay a man.  He was almost naked and badly bruised.

“He’s dead!” said Rupert aghast.  “Look, he hasn’t even got any boots on!”

The body was cold and without any sign of life.

“A doctor should examine this guy.  Anyway, he’s got to be flown down.”

Hans pulled out his mobile phone and rang the Bergrettung, the mountain rescue organisation.

 

 

Chapter 3 (of 58)

 

Shadows jumped through the chalet’s guest room lit dimly by a lamp that dangled from the middle of the ceiling.  Logs flickered in the fireplace.  Its smoke mingled with that of somebody's pipe.  Under the lamp, several men sat around a table, playing cards.  I could not make out much of their noisy conversation in thick Tyrolese.  The sturdy hut mother whom I had first seen in the chalet door had joined them. Behind the milky veil of the fogged-up window pane next to me, the view was changing colour.  A luminous night blue was flowing around a tooth-shaped rock tower.  Its snow-bare spots were turning black and patches of snow bathed in the pale sheen of moonlight.

 

I leant towards Ötsi across the table.  “You were lying in the snow naked?”  I asked incredulously, my voice husky from excitement.

“I had some underwear on me.  If this hadn’t been dark, I doubt that anybody would have noticed me.”

“How can anybody survive such conditions?”

“Medical staff talked of a miracle, although they didn’t think I had been lying there long.  My heartbeat had virtually stopped.  At first, nobody thought, the revival procedures would work.”

“How did you get to the place of your accident?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you mugged?”

“On a glacier??  It has been suggested, but nobody seriously believes it.  They found alcohol and drugs in my blood.”

Hm...  what does this mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s your real name?”

“I don’t know.  Rupert and Hans thoroughly searched the spot where they found me and were unable to find any personal belongings.  Rupert, who happens to be the caretaker of this chalet, started calling me Ötsi.  It's the nickname given to a prehistoric man found not far from here on a glacier, some years ago.”

“Without a name, without documents you’re nobody!  What do the Austrian authorities say?”

“They’re waiting for my recovery.  I'm still under surveillance.  Meanwhile, Rupert’s employing me in the chalet, unofficially.”

“Is there nothing at all that you remember?”

Ötsi shook his head.  “There’s just one thing.  As I came to, I was aware of a voice...”

 

Raucous laughter drowned Ötsi’s words.  The card players looked at each other,  banging their cards on the table.  One of them called:  Der Lotter!”  (that rascal!).  A glass came thumping down so that some beer slopped out of it.  Somebody brushed the cards into a heap and shouted: “Let’s start over again.”

 

“There was something like a voice,” Ötsi repeated when the noise subsided.  “It filled me, kind of reverberated through my body.  I didn’t distinguish any words, but I just knew.  I was to have another go at life...”

 

I covered my arms, trying to hide my goose pimples.

“Magic!”  I stammered.  “Magic!  This is almost like reincarnation!  Perhaps, there were major problems in your first life?"

Ötsi nodded, pensively: "Yes, and now I'm allowed to put right whatever there was.  I don't know what sort of person I was.  Perhaps, now I’ve got to find out what life’s about, or let's say, about my own purpose in life."

"D’you think, life means different things to different people?" 

 

"I wonder.  Humankind may share a goal, but it's possible that we all may need to find our individual purposes in life - and accept them."

 

One of the men tossed another log into the fire.  Flames shot up.  A red flicker darted through the room and across Ötsi’s face.

 

I stared at him, eagerly: "So, what are you going to do?"

"Maybe, I should find out who I am, then explore my options.. No, maybe the other way round: first experience life.  I'm scared about discovering my past."

 

 

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