Stairway of the Gods Excerpt
Paul and Joan Webster have just arrived in Banaue, the capital of the Ifugao Province and the site of the world-famous Banaue rice terraces. On their first day there, they are welcomed by the mayor and other town leaders at a traditional tapuy, rice wine tasting, where they meet Valerio Pawid, one of the village elders. This morning, Val led them on a tour of the rice terraces.
“We couldn’t be happier,” answered Joan.
“Well, just let me know if you need anything at all. And, there is someone here with a message for you.” He glanced up for them and indicated a young man standing at the doorway. “He is from the mayor’s office, and he says that the mayor regrets to inform you that he will not be able to meet with you until later today. He hopes that will not be an inconvenience.”
“Later today will be fine,” said Joan.
The concierge nodded to the messenger, who left with his answer. “Please let me know if you need anything,” said the concierge. His elbows flapped slightly. “Anything at all,” he said, looking back over his shoulder as he returned to his perch in the lobby.
“Free time,” said Joan. “I guess I’ll work on my notes now, while the hike down the terraces is fresh in my mind.”
Paul finished his beer. “I’m so stuffed from having lunch after eating all those rice cakes, I feel like taking a nap.”
“Well, why don’t you?” said Joan. “I’ll wake you when I get back from the mayor’s office.”
“But first I’ve got to get a shot of that great sky. Look at the way the sun is shining down through those clouds onto the terraces,” he said. “It doesn’t look real. It looks like a painting.”
He unzipped his day pack and rummaged through its contents. “Where on…? Damn! My camera! I must have left it…. Shit! It’s sitting on a rock where we took that break on the way back up! I’d better go get it before the rain starts.”
“That wasn’t too far,” said Joan. “I’ll hike down with you.”
Joan stopped at the hotel desk, and the concierge beamed with hospitality. “Please tell our driver that Mr. Webster and I have to go retrieve his camera down the mountain.”
“But madam, we can send a boy to get it for you. It will be raining soon.”
“Thank you, but Mr. Webster wants to take some pictures,” she said, and they left the hotel.
The precipitous steps on the terraces were feeling more familiar, and they climbed quickly down. Sure enough, the camera was exactly where Paul thought he had left it, four terraces down the mountainside. But by the time they got there, the light had changed, and the photogenic sky had disappeared. They started back up along with the first few spatters of rain.
As Paul followed Joan up the rocky steps, he admired the way her khaki shorts fit her. “Hey, beautiful,” he called. “I’d follow you up any mountain.”
She turned and laughed as she reached the next terrace. “Let me follow you for a while. I want the good view for a change.”
As they reached the next to last terrace, the rain began to come down hard. They hurried around the rim of the paddy, and stopped at the base of the last terrace. They were both soaked to the skin. Joan’s hair hung clinging to her wet shirt. Paul put his arms around her, “Just like in the movies. The couple gets caught in the rain, and throws caution to the wind.”
He pulled her to him and kissed her. Joan twined her fingers in his wet hair, as he held her tight. He could feel her warmth through their cold, wet shirts.
“Oh, baby, I want you,” she whispered.
He put his hand on her breast; he could feel her heart beating.
“Not here in the mud, silly,” she said. “I meant in our hotel room.”
He let her go reluctantly. “Follow me,” he said, and he started back up the mountain.
“Be careful,” she called. “It’s slippery.”
He hurried ahead, feeling at one with everything around him: this country, the mountain, the rain, the woman he loved. He was sure-footed as a goat. The rain worried Joan, and she climbed more cautiously. He looked back down the rock wall and called, “C’mon, wonderful.”
He reached the top of the terrace, climbed onto the edge of the paddy and hiked around to its end. When he stopped to wait for Joan, the thunder started. He hadn’t seen any lightning, he thought. Then he realized, the thunder was coming from all around him, from the ground. He started to run back for Joan, but the top of the terrace began to shake, and he slipped and fell to his knees. The rocks under him came to life, moving terribly. He turned back and scrambled toward solid ground just in time to see the end of the terrace separate itself from the mountainside. The path under him broke away, and the placid rice paddy became a torrent. The water hit him and swept him off the mountain.