Friday, May 9, 2014

"Between a Rock and a Hard Place" by Hiram McDaniels

“I think I want to go home,” I muttered.


“I changed my mind! I want to go home!”

It was a little late to have a change of heart now, with only open air separating me from a long drop into the blue below. From this height it would be like hitting concrete.

My sweaty fingers were wedged into a crevasse in the rock face. I squinted up at Dan, once my climbing instructor, now a dark smudge edging out the light. He was so far away. A wave of vertigo surged up through my ribs and I nearly lost my grip.

He rappelled down to meet me. “You’re nearly there,” he tried to encourage me, checking the line connecting my harness to his, but all I could hear was my heartbeat thundering inside my skull as I tried not to look down. What ever had convinced me to scale this cliff? Mankind was meant to keep its feet on solid, flat earth. It was pure hubris to climb above one’s station. I would be struck down and fall to Earth for daring to get so close to the sun.

“You’re not going to fall,” Dan said, and I realized I had said that last bit out loud. He gave a long-suffering sigh, easily clambering sideways and up again, hardly looking at the rock as his chalked hands and feet expertly found each gap. I, on the other hand, was quaking in place. Any movement could be the one that sent me tumbling to my fate.

Finally I could hold on no longer. A bead of sweat dripped from my temple and I instinctively moved my hand to wipe my forehead; too late, I reached back for the rock face and met nothing. There was a half-second where I dangled, suspended over the abyss. Then came free-fall, the ground rushing up to meet me, air whipping my hair back from my face, the horrifying swooping in my gut that told me this was it, this was where it would end--

The line went taut and the breath was punched from me as I came to a halt. The harness had caught me, inches from death, the tips of my shoes brushing across the bottom. I felt a profound appreciation for the tenacity of life.

Then Don was back at my side, descending swiftly with the whirring of the harness mechanisms at his beck and call. He landed firmly on the blue mat and unclipped me.

“Maybe indoor rock climbing isn’t for you,” Don said dryly.

“I think I’d like to take up golf,” I breathed, and tried to keep my legs from crumpling.

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