Authors: Constance Sharper
This is a book of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
Copyright © 201
4 Constance Sharper
All rights reserved.
The sound of twisting metal chilled her to the bone, but she forced her muscles to remain lax. The wind whistled by, fiercer than she’d ever heard it, and took agonizing moments to calm. She let out an embarrassing moan of discomfort when it finally ceased. Her anchor to the rock fissure remained intact and the tips of her boots planted firmly on the rock wall’s deformations. Finally remembering how to move, she released her white-knuckle grip on the sling and reached out for the mountainside. Her fingertips brushed it idly before she found a place to dig her nails in and she lifted the last of her weight off her safety line.
With lowered morale, she continued her climb up the mountainside.
“Death wish, Adelaide,” she whispered to herself. “Stupid, stupid death wish.”
The sun beat down on her back and glinted brightly off of each notch of rock. Every inch had become painful after her two slips and near misses. She didn’t dare peer below to see how far the ground appeared; instead her eyes remained glued on the nearest shelf. The tour guides had described this as a rock climb of moderate difficulty because the shelves were considered cheating by experts. She couldn’t care less about looking like a pro, when the cliff offered her relief from hanging there any longer.
Her phone’s buzz made her flinch and loosen her grip. The immediate loss of control left her gripping at stone until her nails bled and she felt secure. She shot her phone a dirty look, seeing its blue glow even through the thick denim fabric of her skinny jeans. She neglected the desire to try to wrangle it out from clothing wholly unsuitable for her current task, and let its shrill ring die on its own. The incessant buzz was an alarm reminding her of the time: five o’ clock.
She paused during ascent, partly to take a desperate breath and partly to scan the area. Adelaide hadn’t made it as far as she’d expected this far into the climb. The sun threatened to leave the sky in a few hours and leave her in chilly darkness. The crunch on time left her hopelessly gazing over the side of the cliff for other climbers. She hadn’t seen anyone else like she’d expected and it made her nervous. Maybe all of the good rock-climbers knew something she didn’t.
She forced herself to focus on the shelf above. Between her sweaty palms and blistering feet she welcomed the break. When she finally reached the ledge, a second wave of energy slipped through her body. Throwing her leg over first, she used her thigh muscles to hoist the rest of her body up. Feeling secure, she freed her cam and then drilled it in a fissure above her. The wind had been decent this far, but she refused to trust Mother Nature this high up.
“You’re cheating and taking the easy way out,” a voice carried from somewhere nearby.
“Hey, I didn’t even feel like coming out today. You’re lucky you have company at all…” A girl’s voice seconded the man’s. Adelaide pinpointed the voices to somewhere below her.
Adelaide moved in
to a crouch, feeling for the first time the push of a breeze near an unsteady edge. Peering over the side, she spotted two climbers in neon green gear crawling up the side. They’d made it up to a ledge just to the east of her position, but staring directly down at the top of their heads she couldn’t identify any distinctive features about them. They sounded young, close to her age. It made her wonder.
“You aren’t going to fall anyway,” the male replied as Adelaide pictured his location in her mind. They climbed not far from the lower rock side plateau and she sat back when she established their location.
Squeaks of metal and a hiss of rope reached her
, a sound Adelaide recognized just in time for the scream that followed.
“Angie!” The male hollered but his voice disappeared under the distinct thundering of a loose boulder. The rope unwound with a piercing whistle, and the rock’s collision with the side of the mountain made even the shelf where Adelaide rested tremble. The sensation snapped Adelaide stiff and
using sheer will power, she crawled close to the edge again. Glancing over, she saw only the man still hanging. His attention remained below him toward a mass of distant rocks.
“Angie, Angie!” He kept screaming until something soft and incoherent sounded back. It could have been a dire moan; Adelaide couldn’t tell.
The man cursed violently.
“Are you okay?” Adelaide yelled down to him. “I heard screaming. Are you okay?”
The man’s head snapped up instantly and his hazel eyes landed on her. His mouth dangled open, but scrutiny defined the wrinkles on his brow. He looked as surprised as she felt by her actions, but she didn’t stop while his companion was hurt somewhere below.
“I’ll help. I know first aid.”
“What are you doing?” he shouted back. His gaze slipped away and landed above her. Adelaide didn’t recognize the horror on his face, until something struck her. The blow to the side of her ear stung more than anything else, but the force also knocked her askew. The entire world sounded muffled now and she planted her hand on her wounded ear. Right hand still rooted to the ground, she felt the floor tremble beneath her palm. Her breath escaped her. The trembling grew to shaking, and the shaking grew violent.
Her equilibrium lost, she staggered back when she stood. Her head slammed into the rock wall, and her chin snapped up. The mountain shifted, exploding with a massive cloud of orange dust before the mountainside collapsed.
Focus too far gone, she didn’t realize she was slipping until her body slid free of the cliff. The drop, short and sudden, came to a jerking stop. Her rope caught her but she still dangled. Swinging her feet madly, the tips of her boots scraped the rock. Not even seconds had passed, but the world moved slowly.
She never saw him move, but she felt his sudden grip on her belt. He held tight while screaming above the thunderous roar of the rockslide.
“Unlatch your belt!”
His words sounded foreign, her brain stuffed with cotton, and yet she instinctually obeyed. The sensation of falling was only momentary. In the next instant, she was pushed up against him.
Dust exploded and consumed the air. Eyes burning, she lost sight of him but felt his powerful grip. With another violent yank, the heel of her boots brushed the shelf. She gripped the stone, hoisting herself up. Pebbles slid first and the deafening plummet of rocks followed. She hurried before the trembling caused her to lose her grip. The pair finally reached the ground of the shelf as boulders exploded down the mountainside, but nothing struck them. Adelaide blinked her eyes half a million times before the sunlight pierced the dust storm. They stood in the middle of the impact zone but remained unscathed. She did a double take but couldn’t identify what didn’t make sense. The rocks glided over them, through the empty air, like they were standing under an unbreakable glass sheet.
“Don’t budge,” he hissed. His voice sounded so much clearer, so much closer to home. When the last of the rocks split down the edge they still stood unharmed.
He dropped his right arm back to his side and released her with the left. The dirt in the air made her lungs burn and she struggled to catch her breath.
“What?” she asked automatically.
“You’re probably dizzy. We’ll get to ground and you’ll be okay.”
“No, don’t touch me. Don’t move,” she commanded. She desperately clung to the extra minute to reorient herself. The idea that one boulder had caused a rockslide felt foreign to her; she couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that they still stood, in the wake of it all. Her eyes gazed back up to the sky. The mountainside above them now shined with clean slope. Lowering her eyes, she found that the rocks had piled up on the ground below.
“Please. Um, just tell me your name,” he demanded urgently. She looked back at him, feeling hollow.
“Adelaide. Give me your hand and I’ll help you back down. Can you do that?”
Her mouth was dry so she only nodded. He offered his hand and she took it. He focused on her intently as he guided her to the left and drew her closer. The drop didn’t seem that far down now and he jimmied her rope in with his. Adelaide’s mind never stopped spinning until their feet finally reached the rocky mass below.
“What is your name?” she suddenly asked. His attention piqued and he seemed uncertain for a fleeting moment.
“Adam. Do you think you can walk?”
“Yea, why?” she asked before she noticed the stumble in her steps. Her hand found her head, and pressed against the temple, finding slick blood beneath her fingers. The gash on her forehead felt superficial, but she recognized now that the thunderous crashing had stolen some of her hearing.
He leaned closer, apparently studying the same thing she had. Her attention finally fell on his appearance, seeing him clearly for the first time. He didn’t stand much taller than her, at six feet, but he had more distinctive muscle mass. His skin had been sun-kissed and accented with brown hair and hazel eyes. Her studying came to an end when he backed up, and beckoned her attention.
“It doesn’t look bad, but I can’t tell if you have a concussion yet. We need to get to my car and take you somewhere to get help.”
“I don’t feel sick...” she protested weakly, but accepted his helping hand anyway.
The rough terrain made it difficult, but
with her feet on solid ground, she didn’t care. She sized up the place. The rockslide didn’t cause much damage on the bottom of the mountain, but did cascade close to a newly tarred road. She couldn’t spot any cars nearby or hear any voices, but Adam marched them forward. He only slowed when they reached the roadside.
“Your friend?” Adelaide cued quietly.
“I’m sure she’s okay.”
’ve gotten crushed. Unless...unless the rocks didn’t hit her either...” she muttered, doing little to contain the confusion in her tone.
She knew he heard her, but he didn’t answer. His face turned away, he scanned the area.
“Angie! Angie!” he hollered a few times.
She never expected an answer, but
Adam’s redheaded companion surfaced. The woman actually jogged out from behind a rocky obstruction, helmet in hand and a grin on her face. She slowed abruptly when her eyes landed on Adelaide.
“She’s hurt,” Adam interjected quickly, “we need to get her to the car.”
Angie stiffened and let her helmet fall to the ground. The woman had no apparent scratch on her, and only dust and dirt coated her skin.
’ll probably be park rangers coming to the scene…” the woman added, clearly hesitant.
Adam sent her a look that Adelaide couldn’t decipher, but she could feel the tension heavy in the atmosphere.
“We don’t know that.”
s visibly slumped, and the woman remained silent. Adam chose that moment to inch Adelaide along, and she followed obediently. At long last, she finally saw the car that Adam had mentioned. A red Jeep sat not terribly far and was luckily sitting out of reach of the destruction. She shamelessly sized it up, memorizing the Colorado plates and the parking decals on the windows.
“We’ll take her home where she can call someone. I’m not going to a hospital,” Angie
declared as she sprung into the front seat. The Jeep’s suspension shook, and Adelaide took a few slow, assisted moments climbing into the back. Adam joined her there. His face seemed permanently wrought with lines now, but he kept his emotions to himself. Instead, he spoke with remarkable calmness.