I fall. I don’t see my life run past my eyes. No, rather I crash down on the rock six feet below and manage to hold on, avoiding a drop down the cliff. I slit open my middle finger and the landing on my stomach leaves bloody bruises.
There’s no need to sensationalize. Years back, I had lacerated my hip and it had felt like a scratch; this time it really isn’t more than that, lucky me. But my middle finger bleeds ugly with a narrow streak stripped off the top layers of my skin. I reach for a dry stick of wood to paint it red as the rain sets in from the almost complete darkness.
I look around and allow myself to feel pride in having gotten into this mess. On top of the panic. What a fucked up situation.
I slither down the stony slope of an adjacent valley, only to climb up on the other side. With every step I take, I am increasing the distance to the place where I once came from.
Fog sets in out of the grainy rainy blue and creeps up the hips of the mountain as I make my way along a ridge that parts two abysses. The grass under my feet isn’t more green than the sky and I am slowly becoming incapable of denying the fact that I’m not going home. The fog has almost reached me and there’s no more way to see a possible path down.
Almost blinded in the blue, I carry myself up another earthy slope. Cold wet wind threads itself around my arms below the cool jeans jacket. Quavery, I seek protection from the rain at the straight cliff on my right to no avail and proceed up the hillside. Stones break loose under my insecure stride and I hear them pace down the precipitous slant.
Eventually, I reach a gateway of stone. I march forward, only to come to an abrupt halt. Before me, in the dark unsharpness, a dip of several hundred feet. Somewhere down there, the path from which I came.
I turn around and see only the blue dark, the fog, washy silhouettes of mountains hundreds or thousands of feet away, I can’t tell.
I’m starting to get wet. The black hole nearby promises salvation.
It really is too much to call this a cave. A macroscopic notch in the cliffside seems more descriptive of it, yet it provides a certain safety from the wind and rain.
A night without sight
The lower two thousand feet of the mountain are covered in fog. I see nothing.
I cower between two cold crags, only isolated through my clothes and two or three sheets of newspaper I have accidentally taken with me. No fire, no phone, desire to be home. I’m prideful and don’t want to call for help. Helicopters are expensive.
About forty minutes in I have to stand up, my limbs freezing from the cold embrace of the mountain. Everything shakes. Feet, arms, fingers, legs, teeth clatter in high frequency. The night hasn’t even started and I am feeling feverish already. After fifteen minutes of exhaustive tremorthermic movement, I rearrange the newspapers, retreat my arms, my breath into my jeans jacket and wait another three quarters of an hour until my next warm-up. This cycle goes on for hours.
Around midnight, my thoughts wander off to a girl I am in love with. I feel guilty for not having contacted her. I think we had something going, but I rather play the game; I guess I won’t change that if I survive this, but in my desperation I feel deep regret. I would like to see her as a light, a reason to survive; but I don’t know if I can have her.
I feel guilty for not bringing back the car tonight. In fact, I hate the idea that my mother will worry about me almost as much as the idea that I may die up here; damn cow. I hate the idea of not showing up for work tomorrow.
Despite my pride, I start to scream. Now and then the headlights of a car float through the woods, miles away. Help! But nobody hears me. Outside the season, nobody is even near. The next town maybe twenty miles away. In my frenzy, I imagine my voice to be strong enough to be carried far enough, but unavailingly. The way I have come up is steep and the stone is slippery already. If the fog doesn’t go away, if the sun doesn’t dry the cliffs, if the rain doesn’t stop: I will stand no chance to even get back down the way I have come up. The tremble of my limbs, the weakness of my starved body and the shock from my recent fall is so overwhelming that I don’t dare the slightest challenge to my climbing skills.
And I don’t even know where to go.
The rational hero
The night goes on.
This is the chance to prove that I can make a cold-blooded decision regarding my life.
I have about two choices once and if the morning sun arises. One will lead me down to my left on a path I don’t know. The other will lead me back to the path I have come from – but with the knowledge that it had been a one-way street. The third option creeps in and out of my consciousness: Climb up the twelve feet of cliff in which I am hiding; but I disregard it as too dangerous; I can hardly control my hands. Yeah, in a movie this would seem so easy: Why doesn’t he fucking climb up there? Up there must be a good way! Well, my friend, because my panicky body won’t let me. Plain and simple.
So I have the choice between a path that almost certainly won’t allow me to get back up and a path that may either lead nowhere or to safety.
Rationality is a bitch and she has seduced me. You think rationality is there to give you a way to achieve your desires? No,. That’s all. No heroic overcoming of obstacles with a certain happy end.
Sure, real life often makes things look like there is a compromise, like there always is a way. Because you never allow yourself to consciously evaluate your options. You don’t either approach or not approach the girl, right?. You allow yourself the illusion to take into account both your altruism and your self-interest. But in reality you have only decided to submit to her and tell you what to do.
Nevermind that illusion, there’s no way to go down two fucking paths at once. Yeah, life forces you to make choices all the time, but you can often ignore them. Sometimes, you cannot.
Two options, I guess. How do I decide? My life is at stake, but the weight of the decision doesn’t add to my ability to decide. Fucked up, isn’t it. You would say that there must be a magic way to decide when much is at risk. Well, there isn’t.
How can I possibly weigh the options against each other? Spontaneously, I would choose the new way – the old way seems impossible while the chances on the new one are somewhat fifty-fifty. Am I absolutely sure that I don’t get back up that other way? Nope. Well, nope if you needed a 1.000.000% security, since it is about life and death, right? Have I left on the cooker at home? Absolutely certainly not? Emotional intensity does nothing to change a simple decision. Bitch.
It is the new way.
The new way
After twelve rounds of rock-snuggle and shudder I am overwhelmed to see the sun rise.
I relish the faint warmth of the first rays and the clearing fog. It is nothing but luck.
The fever has my blood boiling everywhere underneath my skin and my chest feels dead and drained from dehydration.
The fog passes and I see a possible way. Nothing certain, just a few rocks. Like a disabled person I start to hobble down, plagued by insecurity whether this is the right choice. In a movie, there would be a clear choice! Fucking at least the viewer would know it! Maybe he does. He’s reading this, after all. How boring, isn’t it? Nobody lives to tell the thrilling tales of the dead. Auto-biographies have to have a happy end.
The stony slopes are wet and my clothes soon carry a distinguished smell of loam. I slither down a tad, rest, slither down, kick away stones. Walking is tiresome. Here and there, I bravely jump to catch the root of some plant, hoping it will not be torn out of the soil by my weight and send me rolling down a steep hill that possibly ends abruptly. Luckily, that doesn’t happen.
Exhaustion forces me to stop every five minutes, tank energy from the sun. My movements are endlessly slow. I fight my way through the fangs of little cripple trees and other shrubbery.
I reach the top of a crag about thirty feet high. There is a tree growing from it’s ankles to the top. It’s improbable that I will be able to climb it back up. Fucked up decisions, really, well, what can I do.
I jump down the last six feet to reach the bottom of the crag and look back up, dismayed. Not going back up here. I stand alongside a small stream now.
It only takes me a few more steps along the stream to be torn out of my dreams. Another cascade of sixty feet guides the water downhill. Be water, my friend, no thanks.
I look around. No way back, only steep walls surround me.
And then I notice the absolutely improbable thing.
A friable staircase of yet unknown origin and quality lurks to my left, starting about ten feet above me and going almost straightly up about sixty feet high. One false step and I fall back into the stream, crack my skull open and let my blood become water, my friend.
It’s madness. But it’s the only way.
I climb up the first big stone after searching for the best angle, always afraid that my motor control will simply fail me, a blackout of my nervous system.
From the big stone I take step after step upwards. It’s an unstable soil of loam and stone, perfoliated with earth and grass. Every now and then, a piece breaks away. The ascent is so steep and the steps to climb so high that I can’t see the way I have come up. If I become stuck, I can only stay until exhaustion and let myself fall back down.
The gods wish me well. Or the ibexes that live here. The ibexes I have heard scream in the night. The ibexes that have created this path.
Finally, I come out at the top and find myself in a dense forest of bushes. Now I am almost certain that I am safe; I have seen the layout of the mountain on the map and the way up through the bushes should lead me right back to a smaller hill adjacent to the main summit.
The ascent is no higher than six or eight hundred feet, but it takes me three hours to get to the top. The bushes keep dragging at me, holding me back by my clothes, my backpack. Not my hair, luckily, I have shaved my head clean.
Powerlessness forces me to pause for minutes at a time.
After endless struggle against armies of shrubs, I reach a segment with scarce vegetation. I look up and see a clean line against the sky. I run up – well, I do something as close to running as possible.
I’m at the top. I scream as loud as I can. I live! It’s not a scream of terror but of triumph. An arrogant assertion towards the world. See me fuckers, I am still here!
There is a path.
Too gladly I follow it, straying only few feet around it. What welcome safety is this.
A few hundred feet down the way I decide to lie on the grass, in the sun.
Some old dude comes around and asks me if it’s worth to clamber up the summit. Fuck, can’t you leave me alone? I take my time, think about a response and wonder how I am supposed to answer his question.
It’s difficult at one part, but the summit is … nice.
He looks puzzled and repeats. Nice. Somewhat disappointed, he goes on. What the hell did you expect me to say?? Can’t you fucking judge for yourself? Can’t you open your eyes? What am I, your personal travel advisor? Don’t you have an own brain?
Granted, I am feverish. I currently don’t like people much, anyway.
You would think that having secured my life, I would be grateful and not care further about discomfort.
But I’m a bitch.
In agony, I walk and – where possible – slither down my way along the mountain. I want home. I want to eat. I want chicken soup. I want to be my mama’s boy and I look forward to it.
I reach the car, I take photos of my serious face, of my wounds. I’m proud.
I go eat something.
I, I, I.