“You dangle them from the cliff. You save them from the cliff. Doom? Salvation. Question? Answer.” I know Chuck Wendig didn’t mean it literally, but I just kept thinking of this situation for my task this week… to write a cliffhanger. As I understand it we’re going to be asked to complete it next week – only we’ll be completing someone else’s story!
Here’s mine, anyway… How would you finish it?
Girl on a Ledge
Rebecca edged along the ledge. This was not what she was expecting. Hiking was an enjoyable, if tiring, adventure with two feet walking on a trail or through a meadow, or even occasionally gingerly finding one’s way through a boulder field. Feet on the ground, arms in the air. Not, as she found herself now, with toes on the ground and fingers desperately seeking the next handhold. Always have three points anchored, she reminded herself.
It wasn’t as if she knew how she had arrived at this point. She had no recollection of climbing this far up the mountain, and knew no reason for doing so. Her companions were nowhere to be seen. If the experience were not so completely real she would have put it down to a bad dream. She wondered what would happen if she just let go.
She briefly shut her eyes. Was it a dream? When she opened them, surely she would be cosy in her sleeping bag under the blue awning of the tent? Somehow she could feel this was not the case. An unsafe feeling of thousands of feet dropping away behind her back insisted on intruding into her consciousness. She mustn’t think of it. Just focus on the rock in front, and the next handhold.
And now the next toehold.
She edged right, following the ledge.
How had she got here and why on earth had she even considered taking such a precarious route, unsuitable even for mountain goats?
Her heart pounded in her ears. She tried to regulate her breathing, one breath to every three, or now four beats. Keep the breathing slow and steady. You are not afraid. You are careful. You will reach the end of this nightmare.
Another voice inside asked “Are you sure?”
A worm wriggled across her line of sight. Funny to see a worm on a rock face. Lizards, maybe. A fair few insects. Spiders. Scorpions. But a worm?
She brought her left foot up to join her right, and then transferred her left hand onto the rock crevice recently vacated by her right fingers. The right hand left its safe haven of a small knob jutting from the band of sandstone above her head, and felt for another one further right. When the fingers were safely anchored, she allowed the right toes to seek the next step.
As she started to transfer her weight the ledge broke away, leaving her foot dangling. She pulled on her handholds and got her weight back over her left toes. The right foot felt about a bit, hoping to find a secure place. The only one was right beside her left foot. Could she not stretch across the fallen part?
“You seem to be having trouble,” said a high-pitched voice near her right ear.
“Are you kidding?” she gasped. “I’m not supposed to be here at all!”
“We don’t get many visitors, it’s true,” said the voice. It seemed happy to make conversation while Rebecca fought off panic, induced not just by her precarious hold on the rock. “How did you get here?”
“I… have … no … idea,” Rebecca spat out between gritted teeth. Her eyes were screwed tight shut, concentrating on finding another safe foothold. She could not believe what they showed her, anyway.
“There’s a nice hole in the rock just up a bit from your right foot, if that helps.”
Rebecca opened her eyes and risked a glance down the rock surface, hardly moving her head so as not to make the fatal error of seeing just how far she could fall. There was indeed a hole, just over a foot above the current level of her foot, and maybe nine inches to the right. She considered whether moving upwards with her foot would prove advantageous. Could her right hand find something useful further up? Would her left foot fit in the hole alongside her right one? Yes, and yes, she told herself.
It was hardly a big stretch for her thigh muscles, but they screamed anyway, mainly due to the tension in her whole body. Ignoring them, Rebecca gained the relative security of a reasonably sized hole with her right foot, secured her right hand at a higher level, and brought the left foot to join its companion in the hole.
That is to say, if it made any sense at all, is that Rebecca slid feet first into the hole, which expanded and elongated around her body. Daylight disappeared as it extended above her. Her arms flailed as the soft pliable fabric folded around her, and she drew the edge of the hole together way above her head. She slid down the tube thus made, with her hands outstretched above her. A demented luge competitor would have looked less elegant.
From dry solid rock to soft, moulded, almost lubricated fabric. It wasn’t wet or dry. It wasn’t rough or smooth. It wasn’t rock-coloured, and it wasn’t dark. It wasn’t light either. There was a glow, of many colours. There was movement and whirling and passage of time. Maybe of space.
“Did you enjoy that?” The voice was still around, although Rebecca had no idea where. ‘Around’ was where its voice had come from.
“I’m not sure…” she hesitated.
“Well, I hope you did. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it here. I’ll let you get on, now.”
Rebecca opened her eyes to see the tail of a worm disappear into a tiny crack in the surface she was standing on. Except she wasn’t standing on it. She had her toes on a ledge, and her hands in two crevices at about eye level. Gravity was pulling her downwards, but towards her hands. It was not Earth gravity. It was much lighter than that. The surface wasn’t rock, either, and it was coloured purple. It looked like sky above her head, but coloured orange.
She felt gravity take over and she fell over her hands, towards the orange sky.
(c) J M Pett 2013