Last week I posted the first chapter of my short story, The View from Here. In its original form it doesn’t have chapters, so I divided it as equally as possible to create the best suspense. Read the first chapter here:
I hope you like the next installment, and if you would like to read and review the entire collection, let me know.
The pebble seemed to hover there, strangely, a few inches from the cliff face. I pulled it toward me with the branch, and when I had it about two feet away, it finally dropped. My head spun. Did I just really see that? I reached out with the branch and tapped the visible ridge. Then, I moved the branch away from the rock wall and slowly lowered it until … it stopped. There’s something there, preventing the branch from dropping, but I can’t see it. I dragged the tip further outward, and it dropped away, three inches from the wall. I looked around and behind me. I was alone—and freaked out.
I lifted the branch, brought it down hard on the invisible barrier, and it broke. I tried to put the pieces together: footprint on the rail, visible ledge, invisible ledge … three pieces of a five-hundred-piece puzzle. Not much to go on. I still had time before I would need to head back, so I made up my mind to satisfy my curiosity.
I climbed over the rail, holding on tighter than I ever had before. I stretched my left foot out to where the rock was and slowly placed it on the … whatever it was. It felt solid, so I put a bit more weight on it. I took my left hand off the rail and put my fingers into the crack above my head. It was deep enough and had an edge thick enough to feel comfortable. Next was the right hand. I ran my hand along the railing to erase the hand and footprints. If I fall, no one will ever know.
With both hands and feet ready, I moved along the ledge. It seemed to get a bit wider as I inched around the corner. The observation lookout disappeared from my sight as I made my way between the pillar of rock and the cliff face. The space was just wide enough for me to stand sideways, my back to the cliff. There would be no way someone standing on the lookout could see this. To my left, a dark crevasse both beckoned and scared me.
Moving slowly sideways, I squeezed through into the darkness. I expected to feel cold, but there was no change. Suddenly, I was in complete darkness, and I stopped moving. I couldn’t see anything, even when I looked back to where I had come in. I should be able to see light. Did I go blind? Feeling panicky, I moved in the reverse direction and immediately was bathed in sunlight. What the—?
It’s not a pleasant feeling to look down and see yourself as half a body. My right side was on the ledge that I had come in on; the other side, well, I couldn’t see anything—just blackness. I tapped my leg with my left fingertips. I could feel that. I moved my whole body into the light, then took a flashlight out of my pack and turned it on. Pointing it toward the entrance revealed nothing. I mean nothing—no reflection, no penetration. This is so weird, I thought.
Sliding back into the crevasse was the same as before. I found myself in complete darkness. I tapped my flashlight on the palm of my hand, without result. Clicking it on and off proved futile. I stood there, quietly, with my back to the wall. For a brief instant, I thought I heard something.
I listened as carefully as I could. I thought I heard movement or breathing, but the darkness was so heavy that it was difficult to tell if the one producing the sound was me or someone—or something—else. It felt like being in a sensory deprivation tank, where time seems meaningless. Did I stand there for a minute, two, more? I reached around, put my flashlight in my pocket, and snapped it shut.
“Hello?” I said quietly, “Is there someone here?” Nothing. “I know someone is here. I saw your boot print on the railing.”
“Shit.” A female voice came out of the darkness.
“I can hear you, but I can’t tell from where,” I said.
“You are probably pretty freaked out. I know I was,” she answered.
I found myself talking quietly. I don’t know why. “That’s an understatement. Where are we? I can’t see a thing, and my flashlight died.”
“Light doesn’t work in here, and sound travels in an odd way, too.”
I realized that I couldn’t tell if she was near or farther away. “Where are you?”
“Weird, huh?” There was a pause, as if she were trying to decide whether to reveal anything. “I have a spot here where I feel safe. Maybe I’ll tell you, maybe I won’t.” She let out a quiet laugh.
“When did you find this place?”
“About a year ago. I’ve come about ten times. Well, in here, I mean. I’ve come up the trail a lot, but if there are other people, I just turn around.”
“So, you come up here and sit in the darkness?”
She started to laugh. “No, no. There’s a lot more to it.”
I figured it was time to introduce myself. “I’m Thomas, by the way.” I had encroached on her secret, and there was no backing out of this.
“April,” was all she said.
“So …” I tried to choose my words carefully, “it’s not like I’m just going to turn around and leave, and I don’t want to scare you. Do you mind telling me what this place is?”
Again, she let out a laugh, but this time it seemed nervous. “Scare me? You should be the one who is scared. I could leave without you knowing and—” She stopped. “You could get stuck in here.”
“OK, OK, I didn’t mean it as a threat. I just mean, this place seems pretty special, not just for you, but in general. Look. Put yourself in my place. Would you be able to just leave without finding out more?”
I waited for her to respond. “I guess not. It’s just, you know, hard to accept that it’s not my secret anymore.”
“I’m lucky you don’t have a gun. You … don’t have a gun, do you?” There was no answer for far too long.
“No,” she answered finally. “I don’t.”
I thought for a while, trying to craft what to say next.
“So, what do you do here?”
“Well, I started by exploring, mapping in my mind the perimeter of the … room. It’s not really a cave, you know. Feel the wall.” For the first time, I turned and placed my hands on the wall behind me.
“About thirty by thirty, but not square.”
“And what’s in here?” I asked.
“Nothing. It’s what’s out there that is the interesting part.”
I was puzzled. “Out where?”
“One moment, I’ll show you.” I heard some rustling, then a light thump, like cat feet hitting the floor. I stood still, trying to discern where the sound had come from.
“Move to your left along the wall until you come to a bit of a curve,” she said. I did what I was told, slowly, and after about a minute, I felt the wall fall away behind me.
“Get down and keep following,” she directed. I had a moment of panic. Was she tricking me, drawing me into a trap? Why am I just blindly obeying this person? Is it a person?
“I’m not sure about all this. Where are you?”
“Follow me.” I jumped a bit; the voice was right in front of me. “Here, take my hand.” I felt air move in front of my face. I reached out and was relieved to find myself touching a hand, a hand smaller than mine but seemingly strong for its size. “Not much further, “ she said. “It’s worth it.” I sensed her crouching down, and I did the same. As we crawled along, I could feel the space narrowing, but thankfully not to the point where it felt too tight.
“I’m going to go ahead; just follow and watch your eyes,” she told me, and it was suddenly quiet.
I moved forward—and was instantly blinded by sudden brilliance. My arm came up reflexively to cover my eyes, and I raked my hand along the wall. “Ouch!” I yelled and put my head down with my arms over it. I heard her giggle.
“I warned you,” she said, still laughing.
I opened my eyes, and through the small space between my uplifted arms I could see a ledge ahead of me. Behind me was blackness, just like the place where I had entered.
“Just move ahead a bit, or you’ll hit your head when you get up,” I heard her say. I crawled forward and began to sit up.
Sitting on the ledge was a woman with shoulder-length brown hair in a ponytail, hiking shorts and a t-shirt, her bare feet dangling over the edge. She looked to be in her early thirties, maybe younger—I could tell she was fit. She looked over and smiled. “Here we are,” she said as she flung her arms wide to indicate the openness.
We were on a ledge on the sheer face of a cliff. I couldn’t tell how high it went, and below, I could just make out water, gently lapping along the base of the cliff. There was water as far as I could see—except, I thought, for a patch of darkness on the horizon. The sky had a few long wispy clouds, but was mostly … not blue. It had a violet hue to it. There were no shadows from the cliff, and I couldn’t tell where the sun (a sun?) was.
Apparently the look on my face said it all. April looked at me and said, “Wow, huh?”
I was speechless.
(Tune in next Sunday for the exciting conclusion!)
Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of three books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures, The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories, and Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar