“Shouldn’t you be writing your novel?“ “My novella, you mean?” “Isn’t it National Novel Writing Month?” “Isn’t it about time you stopped badgering me?” “Isn’t that remark disparaging to badgers?” “Let me call one and ask.” “Well?” “I’m on hold. Want to hear a story?” “One of yours?” “Yes. One of mine.” [silence] “Sure. I got nothing better to do for the next 28.6 seconds.”
What’s heavier, the blade or the handle of a knife? It all depends on the type of knife, I suppose. I thought of this conundrum as I watched mine slide off the edge of the countertop and tumble downwards, after I carelessly knocked it with my hand while reaching for the onion.
Had I not spend the time mulling over this question, I may have been able to move my foot a few centimeters to the left. But I did mull, and I didn’t move.
I still don’t know the answer, but I discovered that I am out of bandages.
Is horror much different from post-apocalyptic or science fiction? When I set out to write this one—yesterday—I wanted to make it an homage to the king of horror. Not King, but the king, H.P. Lovecraft.
I hope you enjoy.
We dared each other to spend a night at the old Barnavois place. We were only 17 at the time, and we were invincible.
Or so we thought.
I went first. I spent the first hour exploring around with my flashlight, opening creaking doors, peeking into closets, poking through old boxes and drawers. The kitchen had a few old pieces of cutlery and dishes—and a lot of dust.
I got bored and dropped the remaining dished on the floor, delighting in the sound. On the mantle in the living room was a mirror which I was surprised wasn’t already broken.
I walked away from the glimmering shards scattered in the fireplace.
As night fell, I rolled out my sleeping bag on the floor near the entrance for no other reason but to thwart any attempt to frighten me. As I drifted into a slumber, I thought that I could hear footsteps coming from upstairs.
I called out, “I hear you! If you climbed up there, you’re not fooling me!” and I sat up against the wall to listen. The footsteps continued, but this time, they sounded like they were on the staircase.
I wasn’t going to fall for this and lose the bet. I pulled my legs tight against my chest and wrapped my arms around them. The footsteps became foot stomps. Closer and closer they seemed to come. I felt cooler than I ever had before and began to shiver uncontrollably. I closed my eyes tight, yet I could still see everything in the dim glow of the moon shining through the window in the door. I could sense a finger running across my cheek.
I had enough.
He laughed at me the next day and vowed that he wasn’t going to chicken out. I was all set to do the same thing he had done to me, but before I got to the house, it was already ablaze.
The police report was that he must have set fire to the place and run away. The only thing left in the rubble was a staircase board with three words carved into it: Ten years left.
* * *
I had forgotten all about the incident until yesterday when, while lying in bed, the news feed on my phone ran an account of the unsolved disappearance on the anniversary of the incident.
Ten years ago.
Ten years ago…
My eyes close, then I open them up, and only a few hours have passed. I am half off the other side of the bed. I wake up in a cold, clammy sweat, and I need a shower. It feels strange to shower in the middle of the night. Stranger still, I could swear I see a shadow moving across the curtain.
I lie awake for an hour. Then another. Screw it. I get up and make coffee and sit to watch whatever is on TV. Which is nothing. Literally. Cable must be out. Same with the router because none of my devices work.
I must have fallen back asleep, as I wake up to the television blaring the morning weather. I already showered, so I get ready for work.
On the bus as usual, but no one is sitting next to me. Fine by me, I think. You people can stand if you want.
I’m restless all day. At work, as I type, different words appear on the screen, and I have to backspace a lot. I feel that there is someone watching me. It’s like I’m on display. Stop it! I yell out loud. A co-worker walks quickly by my office.
I’m not getting much done, so I call it a day and decide to head home. My Uber driver pulls up, looks at me, and speeds away.
The bus ride home feels different. There are no seats, so I am forced to stand, and people keep bumping and pushing into me.
At home, I make something to eat, but it tastes off. There’s a knock on my door, but no one is there. I hear the TV in the living room, which I didn’t turn on. I go in to turn it off—and it already is.
The light upstairs flickers, and a cold wind hits me. I’ve felt that cold before.
Ten years ago.
I’m scared. My chest tightens. I fight for breath. I need to get some fresh air, so I put on my shoes and head out for a quick walk before the sun goes down. I have a few hours, or so I thought.
As I descend the front steps, something doesn’t feel right. It’s dark. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I’ll make this a shorter walk, I say to myself and head down the street. There are no cars—or people. There should be.
My footsteps sound louder than they should, so I suddenly change my stride, and for a brief moment I can hear them offset from mine before becoming one again. As I walk faster, I hear the footsteps keep pace.
I turn to go back, but in front of me is the burned remains of…that house. I feel pressure on my forearm as if someone is holding me—or guiding me.
I hear whispers, but I can’t make out any words except for the last one: Next
I tell myself that the word before kind of sounds like for/lore/more/nor/whore… any word other than the one that makes the most sense.
I came across writing prompts on the site Reedsy which were all about windows. I remembered that I had written a poem about a window during National Poetry Month. I looked it over and thought that it would make a good short story, so I began to transform poem to story.
When I finished, I revisited the prompts (there were five different ones), but they were not quite fitting, so I didn’t think that I could submit it for the contest. I hope you enjoy it.
“I wish that I could smile, but then I look back at each receding mile.” –from I’m Sorry by Leon Stevens
I remember seeing my childhood home disappear behind the climbing tree. As my sister and I got older—and braver—we would climb higher through the prickly, sappy branches until reaching the point where you could feel it sway. We had built forts in it, each one a bit better than the last, but each with its own problems. The branches were so thick and long that they could be slid down like a slide until Father trimmed the lower ones. My father built the house with just the essential tools, the labor of friends, and his love of creation.
When I finally left for college, the last vision of the town where I grew up was the paper mill belching out its white smoke— which was mostly water vapor—but it sure smelled bad, especially on hot days. The river at the bottom of the hill I had just crested foamed with effluent from the plant. I wonder when they will clean that up, I thought. In the end, it didn’t really matter because I had no plans of returning.
My first college dorm fades into the brownstone facades, and I reach over to turn on the radio to hear for the final time the station that was all the rage in town. My sister, who had driven the twenty hours to get me, fills me in on the news of the family, and we begin to reminisce. Later, the static takes over from the music, and I close my eyes to get some sleep before it is my turn to drive.
My apartment with the narrow stairs is slowly hidden by the trees in the neighbor’s yard. My grandmother refused to visit me, as she called it a deathtrap. The landlord never shoveled the walk or the stairs, and I was too stubborn to take it upon myself to do it. It was small—and cheap, perfect for me. Maybe I was secretly hoping that I would slip and fall.
She had her plans, and I had mine. Neither of us was willing to sacrifice what we each believed to be the correct path. There were long nights spent in heated debates, with tears being shed by both parties. I didn’t know what love was at the time, or maybe it was right there in front of me. Did she turn and walk away, or did she look for my brake lights? I’ll never know.
Passports? We don’t need no passports. At least then we didn’t. That was before, well...before. Was I surprised we were waved into the garage? No, but we had nothing to hide. We were just two cocky 20somethings deciding it would be cheaper on gas to go home this way. It didn’t help that we couldn’t stop making jokes. Four hours later and we cross the border again, this time with a more serious demeanor. We pulled away from the border guard, wondering why we didn’t buy cheap booze and smokes—what a bunch of dummies.
I don’t know why it took so long to get a roommate, but when I did, I didn’t skimp. I moved in with eight other people, some that I knew, some that I didn’t, others I would get to know too well, therefore making things awkward, and one that nobody got along with, but we were all fine with taking the one-hundred and seventy-five each month. When the sink filled up with dishes, we just microwaved everything or ordered in. I’m not the last to leave. The waving line dwindles as I drive away.
I must have missed the point when the mountains yielded to the flat golden prairie. All my life, I had wanted to see the towering peaks, to hike along the switchbacks up to the glacier-fed lake. By the time I got to the end of the trail, it was time to head back to the boat that bought myself—and way too many others—to this side of the river across from the town. I never saw the mountains again. I guess I forgot to look back in time.
Ascending the road that leads away from the ocean, I think about watching the sunset from the hotel balcony, a glass of wine in hand. The paths along the water skirted the wharf with all the fancy boats, meandered by the multitude of condominium towers, and separated the sand from the street before ending at the seafood restaurant next to the giant redwood. I reach the top of the hill, and I am on my way once again.
It’s fast. Real fast. Six lanes of asphalt and even the far-right lane is insane. I need to take advantage of this moment, so I press my foot down and start moving left. I close the gap on the car in front of me. There are still cars whizzing by. I check my mirror and prepare to pass but am thwarted by yet another.
Finally, I am at a speed that I have never been before, and I make the decision to stay in the second to last lane for the duration of the trip. Time passes as rapidly as my velocity. My passenger taps me on the shoulder and points to the off-ramp sign. Three minutes later, I’m back where I belong —in the right-hand lane. My signal announces that this thrill ride is now over, and I leave the autobahn behind.
Driving is like moving forward in time. You can see the future ahead of you, and it keeps getting closer, yet each time you see it and prepare for it, there is another on the horizon taking its place. The moments pass by the window so quickly, there seems to be no time to savor the present because once you do, it is already gone. Often, we are so concerned with the future that we forget that the past holds the lessons and memories that have led to this point, and I am sometimes filled with envy that the rear window has seen the last of all my firsts.
I looked around again. The sheer rock cliff on which we were perched stretched as far as I could see in both directions. The ledge we were on was inset slightly and wide enough that I didn’t feel in danger of falling. Moving closer to the edge, I peered down at the water. I looked back at April, “How far down is it?” I asked.
She looked at me and shook her head. “I don’t know exactly. I dropped a rock, and it took about five seconds. I never did the math.”
I did. Well, I attempted to. I tried to remember my physics classes, so long ago. What I did remember was thinking, When am I ever going to use this? To answer my question: now. I thought that five seconds would be about two hundred feet, about the height of a twenty-story building. I peered down again. Yeah, that looks about right.
“About two hundred feet?” I asked her.
“That makes sense,” she said, “and at least that high.” She pointed up.
I looked down again at the cliff face, searching for any marks, any sign of structures, and repeated my investigations upward. I knelt and studied the rock. It was slightly rough, like granite, but not cracked. There was no sign that anyone had climbed up or down it at this spot.
“Do you climb?” I asked.
“I have, but I don’t think that that is an option. I don’t think you could anchor on that,” she said, and I agreed.
I turned my gaze back to April and said, “The only way here is through there—” I pointed back to the tunnel. “Or by … flying?”
“That’s what I figured,” she replied.
“If we got a drone—”
“Tried that,” she interrupted. “Nothing electrical works here.”
“Sorry if I’m annoying you with questions and options. I’m sure you have thought of it all,” I said.
“It’s OK. It’s kind of nice to have someone to share this with.” She looked at me and shrugged. “I don’t know how long I would have kept coming here alone,” she told me.
“Have you seen anything out there?” I gestured to the view.
“No animals, no sign of any life. It’s as if it was abandoned.”
I walked back and forth along the ledge, running my hand over the rock, thinking. “Well, someone may have made this. Any ideas?” I asked.
“I started reading about parallel worlds and universes, ancient alien theories, disappearing civilizations, and stuff like that,” she told me. “I don’t have any solid theories. All I know is that when I’m here, I feel at peace, content—and energized when I leave.”
“Why were you sitting in the dark?” I asked.
“I was on my way out. I heard you come in. I never thought that anyone else would find it.”
“Is there anything in the room?”
“Not that I’ve found, and I’ve gone through it quite thoroughly. It took me a couple of visits to find the tunnel to here.”
I sat down next to her. I didn’t feel uncomfortable on the edge. It felt … natural. “Someone could have constructed it to leave this place for some reason.” I pointed out over the water. “Escaping rising water?”
“Or, bringing people here, perhaps. There may be land out there,” she said.
I pointed up, “Or up there …”
I suddenly realized I had no idea how long we had been there. I looked at my watch: 4:03. The second hand wasn’t moving. That would have been the time that I entered the cave. “We should probably start to head back—not that I want to, but you know how the trail is in the dark,” I said.
She glanced over at me and replied, “I wouldn’t worry about it. We have plenty of time.”
“How long have we been here?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve camped here before, and when I left, it was still the same day. Maybe a few hours had passed,” she told me. “It’s not always consistent, though.”
“This place is quite the conundrum, isn’t it,” I murmured, mostly to myself. It wasn’t a question I was asking or expected an answer to.
We sat there for a while, legs dangling off the edge. The ocean breeze tossed her hair, and there was a faint hint of salt in the air. The sun, much brighter than ours, sank on the horizon, radiating reds and yellows across the sky and making the water shimmer.
“Are you going to tell anyone about this?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think that I will.”
We talked for a while and agreed to meet the next weekend. She would bring the food and camping supplies, while I purchased the climbing gear I didn’t have, plus an inflatable boat from the surplus store. I figured a week’s worth of supplies should be sufficient.
I slept well the first few nights, but after that, my excitement kept me from getting the rest I needed. She beat me to the parking lot, her familiar Not Abandoned note appearing on her dash. I left a note too, just an arrow and the words I’m with stupid. Old joke reference that she probably wouldn’t get, but it made me laugh.
“What took you so long?” she said as I turned that last corner to the lookout.
“I’m old,” I replied, and she smiled and extended her hand to me.
“Nice to meet you, Old; I’m April.”
She might get the joke that I left after all, I thought.
“Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, let’s go before someone comes.”
After the earthquake hit, the largest on record for the area, the park was deemed too hazardous to reopen. The landslide and rushing water obliterated most of the trail system and public access areas. Known to be missing was a senior park ranger. Parts of several vehicles were found downstream from the mountain but could not be identified.
I hope you enjoyed my longest short story. I’d love to hear any comments. If you would like to review the entire collection, let me know. Thanks for reading!
If you still have a few minutes, why don’t you take my short and entertaining survey? Lines by Leon: The Survey It’s just a quick way of getting to know how my readers find me and their reading habits.
Enjoy the rest of your day! If you think anyone else would enjoy my writing, feel free to re-blog any posts.
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!)
I thought that I would share one of my short stories in my book, The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. It’s the longest one I had written up to that point. For dramatic purposes, I’m going to split it up into three chapters to post each Sunday. I hope you enjoy.
The handwritten note on the dashboard read: Not Abandoned. This was a nice courtesy to others, but unnecessary since the car was parked in the parking lot at the head of a popular hiking trail called The Ridge. My curiosity piqued, I studied the vehicle—looking for what, I don’t know. It was a little dusty, probably a result of the dirt road, not the kind of dust that accumulates after several rains and drying winds, which we had experienced recently—two, three days ago? I wasn’t sure, but it had to be at least two. I had reluctantly put off my hike to avoid rain. I usually don’t mind hiking in inclement weather; it keeps the other hikers away. But The Ridge is notorious for looking like a muddy river on days like that.
There was no camping along the trail. Once you got past the easier first section, it was a difficult out and back, which according to the trail sign should be a half-day hike, about six hours. I once did it in three. I had come close to repeating that speed a few times, but that day was my crowning glory. Now, in my sixties, I usually finished it in four.
Since I wasn’t there as an investigator, I checked my backpack: water, jerky, M&Ms, half a baked potato, and my first-aid kit. And my knife. Never go without a knife, was what my father taught me. I saw only one other car in the lot. The couple it belonged to were starting out just as I pulled in, so that gave them a twenty-minute head start. Not that it was a race or anything; I just liked to know these things. I was sure to catch up with them. OK, it’s kinda a race, I thought.
After kneeling to tighten my laces, I did a few stretches—getting older sucks—and started up the path. The first section of the Ridge trail is wide and hard-packed. Most people go to the first lookout, take a few pictures, and head back. It is a stunning view. The trees stretch upward, providing a decent amount of shade, while letting in magnificent shafts of light that give the forest a surreal quality.
It took only half an hour to get there. I’d been expecting to see the couple making out on the bench and was pleased to have been wrong. Leaning on the rail, I took a drink of water and started to chew on the jerky. No matter how many times I’d come up here, I was always blown away by the view: the valley, the mountains rising along the river, and the sea of green forest as far as the eye can see.
After the lookout, the trail begins to rise steadily. A bit narrower, a few more rocks and roots to put you off balance. But I had grown to know where each and every one was. One rock, right in the middle of the path, is so smooth and black from all the shoes stepping on it that it is almost as reflective as a mirror. At about 11 a.m., depending on the time of year, it seems to glow. I had been on this trail a lot.
As the terrain on the left side of the trail begins to drop away, the incline on the right gets steeper. Most hikers hug the right side as they’re going up. I always kind of liked the feeling of being on the edge, so I was a lefty this day. It had surprised me to learn that no one had ever died on this trail. Lots of injuries, though. I have a scar to prove it.
The hikers in front of me must have been moving at a good pace. I should be able to hear their voices, I thought, since sound carries in this valley. Despite the heat, and breathing harder than usual, I picked up my speed a bit. I took another sip of water and a then few bites of potato for a little more energy.
I was lost in my thoughts. Looking at my watch, I saw that I had been hiking for an hour and a half, which meant I was getting close to the end. I felt I exceeded my normal pace. A little competition will do that. I decided to stop and listen for voices. Nothing.
After another twenty minutes, I finally heard voices. It sounded like they were getting closer. Rounding the corner, I saw a woman and a man coming toward me. Knowing the narrowness of the path and the steep bank, I called out, “What side do you want to pass on?”
“We’ll take the inside,” the woman replied. “Chickenshit here gets a little dizzy!”
He slapped her on the shoulder and said, “I tripped on that root and nearly fell over! Excuse me for being cautious.”
“Been there, done that, and I have the scar to prove it!” The three of us laughed. “Have a good one,” I said as they passed me.
“You, too,” he said back. In a few minutes, I was alone again. I completely forgot to ask them about the car, I thought. They probably would have mentioned it, wouldn’t they have, if they had seen something?
Finally, I arrived at the trail end, marked by a stone and concrete wall with a metal railing, which must have been quite the task to build. There were still old wooden posts sticking up through the ground, remnants of a wall that had to be replaced after the avalanche twenty-five years ago. I sat for a moment, had a drink, and looked around. From here, a person had three choices: go back, go down (straight down), or up (straight up). I got up and walked to the metal railing, then turned and looked up at the sheer rock face.
A free climber could probably scale it, but I have never seen any attempts. I brushed my hand along the rail, following it to where it met up with the mountain. That left my palm quite dusty, so I brushed my hands together and then wiped them on my shorts. Not wanting to leave the rest of the railing unwiped, I began to run my hand back along the top, then stopped. Looking closely, I confirmed there was a boot print in the dust on top of the rail. A jumper? Peering down, I had a moment of vertigo, which surprised me since I’d been here before. If someone had jumped or fallen, there was no possibility of survival—or discovery. I looked over the edge and could see there was a bit of a ridge protruding from the cliff, about two feet below the wall.
I backed up a bit to see if I could tell how far it went along the rock face. It seemed to curve around a vertical shaft of rock. There was a narrow crack above, paralleling the ridge. A brave soul could possibly inch along, with fingers twisted into the gap, but to where?
I looked at my watch: 3:43. Plenty of time to get back before dusk. My curiosity fought with my good sense. I’d done some climbing before, but always supported. I looked around and spotted a long branch lying by the path. Grabbing it, I returned to the wall. I poked down to the ridge to see how stable it was. It was about an inch wide to start, then narrowed as it approached the corner. I used the branch to flick some of the loose material away and watched the tiny rocks fall to the valley below.
I write like I read. I don’t like reading long, drawn-out descriptions of characters and settings, and I’ll often skim the paragraph for the essential points. Always? No, it all depends on the author. This is why, more than likely, that I primarily write short stories.
A writer doesn’t have the luxury of pages to develop settings and characters when writing short stories. The reader has to be supplied with the minimum information and be allowed to form their own vision. We have to trust our writing to guide the reader and understand and accept that there will be some variation.
There is a skill in writing short stories. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ll let you know when I find out.