Today is Friday, meaning Chuck Wendig is putting forth is weekly flash fiction challenge. This one jumped out at me.
We were to peruse various images under Flickr’s feature called Interestingness. Click it, and you see a random selection of recent photos. We pick one and write a story about it. My selection appears under the title.
I stop at the base of the slope, gazing up into the foggy oblivion. I’d hoped the weather would cooperate, but when you plan something so far in advance, hope is all you get to do. Beth wanted me to cancel. That was out of the question. I have a promise to keep.
I adjust the bulky pack over my parka and tighten my hood. The howling wind, now accompanied by pellet-like sleet, bites at my face. I take another look at the slope, then towards my giant boots. One step, then another. I steady myself on the unstable talus, cursing our decision to take this path a year ago. We had helped each other that day. Today, I’m alone and at the mercy of the rocks before me. I stumble and regain my footing.
Finally, I crest the slope, reaching a field of short grass. The tundra. I’m nearly there. I walk along an old trail, a line not yet healed in the century since a horse last used it. That’s the thing with the land up here: it never forgets.
Beth thought I was crazy to come back here. Not surprising, considering she thinks every fourteener climb is crazy. But I’d been climbing them with Chet since before I met Beth. We only had three more to go to join the club – two after this one. The whole thing started when we were college roommates, and it was his idea.
“What do you think of mountain climbing?”
“I don’t know. Haven’t really thought about it, I guess.”
“There’s a club. Climb all the fourteeners in the state and you’re in.”
“What do you get?”
“A pin or something. Oh, and bragging rights for the rest of your life. Most guys our age play video games all day. We’ll be the guys who climbed all the mountains. What girl wouldn’t want to get with that?”
I laugh at the memory and a chill rushes through me.
My destination is in sight – a small cave, tucked between large boulders. A marmot scurries from the top of one and into the cave.
“Come on, we can make it.”
“I don’t know, Ty. Those clouds look pretty bad. We should find shelter.”
“The summit is right there. We’ll be fine.”
My anxiety finds a home in my stomach, and the steps I must take towards the cave become heavier than they were on the slope.
By the time I reach the cave’s entrance, I’m sweating in spite of the freezing rain. The marmot darts out and past my feet.
I climb into the space barely big enough for one person, let alone two. I lower my hood and run my hand over the ground.
“Come on, man, that lightning was close.”
“You’re gonna chicken out now? We’re yards away, Chet. Yards. I just wanna be done with this.”
I blink and wipe the moisture from my face with the back of my glove.
The flash streaks across my memory, as bright and loud as the one that took him.
I peer out of the cave and toss a stone, hitting the place he fell with no effort. Shelter was that close. I’d grabbed his arms and pulled him inside.
“Chet, Wake up. Come on. Stop fooling around.”
When I arrived at his funeral, I vowed to never climb another mountain. This one had taken my best friend.
His casket was closed, but there were poster-sized images of him displayed around it. One was of us, taken at the summit of the first mountain we climbed. The first time we documented our achievement. Our first step into the club.
See, you have to photograph yourself at each summit to document your climb. No photo, and it doesn’t count.
We only needed three more.
Staring at that picture, I knew what I had to do.
I climb out of the cave and adjust my pack again. After a determined breath, I step towards the summit, past the place Chet died, covering territory he never did.
I reach the top, take out my phone, and take a selfie next to the summit marker.
“Two more to go, and we’re in,” I say to the air.
Somehow, I hear him laugh, like he’d been waiting for me to say that.