Friendship Sad

This would be our one-hundredth sunrise together. And it would be beautiful.

We were out on one of our famous hikes, one we did every year. Jess and I, we had a bucket list of walks we wanted to do. This was just another one to tick off our lists – Seventy miles.

We had left our homes in a quaint town where community mattered and simple lives were led. Our destination was a quarry town where Jess’ grandparents lived. We figured we would hike out to see them, enjoy the walk and spend a week or two with the grandparents and hike home again. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a good chunk of our summer break from college.

We made sure we had everything we needed before we left – pop-up tent, sleeping bags, food for days, a camping stove, water bottles with filters, compasses, maps, walking boots, changes of clothes, hats, gloves, and divided it into two ginormous backpacks to share the load.

It was our ritual to wake up before sunrise to fully experience it. We would stretch out of our sleeping bags and crawl out of the tent to make some breakfast and coffee. There was something magical about the way the sun could come out of hours’ worth of hiding and wash away the cold, harshness of the night and embrace the Earth’s inhabitants with its warm rays. Birds awaken from their cosy nests and rejoice the new day with song. Rabbits enjoy the cover of the early morning fog hugging the ground so they can feed themselves before their slumbering predators emerge from their dens. Insects bathe in the initial warmth to give them energy to fly around all day. The sunrise would give me permission to let go the struggles, aches and pains of the previous days’ hike and allow me to feel refreshed and ready for another glorious day.

“I know we’ve seen a billion sunrises by this point, but they never get old.” Jess remarked, eyes closed with an element of peace over her sun-bathed face. Moments like this reminded me of Jess’ beauty. Clear caramel skin, chocolate eyes and silky pitch-black locks. I could be slightly biased – Jess had helped me out numerous times which made me love her more. Like the time we first met, back when we were around 9 years old, I was doing the extra maths homework I had asked my teacher to give me and this brute called Daniel came up to me and started berating me.

“You’re such a geek. I bet your mum is so ashamed of you for not having any friends!” he sneered.

“Jo has friends, you twerp, including me. So why don’t you leave my friend alone before I break your fingers?” Jess said, standing between Daniel and me with her hands on her hips.

Daniel didn’t believe her until she wrapped his arm behind his back and started yanking. Once he was screaming like a little girl and pleaded Jess to let go, she gave a smug smile and let him run off in tears. We’ve been inseparable since (I need that kind of fearlessness in my life). Jess has saved me so many times with bullies as well as from myself whenever I needed it. She really was the best.

Once we had soaked up every inch of the new light, we packed up and headed out. The hours flew by with our consistent chatter, talking about anything that came into our heads. We had always been like this and I loved every minute of it.

“I think squirrels look at us and report back to their chief.” Jess said as she suspiciously eyed a squirrel up in a tree.

“What on Earth are you talking about?”

“Don’t you get it? The way they look at us is probing. Their eyes glued to our every move. I reckon they can speak to each telepathically which is why they’re always so damn silent. I reckon they’re planning an invasion and they’re tracking our movements to have the element of surprise!”

I looked at her incredulously.

 “You’re an absolutely nutter, you know that?”

“I do. It’s why you love me, right?”

I couldn’t help giving her the biggest grin. She was right.

We came across a pathway lining the edge of a cliff. Looking down was not an option unless you wanted to give yourself vertigo. The path was only wide enough for one foot in front of the other and there were small tufts of grass or juts of rock to hold on to on the cliffside to our left. I went first and Jess went after me. We did shut up for this bit, but occasionally checking in with each other.

“Hey, Jo! Look at that!”

Before I could look at what it was Jess was pointing to, time seemed to slow. I turned to her as I watched her left boot slip on some loose stones and knock her right foot out from underneath her. Her whole-body slid. The path cut into her trousers and her skin leaving bloody tatters. I saw her hands scramble to hold on to rocks or grass or the path itself when she landed on her side. Panic was all over her face. This wasn’t Jess; she was never scared. She looked me in the eyes, hand stretched out to me. “Save me!” her eyes screamed. I reached towards her, wary of my own balance. Just when my hand was about to fit into hers perfectly, I blinked, and her hand was now 10 inches too low. Time slowed even further. Jess was impossibly suspended in mid-air. Limbs flailing in all directions. Her face scrunched up in a scream, but I couldn’t hear her. This can’t be happening. My body froze, eyes locked on Jess’. Her harrowing scream pierced through the time warp I was experiencing, and suddenly it all seemed too fast. She was falling. Too fast. My heart and stomach fell with her. She kept falling and falling until she was too far away for me to see her clearly, only her outline. Then, I heard the dreaded noise. A bone-shattering thud from way below followed by silence.

I was so close to accidentally following her as my mind caught up with what happened. My Jess was suddenly gone. Gone. I looked up and saw we were only six feet away from open grass. Six feet away from safety. While my mind was racing my body was still frozen in place. I stayed there, on the ledge, numb for what felt like an eternity.

Eventually, I managed to walk that final six feet. I shrugged off my backpack and flopped down on the ground as far away from any edges as I could. The ground was hard. I stared up at the sky. It was grey. The birds had stopped tweeting. The magic from life had gone.

I tried to convince myself that Jess was by my side. That we had made it together and what I just saw was a horrific figment of my imagination. But it wouldn’t stick. I had witnessed my lifelong friend fall to her…death.

No. She can’t be gone. She wouldn’t be so careless to slip like that. I sat up and started spinning my eyes around, looking for traces of Jess. Her backpack? Her shoes? Her hat? I got up and ran back to the end of the narrow cliff path, longing for her to be on the edge waiting for me. The path was empty.

No, she can’t leave me. We’re not even halfway there yet. We have so many other trails on our list to tick off. She must sit her exams next year. She needs to go to uni. She must start her career soon to be a botanist. She must see her grandparents. Sh*t. Her grandparents. They’re expecting her. She can’t leave them either! My chest was growing tighter with every thought. There wasn’t enough room in my body to breathe anymore.

I started pacing. I couldn’t stay still. My voice started talking, without my permission. It didn’t sound like me though. It was hoarse and broken. Black clouds pulled across the sky and at the same time they pulled crossed my mind.

“Why couldn’t I save her?! She was right there in front of me! I was so close, if only I had put my hand out sooner, I could have grabbed onto her and pulled her back up. I would never have let go. Or, we could have taken a whole other path entirely, then she might still be alive! She had saved me on countless occasions, from stupid things like bullies. Why couldn’t I save her just this once?!” She had never needed saving before. My mind jumped.

“Did she die thinking I didn’t care about her?” It was only at this point that the tears hit. They came in floods. My knees buckled under the weight of the heaviness in my chest. I fell to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. I loved her to pieces. I wished that she knew.

After what must’ve been hours, I looked up to see it was dusk. You need to get somewhere to rest for the night, somewhere safe. You need to find that place. Now. This voice came from what felt like the depths of my brain. It helped slow the tears, lifted the heaviness, and got me to my feet. I know it hurts but you need to stay alive. Get going. I felt far from alive right now. But I did want nothing more than to curl up and let the darkness of sleep take me. So, I picked up my backpack and trudged on seeking shelter for the night.

A little way on, I came to a forest. A small clearing made itself obvious to me, so I declared that the site to pitch up for the night. I got to the clearing and turned to Jess to ask her to get out the tent.

Oh. Jess had the tent. What am I going to do now? I have my sleeping bag so that’ll keep me warm, but I won’t have that weather-proof surround to keep me dry. You don’t want a clearing. You need natural shelter. Keep looking. This voice was turning out to be quite helpful in my otherwise dysfunctional state.

I carried on looking but this time, for a big bush or a tree with plenty of foliage I could bury into. This was slightly difficult now as I had to use my torch to cut through the dark and find a place to rest.

Several hours passed with me wandering through the bare forest with no success of finding the right shelter. I ended up walking out the other end of the forest and was in a valley. I shined my torch across which reflected to me there as a small lake. My torch also showed me there was a shadowed opening on the opposite side of the lake. That could be a cave. Go look. I mindlessly obeyed and made my way over there.

It was indeed a cave, the perfect size for sleeping in. Great. Now eat something. The voice had a point, I don’t think I had eaten since before… I guessed I could manage something small so pulled out a granola bar. I choked it down, fighting against my somersaulting stomach. I sat at the edge of the cave, eating my dinner, looking over the lake. By this time, the moon had risen and created a beautiful but ghostly light shimmering on the lake. This was Jess’ second favourite time of the day. The sun gave us permission to start a new day and the moon gave us permission to re-energise. How can I re-energise after a day like today?

I had unconsciously left some space next to me and could almost see Jess snuggled up with me, drinking her usual night-time tea.

“How am I supposed to cope without you?” I begged.

With that, the ethereal image of Jess silently floated away.

November 14, 2020 18:01

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Molly Leasure
23:29 Nov 17, 2020

Wow, wow, wow. This is a complete turn from your other stories and I am HERE FOR IT. I love the action scene, how you switched from slow motion to fast motion. It was so realistic! And the awful description of her death was perfect. Just perfect. But I'm having this bitter feeling that Jo didn't work all that hard to make sure Jess ACTUALLY died right away. She didn't even peek over the edge to see if she was still breathing. Depending on how far the fall was, she totally could have lived! And then she starts worrying about how Jess might th...


Sam Reeves
12:32 Nov 18, 2020

Thank you so much!! I've had that exact same comment from one of my family so that was something I obviously overlooked. Maybe I could have changed the ending slightly to be that Jo is camping for the night but set on trekking down the side of the cliff and down to the bottom to find Jess. I threw in the remorse part to try and capture all the weird and unnecessary thoughts people have when they grieve but maybe that was a bit out of the blue, haha! Oh damn, I hit you with the feels! I'm very happy with that. Thank you!!


Molly Leasure
21:55 Nov 18, 2020

That would've worked! Or maybe, right after Jess falls, she lunges to look over the edge. But the sight of the edge triggers this horrible fear inside her, and she can't follow through. Then, later, when she's at her campsite, she could relive the moment or just think of the moment and berate herself. Then, if you don't want her to go back to the site, you don't have to! (Just a thought, me spitballing if you will, haha) Oh no, the weird, unnecessary thoughts were good! I was being sarcastic about her worrying about Jess hating her for no...


Sam Reeves
12:14 Nov 19, 2020

Oooh all very good suggestions, thank you! Ahh I see, I'm absolutely terrible with reading sarcasm! Haha absolutely. Good!!! Thank you so much for your comments


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