The coin sliced through the air and whispered something metallic. Heads.
Maybe I'll try another toss for good measure, thought Kade.
Way out in the boonies, he’d walked along a familiar dirt path steadily nearing his destination. He'd come to this place for a reason. It smelled of his childhood--fresh rain, dirt and pine needles, and it carried a mixed vibe of better days and tragedy.
It was the place his dad had taken him when he was a child to camp and hunt and look down upon the city lights just below the horizon line. The township condemned the old cabin at the bottom of the hill after the flood came through, but it still stood, shrouded in mold and rot; looted, no doubt. But it was merely a place to settle down after excursing the endless wilderness.
The tower was the only thing for fifty miles that resembled modernity. It was a radio tower years ago, but had been out of use even when his father was a kid. It frightened Kade as a child--its cold, serious demeanor amongst the birdsongs made it seem out of place, isolated in a world not of its own, or maybe taken from somewhere else and placed there.
He threw the coin into the air once again. It wasn’t just any old coin, it was a 1905 barber quarter handed down to him from his father, who received it from his father. It was considered a family heirloom and a token of good luck after his grandfather had won the lottery using it. He would by flip the coin to confirm or disconfirm what he thought were the winning numbers. At least, that was how the story went as told by his father. There was a time Kade doubted the legitimacy of the story, though. His father had a way of embellishing things, sometimes going overboard.
The lottery money payed the bills and sustained the family for a while. His grandfather built a successful resale business and invested in real estate. Money was never scarce. But it came at a price. The winnings were also the catalyst for numerous grudges and hurt feelings between friends and family members. It isolated them from other people. In the end his grandfather died a lonely man, and as for his father, there’s not a soul in the whole county that doesn’t know how that ended. For Kade, it was still surreal. Sometimes he wondered if the coin wasn’t more of a curse than a blessing, and in some distant corner of his mind, he knew there was something off about it, but he couldn’t believe that his father could be so fatally wrong.
Kade let the coin fall on the trodden dirt trail so as not to intervene with the outcome. Heads again. His breath stiffened. Would he really do this? Climb the tower? He turned his gaze to the steep 180-foot relic just ahead. Not a square inch without rust, erosion, and an air of distrust.
Kade reached for the ladder and it rattled against the frame, ringing out like steel chimes. He thought for a moment about how old the tower was. It had to be at least 120 years old, built sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century. The realization that it was held together by screws manufactured before his grandfather was born made his stomach queasy.
Better toss it one last time. This one is for real, Kade assured himself. It wasn't really the height of the tower that frightened him terribly, nor the degradation or old age of the structure, but what came after the climb—a vast unknown at the end of a very long story.
The coin fell in slow motion. It shimmered in front of his eyes for too long, like it was winking at him, then in a microsecond, it slapped the dry dirt by his feet. A cloud of dust obscured its tarnished face for a moment before it was revealed. His heart sank into his stomach.
Why!? What a cruel trick for fate to play, he thought. What on Earth have we done to deserve this? He contemplated for a long while, even considered going home. A dragonfly landed on shoulder then flew off in the direction he’d come from. He wanted to follow, but the pain of his father’s demise haunted every tree knot and blade of grass that surrounded him, and served only to strengthen his resolve. If this was his fate, then he was ready to face it head on, just like his father had done.
He wrapped his tepid but firm hands around the metal spokes and started to climb, even as a part of him couldn’t quite believe what was unfolding.
The ladder appeared to be disconnected in some areas, but he pressed on. The wind picked up, sobering him to his predicament. After a while, he peered down. The ground looked as if it was breathing, or maybe it was the tower gently swaying back and forth. He could barely make out the cabin through a thicket of trees below but he noticed that the lights were on. It puzzled him, but there was little that could divert his focus from the task at hand.
When his palms got so sweaty that he thought he'd lose his grip, he kept on climbing. Even when the nails gave way beneath him, detaching a portion of the ladder already scaled and shattering it on the ground 150 feet below him, he kept climbing.
Finally, he made it to a plateau barely large enough to contain his kneeling pose. No walls, no handlebars, just a round picnic table teetering on the threshold of heaven. It was cold, vapid, impersonal way up there. But he had made it; conquered it. He was one step closer to seeing his old man again.
He noticed the old cabin below him, unobscured by trees this time. An old man stood looking at him, hands outstretched toward him, waving, signaling something of warning. But Kade couldn’t make out who it was. The coin burned inside his pocket.
The wind blew and it sounded like angels singing. Or were they crying? He flipped the coin one last time. It arched above the city lights and landed no sooner than he did.