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For someone who's never really seen the appeal of rock climbing, Archie was surprised to find himself here. Maybe it was that ever present sense of self-preservation, or that twinge of vertigo from being too high, but he'd never liked the idea of dangling hundreds of feet in the air by a rope. You're completely vulnerable to the elements, dependent on the strength of the rope, and at the mercy of whoever happens to be above you at the time. He cringed at the thought of falling hundreds of feet to his death, and his foot slipped off the fake rock wall. No, he didn't like the idea. Not at all. As he rappelled back to the safety of the ground, he wondered why he'd agreed to this in the first place.


He wasn't afraid of heights. No, that wasn't it, he thought as he walked down the street on his way home. He was just...wary of the drop that came with it. The drop that, should he slip into it, would most certainly be the end him. He shook his head, trying to banish the morbid scenarios that played on a loop through his mind.


For days, these thoughts stalked, plagued, and tortured him. Every day, his fea- his concerns would hinder his training. This wasn't like just going for a run in the park and getting caught in the rain. One wrong step, one malfunction, one faulty piece of hardware, and that would be it. He couldn't even manage to get half way up the wall before losing his concentration and balance, or dropping his foot in the wrong place and slipping. And every day, he went home exhausted, aching, and tired of not making any progress.


He sat in the burgundy upholstered booth in the corner of the nearly empty bar, a cold beer bottle in his hand. He sat lost in his own thoughts as his friend, Brody, chattered away across from him, entirely unheard. Archie thought about what he could say to get himself out of this mess, and how he could say it without coming off as a coward. He couldn't think of anything. But he decided that he would rather be a coward than dead.


Archie was dragged out of the depths of his mind by the sound of his name.


“-I can't even describe it.” said Brody, staring through the wall at the far end of the room. Archie straightened out of his slumped position and pretended like he'd been listening the whole time. “It's indescribable!” Brody laughed and he sipped his beer.


Since Archie didn't know what he was talking about, he just gave a noncommittal “Mmm,” in response. Brody looked across at him with a raised eyebrow, then he broke into a smile and chuckled.


“Well, you couldn't understand. Not until you've experienced it for yourself. Just wait 'til you make you're first summit, then you'll see.” Brody said, going off into his own head again, staring through the wall. “There's nothing like that, making it there on your own strength, standing on top of the world. You become unstoppable and completely, truly free.” His eyes glazed over. “I've never felt so in touch with God and His green earth as when I'm standing so far above it.”


Archie thought about that for a moment, tried to imagine it, to feel it. And he could imagine it, but only just.


Brody set his empty beer bottle on the table a little harder than he meant to, startling Archie out of his thoughts again. With a stretch and a sigh, Brody stood up, Archie following a moment after gulping down his drink, and they walked out into the night air.


“Alright, then. See ya tomorrow,” Said Brody, lifting his hand in farewell. They said their goodbyes and went their separate ways for the night.


On his walk home, Archie was left to his own thoughts again. Torn between his two minds, the one that's been screaming at him since he started this whole endeavor, and a new, fainter, kinder voice that whispered sweet graces in the back of his head. He didn't know what to do. So, for the moment, he just did his best to ignore them both.


All he wanted right now was his bed.


The next few weeks went by. Archie trained and strengthened his muscles, learning and practicing the techniques, climbing higher without really noticing. All the while the two voices tearing at him. The new voice, however gentle it had seemed, now tortured him almost as much as the first one. Both trying to pull him to their side, neither of them daring to loosen their grips. He only gritted his teeth wishing to silence them, as he climbed ever higher, sweat rolling down his forehead.


After months and months of training, it all led up to this. This one singular moment. They stood there, at the base of the mountain. Archie looked up at this towering monster of an obstacle that he was meant to face, his heart pounding in his chest. He felt dizzy looking up at it, so he turned away.


The voices battled in his head like always, only today they felt louder than usual. They both screamed at him, both intolerable as well as unintelligible. He couldn't hear himself think, let alone what these two battling minds were saying. He tried to ignore them, tried to drown them out, tried everything the he could think of, but they wouldn't leave him in peace.


Then it was time to start the climb. Archie went to the first foothold and started on his way up. He focused on the movements and searching for the holds instead of the turmoil that rioted through his mind. But this wasn't the same as what he'd had gotten used to. Of course, he'd pretty much expected that. This wasn't the gym, and he'd expected a little bit of a learning curve. In fact, he was grateful to the extra work. It gave him something else to focus on, and before he even realized, he was already halfway up the mountain.


He didn't know if it was just him, or if the air really did start to feel clearer. His muscles tired and his body ached, but the higher he went, the clearer his head felt. It seemed like it's been forever since he felt this sane. The rioting in his head seemed to quiet, the gentleness returning again to his mind. Instead of berating him and ripping him in half, it seemed to become more encouraging and kind. And the other half, his fear and doubts, seemed to fade into nothing but a silent whisper on the passing wind.


Then he was at the top, and he could hardly believe it. He'd done it. He'd made it to the top. Slowly, he stood and turned back to see how far he'd come. Quietly, he looked out across the world below him. He watched the light dance over the earth, he saw the shadows stretch and thin, he heard nothing but the sweetly scented wind and the pounding of his own heart and breath, and he was entirely at peace, and one with it all.


That silent whisper of doubt that was so desperately clinging to him, afraid to fade from his mind said to him in an unpleasant and snide voice, 'was it really worth all of the work and pain it took to get here?'


“It was,” Archie answered aloud to himself. “It was worth it all, just to see the view from the top.”


November 15, 2019 07:17

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