Content copyright 2020. C. D. Tuttle. Photos, background and others, by Elizabeth Cardozo. Kane Moss cover by Xlibris. The Other Side of Creation cover by R. L. Sather of SelfPubBookCovers.com. All rights reserved.
Flash Fiction by
C. D. Tuttle
Jim pushed himself hard as he plodded up the steep trail. His headlamp attached to his ball cap dimly lit the way through the tall spruce trees. It was pitch dark at this time of night. The only sounds were his ragged breath and the crunching of his boots on the stony trail. He wanted to make the summit before daybreak. He needed to find the peace that he always found at the top of a mountain when he was a young man. Life had been difficult these last two months since Ellen, his wife, had died in a horrible accident. Climbing since 2:00 a.m. he was nearing the tree line. A line above which trees could not grow. The smell of the spruce trees was pungent and brought memories of when he first came to the mountains on camping trips with his parents. The smell of pine, spruce and the pine needle litter decaying on the trails was a smell that brought wonderful, warm memories to him. Mosquitos buzzed noisily around his head, but he wasn’t bothered by them. They were reminders too of his younger days on the mountains. Today he was a middle-aged man, still in good health and still capable of climbing mountains. The thick darkness bothered him. He had been on plenty of mountains in the early morning hours but had never experienced this velvet like darkness. It was as if the darkness had texture.
Coming out of the trees the cold wind swept unhindered across the boulders. The sound of the wind rushing across the broken and shattered boulders was familiar and a welcome reminder of his mountain climbing days. It was early September. Pausing to catch his breath, the ptsd images of his wife’s last moments passed through his mind. Images of her broken and dead body lying on the pavement. The scene lit by the flickering flames of their burning car. Jim’s nights had been sleepless since the accident. He could not get the images out of his head. The loneliness was ripping him apart. They had been high school sweethearts, together for over forty years.
Catching his breath and shaking his head to clear the images, he moved on across the boulder field. The slope was steep and required hand over hand movement at times. All was velvety dark except for the glow of his headlight. An occasional boulder would rock or shift making rattling noises that echoed across the narrow valley. There was a strong smell of flint and earth. Jim could hear water from the melting snow on the peak gurgling beneath the boulders on its way to lower elevations. His chest hurt, but he couldn’t tell if it was from the pain of loss or from the exertion due to the altitude. He had not been on a mountain in many years and was not in the best of shape. Removing his cap and pushing his thick black hair back he looked around. His deep blue eyes could not penetrate the darkness around him. There was only the spot of light his headlight cast. What he saw in his small circle of light was dark and rugged. It was somewhat forbidding, but yet…familiar.
Replacing his cap, he moved on. Remembering the first time he saw Ellen, his sweet Ellen, his breath caught in his throat. The memories made him push hurriedly on. At this moment he was not sure if he would resist throwing himself off a cliff to stop the pain and loneliness. And the guilt. Oh, the guilt.
Pushing on, breathing becoming more labored, he came to a notch in a stone ridge called the Keyhole. On the other side was a very narrow ledge leading to the summit. He had climbed it before in his youth. It was familiar.
The argument they were having when the accident occurred crossed his thoughts causing his guts to wrench in absolute guilt. The pain was dreadful. He pushed on. His body was hot and damp from perspiration, but the gusting wind was cold and sent a chill down his spine. Without a coat he shivered and pushed on. His legs ached and felt heavy. Then there was light coming over the summit of the mountain. It cut through the velvety darkness. Soon, the sun would be up.
Crossing the narrow shelf-like ledge, a piece gave way almost sending Jim over the edge. He paused to rebalance himself. He watched in the dim light as the rock fragments dropped 500 feet below smashing on a boulder field. The sound reverberated around the walls of the steep canyon walls. It was a hollow sound. While he watched the falling rock, he found himself considering whether to move on or jump and end his misery. It would be so easy. Shaking his head to break the moment he moved on with memories of better days.
When he first climbed this mountain, he was much younger. It had snowed the night before at tree line. Then the sun broke out of the clouds. The wind was fierce and cold making the climb uncomfortable. When he reached the summit, the wind had ceased, and the sun was warm. He lay on a boulder to rest and soak up the warming rays of the sun at 14,000 plus feet. It was quiet beyond belief. His body ached from the exertion of getting there. He remembered wiping the stinging sweat from his eyes and looking out across the surrounding peaks. He was alive and enjoying life to its fullest. His anxiety and worries drifted away. He was revitalized and felt nothing could hold him back. Today, Jim hoped to acquire that feeling once more. To shake off the horrible memories and the guilt. The guilt that tore at his soul. He desperately needed relief.
Why did I argue with her that night? Why? It was foolish and insignificant as many arguments are between husband and wife. Why? Their last words were spoken in anger. Jim had stopped again and was looking down the face of the cliff he stood upon. Something in his mind was saying,” Jump! Jump, Jim, and end it!” No! No, I must keep climbing. I need to feel the freedom of being at the top. I must! he thought to himself. He pushed on. The ache in his chest was becoming worse. His arms were feeling numb.
Suddenly, he rounded a huge boulder and found himself on top of the peak. The sky was brilliant blue, and the air was abruptly warm. Beautiful puffy white clouds lay below embracing the surrounding peaks. A Golden Eagle, wings spread wide, soared nearby on the morning updraft. Its high-pitched cry made goose flesh on his arms. A diminutive furry Pika stood on its hind legs chirping its alarm at his presence. The view and sounds were like a living painting. These were the sights and sounds that had always given Jim peace.
Bathed in the warmth of the sun, his body began to feel relief. He stood there with his hands fixed on his hips absorbing the scene, the symphony of life. He had made it. He was there where he could feel his soul mending and the memories fading away. This was where he sought relief from his pain, his guilt, his remorse and his misery.
Jim’s body lay relaxed on the bed. His son and daughter noticed how the knitted eyebrows and look of pain on their father’s face had suddenly relaxed. Now, there was a slight smile on his face.
The doctor stepped forward leaning over the fragile looking white-haired old man on the bed, then looking over his shoulder he said, “he’s gone.”