The International Writers Magazine: Story of man
sensed that it was raining; he could feel the cold wetness on his cheeks,
the clammy dampness soaking through insufficient clothing as though it
were made of tissue. He remained still, his posture, he knew, was one
of defeat but the wind still attacked him, kicking him when he was down.
Even in victory its anger was not abated.
lay where he fell. He knew he shouldnt move; the effort would
cost too much. There was little in the way of pain now. That, at
least, was a comfort but instinctively he knew that he must remain
still, that he must remain quiet or the pain would return, all encompassing.
Harter Fell was not very high. Compared to some of the great peaks that
could be seen from its barren summit, it was rather small and yet, Harter
was a killer, or so it now seemed to him, as he lay, helpless, upon its
coarse, wiry grass like a staked out lamb.
It had started well enough, a gentle, undulating climb, a little boggy
in places but not difficult, that is until he reached the trees where
the path swung up to the left and the gradient turned nasty.
At first he rose to the challenge forcing him self
and upwards, onwards and upwards. This was his mantra, the beating
drum of the overseer persuading slaves to pull on their oars. It was relentless.
He stopped a number of times bent forward hands resting on knees, catching
his breath and rubbing his chest with his fist.
Then it grew darker, the clouds began to gang up so that he began to feel
vaguely threatened, intimidated by their seemingly aggressive behavior
but he was stubborn, he was fit, and he had something to prove. It couldnt
be much further, hed thought down there, below this boulder-strewn
emptiness where hardly anyone came. Hed thought thered be
plenty of time but time is relative, hed forgotten that. Down there,
fifty feet back along the leg-breaking path, he had all the time in the
world. Now, lying here on the wind-swept summit, with his crashed heart
and his half-drowned cagoule, well, how much time did he have left now?
What was he doing here anyway? He hated climbing. Why hadnt he stayed
down there, in the valley? Why had he not gone on through the woods? He
loved walking through woods. He knew why, because shed climbed Harter
Fell, shed told him it was steep but not too bad and that anyway
it was worth it because the view was fantastic.
Fuck the view; hed thought, he just had to get to the
top, shelter from the wind and pour some hot, sweet coffee from that flask
in the rucksack that bent him over like a hunchback as he willed himself
on and on, up and up each step a burning torture in his thighs and calves
his chest. More than once, when his legs ached like teeth and his lungs
burned like a bursting bladder, he had thought about turning back. Why
had he persisted? He could have lied about it, told her, yes, oh
yes; hed climbed up Harter. Yes it was step but nothing
he couldnt handle. And as for the view, he could have lied
about that as well, tell her, it was too cloudy. Well, it was cloudy wasnt
it, hardly a lie really. Shed never know, how could she? But he
would have known and that was why hed gone on. No more lies, hed
told too many lies.
He did reach the top, well almost, near as damn it. It was quite level
despite the boulders but he had seen a trig point on a rocky outcrop
some twenty yards to his left. Oh god; hed thought,
and began the trudge towards it but as the wind punched and kicked him
still, as it tore at his clothes and poked at his eyes he felt something
snap in his chest. All at once, a band of steel was tightening around
him; he fell to his knees, fists pounding on his sternum, cursing, bastard,
bastard trying to bully his own heart back into service.
He was calmer now. He was still alive if not actually kicking but he was
calmer, resigned. It wasnt so bad. There was something comforting
about this grass on which he lay and lying flat protected him from the
wind somewhat. There were regrets though, if onlys. If only he werent
such a bloody fool, with his stupid, typical mid-life crisis issues, his
pointless, pig-headed attitude to growing older, his ridiculous I
need some space to find out what I really want. Bullshit.
This could be it, these next few minutes; hours might actually be the
rest of his life. She had wanted to come on this trip but oh no, this
was his trip, his voyage of discovery, his I need to be alone
moment. Well, now he was alone just he, the mountain and the weather.
He had a phone in his bag but he couldnt get to it now. If she were
here she would have called Mountain Rescue and maybe the sound of helicopters
would be filling his ears instead of rain and the blood humming. There
would be fit, strong men rushing up the side of this bloody fell carrying
drugs and a stretcher and she would be saying: its ok, Im
He still lay where hed fallen but it was all right now. There was
a flower; he hadnt seen it at first, too preoccupied. It was small,
a small yellow flower no bigger than a shirt button but bright, bright
yellow like the sun. He focused on it; he studied every part of it, the
liquid-like brightness of its five petals and each of the thousands of
tiny hairs of its pollen-baring stamen. It was beautiful, better than
him it was almost as though this flower was the sum of all things, as
if it were at the center, the very core of the universe.
He lay still, very, very still and studied the light.
© Graham Attenborough December 2005
Graham teaches history at the University of Portsmouth
Graham Attenborough throws a party
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