The International Writers Magazine: Story of man in action

Graham Attenborough

e lay where he fell. He knew he shouldn’t 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.
He 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.

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… ‘onwards 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 couldn’t be much further, he’d thought down there, below this boulder-strewn emptiness where hardly anyone came. He’d thought there’d be plenty of time but time is relative, he’d 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 hadn’t 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 she’d climbed Harter Fell, she’d told him it was steep but not too bad and that anyway it was worth it because the view was fantastic.

‘Fuck the view’; he’d 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;’ he’d climbed up Harter. ‘Yes it was step but nothing he couldn’t handle.’ And as for the view, he could have lied about that as well, tell her, it was too cloudy. Well, it was cloudy wasn’t it, hardly a lie really. She’d never know, how could she? But he would have known and that was why he’d gone on. No more lies, he’d 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’; he’d 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 wasn’t 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 only’s. If only he weren’t 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 couldn’t 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, I’m here.’

He still lay where he’d fallen but it was all right now. There was a flower; he hadn’t 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
Squat Party
Graham Attenborough throws a party


© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.