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THE BOTTOMLESS PIT
By Jon Gee Ruez
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Jon Gee Ruez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE HIKE
A distant sound of rain gently infiltrated like little streams into the deep recesses of his unconscious mind, waking it slowly, cautiously, tactfully. His eyes opened sluggishly, his vision imperceptibly focused in the dim light, attempting to distinguish the familiar from the unrecognizable. He could sense something on his body, on his arms, on his torso, and all around him. He was seized with a fearful sensation of something watching him closely. He could smell a foul malodorous smoke. His mind in a haze, his eyes half opened, he struggled with his hands to remove whatever was on his face. It smelled like burnt rubber. As his eyes focused, he could make out a shadowy shape. It was a giant grasshopper sitting on his face! A sense of panic and terror seized him like a vice grip, holding him tight, unable to move a single muscle in his body. He was forcing his arms and hands to move, but nothing moved. He could not move a single muscle, his eyes frozen half opened. He could feel this creature moving about his face. Its legs and claws firmly planted, gripping the skin on his face, moving its head, studying him. Then he felt the sting like a sharp scalpel penetrating his chin, deep into the jawbone. It burned deep and he felt the pain travel through his face deeper and deeper into the core of his brain until he could not endure anymore and he faded into darkness. Then there was a sudden rush as his lungs filled with air and he woke, shaking and alarmed.
The details were the same, very vivid and terrifying. Before this, he had never even had dreams, at least none that he could remember, but this nightmare was continuing to recur, three times over the past two months. He couldn't fathom any reason for its recurrence or why it had started. He mulled over ideas as to what it might mean.
His close friend, Tim had convinced him to join him on this weekend climb. As he hiked along the trail to the rock face, his mind was deep in thought about the dream.
The worn path ended at the tree line and in front lay a green grassy field as wide as a football field, bounded by low trees and shrubs on one side and a drop off on the other. The field was covered, not by grass alone, but by an abundance of yellow, purple, and blue flowers, the rich colors intensified by the bright sun. The path ahead led downhill into more trees and beyond that, a rocky hill. The massive rock face stood a mile distant, staring at him in the bright light, looming high into the sky. A few white and gray thunderclouds gave the distant blue a deeper color. He felt a strong cool breeze blowing from the open side of the field. He stopped and looked around. Behind him, the path was hiding in the shade of the trees. Ahead, he could see the tracks Tim was making through the grass and wild plants. He stood, took in a deep breath, and let the cool air refresh him as the sweat evaporated from his eyebrows and face. Then, without warning, Tim disappeared at the other side of the field obscured by a swarm of locust that rose suddenly from the grassy field. Such was the multitude that the colors of the field quickly faded to gray in the shadow of the swarm. The breeze soon carried the locusts off into the trees and the swarm vanished like vapor. The colors returned to the field and he could barely see Tim's hat as he descended on the other side. He trotted across the field following Tim's tracks, his backpack impeding his pace.
Tim sat down on a smooth round rock shaded by a small evergreen. There was no path, not that one was needed for the rock face was dead ahead. Paul was twenty yards behind, sweating heavily, and breathing steadily in a paced rhythm.
"Need a break?" Paul called out to Tim as he got near.
"Something shifted inside my backpack and it's rubbing against my back. I need to adjust whatever it is. It'll just take a few minutes. Go ahead, I'll catch up in a few," Tim shouted back. Tim started opening his backpack and had removed his hat. Paul walked up and stopped to catch his breath.
Tim looked up at Paul, "It looks like you can use the break!"
"Yes," Paul replied as he stopped and also removed his backpack. He stood for a minute letting his lungs and body recover from the short jot. "Did you see the swarm of locusts?" he asked Tim.
"Just as you crossed the open grassy field behind us, a swarm of locusts rose and flew off into the woods," Paul told him.
"Are you sure?" Tim replied, "I doubt seriously there are any locusts this high up in the Rockies."
"I'm sure of what I saw, but they vanished as quickly as they appeared. I was hoping you had noticed the swarm too."
"That sounds strange," Tim injected, "Locusts in this area is an anomaly of nature, maybe a sign of the changing times. Weather patterns are changing and nature is responding in sync with the environment." Then he turned and faced the rock ahead, "It looks beautiful. The beige and white colors with shadows set against that deep blue sky! I can't wait to start the climb!"
Paul was still acclimatizing to the altitude, his body trying to adjust after a year of neglect. He reflected on Tim's remark about the locusts representing a sign of the changing times. A sign, he grappled with the idea. Could it be a sign of something besides the changing weather? He was bothered by the fact that the locust had momentarily obscured Tim and that the locusts had disappeared so quickly. What was the significance? He looked up at the rock face.
"It is beautiful," he agreed with Tim after a minute. "Do you dream?"
"Yes, I've had a few dreams, nothing spectacular, just ordinary little stuff. You know, every day kind of things," Tim replied as he stood up and picked up his backpack.
"What's on your mind?" he asked Paul.
"It's strange," Paul started, "like the locusts I just saw. Just minutes before that I was thinking about this recurring nightmare I've been having lately." Paul told Tim the details of his recurring nightmare as they started up the rocky hill towards the cliff ahead.
"Now that's very unusual," Tim said, "A nightmare about giant grasshoppers and now you saw a swarm of locusts. It's like a sign. What I really think though, is that you may be under a lot of stress. Stress ... that I do understand. Let me think about what you told me, maybe I can come up with ideas on how real life situations might be contributing to your nightmare."
"Well, I have been thinking about work and I guess I have been stressing over some of the contracts I have pending," Paul replied.
"When we get up on the rock face, we can sit and talk." Tim said, "Maybe by then I'll have some ideas. I can think better when I'm high on a cliff. You know how that is. That's why I had to come and climb this weekend."
"Yes, me too," replied Paul. They continued silently on to the base of the rock face.
Chapter TwoTHE FALL
As the cool Spring breeze swayed the bright yellow Jonquils, he stood silent on the hill looking down the gentle slope. He could see the pallbearers begin to lower the casket. Using colorful ropes, six of Tim's friends were belaying the casket gently down into the grave. He looked at his uncle and his uncle lifted his violin to play. As the first notes hit the air and were carried towards the funeral canopy, the crowd looked up and in their direction. All was silent except for the notes of the violin radiating through the air. He could visualize the words in his mind, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound..." It was a beautiful day and he could smell the freshly cut grass. The sweet gentle fragrance of flowers was in the air. He could see flowers along the chain link fence partially covered with ivy, forming a green wall. It was a perfect day for the living.
Paul had known Tim since high school. They were close friends and had enjoyed climbing together for years. Tim was sociable and a tough individual of above average height, broad shouldered and solid. He was usually clean-shaven, handsome, and in his thirties. When rock climbing, Tim usually wore cargo shorts and a short sleeve cotton shirt over a white T-shirt. He always stood out in a crowd because of his ruddy looks and wavy hair. Paul missed him already. He wished he had spent more time with his friend. He was poorly prepared for this untimely event. Then his thoughts turned to Tim's wife, Naomi. Paul started reliving the painful memory of a few days before, when he had told her about the tragedy. She had listened with tears in her eyes. Feeling the heartfelt pain of loss and despair, he stood watching as her expression turned from grief to anger. She slapped him hard. His emotions quickly turned from anguish to anger. A rush of adrenaline kicked in and every nerve ending pushed him to respond physically, but his years of discipline of mind over body stood in control. Naomi was still looking at him, perhaps looking for a reaction. He did not know what he really felt at that moment, the adrenaline gradually dissipated, and he slowly turned the other cheek. Naomi tears just continued streaming down, more so now. He had no reply. His mind was blank and his heart felt like it had been torn out of his chest. His instincts were in the world of survival, the future, events he could relate to, not on intangible fleeting emotions. Thinking back, he should have said something, but he had no words for that moment that was now forever frozen in time.
He had been told his presence at the funeral was not welcomed. That had been a shock and an insult to the person he believed he was. A best friend gone and he was shut out like a lame horse put out to pasture, alone. He had worked hard and dedicated himself to succeed in life. That refusal made him feel like he had accomplished nothing. He thought back about his life over the years and his struggles to succeed to be self-sufficient and a respectable person. He had worked his mind and hands to the edge all through high school and later in college. He was remembering how focused and optimistic he had been while working on his engineering degree. He had always felt success was just a matter of time. Then, he remembered an incident on campus with four girls. One of the four approached him. She had stepped away from the other three and had started talking to him. All four were complete strangers, but she was interested in him and wanted to get to know him. Then in the background, he overheard one of the other three girls saying he was a loser, why would their friend be the least interested in getting to know a loser. Why would a complete stranger make such a statement? He had wondered then and today he still didn't know. He had forgotten that incident, but now that moment stood out vividly in his memory. Perhaps the outspoken girl was right all along. She must have seen something in him that he still did not understand about himself. He looked up at the perfect clear blue sky and his mind drifted back in time, eight hundred miles away.
The sun was on his back and they were almost two thousand feet straight up. Tim was fifty feet above as Paul belayed him from a narrow ledge. He could see Tim slowly making his way up hanging onto the rock like a spread-eagle squirrel on a tree. Paul looked over his left shoulder to see the rest of the cliff and the horizon in the distance. The day was clear with a few thunder clouds rising. Then he heard Tim's scream, "falling!" Paul pulled back on the rope, held his breath, felt a slight jerk, and then slack. He was still looking over his left shoulder, waiting for the strong jerk of the rope when he saw Tim free falling, his face contorted in a look of horror, a trace of rope following him down. The rope had broken! Paul's heart sank in horror as he saw his best friend falling, hitting the rocks along the way, and eventually disappearing over a ledge below. His mind raced through a checklist of the equipment, the ropes. They had checked the equipment and the condition of the ropes before starting the climb. What had gone wrong? He was alone on the cliff. The light breeze was blowing gently over the sweat of his face, cooling it. He hung motionless, frozen like the rock. His mind went blank for few seconds, and he gazed into infinite space. As his thoughts turned to Tim's family and his friends, fear seized him, a fear not of the mountain, not of the climb, but of facing friends and Tim's family. How could this happen? Life slowly returned to his veins, he ignored the pain in his left hand finger. His mind slowly engaged into his present situation. Slowly he reached around to the back of his climbing harness and pulled out his satellite phone and called the rescue number he had gotten from the park rangers. He gave them his location and the situation. It was a straight drop down. There was no way Tim would have survived the fall. Something had to have cut the rope. Perhaps the rope had snagged on a sharp rock outcrop. He needed to climb up the fifty feet and check for clues of the cause. It was now or maybe never. His mind would never be at ease without knowing why the rope failed.
He decided he would rappel his way down to find Tim's body, but first he needed to climb up the fifty feet. He started pulling down the broken rope, using his arm's length to measure how much was left. This way he would know exactly how far above Tim had climbed. He would self-belay his way up and then rappel his way down to this same ledge. He pulled down the rope from above and inspected the broken end. Then he thought about the piece of rope trailing from Tim as he fell. It was no more than twelve feet or so ... that left roughly a hundred and forty feet. He secured the free rope end to the anchor of the belay system and gave himself enough slack to make it up to the first carabiner above. He cleared his mind of all thoughts of Tim and family, and focused on the climb ahead. He forced his eyes to focus above, looking for the next grip, and his hands and arms methodically advanced. When he reached the next carabiner he clipped the rope in and gave himself another twelve feet of slack. He wanted to make sure he could reach the next carabiner. He repeated the process as he moved up the face of the cliff. As he climbed, he was carefully inspecting the rock around each carabiner. Fifteen minutes later, he had reached the next to uppermost carabiner. He looked around closely inspecting every inch of rock searching for a possible cause. Over to his left, just a few inches away he saw the remains of what was surely an old broken piton, a piton left by some climbers long ago. It looked like it had a razor sharp edge. The rope must have snagged on the sharp edge when Tim fell. Of all things, he thought, something so insignificant, something so unlikely a culprit; not nature, but man's own doing had caused his best friend's free fall. He took a picture of the piton with a pocket camera that he always carried on climbs, a keepsake photo. He inspected the carabiner and decided it would hold him safely for the rappel. He pulled the rope thru the belay tube and secured it to his harness with a locking hitch. As he descended, he removed the carabiners within reach. Within minutes he reached the ledge where he had been when Tim had fallen.
He secured himself to the carabiner and untied the climbing rope from the anchor at his feet and pulled down the rope that looped through the carabiner above. Next, he pulled up on the haul line that held the bivy sack and their two backpacks. He figured he would use the bivy line as well as his own rope to rappel down. Once he had the backpacks and bivy, he checked Tim's backpack for the pocket knife, compass and other items he consider of keepsake value and transferred them to his backpack. He would not be able to carry Tim's backpack and bivy. He would have to leave them on the ledge. He added an overhand knot to connect the rope ends and slipped the rope into the carabiner he was going to use for the next rappel. He had decided to leave two wedges and the carabiner in place. To test the carabiner and anchor system for a downward pull, as a security measure, he secured himself to the anchor at his feet and then jerked by leaning back away. It held. Using this procedure, he figured he could rappel his way down one hundred and forty feet at a time. Tim's body had to be within one thousand feet below. He calculated he had more than enough gear on his rack to leave some on the cliff and still rappel all the way down. Of course, as a last resort he would free climb down. He took a couple of breaths and started the rappel. He repeated the process methodically carefully testing each protection after each pitch. Then, at each stop, he forced himself to look below for Tim's body. It was an agonizing moment each time, like a runner measuring his lap times, loosing ground each time, and knowing defeat before it comes.
Excerpted from THE BOTTOMLESS PIT by Jon Gee Ruez Copyright © 2010 by Jon Gee Ruez. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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