My heart is racing as I lay face down, balancing on the edge of a cliff. Al’s hand starts to slip from mine as the sweat from running and the blood from our injuries make our hands slick. Blood is trailing down my arm from a deep gash that runs from my shoulder to halfway down my forearm.
“I’m slipping, John.” I look down at Al and see that the gash on his forehead has reopened and blood is running into his blue eyes that match mine. His dark hair is matted to one side of his head.
“I know. Just hang in there.”
“What do you think I’m doing, taking a nice stroll in the park?”
“Not funny.” A slight smile gracing my face. “Give me your other hand and I’ll try pulling you up.”
Al lifts his arm with all his strength but his fingers brush mine before his arm falls limply to his side. “I can’t do it. I’m just too tired.”
I know what Al is saying is true because the rocky soil of the cliff crumbled away each time I tried to pull him up. As I look down the cliff at Al’s terrified face; I see a ledge that looks about 3 feet wide, approximately 10 feet below his dangling legs. Maybe I can drop Al and hope he lands on the ledge and does not fall to his death. Or do I continue to hang on and waste more of both our energy with the real possibility of him slipping away? Both options could either end in death or with both of us safe. I weigh the options back and forth in my mind, hoping to come to a decision. I can’t believe that just a few days ago, I was curled up under my warm, dark blue covers being woken up by banging echoing throughout my apartment. I had flipped onto my stomach and buried my head under my pillow, hoping whoever was there would just go away. Abruptly, I sat up and remembered that today my younger brother, Al, and I had planned on going backpacking in the mountains for a week. Slowly I made my way to the door and flung it open.
“Do you know what time is?” I asked, annoyed.
“It’s time for an adventure, my dear brother,” he said as he pushed himself in through the doorway.
“Go get dressed and I’ll make you some coffee. Extra sugar, right?” he said as he pushed me toward my room.
I walked back out of my room, wearing my jeans, hiking boots, and flannel. I could smell the aroma of dark brewed coffee. As Al handed me my travel mug, I grabbed my waterproof backpack with everything I would and could need to go backpacking. We hopped into the car and made our way to the Cascade Range. When we finally arrived, it was early afternoon. As soon as we were ready, we started our hike. As late afternoon rolled around, we took a break and set our stuff down on the ground. As we were relaxing, the ground started to shake and Al and I could hear the sound of trees breaking and a rumbling sound like thunder getting louder. With a sudden boom, the ground was no longer beneath us. Rolling and tumbling downward, sharp rocks bit and tore into my arm. Al’s head connected with a rock that was flying through the air, creating a gash on his forehead. We finally slid to a momentary stop at the top of a cliff, but with his weight added to the already unstable ground, Al disappeared over the edge. Luckily a little bit of luck was on our side and I was able to grab him with a death-like grip.
Finally, coming to a decision, I decide to put Al’s life in fate’s hands and let him go.
“Do you trust me? There is a ledge below you. I’m going to let you go and you’re going to land on it,” I said determinedly.
“I trust you, John, but if I don’t make it can you tell Jane that I love her and that I’m sorry for stealing her notebook back in 8th grade?”
“You can tell her yourself when we get back,” I said with a smile that did not reach my eyes.
And with that, I let him go and watch him fall with an awaited breath. I want to look away but I can’t. I am transfixed, watching him fall in slow motion. With a solid thud, he lands. Looking up at me, he gives me a goofy smile and a thumbs up. Falling back with a breath I did not know I was holding, I stare into the cloudless, dark blue sky and whisper.
“I swear if he had let me sleep in for five more minutes. We wouldn’t be in this mess.”