Closing my eyes, I feel the sweat practically dripping from my palms as I cling to the rope in the heat of the sun.
“You’re doing fine, honey.” My husband, Zander, says.
“Fine my butt!” My legs shake as pebbles release from the cliff side and vanish. “I don’t want to do this!” As the breeze picks up and chills the droplets on my arms a hawk screams above me. “That bird knows I’m going to die, it’s just waiting for it.”
Zander laughs. “Yelena, you’re safe. The line is secure and I’m holding you. Besides, hawks are predators, not scavengers. So I’m betting he wants you to make it.”
I lean back as he loosens the line a bit. “Zander!” My mouth goes dry. “Why did I let you talk me into this? You’re such a—”
“I love you too, sweetheart.”
“You’ll be okay, he loves you. He won’t let you fall.” I let out a shaky breath. “I hope.” I look down and my breath catches. “Okay, you’re over half way down.”
“You’re doing great, baby, but you have to keep moving.”
“It’s either thirty feet down, or forty feet up, and your legs are too tired to go up. This was your own idea. Zander isn’t the one wanting to conquer a fear of heights. Get this over and you’ll never have to do it again.”
“I’m proud of you, baby. You’ll love it once your feet are on solid ground again. Maybe you’ll even want to come with for next week’s climb. It’ll give you an excuse to wear those cargo pants again. Did I mention how good you make those look?”
A laugh bubbles up but I clamp my mouth shut. I carefully slide my feet down the wall as Zander cheers me on. After an eon I touch the ground and I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. “Sorry to disappoint you my love, but I won’t be doing that again.”
Zander peers down at me and I can just make out his grin. “We’ll see about that. Make yourself comfortable, I’ll be down shortly.”
I find a rock in the sun and take a seat as a snake slithers out from beneath it. I smother a squeal with my hand and jerk my feet up. “I should have gone to the mall with Whitney.” Shielding my eyes, I search the rocks for Zander. “What’s taking him so long?” A twig snaps behind me. As I turn a hand clamps over my face and I inhale something sweet. I struggle against strong arms.
“Night, night.” A man whispers as everything fades from view.
“What happened?” I grab my head as I regain my senses. The sky is filled with stars and at my side is Zander’s pack and both of our smashed cell phones. I get to my knees as my balance wavers and take out his flashlight. “Zander?” I don’t see him. Looking to the cliff, I can just make out the rope I had repelled from. Holding the light between my teeth I crawl toward it. I feel as though I’m wearing a 100 pound weight vest and I’m forced to stop a foot away from the cliff. I balance on my knees and beam the flashlight up, my mind and body numbing as I catch sight of an arm dangling limply. “Zander!” I say, seeing his watch.
I get to the cliff and tug on the rope. My tears begin to fall as I look at the gear I’m still wearing. My mind desperately gropes for how to reattach myself. I put my back to the cliff and slide to the ground, Zander’s voice calling to me from memory. He would never forgive me if I risked my life for his, but can I forgive myself if I don’t?
For what seems a lifetime I fumble with the rope and try to get it to take my weight. At last, my knees collapse and I’m forced to let it go until daylight. I lean back against the rocks and call to Zander begging him for a response. Pulling up my knees I bury my face and let the tears come as they wish until they wash me into sleep.
It’s late in the morning when I’m awake again. I try my limbs and they respond with ease and strength. “Don’t you dare think the worst,” I say, seeing Zander’s arm as it had been last night. My mind clearer, I try the rope and it takes my weight. I attempt to reattach myself, but quickly give up. “If the chubby kid in P.E. class could climb a rope, then so can you.” My heartrate quickens as my feet leave the ground. Inch by inch I fight my way up. “I’m coming, Zander, hold on.” At last I reach the top and I manage to pull myself over the edge. I collapse onto my back and struggle to catch my breath. “Zander?” I pray for a response.
His face is pale, but his eyes flutter open. “Yelena?” His voice doesn’t break a whisper. “What happened?”
I smile, laughing as I crawl to him.
“Did I trip and hit my head or something?”
It’s then that I see the gash in his side and the blood that soaks the ground. I touch his forehead and bite my lip as my fingers chill. “We’re going to get out of here, okay? It’s all going to be fine.”
He tries to sit up and I hold him in place.
“You need to rest. I’ll go back to the trail and find help.”
He takes my hand with a weak grasp and my eyes water.
“Look,” I point to a tree, “do you see that brown bird?”
“Watch it for me. I want you to tell me what it’s been doing when I get back—”
“Just do it!” I kiss his forehead. As I reach the trail I find myself alone. One of my pockets begins to vibrate. I frown, pulling out a phone I’ve never seen. “Hello?”
“Your husband isn’t who you think he is.”
“Who is this?”
“You can call me, The Architect.”