Competition Piece – Descent

May 2, 2010 at 1:40 am (Skrifa) (, , )

Informal forum writing competition entry.

Prompt (which I took very literally):



At the front of the bowl-shaped crevice, slick with moss, there is a small pebble. I must push it a little to the side, so that it falls. It is rough-surfaced, not smooth. I shift my index finger over, press it against the pebble – which tilts a bit, and doesn’t move. Again. The pebble rolls over once. Again. The pebble falls.

My next task is to wedge my index finger into this crevice. It stretches the tendons in my hands a bit, but I manage. My fingers would shake had I not stuffed them, with great care, into cracks in the rock. The grit on my ruined skin provides traction.

My middle finger will not come out, and I have to move it. If I pull it violently, it will come, but will be useless to me. I guide it left, right, and it is free. About two inches above my index finger is a crack I intend my middle finger to occupy. When I have pushed it into the crack enough to feel the rock biting my bones, I begin to move my third and fourth fingers. There is no space big enough for my thumb.

My left hand is secure. I could hang my entire body from it if my fingers were not pulled from my hand. I do not know whether they would be.

I shake my head, tilt it back on my shoulders. I have no hands free to move my hair from my eyes, so I must wait until the wind takes it.

I set about moving my right foot. The rain gets in my eyes, and I blink them rapidly. I will wait for the wind to change direction. It is rare that I find a gap in the rock big enough to fit my feet, and my right eye does not see clearly; its surface has been damaged by the ends of my hair thrashing against it. I must search for a crack with my foot. My toes are senseless to gentle touch: the meat of them has long since been exposed. I must hit the rock roughly to feel any gaps.

I am lucky. I find a crack big enough to fit my first and second toes. I look up, to my right hand. Gravel hits my forehead. I close my eyes and pull back, instinctively, but thankfully do not dislodge either hand or foot. Above me, the horse paces.

“Leave!” I scream at him. The wind takes the words from my tongue. I spit out gravel.

I pull away from the rock face, now that I know it is safe, and turn my lips to the rain. I manage to catch a few drops.

My right hand is bleeding. I must wait here for the blood to thicken. If I try to move it now, it will be too slick to hold my weight. It is difficult to wait. If I relax, I rely only on the ability of my flesh to remain coherent to save me from plummeting to the water below. I shift some of my weight to my right foot, and inspect my hand. My fingers are mostly hidden in the rock, and so I cannot see anything.

When I remove my middle finger, I find that I have dislodged the fingernail. At first I do not know what to do. My other fingers are suitably situated, and I do not want to free my entire hand; the thought terrifies me.

When first I began my descent, I relied on the strength of my fingers rather than their substance. I am low enough now that the rock is slick with not only rain, but the spray of waves.

I curl my finger under itself, and press my fingernail against the rock. I push it back into place as best as I am able. It is not secure, but if I am careful I will avoid losing it altogether.

I turn my face to the darkened sky. It has not cursed me with a tempest, for which I am grateful. Through the scratches on my right eye shines a warming breath of filtered sunlight, but it is even so too bright, and I close my eyes for a moment, letting the sun warm my cheek.

The thick rain clouds rush in to close the gap, and I turn back to my busywork. Another ten feet, and there is another slight shower of sand and pebbles. Perhaps it is not the horse. It has been so many hours; I have removed his saddle and bridle. He will have left to graze. Perhaps it is a sea bird. Perhaps someone has come to steal the horse’s abandoned tack. They are welcome to it.

I must be careful next I move my left foot. There is a sharp outcropping of rock that will otherwise shear open my bare leg, already so scratched. I am careful, but it is not enough; I am tired and uncoordinated. I slip. A gash opens in my leg.

I wedge my foot in the crack I had intended for it before I look down. When I do, I am unable to see the extent of the cut, but it is very bad.

I take a breath, and I shout at the rock – without any words. A door opens.

A door, in the rock? A doorway, but no door. It is a few feet to my left, and if I am able to reach it, and if it is there, I will be able to sleep.

I take my time reaching it. I cannot make a mistake. It is really there; when I put my hand inside, I feel smoothness. I will not be able to enter the doorway if the rock is entirely smooth; my strength is gone. The sun is setting. I will scrabble uselessly, unable to find a purchase, and fall.

It is entirely smoothed, but I do not fall. The rock itself is porous, and provides some grip. I am able to slowly maneuver myself inside the chamber.

I do not care that the surface is bare rock; I fall asleep immediately, my face where the wall meets the floor, my stomach in a puddle, my toes only inches from the edge.

I dream of the crinkles by her eyes. I dream that I am stuck in a deep pit and cannot climb out, and that someone is pouring water over the lip.

In the middle of dreaming, I discover that I am awake, and sitting at the edge of the doorway. The ocean boils. I hear her wailing and I leap to my feet. A bird wheels over the water, and I am convinced that it will grab her and take her to its young. I must leave. I must find her and save her. I kneel on my savaged knees, begin to lower myself to the rock face.

There is a hand on my shoulder. I stand, and turn, but it turns with me. Little mother, it says. Be calm.

“Too late,” I reply. I turn in the other direction. The hand remains.

Yes, you will die in turmoil.

“As I must!” I say.

As you ought.

“Then I will not be at peace.”

Be calm.

I do not fully wake. I cannot feel my fingers, nor my toes, but they have held me securely. I can feel my wrists and my elbows unknit. My shoulders seem to be stretching, but are perhaps not yet entirely dislocated.

My right eye is swollen shut; I suppose the side of my face hit the stone when I lost consciousness. I pull myself up a bit. The dark rock is warm, heating my face uncomfortably. It is sunny. Morning. The blood on my face is dry. My hair is dry. I look up the cliff, and I cannot see the top. I do not have the strength to climb up. Patches of green moss dot the surface of the rock.

I am calm. I twist around, look out over the choppy sea. There is a steam ship, not far from shore – people walking about on deck. It is a beautiful sight. I look down. I can see no pieces of ivory terrycloth, only boulders bathed in spray and the churning water.

I wrench my hands from their holds and launch myself out into the rocks and the sea. I was right. I can still rescue her. I made a mistake. I will come. Wait for me.


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