I walk more slowly back to our camp. Delaying the conversation as long as I can.
“Arthur, I don’t know what happened. The spot was perfect. I was halfway up the wall. I felt great. And then I didn’t. I was climbing back down like it wasn’t even me.”
“It’s ok. You can try again. You will make it in.”
“But what happens after I do? What then, Arthur?”
“Easy. You find the Book.”
“Oh yeah. Easy for you to say. You’re not the one climbing over a wall. You’re not the one combing through a city trying to find one thing that might not even exist–”
“STOP right there! There is no room for talk like that, boy. We each have our part in this. Yours is, well, the physical part.” Arthur looks down at his own rotting body and shrugs at me. I guess he’s right. there’s no way he can climb a wall, and there’s no way he’s going through the main gates. So it’s up to me.
“Let’s go over it again,” I ask, hoping that he can see something that I missed.
* * *
The next day, I take the long way around the City walls, hoping to clear my mind, keep control of myself. I slip close to the wall, trying to stay near enough to touch it. Not too far into my walk, I find myself walking down a hill away from the wall. I stop, look back. I can see the outline of an ancient gate, long closed off.
The storytellers claim that the City once had many gates, but that during the time of war, they were closed to protect the City. One way in, one way out. They tell tales of protection that no one can see, but no one believes that kind of stuff. I think hard, I try to remember the stories now. It really sounds crazy, but there’s nothing else that explains what’s happening to me here by the City walls.
I remember a story about a tribe of people trying to get into a different city. I know they got in, but I can’t remember how. But just remembering that someone somehow made it…my mood lightens a little and I walk on, coming back closer to the walls again.
I have a lot of time inside my own head out here, and as I walk, I think. Each time I notice i’m straying from the shade of the wall, I focus back on the others. They are counting on me, even though they don’t know it. I think about Arthur. He believes I can do this, even when I don’t. I have to keep going.
I’m nearing the place that Arthur and I chose when I see it. The stupid rock that keeps tripping me up. I skip to the side, around the rock, and smile. I’m learning. I can do this. I will do this.
I jog the last few steps to the spot and immediately start climbing. I feel great. I will do this.
I climb deliberately, not rushing, but not slowing down either. Hand over hand. Feet finding cracks and crevices that hold my weight.
I lose a little more flesh, but my left hand continues to find things to hold onto. I’m getting nearer to the top.
I take a second to catch my breath and take my first look around. The treetops are far below me, and my lungs freeze. No air in. No air out. The valley below is beautiful, but even when I know I can’t die, falling would still be a Very Bad Thing. Every limb is motionless, holding me perfectly still, three quarters of the way up the wall. And then…
My right arm drops to a ledge just below my shoulder and my knees start to bend.
Not again…not when I’ve come so far.
* * *
By the time my feet hit the ground and start toward my little tree, I’ve given up. There’s no point trying to fight it. I’ve just retreated into my mind, watching myself climb down like I’m someone else.
As soon as I sit down under the tree, I start feeling normal again. I stare at my hands, the ones that have just betrayed my people. The ones that have betrayed me. And I drop them back in my lap and sigh.
I sit there and stare at the wall.
Will the third time be a charm for Zach? Leave a comment…