Chapter 23 ~ Matt Confronts His Fears
Matt sat on the narrow ledge, his back pressed tight against a smooth rock wall with the colors of a beautiful sunset, red, purple, pink, and yellow etched over millions of years into its hardened surface. He was facing west and watched the sun slowly dip closer and closer to the horizon. A lone red tail hawk soared high above in the distance searching for a rabbit, squirrel, or gopher who dared venture out while there was still daylight.
Matt scooted closer to the edge. He placed his right palm flat on the ledge surface close to edge and braced himself. He leaned over far enough to peer over the edge and involuntarily shivered when he saw how close he came to falling to his death. Only a single brush growing impossibly out of a small crack in the side of a stoney edifice was all that had kept him from a fall to a sure death over five hundred feet below. He didn’t even know how he grabbed hold of the brush as he tumbled down. He turned and looked up toward where he had seen the mountain lion staring twenty feet above him. The mountain lion was gone. Matt wondered if the mountain lion was lying quietly waiting for him to fall asleep. His eyes searched for a way to climb out, but he could not see any. He looked to his right and saw the ledge narrow and gradually disappear. He looked to his left and saw the ledge continue and curve around a corner.
Panic shot through Matt’s body. He felt tears starting to form in his eyes. He fought them. He said, “Dad would tell me to be strong. Dad would tell me not to quit. Dad would tell me to use my brain, God gave it to me for a reason. He repeated these words over and over and fell into a deep sleep. It was well after midnight when Matt awoke. He was shivering. He sat up and pulled his knees close to his chest. He couldn’t stop his teeth from chattering. He thought of his mother and he thought of Brad. He wondered what they were doing. He didn’t think they were sleeping. He knew his mom wouldn’t sleep. And, Brad, he was in the 82nd airborne like his dad, he wouldn’t quit looking for him until he found him. Brad was just like his dad, you could count on him.
Matt looked up into the clear mountain sky. He spotted the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Hercules. His dad taught him how to pick these constellations out of the summer night sky. Seeing the constellations gave Matt a boost of courage. Somehow, he knew he’d survive. He knew it deep down someplace where his dad told him courage lives in all people.
Matt closed his eyes and he soon drifted off into a deep sleep. The sound of a helicopter roused Matt from sleep. He rubbed his eyes and saw it circling off to the southwest. He stood up and began to frantically wave his arms. Matt kept waving his arms at the circling helicopter. As he did, the helicopter kept circling moving slightly further to the west away from him until it flew away.
Matt felt thirsty. He looked in his backpack and searched for the second bottle of water. It wasn’t there, he must have lost it on his fall. He knew he couldn’t stay here. If he did it was sure death. He carefully stood up. He splayed his arms out against the side of the mountain wall. The ledge was no more than three feet wide. He forced himself not to look down. He braced his back against the wall and began to slowly slide his foot to the left. He first moved his left leg, then his right leg. His steps were slow and sure. Matt knew one mistake might be his last.
Matt moved slowly along the ledge. He froze when a red tailed hawk landed ten feet away. It spread out its wings puffed its feathers and shrieked at Matt. Matt edged backwards. The hawk began to weave back and forth and hissed as it came toward Matt. Matt wanted to press himself into the stone wall and disappear. Instead, he stood as still as he could, shut his eyes, and began to count slowly. When he reached fifty, he opened his eyes. The red tailed hawk was no longer on the ledge. He scanned the sky with his eyes and way off he caught the sight of a hawk circling high above a grassy meadow. Suddenly, the hawk plunged toward the earth in rapid descent. Matt used the opportunity to edge his way back toward the place where he saw the hawk.
When Matt was at the place where the hawk landed, he heard the screeching of baby chicks. He lifted his head and scanned the side of the wall and saw ten feet above him a nest and the heads of three baby chicks peeping out. Now he knew why the hawk was so aggressive. He turned his attention back back to the ledge and continued to work his way along the stone wall. The side of the wall gradually turned and he could no longer see where he had spent the night. Matt moved along the wall for another twenty yards until the ledge seemed to disappear into the mountain forming a nearly perpendicular angle it.
Matt’s mouth dropped open. He dared look down and here the drop was as far, but rocks jutted out along the side of the mountain and Matt wondered if it were possible to climb down. He sat down on the ledge to rest and think.