Chapter 29 ~ Matt’s Hope of Rescue Suddenly Vanishes
Matt crouched in the corner where the trail and the stone walls met. Twice he lied on his belly and peered over the edge looking for a way he could get purchase to make his way off the ledge and to the valley below. The closest foothold was nearly fifteen below him. He stood up, and turned so that he faced the stone wall. He spread his arms wide and placed them on the smooth stone wall, lifted his head up and scanned the wall above him.
He spotted a shrub growing out of a crack in the wall four feet above him. And, another shrub off to his left and a bit above the shrub over his head. This shrub too was growing out of a fissure in the wall. There was a small rock protrusion jutting out from the wall three feet below the shrub to his left. He calculated if he could grab hold of the shrub above his head, he could swing and grab the shrub to his left. Once he had hold of it, he could pull himself up and brace his foot on top of the rock and gradually make his way up the stone wall. He stretched his arms as far as they would reach, the shrub above his head was two feet beyond his outstretched fingers.
Matt made a half-hearted attempt to jump. He looked back at the edge of the ledge and realized there was no room for error. If he put everything into his jump and missed, he might stumbled and fall over backward and the only landing spot was at least five hundred feet below him.
A mountain bluebird landed on the shrub above him, cocking its head toward Matt, paying no attention to his pleading with the helicopter. Matt thought about building a small signal fire. He opened his backpack, there was a half filled bottle of water and the knife his dad had given him. Matt slapped his palm against his forehead, why hadn’t he thought of his knife. He could have used the metal blade to flash the sun’s rays as a signal to the helicopter. He looked back along the way he traveled along the ledge and saw small dead twigs and dead grasses. He thought he could gather enough to start a fire, the way he once read Native Americans did. He’d rub two sticks together on top of the dried grasses and then add the dry twigs on top. He even watched a YouTube video one time where an outdoorsman did it in less than a minute.
Matt’s careful journey along the ledge collecting the small twigs and dried grasses was tedious. He pulled the bottom on his t-shirt up to use as a basket to hold the twigs and grasses. It took him more than an hour to traverse the ledge and collect everything he needed. When he returned with his to his corner, he looked toward the horizon hoping to see the helicopter. There was no sense starting a fire if no one could see it. He dumped the twigs and dried grasses out onto the ledge and then scanned the horizon for any trace of the helicopter. What he saw made his heart race. Out on the horizon’s edge was a long line of charcoal colored clouds billowing upward like exploding volcanoes. Buried deep within the black curtain muffled flashes of light made a surreal painting on the landscape.
I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stay. I got to take a chance and give it everything I’ve got to reach the shrub, Matt said aloud. He looked up at the branch and saw the bluebird watching him. He studied the shrub. The branches were less than an inch thick. He wondered if its roots would hold his weight. Matt thought about his choices. He thought of huddling in the corner where the two walls and ledge came together. The far distant rumbling of thunder pushed this thought out of his mind. Mat had never seen clouds so black that they threatened to turn day into the darkest of nights. The black wall was relentless, slowly moving toward him. It was as if Matt was in the storm’s crosshairs.
Matt cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed, “Help! Help! Help!” In the vain hope a search party was within shouting distance. He heard his echo, but no other reply. The bluebird watched him.
Matt now saw dark sheets between the ground and the black billowing mass. He knew it was rain. He involuntarily shivered. He felt for his knife in his pocket. He’d leave his backpack, but not the knife his dad gave him. He edged back along the stone wall to give himself a three step start for his leap to grasp hold of the shrub.
Matt turned to face the shrub. His right shoulder touching the stone wall. His left foot now no more than a half foot from the edge of the ledge. He took a quick glance to the left and saw the tops of the trees far below him. He quickly turned away, his stomach did a quick flip. He said to himself, “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. Don’t be afraid. I can do this.”
Matt closed his eyes for a moment, he remembered his dad telling him the first time he jump into the pool from high dive that fear only stays with you as long as you stand there. The moment you jump, fear leaves. Never be afraid to jump, son. That’s what he said to Matt. Matt felt a surge of courage flow into him. He wondered if it was his dad sending it to him. At his dad’s funeral his dad’s captain came over to him told him one day when he needs courage his dad is going to give it to him. Maybe this was the time, thought Matt.
A flash of lightening that seemed to light the entire world was followed ten seconds later by an immense explosion of thunder. He turned his head toward the darkness that took no account of his fear and he felt the first drops of rain fall on his face.
Matt’s heart felt as if it were going to beat its way out of his chest. His breathing became shallow, He braced his right hand against the wall to steady himself. He shook his head to drive the thoughts of falling out of his mind. He forced a deep breath of air into his lungs and stepped off with his right foot. Right foot, left foot, and leap off his right foot, his right arm extended. It’s what he did. His right foot planted solidly and he leaped, his right arm extended, the bluebird took off. His right hand grasped hold of the branch. He held tight, he swung his right leg up and felt for the rock. He couldn’t find it. Matt found himself hanging by one hand from the shrub. His two feet feeling along the wall for the rock. He felt a slight give in the shrub. The shrub slowly began to yield to the stone wall and Matt looked wildly around him. With a last effort he reached out to the shrub off the left and grabbed hold of it with his left hand as the shrub in his right hand gave way.
Matt swayed on the branch. It held. He now had hold of with both hands while his feet searched for purchase. His left foot found a small piece of rock jutting out from the wall, and Matt placed the toe of his left foot on it, giving him a bit of support. And, then a large gust of wind almost tore him free from the shrub. His foot no longer had possession of the piece of rock and Matt swayed at the wind’s command.