Richard Greene uses his vacation to explore The Isle of Skye. Can he ever go home?
Richard clung to the face of the cliff, as he reached out. He was still three inches short of the small plant specimen. He pulled back, grabbing the previous outcropping. He was not going to give up, not with less than a finger's length between him and success. He looked for another solid handhold that had an available toe-notch for his boot toe. A couple of promising spots did not give him a lot of confidence in success.
How he ever thought he could free climb while wearing hiking boots. He had started climbing when he was ten. You would think 30 years of experience would teach him something. Inhaling and exhaling, he let his eyes drop to the floor of the ravine twenty-feet below. It was littered with rocks of all sizes. Closing his eyes for a second, he looked again off to his left. His prize, a plant specimen he had not been able to identify, was sitting there waving in the small breeze. Looking up he knew the cloud formation promised rougher weather was moving in fast. He shook his head. "I will never learn to listen to my research. Looks like I am going to get firsthand knowledge of the windstorms the weather bureau on the mainland, of Scotland, promised I would find mushrooming on the island." He figured he probably had about a half an hour to get his prize and get back to the lip of the crevasse. It was going to be close.
After one final inhale and slow exhale of a breath, he made his move. He reached out his hand to a small bit of stone, sticking about two inches out from the face of the cliff, six inches away. He tested the handhold to make sure it was firm. There was only enough room to allow his fingers up to the second knuckle to get a grip on the small outcropping. Confidant of the hold, he moved his foot to the toehold below it. The tip of his boot went in about two inches. Slightly turning toward his other hand, he pulled it to the handhold he had just left - three moves down and one to go. Taking a firm hold with his fingers and balancing on the first foot, he moved the second foot over to the vacated gouge. Richard took another breath and slowly rotated back to his left. He reached out. Just as his fingers touched the plant, his world slowed. He was going to fall and there was not a thing he could do about it. The toehold had given way and he was going down.
Consciously he pushed off from the face of the cliff. The jagged edges of protruding rocks would tear his skin to shreds. He willed his feet to be the first to hit the packed dirt of the ground. Bending his knees, he prepared the best he could for impact. It was not going to be a good landing. If he were lucky he would not break anything. The ground came closer and closer. He winced. This was going to hurt.
Richard banged the ground. Shards of pain shot into his bones. At least, he was still alive. His lungs struggled to pull in air. He was fighting to breathe.
Minutes passed before he could take inventory of his injuries. He realized immediately one of his legs was damaged just by the pain radiating from his ankle to his hip, but he decided to check out the rest first. He knew he was lying reasonably flat. His head was lying on packed dirt and not rock, which gave him hope. He moved the fingers on both hands with no problems. He moved his wrists, good there too. There was no jarring pain when he raised his arms; nothing broken so far. He raised one knee and it worked. He took a deep breath and attempted to raise the injured knee. The pain made him see stars.
Richard moved his head from side to side. Raising his arms, he felt his skull, wincing when he found a tender spot near the back. If a small bump on the back of his head and a wrenched knee were his only injuries, he was going to be a lucky man.
Moving his hands down his neck onto his chest he checked for lacerations and found none. He rolled onto his side, continuing until he was on his stomach. Pushing he levered his body onto his hands and right knee. He used his hands and one good knee to pull himself to the short distance to the wall. Maneuvering, he could now lean his back against something solid. Richard closed his eyes for a few minutes, taking deep breaths. He was actually in a lot of trouble here. His body ached. He was in a ravine with two-story high walls and he was injured. Next time he was taking off hiking he would carry a set of rock climbing shoes with him. Several people knew the general direction he was headed, but no one was expecting to hear from him for at least three days. He was in trouble.
Richard opened his eyes to survey the area. The ravine was about eight feet wide tapering down at both ends to about three feet wide dark holes in the rock facings. He looked up at the ribbon of gray visible sky. Richard shivered. The sun had already disappeared, and it was growing darker and colder by the moment. The wind curled, making a whistling sound and smelling of rain. The promised storm was coming. Richard cringed. He glanced around him. The walls had him closed in. Please, let this not be a riverbed. Several hearty plants were growing with no telltale waves in the dirt. He grabbed a handful of soil and smelled it. Not too humid. Maybe he was in luck.
Richard surveyed the lips of the ravine. A violent rainstorm was being pushed at a right angle to the lips of the crevasse. Rain was hitting the lips of the ravine but none was falling in. The drops flowed horizontally across the top. Maybe it would stay dry until he could get his backpack down off the lip, and set up a rudimentary base camp for the night.
Before he had started his slow crawl across the face of the rocks, he had tied a rope to the backpack, placed it close to the edge of the ravine and thrown the rope down so he would be able to get to it if he did fall. Richard was off the main trail. He had hoped another hiker or a rescue party would see the pack, if he was too injured to retrieve it himself.
He shifted his left foot, and a sharp pain radiated up his leg. Time to get up and see how bad it was. He needed the medical kit. The blasted thing was in his backpack. He looked up. Darn. How was he ever going to make it back up there? That problem was going to have to wait until tomorrow.
The rope dangled down the rocky cliff – seven feet away and out of reach. He needed to crawl over to it. Bending his knee, he bit his lip and pulled his right leg under him. He turned onto it and grabbed a small boulder. Pulling with all his might, he made it to his knee and tried to tug his left leg under him. Pain thrust a yell out of his lungs. Breathing short breaths, he closed his eyes and tried to control the pain. After a few seconds, he exhaled and opened his watery eyes, rubbing his aching knee. Crap. He could either leave his left leg partially bent or try to straighten it. He opted for bent.
His teeth were clinched as he pushed on the boulder and hopped up onto his right foot. Straightening his back, he leaned against the wall and took in several deep breaths, fighting the nausea churning in his stomach. He had to keep moving, it was getting darker fast and his light was in his pack. Checking the ground, he found a smooth path between him and the rope. A few hops and he would have it. Those few hops took a long time. He yanked the line but nothing happened. He yanked it, again and could make out a dark shadow hanging over the edge. One more good pull brought the pack down with a thud. It was good nothing was breakable.
Richard hopped back to the boulder and sat down. He rested for several long heartbeats before using the rope to pull the rain soaked pack to him. Paying no attention to the icy water dripping from the edges of the pack, he sought one of the water bottles along with the bottle of pain killers in the med kit. The pills would take about twenty minutes to take full effect, but he would know the release from the pain was coming. He looked up again, amazed. As hard as it was raining, none of the rain from the raging storm was making its way into the fissure.
The most important thing for him to do now was see if he could get his hammock fastened to the wall with the pinions. With his knee like it was he wasn't going to be able to climb out of the ravine. The hammock would allow him to lie down and stretch out. He looked at his left boot. If the swelling was as bad as he thought he could not remove it, because there was a good chance he would never be able to put it back on. He felt his knee cap. It was also swollen and tender. Glancing, one more time to the top of his prison, he wanted to yell. No one would hear him, but... "Help, I am down here," came out of his mouth in a pure scream. Nope. That didn't help.
He would think tomorrow about how he was going to get out of the ravine. He knew the end behind him eventually came to an end, where the ground met the facing of rock he had moved across. He was not sure of the other end. If he could, he would cut holes into the fissure wall and then slowly work his way back up to the top. It was not a pleasant thing to contemplate
While he dug in his pack looking for the pinions that would hold the rock climber's hammock, his hand rubbed against the travel guide a stranger at the village pub had given him, requesting he check out his grandfather's notes on the island. That book had led him to the plant in the rock wall, that still flapped in the torrential rains.
Richard heard a loud crack, like lightening had hit close, but he had seen no flash. Shaking his head he untied the climber's bedroll from the front of the pack. The strong piece of plastic, with rings into each end, of the hotdog bun shaped hammock, would keep him dry and off the ground. Getting to his feet, being careful to keep his full weight on his right foot, he leaned against the wall and hammered the first spike into the rock wall. He secured one of the metal rings on the hook. Sliding along the wall to his next point he pounded the second pinion into the wall. He hung the second ring on the hook. The pain in his leg had lessened enough for him to hobble, but he knew that meant his foot swelled in the boot, creating a cushion. Maneuvering his body into the sack, he stretched out, zipping up the long closure. It was not the most comfortable place to be, but he would stay dry if the wind stopped, allowing the rain to fall into the fissure. Richard closed his eyes and let the pain killers do their job.
What felt like moments later, he opened his eyes. The sound of falling rocks had invaded his sleep. He unzipped the top of the bag and looked around trying to pinpoint the origin of the rock slide. The sound had come from the opposite end of the gorge. Richard moved his head slowly side to side trying to get a bearing on the sound.
Looking toward his feet, several lights came toward him. Attempting to angle his head to get a better view, a muscle in his neck pinched hard and painfully. Lowering his head back down, he dropped back into the blackness of sleep. In the morning he would figure out what he had been dreaming about. Richard prided himself on being able to retrieve his dreams. It had taken concentration and many nights of writing tidbits on a notepad he kept by his bedside to train himself to recall what his brain had been trying to tell him during his slumber. He firmly believed that your dreams contained a message, if you could puzzle them out.
He opened his eyes to find a large bonfire crackling in front of him. It sent fire-sparks high into the air. Richard looked down at his hands and found a stick with a marshmallow on the end partially browned. He was sitting on a log close to the burning pyramid of logs, but there was no heat. A cocoon of light from the bonfire spread out over an area before melting into the darkness beyond. The sky was a clear midnight blue. It held millions of points of light. As Richard looked closer, he noticed someone sitting on the other side of the fire. The person was small. He could not tell if it was a male or female. He waved and received a small wave back. For some reason the simple gesture gave Richard a sense of peace.
The last thing Richard remembered was hanging from the side of a rock wall in a hammock. Putting his free hand down by his side, he rubbed the bark on the log. To the eye, it looked rough and very uncomfortable, but to the touch it felt smooth, warm and spongy. There were other subtle differences. There was green grass under his feet, which extended to within a couple of inches of the fire. The air was crystal clear, but neither warm or cold.
The being on the other side of the fire must represent his subconscious, so Richard decided to ask a question. "What is it you wish to know?"
He waited for an answer. It came in the voice of a grown man, soft, calm and slightly musical. "What is your name?"
Richard almost chuckled. His brain was trying to make sure it could think clearly. "My name is Richard Greene."
"Where do you come from?"
Richard spoke his answer, wondering if he was talking in his sleep. "I come from very far away … Florida in the United States of America
His brain was not finished yet, "Why have you come to this place?"
"I am a Herbologist, looking for unusual plants?"
Apparently, that was not the answer his brain wanted because it asked, "Why have you come to this special place and not some other?"
Richard fiddled with the stick in his hand. He reached out and touched the marshmallow, which had the right consistency. Taking it off the stick, he popped it into his mouth and was pleasantly surprised by the fabulous sweet burnt taste. When he looked back at the end of the stick, another browned marshmallow was there looking plump and sweet. His brain was giving him good things to think about. He returned to the question it had asked, and he tried to explain to himself using the longer version. "I am a professor at a University. About five months ago, I received a letter from a lawyer, saying I held the legal deed to Elfin Isle. I took a sabbatical from my job, so I could see what was on this island. I fell in the ravine and now," Richard chuckled to himself, "apparently I am dreaming and talking to myself."
"A man, who introduced himself as Simon MacDougal came to my room and asked if I would mind validating a travel guide. He said his grandfather had started writing it before his death. He wanted me to double-check the information written in the book, adding what I thought to be important. He said he would reclaim the book when I arrived in the village in the north-west. I noticed a few red X's with circles so I decided to investigate the places they designated. The man's grandfather had loved plants and carefully catalogued any new ones he found." A slight breeze made an eerie sound as it rustled through the trees, but Richard felt nothing. He thought of the old adage, "the wind whispered through the trees." The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Reaching with his hand, he rubbed the feeling out. This dream was not frightening, but it felt real. His subconscious was doing a job on his brain.
The person on the other side of the bonfire had moved out just far enough for Richard to see an outline. He was four feet tall, slender, and was holding a long stick. The person nodded and asked, "Why were you in the crack of the ground."
Shaking his head side to side, Richard added a small chuckle. He was now going to take himself to task for wandering off the path on the map MacDougal had given him in the travel guide. There were times he had told himself he was crazy for going to the places he did or for saying something he later regretted. He had learned to accept criticism even from himself and learn from it. "When I looked through the book, finding the pages about the area I am in, I found one of the red X's with two circles around it. I had to walk several hundred feet off the path, to find anything looking remotely out of place. There was a small plant growing out of the edge of one of the steep rocks. I could not identify it, so the next best thing was to get a sample. I was only looking for one leaf. Being not as young as I used to be and stupid enough to try and rock climb in hiking boots," Richard chuckled, "I slipped and fell into the crevasse where I am now sleeping." The sound of the wind picked up again, louder this time. Richard looked down at his foot. It looked fine and did not even hurt. Dreams were helpful that way, blocking out the pain he knew he was in and how much it was going to hurt when he woke.
The next question his subconscious asked made no sense. "Are you angry?"
Richard looked at the representation of his subconscious and asked a question in return, "Why would I be angry? All right I may be upset with myself for being in the position I am in, but anger has nothing to do with that." His brain was starting to annoy him. In the morning when he awoke, he was going to be in real trouble. There may be a way out the end off to the south, but the ground was rocky, and he was not looking forward to traveling over it if his foot was as badly hurt as he thought. He was too far off the trail to be found easily. He chided himself remembering how he had decided he did not need a traveling buddy. Now he was stuck, and it was not going to be fun to get out of the situation.
The visitor just stared at him with eyes that caught the flames of the fire and penetrated with their intensity. Richard felt he was under a microscope. Most of the time he enjoyed his dreams. They allowed him to have a private conversation with his subconscious, putting information in to some semblance of order. This dream was confusing in itself. Closing his eyes, he said, "I wish to wake now." Usually this simple statement would bring him out of his dream. It worked this time also, at least he was in a different place.