The haunting description of a hike
All Words: 743
There were twenty-one of them on the hiking team. In fact, they called themselves 'Team 21'.
They stood at the base camp in a circle, holding hands and giving the team cheer:
"We have already won
We won't stop
Till we're at the top
We have already won
Team 21 ... !"
Then, in a frenzy of proving themselves worthy of the title of best mountaineers, they started on their climb. All twenty-one of them had to reach the peak. They couldn't let their team-mates down.
Their leader had taken the decisions on the protocol to follow. Each one climbed for themselves, he had decided. They weren't roped together. Each had to find her or his own pace. For a while, all twenty-one climbers could see each other.
Then, the stronger ones started moving ahead, while the slower ones lagged behind. They were in clusters of three or four now.
And John didn't quite know the exact moment when he was by himself, but John was climbing alone. He couldn't see or hear any of his twenty team-mates.
He didn't mind. He liked being alone. He knew is team-mates were somewhere on the mountain and he'd meet them on the peak. He focused on what he had to do. Find a hand-hold. Find a foot-hold. Move upwards. Take a moment to breathe. Look around. Admire the spectacular view unfolding. Find a hand-hold. Find a foot-hold. The rhythm was exhilarating and soothing at the same time.
He didn't know how long he had been climbing thus when he came across a particular rock he couldn't circumvent. Oddly, he remembered the nursery rhyme he had learned in Kindergarten: "Can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go round it ..>" He laughed to himself. Should he go through it, as the rhyme stated?
It was then that he heard a voice. "Turn back," the voice said.
He looked around. There was nobody there. Maybe a fellow hiker was just above him, beyond the rock.
"I have to go on," he said. "We have to reach the peak."
"Turn back," the voice continued to urge.
"Who is this speaking?" John asked. The voice wasn't that of any of his team-mates. Yet, it was oddly familiar. "Who is this?"
"John, please turn back. Turn back, John."
"John, don't go on. Please."
The 'please' did it.
John began to descend.
Find a foot-hold. FInd a hand-hold. Go down. Lower, lower. He got back in to a rhythm.
He had been descending for ten minutes when everything began to vibrate. He clung to the rock-face. Small stones and big stones rushed past him on their way down. It was a minor landslide. The rock that had held him up was among them, he saw it hurtle downward.
Had he proceeded upward, he would've been hurtling downward now with no hope of survival.
He moved more slowly now. The thought of what he had been saved from made him hesitate.
With great relief, he found himself at the base camp. He was alone there, but for two caretakers who were surprised to see him. He didn't tell them what had happened and they were discreet enough not to ask. They were used to mountaineers who had failed an attempt to climb, and were sensitive enough to spare them the further humiliation of too many questions. They gave John something to drink and a snack.
A few hours later, the other twenty returned. One by one, they hugged John with great relief. "We thought we'd lost you," they said.
It was then that John spoke. He told them about the rock that stopped him. He told them what the voice had instructed him to do.
The voice hadn't been that of one of the team. There were no other hikers on the hill that day.
John thought he knew who had spoken.
His favourite PE master, the one who had first taken him hiking. John had been devastated when the man had died the year before. Now that he thought of it, it was his voice and his way of speaking. He had saved John's life.
John bent his head in a prayer of thanks. When he opened his eyes, he realised that all his team-mates ha been praying, too, and so had the caretakers. Praying in gratitude for him.
He was lucky to be alive.