Brad hooked a carabiner into the bolt in the granite wall. He planted his feet against the stone and leaned back in the harness. His left hand held the rope. He rolled his shoulders forward and back. The climb had been more strenuous today, the anger fermenting in his gut the probable cause, he assumed. September hadn’t been a good month for Brad. Regardless, he felt the same rush he always did when he looked down the eight hundred feet to the base of the mountain and inhaled the pollutant-free air.
His climbing partner, Erik, wasn’t with him today. They hadn’t spoken since Erik had been promoted to a corporate sales manager position and transferred to the headquarters in Chicago. Brad had wanted the job and didn’t know Erik was under consideration. He wondered what else Erik had neglected to tell him. Besides losing the promotion, Brad’s father had passed away suddenly; and on the night he planned to propose, Jessica told him her true calling was to be a nun.
He pulled himself back into position and prepared to continue when he heard the voices. He looked up, down, left, right, and saw no one. Yet the voices continued. Shouts for help? He paused. Silence.
He placed his foot on an outcropping; and when he put his weight on it, he heard a moan, as if he’d kicked someone in the stomach. He shook his head, wondering if the altitude was getting to him, and continued his climb. After a few more steps, he heard another moan.
He listened, looked, but no answer came.
“Come on. This isn’t a joke.”
The voices began again, their chant louder. They were cries for help. He was certain of it, but from where. As he restarted his climb, the rock moved and shook him from his perch. He repelled away from the wall and watched a vertical seam open in front of him. He swung back to the rock and bounced off once more. The crack widened. He returned to the cliff face and felt a suction on his chest, pulling him into the opening. He propped a foot on either side of the hole, leaned back, and twisted his torso in an attempt to free himself from the eerie force. It was no use. The grip was too strong.
Brad screamed for help as the mountain enveloped him. Whatever held him lowered Brad to the floor of the cave, and the pressure on his chest eased. He saw the fissure closing and raced to escape, but it was too late. He turned and noticed the figures of other climbers—some asleep, in fetal positions—nested among the layered rock. A few waved to him and called his name.
It was warm and damp inside, like his impression of a womb. A solitary figure stood at the back of the cave. It was a woman, a woman he knew well, his mother, or maybe everyone’s mother. It was then Brad realized the voices from earlier weren’t crying for help. They were saying “Welcome home.”
BIO: Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog (http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/) provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.