Freedom: A Short Story

It’s dark out. Without even opening my eyes I can tell that much. Any other day the darkness would be unwelcome. Not today. Today it means freedom. I slowly crawl from the dark and narrow space I’ve been confined to for the last 8 or so hours and begin preparing myself for what lies ahead. I know today won’t be easy. I managed to sleep most of the night despite the cold air and the lack of proper sleeping arrangements. I rub my eyes and try to take in my surroundings. As far as I can see, in all directions: dirt, cacti, mountains and a seemingly endless sky. The thought runs through my mind briefly, “I wonder if anyone could hear me scream right now?” I tell myself not to think about such things and begin to prepare for the day. The sun will be up shortly; I need to get going. I clean up my temporary home and begin walking. “Keep moving,” I tell myself. “It won’t be long now. Just keep walking.”

This is my third day out here and I’m tired. For the first two days it was pretty easy to keep going. Now, after two cooler than normal nights and warmer than normal days, my body is bruised, my hands and feet hurt, I long for shower and an indoor place to sleep and am getting wicked hungry. I keep telling myself I can endure another day of this; another week if I had to. I was quick to leave where I came from and didn’t bring much with me. I knew I would meet up with someone in a day or two. I was sure of it. I was able to grab a few things before I left. My inventory consists of an extra pair of shoes that are too small (but have been a Godsend many times), a large piece of covered foam I’ve been able to wear as a backpack while I walk and sleep on at night, a small bag with a drawstring that carries a toothbrush, a bottle of water, a few strips of beef jerky, a light jacket to protect me from the wind during the day and to use as a small blanket to keep me covered at night. I knew when I left I would need to travel lightly or I would never make it.

The sun starts spilling over the mountain to my left. As desolate as this place is, and as tired as I am, I can’t help but notice its beauty. I have never seen such colors before. The light dances across the desert and all at once this barren field comes alive with beauty. Each of the last two mornings has amazed me with the spectacular spectacle of the sunrise. Its beauty has made this trek a little more bearable. I stop and stare at the ever changing landscape as the morning light hits my face. The warmth is welcomed for the moment. It won’t be long before I will want to escape from it.

“Just keep walking. It can’t be much farther.” I have to keep motivated or I’ll never make it. I just need to reach that large rock on the horizon and I can rest for a while. It seems like a million miles away. I take a sip of the water I have left. It feels like silk against my dry lips. I’ve rationed what I have left to get me as far as I can go. It would be deadly to drink it all now. I’ll save what’s left of the jerky until I can rest. I tuck the water between my foam pad backpack and my neck. It’s still cold from last night and acts as a great cooling system for my body. I daydream of sitting on the beach with an ice cold beer for a moment. I can almost taste it. “The rock is getting closer, don’t lose your pace now.” I come back to reality and concentrate on my walking. The rock that seemed so large from so far away is becoming more monstrous the closer I get. It looks as if God was playing Jenga and didn’t clean up after it toppled. The rocks seemed precariously perched, yet incredibly stable. I’ve seen others like it on my two day trek, but this one seems particularly terrific. There is a large middle section that is perfectly stacked; one on top of the other. All around are piles of rocks that lean against and support this enormous tower. I hope I can find a small place to sit and rest for a while.

The sun has been up for an hour or so now; the warmth I once welcomed, I now wish would go away. The rock I’ve been admiring is now about 100 steps away. I can’t wait to find a nice cold rock to lie on and get out of this sun for a bit. I walk around the base of the tower and find a small alcove where the sun hasn’t yet touched. As I crawl down into it I find an empty beer bottle. “At least someone else has been here before.” Yesterday I found a Wheat Thins box; it has been a great motivator. I lay as far down into the alcove as I can and lay the foam pad along the ledge above me to keep the sun out as it moves across the sky. “I’ve made it.” I take a bite of the jerky and take another sip of water and close my eyes to rest.

I awake sometime later to the sound of footsteps on the loose gravel outside. I don’t want to make a noise. They sound like they are getting closer, or maybe it’s just my imagination. I see a shadow from around the edges of the pad, but the sun is still pretty low and I can’t make out what it is, but it IS getting closer. Two days across this desert without seeing anything else alive so I am just hoping it’s friendly… and scared to death it’s not. The footsteps stop right on the other side of my foam shield. Then… a knock, and a voice, “Dude, are you in there?” I throw the pad to the side and crawl out. “Holy shit, dude! You scared the crap outta me! Thank God you made it. I was worried I was going to be out here forever on my own!” My climbing partner showed up right on time. We arranged to meet here three days ago but without a watch I didn’t know what time to expect him. We walk together to his truck and I suck down what feels like a gallon of water. He had been there for a while already. “I saw you sleeping about 30 minutes ago and by the dirt on your face I could tell you needed a good nap, so I let you sleep. I’ve got the ropes and gear ready to go. Drink up and grab a donut on the front seat. Just let me know when you are ready to climb this beast.” He knows exactly what I want after two days hiking through the desert. I devour the donut and drink a ton of water he brought for me and I feel like a hundred bucks all over again. He tosses me a hat and a pair of sunglasses; I give him a brief nod, slip on my climbing shoes and my chalk bag and let him know I’m ready. We walk together to the base of the large rock that had been my destination during my trip, rope connected between us and protective gear strewn about. I watch as he starts climbing up this amazing rock formation and can’t help but smile and think to myself, “There is no place I would rather be than right here, in the middle of nowhere.”

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