Ledge by James Chmura

  “I don’t want to die up here. God please help me. Help me!” 

  David pushed his back against the hard rock. He was perched on a rough narrow ledge on the face of Mount Kilmer. He pressed himself to the rock as if trying to glue himself in place and squinted down at the valley hundreds of feet below. Tiny figures made their way across a narrow creek. 

  “Help!” he screamed. The wind stole his words. “Help me!” Nobody looked. His shirt was wet with perspiration. His painful new hiking boots barely fit on the ledge, their toes peeked over the edge. With his aching right hand, he slowly reached for the water bottle on his belt. His mouth felt like sandpaper. The hook wouldn’t open. 

  “Shouldn’t have done this alone,” David moaned. “Stupid bastard. Didn’t even tell Angela. That bitch pushed me to do this now nobody knows. Nobody!” 

 David always talked to himself in stressful situations. Angela, the girl he wanted so badly, thought it was weird. 

 “Goddamn Angela’s probably at the pool. She won’t miss me ‘til tonight.” 

   He struggled with the water bottle. It came loose and slipped away. The late afternoon sun’s rays caught the metal bottle as it ricocheted down the rocks. One of the hikers glanced up at the dancing reflection. She held her hand to shield her eyes and pointed at David. 

 “Help me!” he screeched. “Please!” 

  A small group gathered and gazed at the speck high on the ledge. They waved and then continued their hike. 

 “No! Don’t go!” 

 He gritted his teeth. “Calm down, damnit, calm. We just have to be calm.” He laughed. “Simple! We ain’t no athlete. We belong back in ChiTown, so let’s go. We’ll just go back the way we came. Lousy thirty feet or so back down and the ledge gets big.” He rubbed his hands together. “Ha! Like a sidewalk in Chicago for Chrissakes!” David stretched his arms for balance as he edged back down the ledge towards a small overhang. 

 During his climb, full of confidence, he had grabbed a small bush growing out of the overhang and swung around to the ledge. Just as he found his footing, the bush gave way and was gone. He had been facing the rock and gingerly turned around. He was sure the ledge would widen. Angela had said so. 

                                                   * * * 

  “Of course I’ll meet you up for dinner in the lodge.” David and Angela were studying the mountain’s face in the early morning sun. “We can talk about how we both conquered Mt. Kilmer with nothing but our bare hands and courage. No gear. No rope.” She punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Or I can tell you how I did it and you can tell me why you didn’t.” 

 “Come on, Angela,” he protested, “you’ve been out here for almost a year climbing these rocks. I just came to visit you and . . .” 

 “Emma did it earlier this summer.” 

“That wasn’t when she. . .? 

 “Yes, David, it was. She made it to the top.” Angela glared at him. “Now you’re telling me you can’t. Give me a break.” 

 “Okay, okay.” He wiped his sweating palms on his jeans. “I’ll do it.” 

 “Good man.” She gestured to the mountain’s face. “But stay to your right, always to your right. Follow the markers. Three hours at the most and you’ll be whistling and waving down to me, making me proud.” She removed her shirt. Her bikini did not cover much at all. “If you go, which I doubt, don’t forget to whistle and wave.” She turned towards the lodge. “I’ll be at the pool all day, big boy.” 

 “Shit,” David had muttered as he watched her twitching buttocks. If Emma could handle Mount Kilmer, why couldn’t he? She had been a novice. He was novice. And he bit for Angela’s taunts. Ever since high school, he really had it bad for her. 

                                               * * * 

 “I love you, David,” Emma had whispered as he rolled off of her. “But I’m so confused.” She wouldn’t say why. 

 Angela had urged Emma to visit her at the Mt. Kilmer Lodge in Montana. Angela loved the outdoors and moved as soon as the three of them graduated college in Chicago. David persuaded Emma to move into his trendy Chicago apartment. He reveled in his control over the submissive Emma. 

  “Leave the bastard,” Angela pleaded with Emma month after month. “Come out to Montana. I need you, Emma, I need you.” 

 “So go,” David had growled. “I’ve had enough of your whining. Maybe I’ll head out and visit so the three of us can crawl into bed together.” 

 The next morning Emma was on her way to Oregon. David was relieved when Angela had phoned a week ago telling him of Emma’s tragedy. 

 “God, David, I can’t stand it,” Angela had said. “She was my best friend., she was good for me. Now I feel so alone out here, so abandoned.” 

 “I can come back if you want,” he had replied. He licked his lips. 

 “Please.” 

  “Just for a long weekend, though. I just started a new job.” 

 “Thank you, thank you. That’s all I’ll need.” 

 “Me too.” He ended the call and rubbed his crotch. 

                                               * * * 

  Now David eyed at the ledge. “Without that bush, I’m screwed. I can’t make it around that overhang. I can’t go higher. I can’t go lower. There’s nothing. Angela said stay right all the way up. Or was it left? I can’t even remember anymore. All I know, I got no more fucking ledge!” 

  His legs ached. His back ached. The sun moved behind the mountain. The air chilled. 

 “No nothing.” He slapped the rock with his palms. “No water. Not even a jacket.” He edged closer to the overhang, his only escape. “I can do this,” he yelled and shook his fist. “I have to do it!” David shivered in the cold. “Take a breath.” He inhaled and slowly exhaled. “Okay, get ye down, David old boy, get down before dark. Please get down.” He studied the ledge as it passed under the overhang. “Maybe if I sat and slid along on my ass. . . “ He started to slither down to sit. His left foot slipped. His right leg tensed and he regained his balance. 

 “Ain’t gonna work,” he said between gasps. “Just ain’t gonna work.” 

 He took a few deep gasps and eyed the valley filling with shadows. Thunder rumbled in the distance. 

 “Oh no!” He flinched. “No more, please, no more.” 

  Lightning streaked across the southern horizon. Dark clouds crawled across the sky towards him. 

 “I don’t want to die up here! I don’t want to die.” David squeezed his head in his hands. He moaned as he swayed. He raised both arms to the heavens and screamed as loud as his tired lungs and scratchy throat could bear. “Lord, help me! Please help me!” 

 “David?” 

 “Huh? Am I going nuts?” He pressed against the rock and looked around. “Who is it? Where are you?” 

 “David, sweets, can you hear me?” 

 “Angela? How. . .? 

 “David, I’m right above you. You’re only about four feet from the top. Did you know that, David?” 

The wind picked up as thunderclouds moved closer to the valley. 

“Oh Angela, thank God for you.” He sighed. 

“The weather is getting bad, isn’t it? Look at those lightening bolts.” 

 “Yes, yes it its. But if you have a rope or something . . .” 

 “You know what I have, David? I have a gaping hole in my heart.” 

“A hole?” 

 “For Emma.” 

“Um, we can talk at the lodge, okay?” David winced as cold rain started to spatter against the rock. “I’ll even buy dinner,” he giggled. 

 “That nice warm lodge, David.” Angela cackled. “I think dinner by the fire would be just fine as this storm beats against the windows.” 

  “Angela, please, don’t tease. I can’t take it much longer. I’m cold, I’m wet. . . 

 “You know why I’m going to enjoy it, David?” 

 “No.” 

 “I’m going to enjoy it because I’m going to sip an Old-Fashioned and look up at Kilmer in the lightning flashes. Then I’m going to wonder if you’re still on that ledge.” 

  “But. . .” 

 “Old-Fashioneds were Emma’s and mine’s favorite cocktail. By the fire on cold nights. . .” 

 “Come on, I screwed the hell out of her, Angela. She was. . .” 

 “I know.” 

 “She told you?” 

 “You bastard, if I was there when you fucked her, raped her, I would’ve killed you.” 

  “Oh please, Angela, I can explain everything. I need help, Angela. I need you!” 

 “She was confused. She was tender. She was weak. And you took advantage of her because of it, you bastard! You didn’t even have the decency to go to her funeral.” 

 “I . . .” 

“You know how she died?” 

 “She fell.” 

 “She didn’t fall, David. She jumped. She was a total mess. You came along and finished the job.” 

 “Please, I was confused too. I really thought you and me. . .” 

 The wind became stronger. The rain hurt as it beat against him. 

 “Well now, isn’t that sweet,” Angela crooned. “Think about my Emma, David, as you decide whether you’re going to cling like a bug to the rock or just jump and get it over with. Sunrise is after seven tomorrow. Search party after eight.” She cackled again. 

 “I’m so sorry, Angela! I really am. I’ll make it up to you. I always pray for Emma’s soul. Every day.” David winced as thunder clattered up the valley. Lightening ricocheted off the rock faces. 

 “Angela, you must believe me!” 

 Wind. Rain. Dark. 

 “Angela, are you there? Angela!” 

 Wind. Rain. Dark. 

  James Chmura, semi-retired, enjoys writing short stories and tends towards mystery and horror. He had the good fortune of working for a local newspaper as a stringer, or part-time writer, for 10 years where he learned the economy of words. He has been published in several literary magazines including The Storyteller, Downstate Story and Mind in Motion.  

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