Short Fiction: THIRTY FEET BELOW

By RL McNeely PhD; JD

Thirty feet below me lay Russell. I viewed the crumpled, lifeless form of what only vaguely resembled a human being. All at once I realized the stupidity to which we had fallen prey. How foolish we had been! Now I had to risk my life for one who might already be dead.

I began to think about the kind of person Russell was. He was a person who would risk everything he owned, including his life, for a friend. Then I thought about my own feelings. I thought about my wife, I thought about my children, I thought about the bad things I had done during my life, I thought about many things — I, I was scared. Then something peculiar happened. It was like being a different person. I was seeing myself as Russell would see me; I felt like throwing up.

All of this had occurred during only a few moments. After I had regained my composure I realized that it would be better to risk my life than to let Russell lay there dying. I would be condemning myself to a living death if I didn’t go down to help him.

I, again, looked at Russell and realized he hadn’t moved. I wondered if he were dead. I thought briefly about trying to get help but I threw that out of mind. I knew that it would take too long and the exposure would be too much for Russell. I had to get warm blankets and food to him before I attempted to get help. Time was the greatest factor and it was quickly running out.

Before I started down the mountain I again thought how foolhardy the whole idea to climb the mountain had been. It had been his idea. He wanted to climb the mountain “Just for kicks”. The mountain really wasn’t such a difficult climb but for only two people it held its perils. I had thought about the dangers at the time but I also had thought about the reception we would get when we returned. I had thought that it would impress everybody. Now “just for kicks” and for the sake of impressing some unimportant person I had to face death.

I started down the mountain cursing under my breath. More than an hour passed as I slowly inched my way down. Russell was laying there still, lifeless. I knew he was either unconscious or dead. I felt I had to find out the answer.

The snow had long ago seeped through my imperfect boots and I began to feel the twanging sensation indicating that my feet were freezing. It was then that I realized that I might not be able to climb back up the mountain. There was terror in my heart as I tried to scuffle back up to safety; then I slipped, I fell. I landed on the same solitary ledge that had broken Russell’s fall at thirty feet, rather than three hundred.

I had descended far enough down the mountain, fortunately, to prevent serious injury. I looked at Russell. I must have sat looking at him for more than two hours. He was dead. His neck had been broken.

I had realized, hours earlier as my feet had become increasingly frozen, that all had been risked and lost in vain. I again thought about my wife and children and how foolish the whole idea to climb the mountain had been. But they would have been so proud of me. If Russell just hadn’t slipped everything would have been alright. I wouldn’t be in such a predicament if it wasn’t for him. They would have been so proud, so proud of me.

I hated Russell with a hate that exceeded everything and anything that I had ever hated before. I felt as though I should push the object of all my frustration down the mountain so that I would no longer have to look at it, and I did. I felt relieved that the remains of Russell were no longer near me when I heard the voice, the voice of a member of the rescue party. “Jim” the voice echoed down to me, “Jim, why did you push Russell over the side?”

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on June 13, 2017

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