A Few Seconds More

Her breathing was labored, uneven. The simple, reflexive task of filling her lungs hurt and required all of her concentration. She was pulling deeply from the oxygen canister on her back. She should be elated, but her head was swimming from altitude sickness and she was getting dizzy. She knew this would happen. Her older brother had said, you might not be able to think straight. Make a checklist and use it once you get to the top. Then head down, stat.

It didn’t help that she was the only one of her party that had made it. The guide was waiting just below, with a fresh canister of oxygen. He had reached his limit. Over the radio he told her “I will not push myself, you will need me. I will wait here with oxygen…it’s a few more steps, now go!” It made sense, the guide might save her life, but not if he himself was incapacitated. She was alone up here but she knew there were others behind and she would need to clear off, so she executed the list; Look, Take, Tie, Down.

She looked around at the deep blue sky, the deepest she had ever seen. There were clouds in the distance; they shone bright white. The earth was spinning but she knew it was the altitude. She wanted to look forever, she was feeling a little stoned. She tried to form a memory that she could hang onto, to tell later. She settled for the brightest blue, and a landscape below that never ended. It wouldn’t be hard to remember the breathing bit.

She took out her camera, it was basic and clunky, but she had taken the guides advice: simple. Turn it on. Point it. Press the shutter. Turn it off. Back in her pocket. It was impossible to take a bad picture up here. Just keep it level, point it straight out and it will be amazing. But there was no one to take her picture, so she tried a selfie with her little camera. She would hope for the best on that front.

Her selfie became a magazine cover.

She took out the flag with her name and her parents names on it. There was another one up here from her brother, but there were literally hundreds, most of them torn to ribbons. Her brother’s had her name written on it. She found an open spot on one of the the flag posts and began to tie it on. This was the hardest thing, even though the ties were big she was having a hard time closing the loop. Her gloves were in the way but she dare not take them off…her hands would freeze in seconds. She finally managed to push one part of the tie through the loop and pulled it tight. She tested it and decided it wasn’t going anywhere. She watched it whipping in the wind and wondered how long it would last.

She took another look around, this was adlib now, off the checklist, but she was feeling better. Her minds eye did a better job this time, moving beyond the elemental colors to the sweeping vista and injecting the thought that she was on top of the world, and the year of pain and sacrifice had been worth it. She was happy and that scared her. She had been warned, you will start to feel a sense of joy, but that is also the sign that you are drifting towards a line. If you start to feel euphoric then it’s almost too late. Happy means it’s time to leave. And so she checked the last item off the list and started back down from the summit. One agonizing step at a time.

© Glenn R Keller 2023, All Rights Reserved

2 responses to “A Few Seconds More”

  1. This another one of your stories that puts the reader right there in the moment.

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