Monday, September 10, 2007

The Climb


Chuck Connors

The sunlight seemed magical as the shifting patterns of light danced along
the ridges and hollows. The trees swayed in the wind gently murmuring to each otherand the birds’ mating calls proclaimed the age-old rites of spring. It was the day
for the climb up the mountain. Crossing over an old foot log Eddie paused to look down
at the trout holding position in the current of the stream. He wondered what those
trout thought in their tiny fish minds of the huge creature seemingly suspended in
another universe above their lies?

Something caught Eddie’s attention on the bank. An old man shabbily dressed
and leaning heavily on a walking stick hobbled on a path by the creek towards the boy.Eddie wasn’t sure what he might be up to.

“Hey who you be?” said the old man. Grimy and ragged he limped closer and
showed a snaggled-toothed grin.

“My folks named me Eddie, sur and I’m climbin’ to the top of the mountain
today. Have you been up thare?”

“Yep, many times,” replied the old man. “On a clear day you can see all the way
to the settin’ sun—some say even further.

“Is the way passable?”

“Yep,” replied the old man, “but its growed up an rocky an’ steep in
places. Last year another boy was charged by an old boar bear who dens near
the top. The boy ran and the bear caught an killed ‘em. You’d best be careful.”

“Oh I’ll take care,” said Eddie. “No old boar bear is goin’ to stop me from
gettin’ to the top.”

“Keep yur eyes peeled,” said the old man. “he’s liable ta show up when you
least expect ‘em.”

As the old man disappeared in the bushes downstream Eddie gazed up at the ridge
and said a silent, but fierce prayer of determination to the God that the preachers
shouted about. He gripped his stout walking stick, checked his hunting knife
in its sheath and thought “enough, time to do it.”

Eddie walked silently on the path as it gradually wound above the stream.
From time to time he saw dark shapes leaping through the trees. Their piercing
barks and furtive movements marked them as fox squirrels. He had hunted them
with his blow gun in the hollows near his families’ cabin. At other times Eddie
heard loud crashes deeper in the woods. He thought these were probably Elk but
he wasn’t sure. The noises sent shivers down his spine.

Eddie crossed the creek, now only a yard wide and followed the overgrown
path as ancient steps led into a cave-like cleft in the rock. The ceiling was low.
Eddie bent to keep from cracking his head on the jagged rock. Lichen grew on thewalls of the cave. It smelled of bat droppings and things rotten.

Eddie finally emerged from the cleft and stood on a bluff overlooking the
valley. He took a short break. He could see down the drainage for several miles.
A tiny spring came out of the ground between two rocks. Eddie greedily drank all
he could hold.

As Eddie climbed onward, the character of the trail and forest changed.
The trail became steeper and rockier while tall incredibly dense mountain
laurel, impenetrable to humans, replaced the hemlock and rhododendron of the
lower elevations. Eddie looked upward as he heard a high pitched ‘kree kree,’
just able to see the tiny outlines of hawks against the clouds.

Suddenly there was a loud commotion in the bushes just ahead. Cat-like
screams pierced the air as the laurel rocked backed and forth. A fully grown
catamount burst out of the bushes and bounded up the path. Right on its heels
a huge panther leaped out with a roar it’s claws raking at its opponent. Both
cats disappeared quickly leaving a few startled birds and the shaken boy.

Eddie grasped his staff tighter and climbed higher. He finally came
to tremendous sheer cliffs that fell from the top of the mountain far above down
to the valley below. There was only one possible way. A tiny ledge, only a
couple of feet wide, seemed to cross the cliff face. Beads of sweat covered
Eddie’s face as he carefully placed each foot on the loose shale. He used his
staff to test for dangerous spots. Weathered hand-holds helped him to cling
to the rock.

Eddie inched his way several hundred feet across the cliff face when
from around a sharp bend he heard a low menacing growl. Eddie froze.
The sound came again and now it was a roar of defiance and hate. Something
long, dark and low, with lots of teeth and claws came around the bend in the
cliff face. The demonic creature launched itself directly at Eddie’s throat.
Eddie instinctively brought up the end of his staff in a defensive posture.

The thing, mean looking with red eyes and slobbering jaws hit the end of the
staff with its chest, jarring Eddie to his knees. Eddie ducked as the beast flew
past his shoulder. One of its sabered paws reached out and tried to rake Eddie’s
head. Instead its claws ripped the shoulder of Eddie’s hunting shirt. Eddie
managed to pivot the staff and watched as the hell-beast fell into the valley
below. Its crazed screams were extinguished as the faint sound of its body crashing
into tree limbs reached Eddie’s ears. He stood upright and wiped the fear-sweat
from his brow.

Just around the bend the ledge ended. Running in a zigzag pattern up the
cliff was a crack not much wider than his body. Eddie tied the staff to his back
with a short piece of rope and began crawling up the indentation. Each foot he
climbed was taken literally hand over hand and he dared not look down.

Eddie finally clawed his way between two gigantic boulders which were poised
on the edge of the cliff. Crawling up on a flat area Eddie was amazed at what he saw.
Several circles of rocks, each stone larger than a man, stood one inside the other on the
summit. In the very center was a tall flat stone with strange markings on it.
Eddie had heard legends about the top of the mountain but he hadn’t really believed
any of them until now. There was something eerie about the flat stone. It seemed to
somehow not be of this world as it shimmered in the dim light. Poised just over the
summit a gathering of huge blue-black clouds gave Eddie a feeling of an ominous threat.

As Eddie slowly moved towards the summit stone he heard a deep woofing
sound just to the south of the summit. Small Spruce trees were knocked down
or pushed aside. As in a feat of sorcery a huge bear suddenly appeared limping into the clearing.
Its ancient grizzled snout snuffling at the air. Eddie quickly reached behind his back and
untied the staff. The old boar bear, Eddie estimated, looked bigger than one of the heifers
his mother owned. Its fur was shaggy and a nasty stench came from the gigantic beast.

The bruin caught the scent of man-flesh and let out a roar of anger as it began to
lope towards him. Eddie crouched low with his staff extended point first and prepared
to meet the charge of the angry animal. The slavering monster slid to a stop just
a few steps in front of Eddie and reared up with a gigantic roar. Eddie desperately
speared his staff into the chest of the bear before the bear batted the point out and away.

Eddie took a step back keeping the point of the staff directed at the bear. He
told himself that he probably didn’t have much longer to live but he refused to give
up. The bear charged and Eddie thrust the staff into the side of the bear and jumped
to one side. The bear roared, broke the staff into two pieces and tried to wheel.
Its two hind legs slipping on the very edge of the precipice as the monster struggled
to keep from going over. The taloned front paws dug huge furrows in the rocky
soil. The bruin stopped its fall and pulled itself back on to the summit plateau.
The horrible thing was insane with rage. Eddie pulled the large hunting knife
from its sheath. Balancing the heavy blade in his hand he threw the knife as hard as
he could point first into the chest of the bear. The bear swiped at it with one of its
paws but couldn’t brush it free. It charged Eddie.

At that moment a strange blue light seemed to envelope both the boy and
the bear. The air crackled and Eddie’s hair stood on end. He threw himself to one side as
the bear, its huge canines dripping with saliva, attempted to engage him in a death grip.
A bolt of whitish-blue fire streaked from the heavens and struck the ground just in front
of the bear. Eddie was knocked unconscious.

When Eddie regained consciousness he lifted his head and realized his hair and
clothes were smoking from the tremendous heat generated by the bolt. He saw that the
bear had been cooked in a split second and its pelt was on fire. The bear’s eyes still
gleamed with a seeming hunger-hatred.

Eddie staggered to his feet with the noise of the thunderclap still ringing in his
ears. He stumbled over to the tall flat stone and pulled himself up to the top by steps that
had been hollowed out of the side. The stone seemed to vibrate with power.

As Eddie stood it seemed he was on top of the world. Eddie turned to the
West and saw far towards the horizon, where the sun goes to sleep at night, a
tremendous range of snow-capped mountains. Eddie knew now that this had just
been the beginning.

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