By Kathryn Cehrs
The flies buzz a slow droning sound. They rise above me in a shifting cloud as I lie in the desert heat of Eastern California. I can feel them inside my nose and on the drying blood that coats my arm in sticky red.
Will they find me like this, splayed like an iron cross splashed in crimson below the rocks? Will I be bloated by the sun and my decaying viscera? Or will the coyotes and vultures get to me first, leaving bones and some tattered cloth spread across the desert sand? Maybe I will desiccate in the hot, dry air, until all that is left is a skeleton and the black rubber of my still-new climbing shoes.
New like me. It’s hard breaking into pro women’s climbing, my dream since I was sixteen. Five years and a couple of college medals—this trip was supposed to be the crux. All this unmarked territory is a climber’s paradise. Putting my name down, a first ascent, would be permanent. It might get me somewhere. An adrenaline junkie, I wanted to get high off success.
Gone now, those dreams. The only place it got me is here at the bottom. An egg splat on the kitchen floor. The yolk spilled out, a mess to clean up.
It was stupid. I was stupid, convinced in my invincibility. It wasn’t even a route, not on any of the maps. Maybe a highball, couldn’t really tell from the bottom, but I could claim it as mine. Doing the climb on my own was just ego and jealousy. If I failed, and my partner succeeded, I couldn’t live with it. The cutthroat competition isn’t only in my mind.
The crimp at the top broke. I was falling wrong, going to miss the mat entirely. I didn’t feel a thing when I hit the ground, only heard the gunshot crack of breaking bones.
I heard that in extreme trauma, the brain can shut down pain perception. Maybe the feeling will return to my legs, and I can crawl over to my bag. Agony will be better than not being able to move at all. I have cell coverage and evacuation insurance.
I try again to sit up and turn. My abs are water. I want to roll, but my joints don’t connect anymore. I feel the life draining from my body. Water flushed down the toilet.
Forgive me, Mom. You were right when you said I lived only for the rush. I hope they lie when they take the pictures. Don’t remember me this way.
I hear voices in the wind, my throat is dry. I yell, do they hear me? The flies are talking to me. They say help is on its way. A raven arrives, a messenger? It looks me in the eyes, an alien intelligence. It pecks my leg; my finger twitches. It pecks again. Nothing this time. I close my eyes. The voices are fading. Only the hum of the flies remains. Sleep now, they say.