One Foot From The Top
Dennis Dow came bursting into the Pub lounge and in a voice that could be heard clear above the howl of the wind outside, he called out, “ The bloody fool is up there. Hamish is up on the ‘Devil’s Teeth.”
There wasn’t much being said before this announcement, but now there was an instant silence as everybody took the message into their heads.
Eyes went to the blackness out of the window, all seeing with the clarity of memory like daytime. It was a shared vision of their jagged ridge of mountain rising up across the valley to shadow the village.
Josie Macpherson spoke first into his pint of beer.. “ Well! That’s him gone for sure!” Others joined in and as a few of them ventured to the door to peer vainly through the rain and the wind, it was old Mr. Thomas that summed it up, “ There’s no use speculating. It’ll be the fine weather before we bring his body back down !”
The announcement acted like a passive command, and still-warm seats were taken up again with a shudder of discomfort. The evening would be spent with the resolve of personal opinion until everybody was ready to feel their way home; then to go through the whole process again with their families.
The Devil’s Teeth dominated the Village. The ridge began with a low peak but continued with a series of peaks, each higher and more jagged than the last. Then Jutting forward was Spur Tooth, the highest of them all. It was a couple of thousand feet high but was so sheer it looked like 10 thousand feet. The whole lot from solid black rock and like the gaping lower jaw of the Devil himself.
Hamish retreated deep into his mind and still couldn’t find what it was that prompted him to finally do it! He could have chosen any time but this. It didn’t matter that he’d got shelter clothes on and a bag of provisions padding his seat in the lee of a wee cleft. The dark was going to be long. The wet and wind and cold were already eating at his body. He knew though there was no turning back, because whatever prompted him, this moment had been waiting 30 years. It would wait no longer!
The night had been endured. Hamish was driven by his pain and discomfort to seek even worse on his upward climb; even though it would be some time before the valley got the light. At least the wind had blown out and just left the drizzle, which the whole village took for normal daily weather anyway!
There was nothing normal about what lay ahead though. It seemed impossible, …but for 30 years Hamish had gone about his business with his flock of sheep in the valley with one eye always on the ridge. He had studied every crack and crevice from a distance. He knew when the time was right, he would not be beaten like his Father.
No climbers from the city ever came to these parts, and no one but his Father had ever been so foolhardy to try and scale these dangerous heights. Ah there! He justified himself as he recognized a fissure that travelled up through the rump of the Spur. Nobody ever saw this, least of all gave it any great importance. But for Hamish, he knew it was the key to missing the wall at the front they called The Sheet.
Into the crack went his hands, one after the other, followed by his feet underneath him in a painful rhythm of climbing. His strength was being tested to limit and his curses turned to prayers of thanks when the meandering crack opened to a gap he was able to wedge himself for rest.
How long had it been he asked himself. He’d been due to borrow one of the Smithy horses for the weekend to go to the market and here he was, clinging to the side of Spur Tooth. He’d just decided. Now was the time, and before he gave the thought any more consideration he’d grabbed the kit that he’d always got ready and waiting, and set off over the fields.
He was using his arms in front of him as a resting pillow and realised he was staring at his hand. It came into focus and he saw how the drizzle was washing the trickles of blood from small cuts right up his coat sleeve. It didn’t really matter because all he felt was the wet over his body. But his interest had brought the pain of it to his senses. Hamish had no time for that and stirred himself to press on.
Ever onward he climbed and stopped at another break line in the rocks, his chest heaving with the exertion. Now he could see over the front of the ridge. He looked down and felt a flush of emotion as he recognised the scree bed far below. This had been the rocky cushion where they had gathered his Father’s lifeless body. He felt a spirit wind brush over his head and began to cry as he realised he may be clinging where his father had been clinging all those years ago.
It was always speculated that he had maybe injured himself on the way up and lost his grip as he tried to carry on. Hamish took a particular interest in the outcrop and looked around him just in case!
He choked yet again. There for sure a little way higher, he saw the unmistakable presence of a rusting tin. He climbed a little further to examine it before shaking himself with even greater resolve to get to the top.
It was at least 3 hours later. Hamish knelt in his battered state with his clothes and hands torn from the sharp rocks. But the time had entered that phase in the morning when there is a calm like the Gods were drawing their breath for the day. The dawn had not fully broken through the blanket of cloud on the horizon to begin stirring things up again. He looked up and could see how close he was.
The last distance would be a hands and feet, crab climb, but he knew he had nearly done it. He allowed himself the luxury of talking to his Father again. He reminded him of his promise at the funeral. “One day,” he had said… “One day… he would defeat the Devil’s Teeth for his Father. The mountain had spit his Father’s broken body back into the valley like the pip from a grape, and now he, Hamish, was there to subdue and tame it!
At last he stood erect. From the distant village and valley floor it looked like some giant had used a file to sharpen the Spur Tooth into a razor edge. Hamish stared in front of him as he realised the Mountain’s little secret.
The sharp edge seen from below was a façade that concealed a near perfect 6-foot platform of level flat rock at the very summit. Hamish even laughed for the first time in years. A genuine laugh from his stomach.
Here was the moment! The Sun was just beginning to rise above the cloud and strike forth towards him. In front was the platform of rock. He stood before it and was presented with a simple step up of several inches, to finally get on to the ‘winners-podium.’
As the rays of sun began to light him up against the background sky, he saw himself in his mind’s eye.
In those split seconds of anticipation he saw himself standing on top of this world with his arms held high and a primordial scream of triumph filling the valley.
He saw himself photographed into the memory of the peak in triumph, and the tears flowed again for his Father. The scream when it came, was even louder; but it was a scream inside of him.
All he had to do was take one more step up and he would seem like a conquering statuesque god atop the peak to anyone searching far below. One more step! And he could claim it.
Three times Hamish lifted his leg in hesitation to mount the stage. Three times his foot lowered to the ground again.
He reached his hand into his pocket and fingered the note he had found in his Father’s rusting tin. His leg lifted and hesitated one more time.
His Fathers scribbled words rolled over and over in his mind until at last he was ready to answer them. The words said simply…. “ I did it! I did it!
Hamish finally answered. “So did I, Father, so did I” then with a smile, he turned on his heels and began to make his way back down the mountain.
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