The peak was deliriously close, less than twenty meters away through the thin air. George needed more oxygen. He looked down at his partner, Andrew, struggling with the ropes George had set for him. Andrew scratched and clawed at the mountain’s icy face. George had set ropes strong and true; the ropes were the only thing keeping Andrew alive. The wind tried to chew through them, the climbers, the rope, the rock.
Finally, Andrew reached the ledge to find George seated, fixing the clamp-on on his right boot.
“We’re out of oxygen, George greeted him.
“Ok,” Andrew already knew this.
“Are we going to do this?”
Andrew looked up, as the final peak of Everest unveiled itself. “Of course,” Andrew said before a violent gust of wind pushed him into the abyss.
George was slow to get up. He already knew what had happened to his friend and partner. He slowly, painfully, made his way to the edge of the ledge. Looking down, he saw only cloud. George imagined his friend had grown wings and become an angel.
George had prepared himself for the loss of his friend since he had decided to embark on this journey to the top the the world. He had committed himself to this by entering it with the conviction that everything he took with him could be lost, including life itself. It was this thought now that allowed him to find the resolve to turn from staring at the clouds to setting his sights on the summit. Now was not the time to mourn. Now was the time to climb.
With every meter conquered, George quieted the Anthem of the Abyss that had started playing in his head since seeing his friend fall to his death.
Then, there was no farther to go. The top. George could stand up straight on top of the world. And for a moment, everything was perfect: the world, his soul, his life, his God, all perfect. This feeling was too perfect to last and eventually, George thought of his dead friend, and his own impending climb down almost 9000 meters. Before starting down, George reached into his inside jacket pocket for a photograph of his wife. He dropped it to the summit where it sat a few seconds before swept away by the wind.
Without oxygen, exhaustion overpowered him, and George lay down on a rock-step on Everest’s second step. His last thoughts were of his wife and children and regret that he had not chosen to die on the summit.
“Then they’d know I made it to the top,” George whispered to the wind which hollowed back at him, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
George could hear the sarcasm in the echoes of his cries to God.