:: higher ground ::

I spent 2006 and 2007 retaking my Higher School Certificate in the hope of doing better than I did in my first attempt. During these two years, my only mandatory subject was English. Part of every English exam during Year 11 and 12, including the HSC exams themselves, is a free writing section, in which a prompt must be used to write a short story within forty minutes. Higher Ground was written during my Year 12 midcourse English examination, taken at the end of March 2007. And while it was never my intent to write a hanfic, I am not exactly complaining as I did end up scoring the equivalent to an A for this section of my exam.

“You have to be kidding me.”

I stared up at the sheer cliff face before us. Well, it wasn’t quite sheer – there were a few somewhat narrow outcroppings, ones that barely looked wide enough to plant a foot on, and it seemed to slope upwards at a slight angle. Of course, it could have been my eyes playing tricks on me.

“Do I look like I’m kidding?”

I turned around to face Charlotte, my best friend since we had been in preschool, taking in the slightly maniacal grin on her face and the glint in her dark brown eyes. “You said you wanted to try something different for once – well, this is it.” She clapped me on the shoulder. “Come on. Max’ll get you fitted up, and then up the cliff we go.” She fixed me with a hard gaze. “And I swear to God Taylor, you chicken out and I’ll-”

“You’ll what? String my guitar backwards? I’m so scared.”

Charlotte’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t take that tone with me, mister. I’m sure I can think of something.” She nodded her head back toward where Max, Charlotte’s older brother, stood next to his dusty Ford Explorer, piles of ropes at his feet. I sighed and headed off to face my certain doom.

Fifteen minutes later, both Charlotte and I had both been buckled and roped into harnesses, and were back at the base of the cliff. I fiddled with the black fingerless gloves I wore that were supposed to protect the palms of my hands from being cut by the sharp rocks, wishing I was anywhere but here. This was not going to end well.

“Charlie, you go first,” Max called, and Charlotte raised a hand. Almost in the blink of an eye, she had bounded forward and was beginning her ascent. What amazed me was how fast she was actually climbing, without even looking to see where she was placing her hands and her feet. It almost seemed to be instinct for her.

“She’s climbed this particular site before,” Max said when I asked. “More than once, in fact. And I’ll say right now that you’re not the first person she’s roped into it.” He shrugged and flicked his gaze back to me for just a moment, before refocusing on Charlotte’s safety rope.

I looked up at the cliff face. Charlotte was more than halfway up by now, skittering up the cliff as if she were part spider. The way she was moving, I half-expected to see four extra appendages sprouting out of her back.

As my watch ticked over to half past ten, Max’s phone rang. With one hand still gripping Charlotte’s rope, he took his hand from his pocket, flipped it open and answered. “Yeah?...okay, come on down. And take it slowly this time, you nearly cracked your head open the last time you tried this.” He ended the call and returned his phone to his pocket. “She’s on her way down now,” he informed me, and I swallowed hard.

Charlotte came sailing down the cliff face with all the grace of…well, to be honest, grace played little or no part in her descent. Before I realised it, she had planted her feet securely on Mother Earth once more, and was unclipping her harness from the rope.

“I thought of something I can blackmail you with,” she said brightly as Max clipped my harness onto the safety rope. “I have photos of you wearing my sister’s Year 12 Formal dress. You climb that, and I might see about making sure they never leave the dark depths of my hard drive.”

“Okay, okay,” I muttered. “I’ll do it.”

I walked to the base of the cliff and planted my right hand on the first handhold, my left hand a foot or so above my head. And, taking a deep breath and saying a quick prayer, I started to climb.

As I climbed, I thought about all that had brought me to this point. The rock climbing lessons that Charlotte had given me for my birthday, her constant nagging and haranguing during each session (even despite the fact that it hadn’t even been her teaching me), constant dares to try a more challenging wall when I hadn’t even mastered the beginner’s wall, being dragged out of bed at five in the morning so we could break into the local indoor rock climbing centre and practice in private. And almost out of instinct, my hands and feet found hand and footholds to grab onto, and I slowly but surely dragged myself up the mountain.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally reached the top of the cliff, and I finally allowed myself to look down. Max and Charlotte stood at the base of the cliff, waving up at me. “Damn you Charlotte Brady,” I muttered as I started to abseil down.

“Payback time,” I informed Charlotte when we were safely back in Max’s car. “Ever been scuba diving?” And I grinned at the look of sheer horror in Charlotte’s eyes.

“You wouldn’t.”

I grinned again. “Try me.”

~ fin ~