Author's Note: This story is being re-posted. The original was posted Sept. 2013. This is a short story with an ambiguous ending. Fair warning.


The Gothics

Tension: Take up all of the slack and hold on—a possible fall is anticipated or the repeller is out of control.

(Original Beta: Hadley Hemingway)

My foot slips its hold, and my muscles brace. In a split second, adrenaline rushes. Every nerve is alert, thrumming. It is that sensation right before impact. Alertness slams into you so hard, you're almost surprised to realize you haven't hit the bottom yet. Like your brain knows the inevitable outcome and prepares for the worst. As if preparation can save you now. The mind focuses through the panic. Vision sharpens. Heart races.

These are the moments I live for. I succeed or fail by the tips of my fingers. Four-thousand feet above the ground, I depend on no one. If I die here, only I carry the blame. To the ground, I hold my fate in my own hands.

But not today. There is a little fight left in these muscles. My foot finds purchase, and I grunt, pulling myself up and over the final hurdle. Reaching the summit, I catch my breath and turn to throw my legs over the edge that nearly bested me. I stare down into the valley, surveying the distance I have overcome.

"Not today, Sam Simon," I say to the phantom below.

My brother used to talk about Old Willy Wise. A manufactured name if I ever heard one. He was a legend among climbers—as in a load of pretty bullshit—who famously surmounted forty-nine peaks in forty-nine days. He used no rope, no gear. Just his bare hands to conquer sheer cliffs and craggy passes. His best friend and climbing companion was a man whose name no one recalled. Always second to reach the top, he was forever overshadowed by the charismatic Willy.

Until the fiftieth peak on the fiftieth day. The man without a name was tired of watching the world pass below him from under Willy's backside. Just once he wanted to scale the peak with a clear view and carve his identity at the top. So when Willy's foot slipped its hold, the man with no name crossed out from under his friend and watched silently as Old Willy Wise plummeted to the base of the mountain.

Every dirtbag shop owner—an affectionate name for a climbing retailer—claims Willy's fiftieth peak is the one in his or her territory. The story is so old that, even if it was true, it's impossible to say for certain which summit claimed his life.

When the the man reached the top, he left his name chalked proudly on a rock. To this day, climbers all over the country snap photos of rocks that read, "Sam Simon." Because as the story goes, a climber only reaches the top because Sam allows it. He's still out there, somewhere, proliferating his legend. The day you forget who he is, when you start to buy into your own myth such as Old Willy Wise, he rips you down.

A climber—the living ones, at least—is equal parts adventurous and cautious, confident and humble. You have to be just a little insane to claw your way up a rock face and dare gravity to yank you back to the ground where you belong.

Scanning the scenery that stretches out before me under the midday sun, I think you have to be just a little crazy to properly appreciate how wild, massive, and completely untamable the world really is.

I miss my brother the most when I reach the top. I'll sit here for hours, waiting, expecting him to come up over the ledge with a smartass remark. He talks to me up here. It's the only time I still feel him.

I can't linger too long though. You never want to race the sunset, and I still have a long drive ahead of me.

It's taken me three years to get to this point. After Anthony died, I effectively went off the grid. When your parents won't look you in the eyes and you can't quite remember why, the uncertainty of the road looks pretty damn appealing. Strangers sub in for family; anonymity is comforting. If you're gone long enough, you almost forget your own name.

From the Gothics south of Lake Placid, I'll head farther south to Lake George. I have to see about a girl.

End note: This is one of the last fics I completed back in the day, and I thought it'd be fun to revisit it, as not many had the chance to read it. So, what do you think?

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