Sparks o' a Story: Rappelling

Well, I can't say that I *never* write in autobiographical first-person present. A mystery or some modern-day fictional piece would have been further outside my comfort zone. But what you see below is what I actually had time for. Names have been changed.
Day 5:
In a genre you never write in
"I'm betting that you won't make it down." Kevin informs me.

I smile serenely (I've had lots of opportunities to perfect my unruffled look with him), and say, "better not bet too much."

I have never been rappelling before in my life. It involves walking backwards off of a cliff with a rope and a harness to keep you from falling, and the sentiments of those group members who have been rappelling during other summers ranges from excitement to terror. Several girls have already broken down in tears.

I am not going to be nervous, I decide. I'm the 'new kid', with few connections to this group other than those I've been making for myself. I need the respect of being the girl who faced her first time rappelling with equanimity.

It's probably my turn to go. There's no-one beside the safety team waiting atop the cliff at the moment, and the last rappeller is on the ground and unfastening his harness. I don't want to wait too long, or it will look like I'm deliberately holding back. Besides, I might lose my nerve if I have to sit too long and contemplate the cliff face. I go get my harness and leather gloves from the ground team and then start my hike up to the top of the cliff.

Leadership have talked to us about today. It's all about overcoming fears and building trust, they said. I've joined the groups calling encouragement to the people who've panicked and frozen halfway down the cliff. I've clapped and shouted and congratulated them when they've finally reached the ground. Team spirit is good, and I know that I can rely on the others for support if I'm afraid. Even Kevin would probably cheer for me. But I'm not about to let tears or panic take control. It's time to step into the role I've been creating for myself.

The cliff isn't a very tall one, but I still feel a tilting sensation when I stand near the edge. I push my nervousness away and get my harness checked, listen to instructions about controlling the speed of my descent. Then it's time to start backing over the edge of the cliff. I don't let myself think about what I'm doing, or how ridiculous it is. A couple steps and I'm suspended, my feet against the cliff face, my body at a bent parallel to the ground. My feet struggle to maintain traction on the rock. I slip and bash my knee hard against an outcropping.

"Keep your feet spread further apart!" Someone yells.

I regain my purchase and continue walking backwards and down. All my attention is riveted on keeping my balance and maintaining the tension on the rope that controls my speed. My mind is blank, except for the thought that I mustn't let myself lose control and start sliding. I have a death grip on that control rope.

There's a place where the cliff face drops away into the wide mouth of a cave. This part is easy; just hold yourself upright with one hand and man your control rope with the other. Moist, cool air seeps out of the cave, and I stop myself for a few seconds and hang, suspended like an ungainly pendulum before the dark opening.

I look down. The ground's close. The ride's almost over. There are a few shouts of encouragement from below, but for the most part, my descent has passed unnoticed by the group. I gauge my landing carefully. My knees give way at first contact with the ground, but I quickly steady myself and stand. I work clumsily at the harness fastenings with stiff, shaking hands. I have only a matter of seconds before the trembling spreads to the rest of my body, and I want to be sitting down before then.

The ground team helps me out of the harness. I take a deep breath, careful to control my expression, and seat myself on a rock outcropping to wait until my legs stop shaking. I experience a familiar mixture of exultation and relief as full reaction sets in.

I have just walked backward off a cliff.

And I was calm about it.

My other writing challenge pieces HERE.
And Clara's stories HERE.


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