“I can’t” Laura said.
“Yes. You can” Jay replied, “Feel this?” he tugged on her harness “and this?” he knocked on her helmet.
“But nothing. These keep you safe. I’ll be your eyes.” He touched the side of her face. The scar tissue had softened considerably since the accident. “Don’t worry. We’ll take it slow”.
“You don’t usually hear about blind rock climbers.” Laura smiled, “Thanks for bringing me”.
“No sweat. Well, there will be some sweat. It’s 30 degrees Celsius, but you catch my drift.”
Laura laughed. She’d rappelled down this ravine dozens of times, but this was the first time back since losing her sight. Part of her thought it would be pointless without the view, but the smell of lilac blowing up from below was sweeter than she remembered, and the caress of the breeze on her face was soothing. After being bedridden for weeks, she was glad to do something physical.
“It’ll be an easy reintroduction. Come on.”
She felt a tug on her harness as Jay attached her to her rope, then heard the click of him connecting himself. This was it. Her fingers trembled only slightly as she held the rope and, with Jay’s guidance, started backing toward the ledge.
Getting started was difficult, but Jay’s calm and easy instructions got her through the worst of it. The two of them sat side by side in their harnesses against the cliff face.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Jay asked, bouncing lightly from foot to foot against the rocky wall. A few pebbles skittered under his boot and fell, clacking down the jagged wall and coming to rest somewhere out of sight. “You okay Laura?”
“Little anxiety. Gimme a second.” She felt the breeze against her body and held fast to the rope, taking deep steady breaths.
Laura heard a snap , and a sound like rope unravelling fast. She scrabbled for the rock face, finding handholds, clinging to the rock, frozen. A sound. A crumpling from below like a backpack thrown to the ground after a long hike. Her rope still held tension. She leaned back, testing her harness. It held. She exhaled as relief flooded her.
“Jay?” Silence. Laura held her breath.
“Jay?!” She waited, “If this is a joke it’s not fucking funny.”
She reached one timid arm to the left, holding her rope fast with her right. Jay was right beside her, had to be. She felt nothing but open air.
“Oh shit. Oh fuck. Oh-God-oh-God-oh-God.” a throbbing in her temple reminded her to breathe. She inhaled a long, trembling breath, “JAY!!!”. Only the reverberation of her voice in the ravine was returned to her. Startled birds evacuated the oak they’d secured their lines to. She reached for her back pocket before remembering Jay had put both their phones in the small waist pack he wore.
Having no idea what she’d do when she got down there, she began lowering herself on the line. The descent into the ravine was agonizing. Her arms burned. Her lungs filled with fire. She could taste acid.
When her feet finally found purchase on the unsteady rock, she collapsed in a heap. Her arms were numb. She gulped breath.
She felt around her, calling out for Jay. She could hear the gentle rushing of the small river that ran through the ravine. She remembered reading in a wilderness guide that searching in outward spirals was the most effective way to find a missing person. She kept her rope fastened to her waist and began crawling in a circle, letting the rope out a little further each time the sound of the river was closest.
She heard a moan to her right and reached out. Jay. She felt sticky hair and smelled metal. “Oh God, Jay, I’m here. I’m here.”
She scuffled closer on scraped knees and palms, curling herself around him, careful not to move his body. With uncertain, trembling fingers she felt for signs of life. He had a pulse. He was breathing. He was alive, but barely. She placed a palm on a forehead that didn’t feel hard enough, or shaped quite right. A flap of scalp hung loose. He groaned beneath her.
“Hold on. Please hold on.” She fumbled for his waist pack and located her cell phone. She jammed her thumb onto the fingerprint scanner and heard it beep to life. She felt dizzy. “Siri. Call 9-1-1.”
Everything went black.
She awoke to the sound of helicopters.