We’re on an outcropping of rock, our thousand foot descent abruptly stopped far short of a deadly plummet. Barrett has cushioned my landing and taken the shock of the long fall.
“Bear?” I don’t dare move, but his right arm still circles around me. Limp.
I can see straight up, maybe thirty or forty feet to the bank where frightened faces peer down at us. I scan the rock face; there are no marks, no scratches to define our trail, no path to ascend. My scrutiny ends a foot above me where only a dew-beaded spider web, one end split from its harness, proclaims our helplessness. I lift my right hand to wave and Barrett’s arm slips off my chest.
If his back is broken … if his breath is knocked out of him and I’m too heavy … if—
They shout at me from above, but I can’t wave for rescue. I can’t because I’m holding Bear’s wrist, not feeling a pulse, not sensing his life at all. My head is tucked below his ear, cradled like that child I saw in his mother’s arms. Tears track from my eyes as more faces appear above. I don’t need to count to know there are eighteen. Eighteen spot us. Hundreds more are hanging back.
Time slows to an eerie beat. Two minutes. Three. Four. I’m crushing Barrett.