This is part two. Read part one if you haven’t already.
As soon as I return from my rope-collecting errand, I stop by home to visit with my mother and Nimshi. I stay one more night in my old room before going back to my mission, back to the wall.
“How best to secure the rope?” I mumble aloud. “I need it at the top, but I’d have to climb up first…” I sigh, “I’ll have to climb all the way up without falling the first time before I can be assured of a safer trip.”
I tie one end of the rope to my waist, around my legs, and over my shoulders to form a harness of sorts, using a trilene knot to ensure it will stay tied. I grab my pack. Before I trekked to the other side of the wall, I would have grunted under the weight of my bag, however, I have grown accustomed to bearing its weight.
I pull on a pair of sturdy leather gloves, trying to prepare myself for the long climb ahead. I stare endlessly upward to the top of the wall, finding my first hand holds.
“Here goes nothing,” I whisper, pulling myself up onto the wall.
I move my right hand, my left foot, my left hand, my right foot, and cycle endlessly. The motion repeats and repeats and repeats. I can’t stop or I won’t be able to continue, or worse, I’ll fall. I continue climbing and climbing and climbing.
I don’t know how far I have climbed when I find myself panting, legs and arms burning, hands aching, feet starting to throb. I force myself to move the left foot, the left hand, the right foot, the right hand.
I can’t stop. I can’t stop. I have to get to the top. I can’t stop. I have to get to the top. I repeat the thought like a mantra, unwilling to give up when I worked so hard to get where I am now. Unwilling to die the same way my father did, unwilling to break my promise to return safely.
I climb through the pain, burning, aching, and need for more air, for a break, for a drink. If I stop I won’t start again, if I grab my drink from my belt I might fall.
My arms and legs feel like wet clay when I hear people below, shouting.
Don’t look. Keep climbing. You’re getting close. You can make it. You are going to get to the top! You’re not going to fall! You have to get to the top, no matter what they think, no matter what they say. You’re going to make it! You’re going to show them it can be done! You will not fall and die at their feet! My face hardens with determination, and I push myself harder.
I register the surprise and amazement in the gathering crowd from the hush that precedes louder chattering. I smirk to myself, pushing and pulling myself higher, not stopping.
After a long while, the crowd goes silent, presumably just watching.
I climb until my hand slips, a few pebbles falling down, down, down. I jerk my gaze back up, not wanting to think about the distance. I fit my hand in a slightly different space.
I go several more feet, arms, legs, and hands about to give out when I find myself eye level with a perfect notch. I smile, reaching down to my belt. I carefully pull out a camming device and cram it in place as far and tight into the hole as I can with one hand. I attach a carabiner and push a portion of the rope through the eye. I grab that side of the rope with the hand already not holding the wall. Gradually I pull all the rope through but what was used in my harness.
I hold the rope tightly in my hand and remove my other hand, fingers aching, from the wall. I scrunch my eyes closed and hold my breath. My feet remain on the wall!
With much difficulty, and almost falling a few times, I manage to tie a sliding friction knot, one that will allow me to continue to climb but will catch if I fall. I release some of my weight, holding myself with my hands, and the knot holds.
“Thank Fasa,” I mumble under my breath, thinking of the goddess of life.
I sit in my harness to rest and finally allow myself a drink. I’m very close to dehydration, but I force myself to take small sips so I will keep it down. I finish half the bottle, glance at the crowd below, then resume climbing.
It’s near dark, but I’ve been relying on touch alone anyway. I’ve rested some, and now it won’t be as hot as I climb.
I climb as far as I can despite the darkness, ignoring the exhaustion that threatens to overtake me. Shortly before I would be able to take it no longer, I place another camming device in a small crevice and switch the rope’s attachment to a new carabiner. I again almost fall a few times when I try to tie a sliding friction knot. This time, since I intend to try to sleep, I use the length of rope to tie another trilene knot, this one just below my friction knot.
I wake up, terrified when I feel only air beneath me, until I see the carabiner and camming device just above me and the rope about my waist, legs, and shoulders. I breathe deeply to calm down, to slow my wild heart before it beats out of my chest.
Carefully, I pull a small bag with dried lan slices from my belt. The smooth, blue rimmed white ellipses taste sweet as they melt slightly in my mouth. It takes almost no time to eat every last slice, which together had been three of the long, tubular fruits. I drink some more to wash down my breakfast and regain some hydration.
After the bottle and bag are securely attached to my belt once more, I begin climbing for the day.
I creep closer and closer to the top, heart beating fast in anticipation and from the strain. My muscles and hands ache from yesterday, but I must continue upwards. Sweat streams down my brow, neck, from my armpits, elbows, and knees.
I pause momentarily for a drink. I don’t want to be parched. That could kill me. A headache from insufficient hydration may cause me to plummet to the hard ground so far, far below. I tuck the bottle into my belt once more and resume moving steadily up, up, endlessly upwards.
Around the middle of the day I’m forced to stop. The heat is overwhelming. I’m panting from the effort to continue and from heat. I’m sweating as much as though I had gone for a swim in a stream.
I use a third camming device and carabiner combination to create a seat. I must rest. Today I cannot climb through the noonday sun.
Once I am secured, I drain my bottle and extract some baked renka from my bag. The soft but firm legume yields to my teeth. Once the black skin is broken, the green, starchy inside is revealed. This is my favorite food, and the taste reminds me of my mother, of Ni, and of life before Father died.
I swallow thickly as I finish and prepare to complete the climb.
It is nearly nightfall when I reach the top. I collapse on the horizontal surface in exhaustion. Looking over the other side can wait until tomorrow. I need rest, food, and fluid.
I pull my pack off my back and set it next to me. I turn to lay on my back, watching as Acteonil rises in the sky to join Cayne, Naiyah, Vilmariy, Kadyre, and Sehlvyn in illuminating the land. The moons in their varying colors stare down at me. I smile, and glance to the side and down.
Mother and Ni are likely outside, looking at the moons, admiring Cayne for its soft blue-green, Naiyah for bright, flaming orange, Sehlvyn for light purple, Acteonil for white spattered with black, Kadyre for sunset-like pink, and Vilmariy for its unforgiving, harsh green glare. It can be hard to remember all the names, but Mother always loved the moons and space. We always spent the nights outside admiring them, learning their names, acknowledging their beauty, and thanking Uval the night god. Tonight and last night are the first times we won’t have done that together.
I roll over, push up onto my elbows, and pull pickled dren fruit from my bag. I try to avoid touching the brine as I probe two fingers into the jar, grasping at glowing purple slivers. I fail, being forced to submerge my fingers into the warm, slimy liquid as the dren fruit slivers slip and slide from my grasp. I scrunch up my nose, wishing I could have brought enough silverware with me to have used it instead.
Finally I manage to extract a single sliver of dren, globs of brine slowly dripping off the sliver and my fingers back into the jar. I shake the sliver, trying to be rid of some of the slimy liquid coating it. It mostly fails, but I shove it in my mouth anyway.
The taste of food increases my desire to eat. I desperately upend the jar, fingers barely parted over the opening to drain the liquid but not lose the dren. I right the jar but keep my hand palm-up, cupping most of the pickled fruit. The brine pools where I poured it, gathering together and thankfully not finding my clothes.
Greedily I eat as much of the handful at once as I can fit in my mouth. I chew hastily, and swallow thickly from the amount of chewed solid I’ve taken at once. I eat all of the pickled dren in the jar, finding that I’m hungrier than I even thought.
I carefully set the jar, brine nearly coating the outside of it, next to my pack. With no other option, I wipe my hands on my clothes, grimacing as the slimy fluid soaks into my shirt and pants. I’ll be wearing these clothes for a long while because I could only bring so much up the wall. Ruining them now is far from ideal.
I roll onto my back, pulling my pack to rest under my head. I sigh and close my eyes, drifting off to sleep.
I did it, I think, I climbed the wall just like Dad always dreamed. I smile and fall asleep.
I groan as I wake to bright light in my eyes. I place my hand over my face, shielding my pupils from the sun. I turn onto my side. I’m not ready to wake up, not ready, even though it means seeing over the wall. After two days of climbing, I’m exhausted. Whatever’s over the wall will still be there when I’m ready to look at it.
I twist onto my stomach, trying desperately to get comfortable. I continue tossing and turning until finally I give up on sleeping any longer.
I sit up and pull my water out of my pack and drink greedily, but remain conscious of how little water I probably brought in comparison to how much I would need, seeing how I’m in the sun constantly.
From where I sit, I turn to look towards the horizon over the wall expectantly.
I jump to my feet, move to stand almost on the edge of the stone structure. I glance down. It’s the same, it’s all the same.
No. No, it can’t be black and gray. Where’s the life? Where’s the hope? Where is the land I’ve always dreamed of?
I stagger backwards away from the edge, dizzy. I trip over my pack, my head bouncing on the hard stone and thudding down again.
I crack my eyes open. The sun is still lighting the land from so, so far away, but everything blurs, two images floating around, first coming together then separating again. A thought surfaces, something I learned in school but never thought I’d need – this is likely a sign of a concussion.
I sit up anyway and my head starts pounding immediately. I down another bottle to rehydrate and hopefully quell the headache.
If I really do have a concussion, I’ll need to go back down.
There’s nothing outside the wall anyway, I remind myself. The world is dead. There was never a point to this dream anyway. It was bound to be a disappointment.
In that moment, I consider jumping. I wouldn’t have to face my people and tell them my quest was pointless, that nothing is outside the wall but black and gray death. I stand up despite the throbbing in my skull and the splitting and reconverging images before my eyes.
Then I think of my promise to my mother. I promised to return, to not die. I have to go see them again.
There’s no point to living at all. There’s nothing more to this world than what is inside the walls and the death outside them.
I collapse into a sitting position once more, putting my head in my hands.
I can’t do it. I can’t live in that world. I just can’t.
I force myself to stop thinking, to think about anything else, anything but this revelation. Once I reach a semblance of normal, I take my rinebark woven tent from my pack, pausing every few seconds to close my eyes against the pain. It takes a long while, but I get the tent up and gratefully crawl into it out of the sun.
I could just leave, I think suddenly. I could go down the other side of the wall and disappear. Walk away. Never return. There’s no point to staying anyway. This way, no one would have to know the world is empty and hopeless.
Mother and Ni’s faces swim into my thoughts.
It’s crazy, I know it is, but I want to. I want to just go over the other side of the wall. Disappear. But I can’t.
They would be heartbroken if they never saw or heard from me…
I wrestle with this line of thinking for a long while before drifting off into a tormented sleep.
To be continued…
This is the first part of my novella The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan. The first two lines, “It’s been so long that no one knows why the walls were built. Nobody wants to leave.” were the prompt that inspired the story.
This takes place on Irqulnirn after the apocalypse.
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