Here is the first short story I wrote back in May and completed in August after some editing and proofreading advice from both Kate Toon, and Trish Arnott. Warning, the story does contain one brutal scene, but it is not overly described, and one short word of bad language.
The story is part of the ‘The Adventures of Megan and Jack” series, and the story does come with two endings, but this is the original ending.
“El camino de la roca” (The path of the rock. Original working title, The Pivot.)
Out of the interlude between night and morning, the sounds of many feet carry into the distance. As they approach along a worn rock and gravel track a silhouette falls into focus at the lead. Megan’s dark shoulder-length dreadlocks pinned up off her neck, a heavy pack on her back. Time slows for just a moment as the darkness fades to make way for a new day, the soft glow of sunrise pervading the distant horizon. A once whisper of voices starts to breed in volume, their echo reflecting off the rising rock walls of Mesa de los Santos.
A small group of high school students on a rock-climbing adventure from Brazil, with their teacher, Vania, set out for a grand day of testing their abilities and skills. The students and Vania are in the care of New Zealand sisters, Megan and Sonya Corey, a pair of rock-climbing guides with 20 years’ experience climbing in South America, and around the globe.
Just as they near the approach to the towering rock formation above them, they stumble into a small camp. A team of weather-beaten men have been roughing it on location the last few weeks mapping the rock face with an array of technical equipment. The students point to some of three-dimensional scanners currently sitting on their tripods, thinking they are cameras and have stumbled into a documentary team or film production. They look about for more signs of what is going on, as one of the students spots an old theodolite.
“They’re surveyors,” says a tall skinny teenage boy. His words spread like a small fire as a whisper throughout the group.
The surveyors are in the middle of breaking camp, after having just finished the day before the initial pick-up stage for a field map of the climb routes on los Santos. On seeing the group, the surveyors pause for a moment. A number of the surveyors, experienced climbers themselves, know the sisters well. In particular, Jack, a surveyor from Australia, whose work in precision mapping of rock climb routes has seen him rock up at a number remote climb locations around the world with Megan.
“Hey Megan, when did you make it to Colombia?” Jack asks with a laugh.
Megan snaps back, “Not talking to you.”
Jack enquires with a mock hurt tone, “Why?”
“You know why! Leaving me to spend the night on a two-foot ledge in Mexico, while you and that cheap satellite phone disappeared and didn’t turn up ‘til morning,” rips back Megan.
The students let out a loud, “Ooohh!”
Jack stutters a little and tries to recover.
“I thought I explained all that – how those armed men turned up and thought I was someone else. It took until morning to convince them I wasn’t the bloke they were after.”
“Great excuse, Jack! Do you think I should believe him, Sonya?” quips Megan.
By this time, Sonya and Vania were starting to laugh at Jack’s predicament as Megan backs him into a corner.
“Megan, Vania and I wouldn’t mind grabbing some of their hot coffee and tea, and the students would love to have a short break”, responds Sonya, hiding her giggles behind her hand.
“Sonya, a couple of the lads, Toby and Andes can help you both and the kids,” Jack replies. Toby and Andes start pulling out additional tin mugs for the group, all while Vania organises the students, and Sonya starts talking to Toby.
Just as everyone is getting comfortable, Megan walks over to Jack across the loose stone surface, she trips and reaches out. Jack catches her by the left arm, wraps his other arm around her side lifting her to her feet. The whole camp bursts into laughter. Megan pushes Jack away.
“I don’t need your help,” Megan responds as she adjusts her tee shirt, which Jack recognises from some years ago.
“Hey, I still see you have that tee shirt after all these years,” Jack laughs as he recalls a time that seems a lifetime ago.
Megan laughs too, “I see you still have that sharp witted laugh. That hasn’t changed a bit.”
As they stand side by side looking up at the rock face, Jack asks, “So what brings you here, Megan, apart from the obvious, some rock climbing?”
“I’ve been working a contract with Brazilian Education for the last six months, to guide adventure tours for students”, Megan responds.
“You know I didn’t mean to leave you on the ledge in Mexico, don’t you?” Jack states, not expecting a response.
“Of course, I just couldn’t resist a little bit of fun at your expense in front of the crew,” Megan says and gives him a nudge in his ribs with her elbow.
“Feel like some coffee now?” Jack asks Megan.
“Sure”, Megan answers with a smile.
A little time passes, as does some coffee, conversation, and some more laughs. Soon Megan, Sonya, Vania, and the students are on their way to set up some routes to climb up the Mesa de los Santos rock face. They say their goodbyes to Jack and the survey crew.
As they get away a little, Jack remembers something, and shouts out, “Megan, did you ever finish that Geosciences degree!?”
But they are too far away to hear now. Jack and his team continue to pack up their camp, and prepare to head for Bogotá.
Around five minutes into making their approach along the trail near the rocky crags of los Santos, two of the students pause for a minute, and look up.
“Idhi, do you think we will get to climb that? Hand and foot holds seem so slight – it’s almost flat.” asks Marco of his long-time school friend.
“Marco, look. There are bolts in the rock face. Maybe it’s been climbed many times before!” says Idhi, as she steps back to get a better view.
“Maybe, or it might be because it’s a dangerous climb route,” replies Marco, pondering why he asked the first question.
A shout rings out from behind, “Rock!” Everyone looks up while moving quickly away from the rock face, as some duck underneath a low overhang. “Okay, who’s the wise guy? There was no rock falling,“ inquires Megan, with a slightly stern look.
Sonya steps forward and puts her hand up, “It was me, sis. Just seeing if everyone remembered the discussion back at the hotel before we set out on our journey today.”
“All good then, “Megan says as she smiles. “Everyone did well, now let’s keep going. We have some more ground to cover before we can even think about climbing today.”
Some 20 minutes later, Megan, Sonya, and Vania with the students, reach where they are going to rig up and work on some easy climbs first. Sonya starts to free climb to rig the first two routes, which are a little long, but cover a variety of basic climbing moves and techniques. “Sonya, at least set an example to the students and put a helmet on,” Megan half shouts at her sister.
“Oops. Sorry,” lets out Sonya, as she drops back down to grab her helmet.
The students and Vania set up a small tarpaulin for some shade, then break out a little food and drink, before Megan is ready. The first item to go through again on the training agenda is safety gear, harnesses, helmets, along with how a belay system is set up and works. The students and Vania listen closely, as Megan starts to demonstrate and explain the components of the system.
Suddenly a rip of explosions shatter the air, a staccato burst of gunfire erupting from the direction of the camp. Megan looks up at Sonya, and shouts, “What the fuck’s going on!?”
Sonya yells, “There’s some sort of battle going on in the direction of the camp!!”
Sonya starts to scamper down the wall, as Megan tells Vania, “Take the students, hide, and don’t come out ‘til I get back.” Megan drops her gear and races off towards the campsite. Sonya is down in record time; snatching the first aid pack, she takes off after Megan.
Rushing down the rocky path, Megan opts for a shortcut to the camp, more falling than running as she bounces off boulders and trees to stay on her feet along the old narrow path.
Sonya, not far behind with the emergency aid pack, yells, “Wait up. Megan!”
The call fails to slow Megan. Adrenaline coursing through her, she plummets down the old path even faster. Sonya finds she has to revert to the main track, as the pack becomes too much to handle on the narrow path Megan has chosen.
Back at the survey camp, the explosions and shooting have dissipated, but for the occasional shot. Jack is the last one alive. Battered and bleeding, he kneels near a well with his hands strapped behind his back. The leader of what seems to be some kind of a guerrilla force begins to interrogate him.
“We know what you’ve found. Give us the maps, co-ordinates, and datasets” demands the leader in an unidentifiable accent.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jack responds.
The leader shouts to his men, “All of you, go through everything!”
“Where do you think they have hidden them?” says a young balaclava-clad soldier to the tall, wiry female in another balaclava nearby.
“I have no idea, but not all of them are here. One of the surveyors is missing,” says the woman, turning and looking at him.
“Don’t tell Blackall that, he’ll have us out here ‘til we find them. There’s been enough killing today already,” whispers the young soldier.
“Agree, plus, I’ve got nothing here. How about you?” asks the girl through her sweat-saturated balaclava.
“Not a thing. The real maps and datasets must be long gone by now,” replies the young soldier as he lets a map slip from his left hand which is missing two fingers from the battle.
“You two, find anything?” shouts a heavyset soldier with a sniper’s rifle slung over his shoulder.
“No Sarge, just standard maps, and surveying junk,” replies the woman, a tattoo of three spears clearly visible on her inner forearm as she gestures to the mess at her feet.
“Same here Sarge,” replies the young male soldier, grappling his rifle in his battle-torn left hand.
“Well, pack it up, and get that hand seen to properly. I’ll let Blackall know,” orders the Sarge.
A short while later the Sarge approaches Blackall, “Sir, the maps and information don’t seem to be here.”
“Last chance now, Mr Surveyor. Where are the maps and information?” Blackall spits in Jack’s face.
“I don’t have any idea what you mean. We’re only here to map rock-climbing routes,” Jack stutters from his bleeding mouth.
“I’ve had enough,” Blackall cries as he slams a rifle butt into the side of Jack’s skull.
“Dump the surveyor down the well. He can die down there.”
Two of the guerrilla force pick Jack’s unconscious body up and drop him down the well. The sound of shattering bones echo up the dry well as his body slams into the bottom.
“Okay, let’s move out!”
Soon the guerrilla forces have left. Dead bodies, body parts, belongings and surveying equipment are strewn across the campsite. Megan arrives at the site with a look of dismay, as she rushes from one body to the next looking for Jack. As she searches, she hears a light tapping coming from an old well in a corner of the campsite.
“Jack, are you down there?,” shouts Megan down the well.
“Yes,” comes a blood-muffled whisper from Jack.
Megan sprints to gather up some rope and gear to start descending into the well to where Jack is a broken mess. She rigs the rope and gear and descends at record pace.
“Almost there, Jack,” Megan says to Jack at just a few feet from the bottom.
Megan sees the mess Jack is in, broken bones protruding from both legs, blood coming from his skull and mouth, and begins to cry.
“Don’t cry, Megan. Honest, I don’t feel a thing right now. It’s just a bit hard to breathe,” whispers Jack as he gives a little laugh.
“What a fine time to laugh, Jack. You’re in such a state”
“I’m the one hurt here, Megan,” Jack pitches a shallow laugh again.
“I’m hurting too, Jack, I’m hurting too,” Megan whispers, as she puts her arms around to hold him.
They sit clasped in an embrace, Megan and Jack, in the dappled light at the bottom of the well, as Jack breathes his final breaths and slips away into the darkness. Megan slowly begins to cry again.
“Megan! Megan! Where are you,” Sonya screams at the top of her lungs, as she sees the death and destruction around her.
Pausing for a moment, she hears sobbing coming from the well, and rushes over to find the gear and rope.
Thrusting her head over the opening, Sonya yells, “Megan, you down there!?”
Megan, through her soft sobbing as she cradles Jack, responds, “Jack’s gone, sis, Jack’s gone.”
Megan gives Jack one last hug and a kiss, before she asks quietly, “Haul me up please, sis?”
Megan reaches the surface and as she hoists herself over the lip, Sonya greets her with a hug. They walk from the well side by side, thinking of Jack and reminiscing.
You know, sis, I never got to tell Jack I finally finished my Geosciences degree,” says Megan softly.
“It’s okay, Megan. Jack would be happy for you no matter what,” replies Sonya.
Megan and Sonya set off to return to where they left Vania and the students. As Megan stops still for just a moment, she feels the warmth of Jack on her skin, and imagines she can hear his faint whisper in the wind, with that laugh echoing off the weather-worn rock of Mesa de los Santos.