Voices in The Breeze

Life and death can happen in a whisper or a scream.

My few friends call me Owen. Names are such weak attempts to identify who we are. We are nothing more than souls to be discovered and then gone. Forever lost back to the earth.

I had a close friend once. His name no longer matters. We used to hike among the rocks and mountains on the edges of the Mojave Desert. On one fateful day, we were trekking along a dusty forgotten path as was our custom. Dust rose from the ground with each footfall or occasional gust of wind. We had long since given up any effort to stay clean. Even in late September, the sun’s heat baked our skin mercilessly. Hot and dirty, we were thrilled to find the long lost ghost town nestled between the rocky cliffs of a small pass. We sat down in front of a dilapidated schoolhouse and gave our tired bodies a rest.

The warm water from our canteens soothed our parched throats. Scanning around the small town, I was the first to notice the dark opening in the hillside. On closer inspection, the dark entrance opened to a manmade tunnel. The old mine meant refreshing air. We would have to listen for rattlesnakes, but if we were careful, we might find something to occupy us until the day had cooled and we could return to our camping spot.

My friend and I walked quickly to the mine’s entrance. All we could think about was the chilled air waiting inside. I paused for a moment at the mine’s entrance. Only the wind could be heard blowing through the tunnel. We allowed our eyes to adjust, and our skin enjoyed the cool
breeze rushing towards the opening. We each chose a side of the shaft and pushed our backs against the wall. The sun provided a pale hue to light our way. We could make out rocks on the floor and the changing shadows deeper inside. We began stepping along the wall and had gone in at least 200 feet when I spied the end of the tunnel and could tell it turned in two directions.

In anticipation of what lay beyond we quickened our pace. Two steps later, the world changed. I heard my friend scream. I could barely make out the horror on his face as he fell down the black hole in the floor. His screams
seemed to go on forever until they quietly faded away. I cautiously stepped closer towards the dark hole in the floor yelled his name again and again, but he never answered. I picked up a nearby rock and dropped it down the shaft, but I never heard it hit bottom. My fingers desperately dug through my backpack, hoping to find anything that could help. My fist gripped a forgotten penlight, and I turned it on and dropped it into the void. The light disappeared into the darkness.

I yelled one last time before rushing headlong out of the mine and down the hot, dusty road towards our campsite. Three hours later, I stumbled into what had been our sanctuary. I dove into my tent, grabbed my cell phone, and called for help. The ranger station knew the location; we had not been the first visitors in this part of the desert. The ranger’s truck finally rolled into my campsite after an eternity. One Ranger coldly informed me that my friend had fallen into a bottomless pit. None of the rescue ropes or spotlights had been successful in finding the bottom. His partner told me that locals had quit counting the mine’s victims long ago. I argued about the lack of warning signs, and the rangers scolded me for not using proper equipment.

Now I sit here alone at the black, chilly mine entrance. All hope of rescue is gone, and my friend is lost forever inside the earth. I will never forget his screams riding upon the cold, dank winds inside.

Glorious

A deadly struggle brings a beautiful ending.

Liam hugged the cliff until the sharp rocks stabbed against his ribs. His hands ached, desperately holding on to the small imperfection in the rock face. His shoe stomped and kicked in search of a stable foothold. His foot dangled in the abyss, unable to find a secure landing. No salvation could be discovered beneath, at least nothing close. Eight hundred feet below tall pines and eternity waited for him.

With nothing nearby, Liam struggled to look down. Partway down his body, a shoe sized crevice tempted him to try his luck. Ignoring his instinct not to move, he pulled his free leg in and jammed his foot inside the crack. His body secure, he loosened his death grip. Letting his arm relax, Liam started mapping the final fifty feet of his ascent.

With an expert aim, Liam’s free arm swung around and grabbed a sizeable jagged rock sticking out just three feet above him. His other hand released, and quickly stuck itself into a nearby crevice and his foot planted against a crease along the cliffside. Each movement Liam made was a triumph over death and his limits. With one final thrust, his body dangled from the top of the mountain.

Liam laid there for a few minutes, giving his spent body a much-deserved reprieve. Struggling to his feet, he looked out over the lush green valley below. Pine trees and patches of farmland filled the scene. The sun was starting to dip below the top of the adjacent mountains. Liam had hugged God’s creation, stared death in the face, and now here he was, enjoying the gift of an awesome sunset, triumphant in his victory and faith.

Behind him, faint footsteps grew louder. Liam turned and spied a man emerging from a pine grove twenty yards away.

“Stay with me, boys.” warned the man.

Liam smiled at the family. The two kids drew close to their father, and the dad acknowledged Liam while his attention remained on his children. Although cowed, the boys continued to chatter.

Liam politely ignored the stranger’s children and focused on the sun dropping below the ridgeline with its last golden rays wrapped around the mountains. All four stood there in awe.

“Glorious,” whispered the stranger.

“Glorious, indeed,” replied Liam.

They waited as the gold turned to a faint pink, and finally, the darkness began to take its place.

“Come on, boys, get your flashlights. We have a long walk back to the car.”

The children and their dad rummaged in their pockets for their flashlights and headed back towards the treeline.

Liam pulled out his cell phone from his small backpack. “Sam, are you in the parking lot?”

“You know it. Are you close?”

“I’m leaving the cliff now. I couldn’t miss the sunset.”

“At least one of us got to enjoy it. I got here too late. See you soon.”

Liam pulled out his penlight and headed down the trail and into the forest beyond.