Henry did not know how long he had lain there on the cliff. His mouth felt parched, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He raised himself up on his elbow and looked down at his body. A dried pool of blood had formed where the bone stuck out of his leg. Henry tried not to look at his broken leg that often. His shin contorted unnaturally back towards his body. The last time he looked down he attempted to move his leg and nearly emptied the inside of his stomach onto the outside of his stomach.
Henry lay down again with his back on the rock looking at the blue sky. He felt around his Under Armour shirt and hiking shorts until he found his water bottle clipped to his harness. Instinctively he unclipped it and put it to his mouth. Henry knew it was empty, but something in him hoped water had magically collected inside. Not a drop fell to his lips, and in frustration, he threw it over the cliff.
The hot Carolina summer enveloped him in its heat and humidity, and he could see the sun was getting low. By Henry’s estimation, it had to be close to 5 pm. His friends had expected him to arrive in Boone for a mid-afternoon meal close to 3 pm. He hoped they were alarmed by his absence and looking for him. Henry swung his arm over his eyes. He felt tired and numb. Perhaps he could merely sleep on his unwanted perch until help appeared.
The world began to fade when something lightly landed on Henry’s stomach. He jerked and almost threw up from the pain that shot up from his leg. Henry opened his eyes in time to see a Carolina chickadee fluttered to a nearby bush. Henry was relieved it was not a carrion species. He closed his eyes once more. Soon he heard more fluttering. The birds began to trill, and it sounded to Henry like the world was covered in Chickadees. Henry was rattled by the racket. He plugged his ears and squeezed his eyes tight. Then something tapped his arm. I’m saved! He thought. Henry opened his eyes. Before him sat a man.
The stranger seemed to glow in the later afternoon sun, although his skin was a dark bronze. His face was peaceful with a smile spread across his lips. His bleach white hair and bright blue eyes contrasted with his darker complexion. Henry did not know why, but he felt both afraid and relieved.
“You can call me Amos.” the stranger said in a baritone voice.
It took Henry a moment to clear his throat. His tongue felt thick, and his words formed slowly. “I’m Henry. Are you here to save me?”
Amos leaned back on his arm and looked at the birds that had filled the surrounding bushes. “Beautiful, aren’t they? I love these little guys. They look so cute, but when they trill they sound larger than they are. These birds can put up quite a fuss for ones so little.” Henry wondered if the man was in his right mind. Amos continued. “I’m surprised you didn’t ask me how I got down here.”
Henry slurred his words. “A rope.”
Henry looked up the cliff. Fifty feet above hung his frayed and broken climbing rope, but there were no others. “Free climber?” Henry muttered.
Amos laughed, and the birds flew away in mass. “Are you kidding? I suppose you would think of that. After all, who tries to mountain climb alone? You’re an experienced hiker, you should know better.”
Henry stared intently at Amos. He forced his saliva into his mouth in an attempt to speak more clearly. “Do I know you?”
Amos shook his head and said, “No, you don’t know me, but we serve the same Master.”
Henry shook his head. “I’m nobody’s slave.”
Amos crossed his legs and rested his elbow on his knees. “Neither am I, but we are both servants.”
A thought entered Henry’s dehydrated and pain filled mind. “Are you an angel? Does this mean I’m dying?”
Amos laughed and the valley echoed. He composed himself and gently touched Henry’s shoulder. “Why do you people always assume the worst when you meet us?” Then his voice took on a more serious tone. “You might die today, that is up to you. The Master is giving you a choice.”
“Why?” Henry asked.
Amos shrugged. “That isn’t something I need to know, but it’s a privilege. I can tell you that your friends are looking for you, but they will be late, very late. It’s up to you to decide if you want to stay on this earth. When the Master gives this choice, some people say yes, and others say no. You must decide for yourself.”
Henry sighed. He had gone climbing alone because he needed to get away from his grief. The sudden death of his fiancé to cancer had turned his life upside down. Nothing seemed to make sense to him anymore, and he needed to get away. Henry knew it was stupid to climb alone. To compound his foolishness, he had not bothered to check his climbing gear before throwing it in the back of his truck. All he could think of was the solitude he was craving.
A single tear formed in the corner of Henry’s eye. He missed Jenny. If he let himself go then he could be with her again. Amos’ voice was gentle and smooth as he spoke. “I can see you are thinking about Jenny. She’s fine you know. If you are thinking of giving up just to see her, I should warn you. Life isn’t the same where you would go. Jesus told you the truth. You aren’t men or women once you arrive. You are like us angels. The love there is purer and better, but it is different. Don’t be discouraged, but Jenny isn’t missing you. The love around her is complete. So, take my advice, consider everyone here before you decide.”
Henry considered Amos’ words. How would his parents handle his death or his sister? He knew they would be devastated. Then there were his friends. His best friend, Trey. They were brothers at heart. Trey would never forgive himself if he didn’t reach Henry in time.
Henry let out a long sigh. He knew what he needed to do. With a voice of resignation and exhaustion, he muttered, “Live.”
Amos gently patted his shoulder and said, “Good, good man. Rest now. I will keep any unwanted animals away. Would you like my little friends to return and sing to you?”
Henry shook his head and Amos chuckled.
“Okay,” said Amos. “They can make an awful racket at times.”
Henry closed his eyes and a peace came upon him.
There was yelling, “He’s alive! We are going to need the basket stretcher!” Henry opened his eyes. Amos was gone. A flashlight shined on his face. A voice from the other side of it said, “You’re going to be okay, Henry. We’re here to rescue you.”