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The memory keeper, p.30
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       The Memory Keeper, p.30

           Lisa Stowe

  Chapter 30

  Cody stood with one hand braced against granite, breathing heavily and sweating in the cold air. A few trees had managed to find purchase years ago, sinking roots into pockets of soil, but for the most part she was surrounded by rock. Behind her was a steep trail she wanted to forget, and was already dreading returning down. In front of her was a literal wall of granite. This wall though, wasn’t smooth. Instead it had been folded on itself over eons until it made an old, weathered curtain of cracked and peeling material. Something that looked like it was going to fall down on their heads.

  Rachel had opened the pack and had a heap of rope next to her and a stack of clanking metal at her feet. She rearranged it until Cody recognized a harness with a sling that had gear clipped around it so thickly it looked like something you’d use to weight a body when you wanted it to sink and never surface. The one incongruous piece was a bright purple bag stitched with peace signs.

  “What’s the purse?”

  Rachel stepped into the harness, fastened it at her waist and put the sling over her shoulder. “A chalk bag. You use it to keep your hands dry, for traction and grip, you know?”

  “No, but I guess I’m going to find out.”

  “You sure are. Here’s your harness.”

  Cody caught it and held it out. “Where’s all my bits of metal?”

  “You mean caribiners, quick draws, camelots?”

  “Yeah, that stuff." Cody laughed. “You’re speaking a foreign language. What are camelots?”

  “You stick them in a crack in a rock, like a syringe. They open out until they fill the crack, then you clip the rope onto them to allow the belay person to catch you if you fall.”

  “I don’t want to fall.”

  “You aren’t going to.”

  Rachel carefully looked over all her gear while Cody wrestled the harness on. Ropes were checked and caribiners were thoroughly examined.

  “We’ll go slow and easy and if you get nervous we’ll stop,” Rachel said. “The idea is for you to have fun, try something new. But I want to push you out of your comfort zone so don’t give up too easy.”

  Cody just nodded, too overwhelmed by what she was facing. She’d never done anything remotely like this and really wasn’t sure she wanted to.

  “Your knees are shaking,” Rachel said, jabbing Cody with her elbow.

  “It’s the cold,” Cody said. “You know, I don’t have to climb to try something challenging. That trail took me out of my comfort zone.”

  “Nice try,” Rachel said. “Okay, let me show you how to belay.”

  Belaying was simple in theory. Both of them would be on the rope together, with Rachel at the top, leading, and Cody letting the rope slide through something Rachel called a tuber. It looked like a little pot with two holes at the bottom and a hoop at the top. The idea was that the rope would slide when things went smoothly but if there was an emergency Cody would be able to use the tuber to brake and arrest a fall.

  After practicing several times until Cody could manipulate the rope and gear, Rachel pronounced her ready to belay and started the climb.

  There was an odd sort of calmness in the midst of Cody’s fear. She’d thought climbing would be like hiking, but this was painstakingly slow. Rachel would chalk up, place a piece of gear, clip the rope to a caribiner attached to the gear, then climb ten feet and repeat the process. Cody’s job was to remain below Rachel, with the belay rope in place in case Rachel fell. Once Rachel was in place, she would then belay Cody up to where she was. Rachel coached her where to put her feet, how to place her fingers, and how to balance.

  Cody’s muscles were shocked at being used, but in the exertion, there was a slowing of time. In the middle of open air, suspended on a mountain, there was a sense of space enclosing, shrinking to the small grains of rock sandpaper rough against her fingers, the sound of her fast breathing, of metal scraping and jangling, of the occasional grunt of effort.

  It seemed to take a long time to gain any height, but finally Cody made the mistake of looking down.

  “Okay, I think I’m done now.”

  Rachel reached one hand behind her to where the chalk bag swung below the small of her back. “You’ve just reached your ceiling. Everyone does it the first few times, and usually right around fifty feet. It’s kind of like that comfort zone we were talking about. You break through this and the rest won’t bother as much.”

  “So you’re not letting me go back down?”

  “No. Look to your left and a little up for that face hold.”

  “What if I refuse?” Cody’s hands were trembling and she wanted to hug the rock, plaster herself against something solid.

  “Go ahead. It’s not like it will do you any good. I mean, you can’t get down without me.”

  “Some friend you are.”

  Rachel swung up, reaching for a minute rock ledge, and caught it with her fingertips. “You’re just pumped. You know, freaked out. That’s all.”

  Cody didn’t move.

  “Let go of the rock,” Rachel said. “Trust the rope. I’m going to belay you up to me.

  “No, I don’t think so.”

  “Come on Cody. Just a little further and we’ll be at our first crack.”

  Cody leaned in until her nose was practically rubbing against rock. She couldn’t go down. She wouldn’t go up. Her calf muscles were starting to quiver with the effort of holding still. Carefully, without looking up, she finger-walked her hand, feeling her way to the rope. But she couldn’t bring herself to lose contact with the rock long enough to stretch for it. She clung there, breathing heavily, for several seconds.

  “Talk to me about Nate,” she said. “What was he like?”

  “Smelly, like I said.”

  Cody tried reaching for the rope again. “You’re going to have to do better than that. I need some distraction here.”

  “So I see,” Rachel said, leaning out from the rock to look down at Cody. “Nate seemed like one of those survivalist types. You know, military surplus gear, wanting to be left alone.”

  “Did you talk to him much?”

  “No. And I didn’t want to.”

  Cody still couldn’t quite reach the rope and pushed against the granite with her climbing shoes. The friction gave her the tiny bit of extra reach she needed. “I’ve been thinking about Keith or Kendra being the one who shot Nate and Kelly. I can’t see Keith able to get up the trail.”

  “So?" Rachel pushed with her feet, swinging out and back, for all the world like she was in a school playground. “What are you thinking?”

  “That maybe Matt is wrong.” Cody grabbed onto the rope, hanging there and exhaling the fear she’d been holding. “Now what?”

  “Pull up your left knee and you’ll find that foot hold there.”

  Cody did as instructed and was gratified to find she could move upward a few more inches and wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life dangling from a rock.

  “Good job,” Rachel said. “Hang out while I set the next piece. Then we’ll try some crack climbing and then I’ll let you go back down.”

  Cody adjusted her weight and watched Rachel work. She took a deep breath of air so cold and clear it was like sucking in purity. The world was quiet up here, the wind a bare whisper in faraway tree tops, no sounds of water or even a distant hum of traffic. Just the movements of rope and metal against rock, of their breathing.

  She was clinging to the side of a mountain. She was trusting her life to a rope and another person. She was pushing herself physically, more than she had ever done. And, the thought came with a sudden expansion inside like an awakening, she was having fun. She was terrified, still shaking, still wanting to be down on solid ground, and yet, she could do this.

  “Okay, here’s the next hold,” Rachel said. “Right hand first, grab on, and up you come.”

  Another fifteen feet and they were at a long crack in the rock that ran up and slightly to the right.

  “We’re not doing the whole
crack,” Rachel said. “You aren’t ready for that and we don’t have enough time. But we’re going to go up a few feet just to give you a taste of jamming your hands in rock.”

  “I can do it,” Cody said.

  And fell.

  She only dropped a few feet, to the end of the slack rope Rachel had. She fell silently, with no time to cry out, ending it by slamming into the rock face when Rachel arrested her fall.

  “Cody! You okay?”

  Her forearms were scraped and oozing from where she’d thrown them up to protect her face. Her knee throbbed where it had hit an outcropping. Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn’t draw in sufficient air. Adrenaline pulsated in shakes so severe the carabiner in front of her ticked in time against rock. She craned her head back to look up at Rachel, braced in place and gripping the rope.

  “It’s okay Cody,” Rachel said, her voice strong, in control, and calm. “I’ve got you on belay and you’re not going anywhere. The gear did exactly what it was supposed to, arresting your fall. That’s why we set pieces so often, so you can’t drop too far. Some people climb with more slack, taking more risks, but I’m cautious.”



  “You’re babbling. Tell me what to do now.”

  “Get your feet under you, get back in position.”

  Cody did as she was told, finding the placements she had used earlier. Her breathing was coming back under control, the shakes were easing, and she rested her hand against the cold rock as she gripped the rope with the other.

  “Okay, just hang there. I’m coming down to you." Rachel leaned out from the rock face, almost in a seated position, and walked her way backwards.

  Cody took a deep breath, and then another one. She flexed her fingers, tilted her head from one side to the other to stretch her neck muscles, and realized that in spite of falling several feet down a mountainside, she was alive and whole and only superficially scraped up.

  “How about we save the crack for another day?” Rachel asked as she drew even with Cody.

  Cody simply nodded, surprised at how pale Rachel was. And not only was she pale, she was shaking worse than Cody had been moments before.

  “You look worse then I feel,” Cody said. “It didn’t seem that bad. Or am I too much of a novice to realize what just happened?”

  Rachel hung there a moment in silence. And then she shook her head slowly, as if in disbelief.

  “You don’t have to down climb,” she finally said. “We’re going to rappel.”

  Rappelling was faster and smoother than going up, once Cody got brave enough to sit back away from the rock. They dropped in rhythm, but silently, as if Rachel was tucked away in her thoughts. Cody concentrated on mimicking what Rachel did, her confidence growing the closer she got to the ground. When she finally had both feet on horizontal earth, had unclipped from the rope, and was out of the harness, she was so grateful she rested both palms on the rock face, as if thanking the mountain.

  “For a few minutes there I was actually having fun.”

  “Until you fell,” Rachel said, coiling rope and not meeting Cody’s eyes.

  “Until I fell,” Cody agreed. “And then I was having a blast.”

  Rachel looked up at that, but still didn’t smile, and still looked too pale. “What?”

  “Oh, it scared me,” Cody said. “Well, it terrified me. But other than those few minutes, I had fun. I can’t believe I did it and I can’t believe I enjoyed it. But yeah, I had fun.”

  “Think you’d want to try it again?”

  “Not today,” Cody said, and laughed. “But some time." She felt euphoric, weightless, as if gravity no longer had any influence over her.

  “I’ll ask again when the endorphin rush has worn off,” Rachel said, zipping up the backpack. “Let’s head home.”

  Cody fell in behind Rachel and they walked out into bars of weak sunlight, angling down from where the sun was sitting almost touching the mountains. The late afternoon was growing colder, and Cody could see her breath. Her knee was stiffening, and the braking motion of going downhill was making it ache with each step.

  Rachel kept a steady pace, not pausing to enjoy the setting sun, not tossing conversation back. Cody could see tension in Rachel’s shoulders, in the way she hunched under the weight of the backpack. It was as if the fall had been harder on her then on Cody.

  “Rachel, you weren’t responsible for that you know,” Cody said.

  Rachel didn’t slow down and didn’t respond.

  “It wasn’t your fault,” Cody said, trying again.

  “How would you know?” Rachel said, swinging suddenly back. “You don’t know anything about climbing. How the hell would you know if it was my fault or not?”

  “Because I trust you,” Cody said, startled by the anger she saw in Rachel’s eyes.

  “Yeah, well maybe you shouldn’t.”

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