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Sons of adam, p.2
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       Sons of Adam, p.2

           Myfanwy Tilley
 
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days,” he said cheerfully. “What about Wil?”

  His parents had married by the time Wil was conceived, but as Reid Palmer down-climbed the first pitch from the summit of Church Peak he began to wonder if that was the reason his parents had always compared him so unfavourably with his brother. Reid had been the smarter of the two boys at school, but his parents only ever praised Wil’s successes. Reid had been the better athlete, but that - according to his parents - was only because Wil lacked confidence in those days. Reid employed over two hundred people in his farm machinery business, but it was Wil’s job as a farm contractor - which amounted to little more than crutching and shearing sheep - that his parents boasted about to their friends.

  “I am,” Reid muttered under his breath, “just the bastard son.”

  Over the years Reid tried to ignore his parents’ favouritism, reasoning with himself that perhaps they boasted about him to their friends when he wasn’t there to hear it. But while Reid would try to forgive his parents, it was more difficult to turn his mind to excusing his younger brother. As far as Reid was concerned, Wil was a shameless self-publicist who never affirmed anyone else’s achievements except his own. Whenever Wil visited home, he talked endlessly and loudly about his successes, his plans, his holidays – he never once paused to enquire after Reid. He was a bore and he had abandoned Reid to look after their parents, and for these reasons, Reid avoided Wil as much as possible. In the ten years that his little brother had lived in Queensland, Reid had seen him on just four occasions.

  Absence had not made the idea of Wil any more tolerable to Reid, yet when Wil invited himself on the expedition to the Karakoram, Reid consented. Reid knew that climbing Church Peak would become a contest that he would not fail to win, and Wil would be humbled before all, not least their parents.

  On reaching the bottom of the pitch, Reid looked upwards. To his annoyance, the clouds had rolled away again, and he could see the apex of the peak carpeted in snow, radiant against a clear cobalt blue sky; pristine - except for the red bandana Wil had tied to a trekking pole and left standing at the highest point. He gritted his teeth and growled softly.

  Reid contemplated a quick return to the top, but abandoned the idea. The party needed to get back to Camp Two before dark, and it would be a very tight schedule: Wil had been extremely slow on the way up, and he was moving even more tentatively on the descent. Reid knew before they had embarked on the expedition that Wil lacked the level of skills required to climb Church Peak with any grace, but he hadn’t expected Wil to be quite so slow. It had become apparent on the climbs between Base Camp and Camp Two that a few of the party were becoming impatient with Wil’s slowness, and Reid had suggested to Wil that he remain there and not attempt the final and most technically challenging leg to the summit.

  “I wouldn’t have come on this trip if I’d known you were going to do this to me, Reid.” Wil had complained loudly.

  “You said you had the experience to do this when we talked about it at home. You told me all about all the places you’ve been mountaineering. Mum and Dad were there…” Reid stopped abruptly, conscious of how childish he was sounding. “Remember how impressed they were?” he sniped and turned away.

  Reid had known Wil exaggerated his level of experience, but he had been confident that he could get Wil to the summit and down again safely. He had also anticipated a moment like this, a moment of reckoning where Wil would have to show deference to him. In order to continue, Wil would have to admit he had less ability, he would have to ask Reid to help him, and the whole party would witness it. All of this gave Reid more than a little satisfaction.

  The remainder of the ascent challenged Wil’s nerve, but as the party descended from the summit, Wil seemed to have lost it completely. The first pitch they had to descend was less than thirty degrees and only fifty metres long. Everyone had easily down-climbed it without ropes except for Wil: Wil had asked to be belayed down, and even so, he’d taken three times longer than anyone else.

  “It wasn’t so difficult, really,” Wil said loudly as he joined the rest of the party at the bottom of the pitch. “It’s pretty straightforward to descend a mountain. I was nervous about avalanches. You know what I mean? We’d have no chance against an avalanche. No, this climbing’s not as difficult as some of the climbing I’ve done.”

  Reid shook his head; this was how it had always been with Wil.

  “See that?” Reid said to his brother, pointing down the cliff face to an ice platform forty metres below. “That’s where we need to get to. Do you remember it from the way up this morning? It’s on the lip of the crevasse, so be careful when you get down there. I’ll belay you after the others have got down, then I’ll down-climb.”

  As Wil tentatively inched his way down the second pitch, Reid began to feel impatience well inside him; none of the others in the party had taken as long to abseil down to the platform as Wil had taken to lower himself fifteen metres. He began to wonder if he should have left Wil at Camp Two after all, and whether, in the end, Wil’s capitulation to him would be anything more than a hollow victory. After all, he really only wanted to sway his parents’ opinion of Wil and, hopefully, enhance their opinion of himself. But they had no idea what was involved in mountaineering, and they cared even less. Reid gazed forlornly past his brother, beyond the party waiting patiently on the platform, down into the crevasse. The white slopes of the mountain poured deeper and deeper into the narrow blue void – a shard of oblivion tearing the earth apart. His eyes wandered the length of the parted lips of the crevasse which stretched like a bolt of lightning across the surface, open wide enough to reveal the frictionless ice walls inside with their voluptuous curves that rolled and folded sensuously to an unfathomable depth; down and down. Reid moistened his dry lips and leaned out from the cliff face, craning his neck to see deeper into the cold, blue eternity.

  “Let some rope out, will you?” Wil’s voice squeaked from a distant place.

  Reid started at the sound of his brother’s voice. He looked down to see that Wil had nearly reached the ice platform and realised he must have been in a reverie for quite some time. He fed some rope through the belay device, waiting for Wil to give him the all-clear. A few minutes later he saw Wil give the thumbs-up and then, after a few moments, heard him call up, “On belay!”

  Reid frowned; Wil was tired, and he didn’t want to be belayed by him. He called down for someone else to take over, but his words were blown away by the afternoon breeze, and everyone’s faces just looked up at him expectantly. In resignation, he whispered a brief prayer and, with a deep sense of foreboding, he began his descent.

  “Nearly there,” Reid grunted as he drove his axe into the ice a few metres above the platform. It was the most stressful down-climb Reid had ever experienced, but fear had been an adhesive, and he down-climbed removing all of the ice screws without a single slip. As Reid removed the last ice screw, he glanced down at his brother who was releasing the rope from the belay device.

  “Leave it on, Wil!” Reid screamed at him. “What are you bloody doing? I’m not safe yet.” Reid glared at Wil, uncomprehending that he could be so utterly reckless. As he waited for Wil to take him onto belay again, it dawned on him that something wasn’t right about Wil. In utter horror, he realised that Wil wasn’t anchored to anything.

  What followed happened in an instant, though Reid recalled it very clearly. He yelled for someone to secure Wil, and one of the party stepped towards Wil with the intention of doing this. Wil appeared not to have heard Reid, and instead of securing himself, he squinted up at Reid and called out impatiently to him.

  If Wil had not heard Reid, Reid heard what Wil said very plainly.

  “Come on, Reid. You’re holding us up.”

  As the words left his mouth, Wil caught sight of the other person moving towards him, and he flinched sideways. He tripped on the rope that he’d carelessly let fall at his feet and began to slide towards the lip of the crevasse. His fingers scraped at the thin
layer of snow that covered the platform, but it barely slowed him. The others scrambled to help, grabbing at the rope that tied him to Reid, but as Wil slid over the edge into the abyss, their efforts succeeded only in pulling Reid off the slope as his ice axe and last remaining ice screw pulled free of the rotten snow. Someone caught Reid’s arm as his body slipped over the edge of the platform, and he felt his other arm being pinned down by somebody’s weight. Another person grappled to clip a rope to his harness, but still he could feel his body being pulled down by the weight of his brother on the end of the rope.

  There was lots of shouting, but Reid couldn’t take in anything anyone said. Somebody was asking him something, Wil was screaming, someone else was calling down to Wil, but Reid could only hear the roar of the wind. Knowing he was unable to do anything to save himself and Wil, his thoughts wandered back to the frozen blue depths of the crevasse, and as he felt Wil swinging from side to side below, Reid imagined himself gliding between the curved smooth walls, ever downwards.

  Suddenly, Reid felt himself being heaved back onto the platform, there was no weight on the rope, and Wil was gone. The rope had been cut.

  Finally, Adam
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