The Great Explorer

Entry by: Alex Fleet

6th October 2016
Earth, fire and water.

I have travelled across the Earth, felt the burning heat of its fiery core, been lost in the vastness of its oceans.

I have run round the world, crossing the largest land masses, experiencing the aching, Arctic loneliness of Siberia and Alaska. I have travelled within the Earth itself, exploring vast cave systems, blistering my arms when descending into the very crater of Mount Etna. I have taken my small children across the Pacific and swum naked with whales. And sharks.

Now, at this moment, my palms are sweating, my body is rigid and my mind is screaming at me to relax and to shout in hysteria at the same time. There is nothing around me except air. It is too high even for the Eagles. The vultures who will peck at my carcass in due course, when I fall from this dizzy height, are far below, their black silhouettes wheeling in the currents of the valleys in the distance. I have been here before, in this situation. I always survive. But today, no. It is simply not working. I am standing here, at the very top of this mountain which no-one has ever heard of. That is why I have climbed it. Basically, no-one else has been stupid enough to climb it. Or at least to do so and tell the story.

The very top of this mountain is as large as an office chair. There is no room even for the flag. My feet take up all the space at the top of this pinnacle I am standing on top of, and the wind has now picked up. The excitement, the challenge of the climb, the final surge of adrenaline that forced me to ignore the situation and simply climb up here, this last few meters, like I was scrambling up on to an old tree stump, has disappeared.

I can not get down.

My rucksack is three metres below me along with my gear. Its just me and nothing. And the air.

But I can’t stay here all day.

I have taken my selfie. How do you take a selfie when there is nothing around you to selfie against except a view of other mountains hundreds of miles away. I held the camera over my head, made a movie of me, my feet and the chair’s worth of rock pinnacle I am standing on. Then I checked it. That was a mistake. Freaked me.

Forget the freaking. Forget the freaking height, I am just on a tree stump. That’s it, I’m just on a tree stump. OK, its made of rock and its several thousand feet up in the sky and it doesn’t have a nice soft lawn to land on. Well, not for a few thousand feet. Just . . . just pretend it is a tree stump, I’m safe at home, all I have to do is scramble down it like I’m at home, warm and safe in the back garden. I’ll be able to laugh about it with my mates in no time.

I kneel down, on all fours. Stretch one leg downwards, find a foothold. There, we’re going fine. Lower myself, the rock cold and hard against my stomach. The other foot has found a small ledge, That feels fine. Never mind that it’s a bit damp and slippery, its ok. Now my chest is resting against the top of the rock. I move my hand, grasp a small lip of rock. And slip. My hand slips and in a millisecond one foot slips and then the other, as my weight passes to it. I frantically scrabble my legs to find something to stand on, my hands search blindly, in vain. In the distance I hear the call of a vulture. Its sounds as if it is laughing. My chin is resting hard on a sharp projection just below the top of the mountain. I am hanging by my chin, eyeballing rock an inch from my nose. I’m aware of something close and a clawed talon touches my shoulder. “Would you like a cup of tea dear?”

I turn around in annoyance, my movement jerky and sharp. “I said, would you like a cup of tea?” Joyce is bending over me, her green overalls stained and smelling slightly of disinfectant and urine. In her hand is a chipped china cup with a dubious grey, steaming liquid.

“No. No thank you. Joyce.” I reply, rather too curtly, I realise afterwards.

“I was only asking, love, I was only asking. I thought you’d like a nice cup of tea”, Joyce mumbles as she sniffs and ambles off to the next victim. My book lies open in my lap, my finger stabbing the place where I was abruptly interrupted just as I was about to die.

Alice is cooking a meal from the one hundred and one handy recipes book she is reading for the third time. “Would you like a cup of tea, dear,” is asked of Alice, who, also, jumps in alarm at this sudden intrusion into her world. Brought back to the reality of the sitting room of the Seaview Nursing Home she looks around in surprise, then at Joyce, as if she has forgotten who she is. Which, in fact, she probably has. Joyce takes Alice’s silent staring as a negative and moves on again.

Alice looks around her blankly. Gazes out the window, unseeing. I follow her unfocused gaze. Beyond the smeared glass, the trees shake in the wind: leaves blow across a grey, sludge-ridden lawn, this morning’s fresh snow soiled and rotting.

Earlier I had wondered about going out for a walk. Now, I am cold with fear. I will fall, break my hip. I do not even fancy going out to the covered veranda and experiencing the cold shards of air cutting my face. I have not always been like this. Well, actually, I have. I have enjoyed dreams, of adventure, excitement, long travels far from home. But my job, as a foreman in a plumbing factory – I had responsibilities you see – stopped me. And somehow, I worried about train connections and foreign languages and foreign food and what would happen if I was mugged or injured or couldn’t find a bed for the night or if the bed had bedbugs. I was glad of those who had adventures and had written about them.

With them, I had travelled. With them, I had travelled across the Earth, felt the burning heat of its fiery core, been lost in the vastness of its oceans. An armchair traveller, me.