Dangling from a mesquite shrub on the edge of a cliff, nothing below me but sharp rocks a thousand feet below, I reach up for that helping hand that’s not there. It’s dark here on the precipice, dark and lonely, a single grip away from salvation or eternity. I hear the sounds of stones hitting the rocks far below, pebbles that slid with me to the edge but, unlike me, weren’t saved by a stunted tree whose relentless determination to survive allowed it to live in a place unfit for survival. My right hand, the only thing between me and death, is losing its grip on the branch. My left hand, reaching up must appear to the circling vultures to be waving at them, calling to them to wait just a little longer. “Your meal will be available shortly.”

Why did I come, alone, to the desolate landscape of southern Arizona? Why did I climb those cliffs and expose myself to rattlesnakes and demonic heat? Why was I so careless with that last step, the one that resulted in my slide down the steep slope to the edge? I allow myself these pointless thoughts instead of struggling to pull myself up.

“Hold on! We’re lowering a rope!” The voice must be in my head. I am alone. No one is here.

“When the rope gets to you, grab it!” It’s unmistakable. It’s a human voice. A woman’s voice.

I reply. “I can’t see you. Where is the rope?”

“It’s almost there. You’ll see it in a second.”

And then I see it. It’s a thick hemp rope, a good inch thick.  As it gets closer to me, I see that it’s tied like a hangman’s noose.

Her voice spills over me again. “See it? Grab it and put it around your neck. We’ll pull you up.”

I grab the rope with my left hand and slip it over my neck as instructed.

“Okay. I’ve got it.”

“Let go of the tree.”

Sweat drenches the bed. My chest moves with labored breathing. My heart beats fast. I try to speak, but my mouth is frozen in fear. But I’m alive. And my dream is just that. My right hand cramps from the grip on that tiny mesquite limb.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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