The fingers on her left hand slipped off the rock and she found herself tethered to the wall of the mountain by nothing more than the strength in her pointer finger and thumb. For a fraction of a second she contemplated what would happen if her calloused fingers gave way before her left hand found purchase against the wall once more.
It was stupid, reaching for that handhold. She laughed, thinking about how dumb it’d be to die here, now, so close to the end. Looking up, she could see the crest of the wall. She moved, hand over hand, until she gripped the lip of the wall and hauled her body above the rim.
She sat, legs dangling, for a moment, looking out over the pine covered forest floor that stretched before her. She could make out the tar-paper roof of the cabin she’d been living in for the past few months, nestled at the base of the mountain range. A faint wisp of smoke from the wood stove curled and dissipated. Her German Shepard, Sam, would be no doubt curled in front of the grate, soaking up the heat. She’d left him a bowl full of almost raw filet mignon that she’d been saving for a special occasion. She figured that this definitely counted.
After the blackout, when she’d finally gotten a signal on the little emergency radio her ex-boyfriend had kept, the first thing she’d done was try her car. It hadn’t been driven in over a month, so she didn’t allow herself to be surprised when the engine didn’t catch. She had enough food to last her and Sam a few weeks, but she didn’t want to imagine what would happen afterwards. She didn’t even know if her little shack would be safe, and even if it wasn’t, there was nowhere to go but deeper into the forest. When her ex had left, he’d taken his survival gear, and she relied too much on REI to supply her with the things she needed to live in the forest for a week, let alone indefinitely.
She’d never been one to dwell on what could’ve been; there was no point to it. The world was unforgiving and relentless. The world didn’t give a shit about you. Time spent being upset about facts did nothing but give you less time to react to the conditions on the ground. It was something her father drilled into her, before he passed. “Don’t worry about what should have happened, or what you’d wished had happened; it won’t change the reality of what actually happened.”
So she sat in her shack and thought for a few moments before deciding. She’d come up to this place to climb, and, to a lesser extent, for the views from the top. And this promised to be one hell of a view. So she’d packed a few things, cooked up the filet for Sam, left the back door ajar so he could leave once he realized she wasn’t coming back, and made her way towards the mountain.
It’d taken her more than sixteen hours to reach the top but, unlike her previous ascents, she didn’t need to worry about coming back down.
There was a small trail that finally led to the summit, and it took her about 20 minutes to reach the top. She could see Denver in the distance, little more than a smudge of light against the horizon.
She opened the bottle of Oban scotch that she kept hidden away and broke the seal. The familiar taste of peat and smoke on her tongue made her smile. It was almost worth the twelve years of sobriety.
The night was clear enough that she saw the exhaust trail as the missile re-entered the atmosphere. She remembered reading that most detonations exploded in the air, and she wanted to see the aftermath (that was the whole point of this final climb, after all) so she shut her eyes and buried them in the crook of her arm.
The light was still bright enough to penetrate, so she waited a minute before looking.
It was more beautiful than she’d thought it would be. Horrible, to be sure; some primal part of her screamed at her to get away, run as far from the growing cloud as possible, but the rational part of her told her to enjoy the moment, so she did. She enjoyed the feel of the wind on her face. The taste of the scotch burning a trail of fire down her throat. The burn in her forearms and calves. The view.
Then she took another pull on the bottle and stepped off the edge.