On Top

By Jon Moray

On Top was my second photo themed story I wrote for With Painted Words in June 2013. I did a little research on Mount Everest to fit into the story. Enjoy!

Shelby Shamsky braved the last snow crunching steps to the summit of Mount Everest that began at the north ridge from Tibet. He fought through years of enduring frost bite and several body injuries to realize a goal he set when he was in his teens. He finally reached the top; only 2,200+ have reached the apex before him. He knew more than 200 lost their lives in their quest.

He fought to endure the 36 degrees below zero swirling wind temperature while battling hypothermia. Suddenly his joy of achievement turned to panic when he felt himself losing consciousness with each toiling step on the icy terrain. He blinked desperately in an attempt to fight through the elements and not go numb. With each blink came a calming peace he finally succumbed to.

He tread on, now free all of the stabbing body aches as clouds replaced the snow at his feet and leafless trees fluttered ahead of him. The temperature was comfortable and the air bearable as he went to remove the layers of his climbing gear, only to astonishingly notice his body was now one with the cumulus of frozen crystals of cloud. A faint hint of eucalyptus tickled his nose as whispers were audible through the rustling trees. Bodies formed from the clouds and dissipated as he reluctantly adjusted to his surroundings. A body of a man wearing goggles with a bellowing laugh that disturbed the clouds, emerged in front of him.

“Congratulations on climbing the highest mountain in the world. You made it. Welcome to the place I like to call the waiting room.”

“Who are you and what is this place?”

“We are all floating clouds and this place is a form of purgatory, reserved for us adventurers that have died climbing Everest, the “Holy Mountain,” he announced, theatrically.

“Died? I reached the top…didn’t I?

“Of course you did. I monitored it myself. A very spirited climb, I might add.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You died,” the precipitous phantom said flatly.

“I…I…didn’t expect this,” said Shelby, as he scanned the misty terrain around him and at his shimmering form of a cloud body.

“At least you went out on top,” the greeter roared, followed by a crackling cackle that echoed into pulsating thunder from the other inhabitants. The greeter’s amusement left his form flowing in all directions until he gathered himself back into his defined cloud frame.

“Very funny. Is this is all a big joke to you?”

“Relax, you are amongst friends. I died on Everest a few months ago, but I reached the top as well.”

A sudden realization hit Shelby as he noticed he was standing on a solid less mass of white smoke.  He reluctantly stepped forward as if he was testing waters from a stream and was surprised at the lack of gravity.

The man went on to orient Shelby on the lay of the land as well as the obsoleteness of all of the bare necessities like food and time. A faint sound of a heavy swinging gate was heard intermittingly from afar but was not visible. He was briefed on the reception process of new arrivals and was informed the next one would be his to welcome.

Heavy steps of toil became audible to the pair as the greeter quickly motioned Shelby to the sounds’ origin. The man led Shelby to a swirling saturated air portal where on the other side was a mountain climber suffering through his final ascent to the apex of Everest.

“He will be passing through shortly. This one is your to welcome. Good luck,” said the greeter with a wave, as he body dematerialized through the tree branches.”

Shelby returned his focus back to the opening as he watched the climber struggle to his end. Memories of his journey crept back to him as he sympathized with each painful step. He saw the climber stumble to the top, listlessly stabbing a miniature British flag to the earth as his body followed. Faced down, his spirit exited his frame and walked lifelessly towards the opening, gathering cloud matter in its’ path. Shelby stepped aside as the life form penetrated the hole and entered disoriented, but curious.

“Congratulations on conquering Mount Everest and welcome to a place I like to call the “Holding Cell,” said Shelby, with a generous amount of Southern hospitability.

The man was as perplexed as Shelby was when he expired. Shelby stuttered his way though the orientation and related to the mans’ unwillingness to accept his fate. “At least you went out on top,” Shelby exclaimed with laughter, now appreciating the cliché was much more humorous saying it than hearing it for the first time.


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