Friday Fast Fiction: Terror at the Top

mountainWith each passing month of retirement, Sid drifted deeper and deeper into life as a recluse. Nights were the toughest. Dark. Alone. Only the TV broke the silence.

One evening he was leafing through a local magazine that featured an article on area hiking trails. He tore out a page and promised himself to go on a hike the next day.

The morning was blue-skied with a bright sun and like the past five months, there was no chance of rain. At ten a.m. Sid, dressed in khaki shorts and a white t-shirt, rubbed his boots into the dry, dusty trail. He was 72 but from ten feet looked much younger. But this moment of anticipation of a great journey ahead was tempered by his forced personal solitude. His wife and best friend had died two years ago. He stood at the head of the trail as if he were waiting for someone. Finally, he took a step forward, then another—he was off with a purpose.

An hour later he was near the top of the dusty, gently sloped terrain. The vegetation around him was light brown, void of any sign of life. He assumed he’d see a further expanse of drought-stricken plant life on the other side. But his first glimpse left him in terror. A mountain lion, tongue hanging from its mouth, was ten feet away with angry eyes riveted on him.

For the past few months Sid’s mind had gone lazy. He couldn’t hold a thought for more than a minute and he didn’t care that even watching television had become too hard for him. But now he shook with fear, drawing up every memory of what to do when confronted by a flesh-eating, wild animal: stand tall, don’t crouch, make eye contact…give the lion room to escape. Yes, this is what he’d read many years ago one evening before he and  his wife went rock climbing.

Their stares were locked. Sid slowly raised his arms straight up over his head.

That evening Sid went to a bar where he bought a round of drinks for everyone seated on his left and right.

“What’s the occasion?” asked the bartender after he had served the drinks.

Sid stood up and slowly raised his glass high over his head: “To Life,” he said, not caring if anyone joined him in his toast.

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