Friday, November 13, 2015

Fiction Friday #4: High Ropes (with Link Up)

I got some feedback from my sister after last week's Fiction Friday. She said I should switch to first person POV and be more descriptive, so the reader can actually see what's happening. Here's my next attempt.

I welcome all feedbacks in the comments section.

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I leave lunch early, stopping by the drinking fountain to fill my water bottle before heading outside. I push open the right side of the double doors, stepping out onto the back deck of the dining hall. Walking down the wooden steps, I look out over the unnaturally blue swimming pond. The camp director uses some chemical to kill the algae, and it gives the water that weird color. The kids don’t mind, but I refuse to swim in the pond.

When I reach the gravel road, I head off to the right, winding around the pond and into the senior girls’ village. The quickest way to the high ropes course is to weave through the cabins that house the teenage campers. I note the bikinis and towels hanging out to dry. Unlike in the younger kids’ villages, the swimwear here is laid out nicely. It’ll actually dry. These campers, old enough to be counselors themselves, know the routines of camp, having come here every summer since they were young.

Five minutes later as I finally approach the high ropes shed, I see that Kevin is already there. He’s wearing his harness, and my breathe catches as the sunlight glints off his red hair. He’s so hot! …and he has no idea I exist. Despite our daily interactions on the ropes course, he only has eyes for Shannon. I sigh and keep walking.

“Hey, Kevin,” I call.

“Oh, hi,” he says. “Zip line today. Are you ready?”

“Sure,” I say casually even though the zip line is my least favorite high ropes obstacle. I’m terrified of heights.

I step into the shed and grab a harness. I finger the purple and green straps until I find the legs holes. The harness is made of the same material as a seat belt, but it’s sewn together to make two adjustable leg holes and an adjustable waist band. One foot at a time, I step into it like a pair of pants. I tighten the straps, carefully pulling my khaki shorts out below the belt, so I’m still decent. I wrap the belt of the waist band around myself and thread it through the buckle and double back again. After I’ve tighten all of the straps and buckled the monkey strap behind the back of my right left, I collect the harnesses for the kids.

I walk them over to the base of the zip line. I make two more trips back to the shed collecting helmets and other supplies. Just as I approach the tree with the last load, the first camper arrives. It’s 1:00 PM on Thursday afternoon, so I have 6th grade boys this hour. They’re my favorite. I can’t help it. They’re that perfect balance between little boy and young man. Not as awkward as the 7th and 8th grade boys and not as cocky as the high school guys. And it helps that almost every one of them has a crush on me…and all of the other female counselors.

Once all of the boys have assembled, I walk them through the safety procedures. It’s the same information at every other lesson, but it’s a requirement of being a high ropes instructor. Then Kevin starts harnessing up the first few boys while I’ll prepare myself for the climb up the rope ladder. It’s a more a rope net I guess. It spans from the base of one tree all the way up to the platform fixed to the top of another tree about 10 yards away.

I tie the bundle of belay rope around myself, so it rests on my back, like a backpack. We don’t keep the belay rope out overnight on this obstacle. I’m not exactly sure why. The first person to climb the ladder has to use two clip ropes. This is the part I hate. But I can’t let the boys know I’m scared. Otherwise, they’ll never climb it themselves. While Kevin has them occupied on the ground, I climb the three wood slats nailed to the first tree to get myself up to the height of the net. Then I clip the carabiner of the first clip rope to the first rope of the ladder. I step onto the net, reach up to the 3rd rung and attach the other carabiner. I climb the rope ladder as quickly and as steadily as I can, pausing every two or three steps to unclip one of the carabiners and re-attach it higher up the rope ladder.

After what seems like an hour, but is probably only about 4 minutes, I reach the top of the rope net. Leaving both carabiners clipped to the ladder, I pull myself up onto the tiny wooden platform 30 feet off the ground. I move the carabiners, one at a time, to one of the anchors in the tree. I thread the belay rope through the other anchor and drop both ends down to Kevin who’s now waiting at the base of the tree.

I position myself on the far back corner of the platform, ready to receive the first kid. The platform is only a 2 foot square, which is one of the other reasons I dislike this obstacle. Once one of the boys is up here with me, there won’t be much room for us to maneuver around.

Kevin hooks in the first boy, Alex. He’s the oldest of the group and he’s a little overconfident. He always volunteers to go first. He climbs the rope ladder much quicker than I did, but he has the advantage of being on the belay rope. He doesn’t have to constantly adjust carabiners. Kevin’s busy taking up the slack as Alex climbs, and I stay in my corner, leaving Alex as much room as I can to haul himself onto the platform once he reaches the top of the ladder.

When he’s safely on the platform, I explain that he has to sit down on the edge with his legs hanging off. This part can be tricky for some kids. Alex doesn’t seem to even know he could fall off. He sits down as quickly as if he were about to slip into a pool instead of off a 30 foot high platform. I’m kind of impressed. I clip him into the zip line. And as soon as I unclip the belay rope, he flies off the platform, through the trees, whooping the whole way.

Kevin has already sent one of the other boys down to the end of the line to unclip Alex. As the boys come running back pulling the tow line, I lower the belay rope down to Kevin, who’s ready to hook up the next boy. We continue on this way, working together without much communication, until we get to the last boy, Tommy.

Tommy has had trouble with high ropes all week. We almost didn’t get him onto the rappel platform yesterday afternoon because he had trouble scaling the rock climbing holds on the wooden wall leading up to the tower. He’s a hefty boy who looks like he should play football, but he’s really sensitive and wouldn’t want to hurt anyone.

Once he’s clipped in, Tommy climbs up to the rope ladder without trouble. The rope net starts shaking as soon as he takes his first step up. That’s the first indicator that he’s having a rough time. Kevin shouts encouraging words from the ground, and Tommy moves on, painfully slowly.

When he’s near the top of the rope ladder, I look over the edge and smile at him.

“Hi, Tommy,” I say. “You’re almost there.”

He gives me a weak grimace. He reaches up and grabs the platform, and I back away to give him more room. With some difficulty, he drags his body up so he’s kind of lying across the wood.

“OK. Nice job,” I crow, encouragingly. “Now, I need you to either stand up or sit with your feet dangling off the edge of the platform facing the zip line.”

I think the word dangling is what gets him. Suddenly, Tommy lets out a whimper. It’s quiet, luckily, so I know none of the boys on the ground can hear it. I crouch down as best as I can given the tight space and whisper to Tommy.

“You can do this. I know you can.”

He’s not bolstered by my comments. Instead he spats back in a harsh whisper, “Easy for you to say. You’re not scared.”

“Want to know a secret?” I ask. “I’m terrified of heights,” I admit, not even waiting for Tommy to reply.

Without remembering his own fear, Tommy twists around almost to a sitting position and replies, “You are?”

He looks at me open mouthed.

“Then why do you do this?” he asks, confused.

“It’s good to conquer your fears.” I answer, smiling again. “Look at you!”

Tommy notices his position for the first time and smiles weakly.

“OK. You just need to turn your body that way, so your legs are pointed towards the zip line.” I say, careful not to use the word “dangle” again.

I put my hand on his shoulder for encouragement as Tommy twists his body, trying his best not to look down at the ground.

“I’m going to clip you in to the zip line now.” I say, deciding it’s best to let Tommy know what I’m doing, so he’s not scared even more by my movement. I clip the zip line carabiner to his harness and lock it.

“Why don’t you check the ‘biner to make sure it’s locked.” I say. “Then I’ll unhook the belay rope.”
Tommy checks the carabiner. It’s just another distraction. I unlock the belay rope’s carabiner and move it out of the way.

“OK. You’re ready to go.” I say in a positive voice. “Ready?” I ask. “It’s best to do it quickly, so you don’t have much time to think about it.”

“Right,” Tommy mumbles and, to my complete surprise, he slips off the platform. He yelps a little as the rope catches him, but then he’s cheering as he zips through the woods. I smile wide as I watch him go.

Since he was the last kid, I clip myself into the belay rope.

“Are you ready?” I call down to Kevin.

“Belay on?” he replies.

“On belay,” I say. “On rappel.”

I lower myself off the platform. And Kevin lowers me to the ground, quickly and gently. I reach the ground just as Tommy and Alex come running back through the woods pulling the tow rope. Tommy gives me a quick hug and whispers, “Thanks.” Kevin ignores this and ties the tow rope to the base of the trees.

We dismiss the boys and carry all of the equipment back to the shed, not really talking much.
On my walk to my next class, low ropes, I think back over my exchange with Tommy. He’s the reason I teach high ropes even though it scares me. More than conquering my own fears, I love watching the kids overcome their fears. It’s amazing to be a part of the huge moments in their lives. At least, the big moments at camp.

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OK. Now it's your turn. If you want to share some of your own fiction, post it on your blog and link it up here. The link will be open all week.



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