By Eric Trant
If you are like me, God help you, your dreams buzz your ear, land on your shoulder, bite your neck, then flit away into the bug zapper where they die a well-cooked death. Then, if you are like me, God help you, you rub your neck, and you admire that little pain lingering there, itching so bad you grow your nails for a carry-around neck scratcher.
Ah, the dead dream, you say. How did that happen? You might even inspect its corpse, the crisped torso, the singed wings. Fly, you say, and toss it into the yard. It sort of flies. Does corkscrewing to the ground count? Maybe.
Farewell, short-lived dream, you say. My Neverland, and me without one pinch of fairy dust or a headful of happy thoughts.
Then you wonder: How did this happen? You rub your neck. Man, that nail is sharp. It digs, doesn't it? Why didn't I nab that little critter instead of letting it die the death of all things fragile and fleeting? Now it's covered in ants.
Well, I'm here to tell you why you missed your chance. Maybe, if you are careful the next time the dream bug finds your ear, you won't have to watch it sear itself in the blue neon light.
Here's the first thing you did:
1) Focus on the Summit
I bet that one got you. The summit conquers all, less the few who conquer it. It looms with its head in the clouds, its feet on your toes with the weight of it pressing your heart into your throat. It throws your voice back at you. It tosses rocks down the slope. Clouds crest and break like waves slit open by its peak. Even the wind flows downhill.
Before you turn away, disgruntled, disbelieving, too awe-inspired to take one more step, you might spot an ant or two way up there, climbing with their ropes strung out like tendons joining the bones of the mountain to the muscles in their forearms. Gads, you think, they must have the grip of a galdang ape, and the backs of an ape, carrying packs like that. And the constitution of a, well, mountaineer. They must have prepared for years. All that physical training. All the mental preparation. The costs of outfitting, the planning, the research, the patience of weather-watching...
And you walk back to your car, all the while sort of admiring the gullibility and naiveté of the young couple walking into the outfitter shop, Kustom Klimbs. Destined to fail. That's your last thought as you back out. That couple will never make it past the foothills.
2) Listen to Others
Now let's head-skip to the couple walking into Kustom Klimbs. You're on whichever hip fits your fancy, at the counter, and you nod obsessively as the sales rep marches you from hanger to hanger filling your arms and emptying your wallet.
It's a snap, the rep says. No problem. Just a few things here and there, some good shoes, and you can start up tomorrow. That tingling starts up as you envision the feel of the summit, the wind, your initials etched into the rock everyone talks about.
It's not that easy, someone says. This is a haggard man, and you can tell by the way the sales clerk eyes him he is one of those regular haggards. Takes years, the man says. You got to prepare this first. He fingers his temple. Then this. He wags his fingers. Then this. He taps his chest. In that order, he says, you got to be prepared. Takes years. Longer'n most got gall.
You been up there? you ask the man.
Naw, he said. Not worth it. Too high, and it's just a rock. She ain't never been up neither. He stabs his finger at the clerk.
We have guides, she says.
Guides are the exception, the man says. Not no regular folks, and they spend all their time climbing. Can't no regular folks make it up the hill. Otherwise, you're peckering around buying stuff you'll never use.
On they go, pestering each other about how easy it is, how hard it is, and at some point you and your better half simply walk out the door. That's too much, you say.
Amen, says the other. Want some coffee?
You hear a metallic tinkle up the trail, and before you open the truck door you notice a group of packers trudging up the trail, into the valley, into the foothills.
3) Judge Yourself on Results (Rather Than Effort)
Headskip to the packers. You are in the middle of the pack. You are not the first, but you are not the last, either. The last is that fat lady. Bro, she'll never make it. Nice and smug. That's you. Middle of the pack. Couple of cross-fitters in front of you, no big deal, and the guide of course, out in the front, but at least you are ahead of that fat lady.
Up you go, hammocking the camps, fording the river, three days of food in your pack, enough to reach the first base camp. Then it's up the mountain.
You made it past the hecklers and naysayers. You studied the route, bought the equipment, and prepared yourself mentally and physically.
You turn back at Base Camp I. Fat lady takes your spot on the rope. You waive at her, because she really was a nice lady, let you borrow her extra coffee cup because you forgot yours. Turns out she was better prepared. You'll never get there, you think, but at least you have cell phone service and the extra battery pack. You lay out your equipment along the rocks for an amazing picture. This stuff will sell in minutes on Ebay, that's what you think as you swipe your dreams back into the cloud.
4) Blame Blame Blame
Headskip to fat lady. Freaking hard. That's all you think. Embrace the suck. Hug it! Hug it! Don't let go of the suck, it's the pain that hardens you. It's the flame on your steel, annealing your core.
Stupid backpack, the guy behind you says. I hate this equipment, but it's all I could afford. Bought it on Ebay from some sap who quit halfway up.
He laughs. You don't. Quitting is neither an option, nor something to laugh about. Quitting is death, and you will not die on this mountain. You look up at the peak. Well, maybe you'll die, that could happen. It happens from time to time. But you won't quit.
Stupid shoes, the guy says. And this guide, is she taking the hardest route or what? None of us will make it if she doesn't find a better route.
He says that last part under his breath, because she picked up on the guide part of his verbiage.
He turns back at Base Camp II. I'll find another guide, he says. See if I can get my money back, because this trip is terrible.
Gotta find someone to blame for your failures, the guide says to you.
She is out of coffee, and so you double one scoop into two by using yesterday's grounds. You save one last cup for the summit. You wonder if you can boil water hot enough.
5) Quit When It Gets Tough
Up you go, beyond Base Camp III, the last of them before you hit the hard stuff. This wasn't the hard stuff? You look back at how far you've come, how long it took you to get here. Years. God, so much work, and so many exit ramps to soft beds, warm meals, hot coffee and bubbly showers.
But you did not quit, and you will not quit now. Up you go, carrying extra weight on your hips, your thighs and breasts, some of it shedding off with the exertion, but not nearly so much as those leany cross-fitters. You sort of wish those guys would stop taking off their shirts, but you also sort of wish they would. Stupid cross-fitters. Stupid way-hot cross-fitters.
You bite your tongue and refuse to lick your wounds. Your left ankle gave out, but you don't mention it because the guide might make you turn back. Soccer. That was the pivot foot, and it just don't pivot like it used to. Your right bicep is blistered from the backpack. You can't feel your lower back anymore, and let's not even mention the knees, nor the scars on both of them, way too much soccer for such joints as yours.
One of the cross-fitters busts his wrist. It's not broken, but he turns back. You can understand that, because you need your wrists, but the other turns back after he breaks his nose. The rope slipped, whacked him into the rock, and after a few genuinely terrifying minutes, you and the guide managed to rein him onto a ledge. Down he went. Can't breathe, he said. Can't see.
Can't can't can't. That's all you heard. You tighten your left boot because God in Heaven that ankle may be coming off when you get home. But it will come off ~after~ you drink your coffee up there.
Just you and the guide and these crazy cross-winds. You both lighten your packs, but for your flame, your cup, your coffee, up the last two hundred feet along an impossible trail. You make the sheer face and wonder how many pounds you left on this mountainside. At least two belt notches.
Some ancient creature had hauled up a hammer and chisel. You carve your initials in the rock. The guide carves hers. Turns out this was her first solo ascent. She didn't want to tell anyone until they finished, because she wasn't sure anyone would finish.
You celebrate with coffee. Really, really bad coffee, because no, the water did not boil hot enough.
About the Author: In addition to his recently published Steps, Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novel Wink from WiDo Publishing. See more of Eric's work at
Steps is a science fiction novel you won’t want to put down. Following the Peacemaker family through their battle of survival will keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what obstacle is next:
Society is falling to a ravaging virus, and the Peacemaker family is stranded in the mountains of Arkansas. Forced to band with a group of deserted soldiers, they battle to survive starvation, apocalyptic cataclysms, and a growing number of dangerously infected wanderers.
As their dwindling number struggles against ever-increasing odds, they realize they are not alone in the wilderness. A large creature is present in the hills, at first seen only as a fleeting shadow.
Now the family not only faces impending death from the unstoppable virus, they must also deal with the mysterious giant, whose footprints signify that he knows where they are.
Paperback: 218 Pages
Genre: Sci Fi
Publisher: WiDo Publishing (May 21, 2015)
Twitter hashtag: # StepsTrant
Steps is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon