A bolt of panic struck him in the chest as his feet flew out in front of him. He felt weightless for a sliver of a moment. He could see the land and the water stretch out around him, green and gray, in all directions for miles.
It’s a much bigger world than I would have ever guessed.
Look how far off it all goes!
For Stephen, God’s creation had just proven itself deadly. As he hung in the air, though, for that weightless moment, it also proved its unfathomable beauty. The sky was dark and gray like the smooth cold slate table where Stephen sat so many Tuesday
nights with the Town Council at Council Hall. The water was gray too, but there were paper thin white lines scrawled all over it on the waves wherever they were cresting, and a couple of long dark brown aberrations which, he thought, were probably sand bars, though it was difficult to know for sure from two hundred feet above the water.Back in Paradise he often had nightmares about falling. He hated the way those dreams made his heart race, and his skin cold and clammy. He hated having to sit still for so long afterwards to calm himself down.
This wasn’t a dream. He was falling. He hadn’t realized how slick the bridge’s steel I-beams had become in the freezing rain. When the ice rain was intensifying as he made his approach to the I-Beam platform, walking wires weren’t getting slicker. He side-stepped along the bottom wire, and guided the top wire under his arms and across his chest and nothing felt different or any more dangerous than the previous two miles of bridge-wire he’d crossed. He must have been wrong though, because here he was.
The instance of weightlessness ended and he again felt himself being pulled back to Earth. Then, in an instant, he smacked down onto the frozen steel platform. He rolled onto his belly. His legs were hanging off of the edge, pulling him down. He was sliding fast and he couldn’t stop. He felt the edge of the platform pushing up against his ribs. He stopped sliding for just a second, as his bottom rib struggled to clear the edge.
His lower body felt heavier than he thought it should have. It was like the two hundred feet of open air between his feet and the gray storm of a lake below had somehow added a few dozen extra pounds. His ribs stopped the sliding, but just for a second. When he breathed in again, he slid another inch and his ribcage stopped him once more. His hands moved forward slowly across the slick beam toward the other edge. He thought he could reach it. His fingertips brushed the end of the platform, but he couldn’t grasp it.
He started slipping more rapidly. He slammed his palms onto the icy surface of the beam, and tried to dig his fingernails into the wet ice. He felt a hot dull tearing pain as the fingernails on his right index and middle fingers peeled backward and relinquished what little grip they were gaining on the ice. He was going over the edge. The edge was up to his armpits now. He couldn’t stop it.
God called him to walk a thousand miles, in every direction, and spread the gospel to the rest of the world. Yet, there on that small steel platform, two hundred feet above the lake and less than seventy miles from his bed, his life and his mission nearly ended. Stephen rolled, put his arms out, and let himself fall off of the edge.
He was thankful he slid over this edge, and not the other. As he fell, his right arm bent at the elbow and hooked onto the walking wire. As it did, he brought his left arm around and clasped his arms together.
The rest of his body jerked to a stop. Stephen tightened his grip and everything finally stopped.
Stephen was able to bring his legs up to the green steel I-beam he’d just fell off of, and pull his body up over the wire. He stood back up on the wire and stepped back on the sheet of ice covering the steel platform.
His feet slid slowly, right back toward the opposite edge. This time he wasn’t surprised by the slick surface and he held on tight to beam above him.
He gained control over his footing, and his situation. He looked back at the two and a half miles he’d come on the walking wires, and then he turned his head south and saw the two and a half miles he’d need to cover before the ice storm got too intense.
The wires, which were strung between these steel platforms, and on which he’d traveled half way across this five mile long bridge, were interrupted here. Stephen could see the top wire continued on as normal. It looked strong to him, and it was anchored on the next platform several hundred feet away. But he couldn’t see the bottom wire. It was gone.
Jennifer taught him how to tie a double eight harness. She and Stephen used it to pull felled trees, but she said that it could also be worn by rock climber or to go across a rope that was strung between two high up places, like the tops of trees.
Stephen thought, these steel platforms are just the trees. I can tie a harness, sit in it, and attach the other end to the wire. Then I can hang on the wire from my hands, and go hand-over-hand the whole way across. If I got tired, I could let go and dangle in the harness.
He reached into his side bag to pull out his twenty foot rope.
I watched her tie them a thousand times. This should be no problem. Plus, she made me that book.
He tugged out his twenty foot rope and let it unfurl. When the last of the rope popped out of the bag, Stephen heard a snapping sound and looked down to see what it was.
The rope pulled something out of the bag.
That something, it turned out, was the handbook that Jennifer made him.
Ice and rain pelted his face, while his long coat tugged and snapped wildly behind him in the endless wind. With his stiff, blistered and carelessly ungloved left hand, he pulled his black scarf down to get a better look at Jennifer’s book, Tying Proper Knots, as it fell two hundred feet below toward the bleak, darkening lake.