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Chapter 14: Scene 51: Don't look down


       Neil makes another face, but he nods. "Be careful. Last Friday, when I slipped, if I hadn't grabbed some bushes. I would've fallen all the way to the bottom. I don't want to take no chances this time."

       I tie the other end of the rope around the trunk of a tree on the lip of the trail. With me egging him on , Neil backs down the side of the hill, one inch at a time, holding tight to the rope, his work boots slithering through the mud. I let the rope out slow and easy, until he dangles out over the maple tree. I brace myself against a root at the edge of the path and play the rope out until his foot hits a branch he can sit on. He inches down , wraps his legs around the trunk, and grabs it with both arms.

       I call to him, not too loud, so the others won't hear, "Pull the rope off over your head." He opens his eyes and stares down into the gully .

       "I can't."

       "You have to. It's almost noon. We timed this just right. They can't come and see a rope around you. You'll blow the whole plan. Get it off over your head." He stares at the gully below and then he closes his eyes and hangs on tighter. "Don't look down," I hiss at him, and then I look up the trail. "They're gonna hear us if we're not careful." All we need is for someone to come back down here to find out what's going on. I try coaxing Neil now. "Come on. It'll all be over in a couple of minutes."

       "I can't move."

       "It's too late to back out now. I'm going yell for them to come. To pull you out. You want to get back up, don't you?"

       Neil nods, looking stiff as the tree trunk, but he squeezes one arm out from under the rope.

       "All right. Now the other one."

       He pushes his head up against the bark. "Give me a minute." What seems like forever, he goes back to working the rope off his other shoulder. Then he eases it up from around his chest. I pull the rope up and Neil grabs the tree with both arms again, tighter than ever.

       "Look up here. Don't look down." Doesn't matter. He's got his eyes shut. "I have to put the rope with the other gear and go for help. When someone comes, start yelling for help as loud as you can."

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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