An Excerpt from THREE O'CLOCK by Sherri Ward

In spite of the cold, Bob could feel sweat beginning to form on his brow. Clinging precariously to the face of the cliff, he looked around for a better grip. There was a somewhat larger hollow in the rock above him, but he wasn’t sure he could safely release the grip he already had to reach for it. His toes were jammed into the deepest depressions he could find, but they were feeling less and less secure with every passing minute. As snowflakes swirled about his head in the howling wind, he looked at the frightening drop below, and was bewildered as to how he had managed to climb this high. His knees shook and his fingers began to ache with cold and from gripping the rock while he tried to figure out what to do.

“This can’t be right,” he muttered. Although his words were snatched away by the fierce wind as soon as he spoke them, he continued to fume out loud anyway. “Where’d The Manager go? How’d I lose the path?”

He thought about how the day had started out. He had arrived for morning coffee chat with The Manager feeling hopeful, thankful, and eager to get started again. Having early morning coffee chats with The Manager had been part of his routine when he had first begun his new position in The Company. He had looked forward to them eagerly, knowing he would be learning new things and that he would be encouraged just by spending time with him. However, it was one of the first things Bob had let go of when his attitudes began to slide.

This time was different from the coffee chats of the past, however. They had not been talking for long before The Manager stood up and said, “Bob, let’s go for a walk.” Then he had handed him a water bottle, and they had left the building together. It had been a beautiful morning with plenty of sunshine and not a hint of the storm they would soon be engulfed in. At first they had walked side by side, talking as they hiked up the gentle slope. Gradually the gentle slope had turned into a steep and winding rocky hill, and bit by bit The Manager had gotten ahead of him. Bob had kept his eyes on him and followed, amazed at his unflagging strength. At times The Manager had even run uphill, leaving Bob to try to catch up as he wondered just how unlimited The Manager’s strength actually was. Bob had also wondered just what he had in mind and where the path would take them. Occasionally he had stopped to take a drink of cool water from the bottle, but when he did The Manager had just seemed to get even further ahead, so Bob had found himself running uphill as well at times just to keep him in view. Eventually, however, he had lost sight of him completely and now found himself in this dire predicament.

“You idiot!” he scolded himself. “Why didn’t you just keep up?” He looked again at the small grip above his head, and then back to the depths below. His strength was beginning to fade, and he wondered just how long he had been stuck like this. He knew he had to make a decision of some sort, even if it was to give up and try to get back down. He looked below and tried to see the same toe and hand holds he had used to get this far. I’m so tired. But I don’t want to give up, I really don’t. Besides, if I try to get back down I might fall… With a sudden start, he realized in his indecisiveness he had closed his eyes for more than a moment. Drowsiness now threatened to overcome him. Bob, you dope, you can’t stay here like this, make a decision before you fall asleep!

His eerie sense of utter isolation was suddenly broken as a sinister voice spoke contemptuously out of the swirling snow. “Loser! You know you’re too weak for this. Once again you’ve done nothing more than prove you can’t be relied on to do anything right. It’s freezing cold and The Manager has left you all alone. This is grueling; who do you think you are, trying to run uphill anyway, and now look at you! You’re much too tired to go on, why don’t you just give up? You’re going to die trying to get off this stupid cliff anyway!” Malicious laughter followed the dire predictions, and then the howling wind was once again all that Bob could hear.