The teenager winced in pain as he attempted to move to a more comfortable position that did not require him moving his ankle again. Judging by the pain he was feeling, he was convinced it was at best badly sprained, at worst broken.
His father laid unconscious still, only the laboured rise and fall of his chest assuring the boy that he was still alive. Manfully, just as his father demanded of him, he fought back the tears that had been threatening to spill over ever since his head had cleared after the fall and he had realised that his father was possibly worse-off than he was himself.
A scarlet splash above his father's right eye suggested a falling rock or his head hitting the unforgiving ground had knocked the large man unconscious. Several times he had called out to the prostrate figure, but the deserted hills had stolen his voice and carried the sounds away from their intended destination, and no response was forthcoming.
The teenager was also very concerned about the position of his father's left leg; twisted at an angle neither God nor nature had intended it to achieve. He surmised that it just had to be broken: seriously broken. He was happy for his father that he was not awake, for the pain would surely be horrendous were he to be aware of it.
The teenager shifted his weight again, hissing between his teeth at the sharp pains emanating from his ankle which, despite his best efforts to alleviate his discomfort, still hurt anyway.
Although Adam Gurney was not a believer, he thanked God, or whomever or whatever deity existed out there, that the day was still quite warm. For mid-March, the notoriously fickle British weather had sprung a period of early summer on an unsuspecting public. Far from sunbathing weather, it was mild enough to be out-of-doors minus overcoat or pullover. At his father's bullish insistence the fifteen-year-old wore only a tee-shirt and denim jeans. He would have preferred to have brought along a sweatshirt as well 'just in case', but his father (in that tone of voice that brooked no argument and never failed to irritate his son) said no. "Just like he always does" Adam thought bitterly.
Adam loved his father because he was his father, but he found it difficult to respect him. He knew, without needing to be told, that he was a disappointment to the unconscious man.
It wasn't his fault. Nature had conspired to make him into a skinny, weak-sighted intellectual and not a clone of the huge, bear of a man his father was. Adam had tried to be: he had consumed pounds of high protein foods and vitamin supplements.
He had even undertaken a punishing exercise regime at a local gymnasium in a bid to improve his build. All of that effort ended the day he fainted dead-away after what his father sneering dismissed as a 'wimp's' workout. Adam was forbidden to attend the gym again. His small, almost feminine frame, refused to be altered and he remained, even to his own eyes, physically unimpressive.
A grunt from the direction in which his father lay caused Adam to look sharply around, almost causing the thick-lensed spectacles he wore to fall from his face. Almost miraculously, they had managed to survive the fall intact. He saw that his father's eyes were flickering as he slowly regained consciousness.
The trip had been his father’s idea. Taking joint advantage of a few days leave from his construction industry job and the unseasonably warm weather, Alan Gurney had virtually bullied his only offspring into accompanying him on a day-long hike across the barren Welsh hills. He had called it a ‘character-building exercise’. Adam’s protests that he had important schoolwork to complete were brusquely waved aside with his father’s “do you good to get some fresh air into your moth-eaten lungs” comment, and the matter was settled.
They had sat in stony silence during the seventy-mile car journey to the off-the-beaten-track region of the rugged hills, the disagreement over the sweatshirt still rankling Adam. It was so typical of his father, Adam thought to himself: dogmatic to the point of total ignorance and consideration of the needs and wishes of anyone else.
An achiever all of his life, Alan Gurney ‘knew’ he had a God-given right to be right just as he knew his choices and decisions were the correct ones.
He had chosen to be a rugby player rather than a footballer because he knew he would be a star. And he was. Playing at all schoolboy levels with success and acclaim, a promising amateur career in the sport beckoned until an ill-timed and clumsily executed tackle during one game left him with a back injury that rendered future participation dangerous to his future health.
Undaunted, and armed with a fistful of academic qualifications, Alan Gurney turned his attention to becoming a success in his chosen profession, the burgeoning construction industry. Rising in massive leaps and bounds through the hierarchy of the company that employed him as a brash fifteen-year-old school leaver, he held positions of authority at record-breaking ages. By the time he chose to ignore the passing of his fortieth birthday, Alan Gurney was, by most people’s estimates, a success.
For the most part, he was content, too. Only his son’s lack of physical prowess and drive marred his complete satisfaction with his life.
Adam’s father was regaining consciousness, uttering small sounds of pain and discomfort as he did so. Adam wished he would hurry up and waken again. It was lonely sitting there with just his own thoughts for company. However, the sounds emanating from his father suggested it would not be much longer now.
Adam needed his father to tell him how they were going to get themselves out of this predicament. His reliance on his father’s strength and experience were never greater than at that moment. In the meantime, he sat as patiently as possible, his mind travelling over familiar emotional territory.
Alan Gurney chose his wife, Juliette, for her culinary and bedroom skills. She was not, he admitted, the best looking woman in the world, nor the most physically attractive. However, she could rustle up interesting and tasty meals that always left his huge appetite sated. Her bedroom performance also left little to be desired so, where his physical and emotional requirements were concerned, he was satisfied.
The birth of their only child was not without complications and it was with an uncharacteristic display of tenderness and understanding that Alan Gurney comforted his spouse upon being informed that there were to be no further Gurney progeny from her womb. At his insistence they called the child Adam. His wife assented without complaint.
By the time Adam celebrated his second birthday it was obvious to all that he was not going to develop into the manly specimen his father was. Small and underdeveloped, he was a regular visitor to the local doctor's surgery with one ailment or another and, at times, the child struggled to hold onto the threads of life itself.
At five years of age Adam wore his first pair of spectacles and over the course of the next ten years had them replaced at regular intervals with increasingly stronger lenses to compensate his weakening eyesight.
Physically, he inherited his mother's build and unexplained illnesses that saw the household medicine cabinet bear an impressive array of potions and tablets bearing labels with Adam Gurney's name. His father, in spite of his best efforts, was unable to adequately conceal his disappointment in his son from his wife nor, more importantly, from Adam himself. At seven years old the seeds of estrangement were sown, ripening into hostile tolerance in Adam's adolescence. Luckily for Adam, he had inherited his father's capacity for learning and took solitary refuge in intellectual pursuits.
"Adam? Adam?". His father's pained voice brought him out of his reverie.
"Over here, dad. To your left. Are you alright?" Adam realised it was stupid question as soon as the words left his mouth. His father did not appear to notice, though.
"Oh, God. What happened?"
"We fell. I think the ridge gave way under us. I, I think I've broken my ankle"
"My legs are bad, son. My left leg is broken and the pain is killing me!". Adam did not like the sound of his father's voice. It was small and weak, so unlike the usual bass-boom that filled the air around him and dominated conversation.
"Uh, dad, you've got to lay still. You've had a bang on the head as well and you might be concussed... or something..." His voice tailed off uncertainly, years of experience cautioning him against 'speaking out of turn'.
"Got to get us help..." Adam's father said
"But your leg is broken!" Adam exclaimed
"Can't stay here... Be dark soon... Need a doctor... Get help... “He was weak, and Adam was seriously concerned about his father's condition. He knew that shock was often a bigger killer after accidents than the actual injuries sustained. Behind him, he could hear his father grunting. Looking around Adam was alarmed to see his father attempting to pull himself into a sitting position.
"Dad..." Adam began. He saw a familiar flash of irritation cross his father's face and his words died in his throat. He turned his face away as his cheeks flushed with anger and embarrassment. Suddenly, his father screamed: an unearthly agonised sound unlike anything Adam had ever heard before in his life. He turned his head around in time to see his father collapse onto his back, writhing in agony.
"Dad! Dad! DAD!" he cried, a quavery note of panic in his voice. He felt small, useless and completely inadequate as he watched his father writhing in pain, moaning 'oh God, oh God' over and over, his voice thick with pain.
"Dad?" Soft moans from his father.
"Dad, please?" Adam felt sick as he watched his father breathing in deep breaths, his eyes tightly closed, his face drawn into a rictus grimace of pain. Many long minutes passed before Alan Gurney began to breathe normally again.
"Adam?" he hissed between clenched teeth.
"Dad? What happened?" Adam asked. "Are you alright?”
"I...uh... I tried to... to move my leg... the broken one..." His voice was small and weak, the words barely whispered as he fought to bear the pain that still assailed him. "Pretty stupid, huh?" he added, trying to inject a self-mocking tone into his voice. Adam wasn't convinced. The scream his father had unleashed had frightened him. He was still trembling.
"Yeah, pretty stupid", he agreed, barely managing to conceal from his father the panic that was bubbling just below the surface of his self-control.
There was also a large element of anger at his father's crass stupidity, which emboldened his to speak more openly and freely than would have done under any other circumstances.
"Just lay there and rest, will you" he said irritably. He waited for the near-inevitable barrage of indignation that would normally have followed, but it never came. Adam looked at his father and saw that his eyes were closed, his broad chest rising and falling.
Peevishly, Adam thought that it served his father right that he had hurt himself when he knew his leg was broken. Immediately, he felt a sharp stab of guilt for being so uncharitable. Giving his father the benefit of his considerable doubt, Adam reasoned that his father had only had his - Adam's - interests at heart, which had prompted his ridiculous attempt to stand up.
Anyway, the teenager told himself, there were more pressing matters to worry about. Like what to do next.
As the severity of his father's condition had become clearer, the thought assumed greater significance to Adam. The afternoon was drawing-in and the glaring brightness in the sky of this morning had dimmed somewhat. The face of the wristwatch he was wearing had been smashed as he and his father had fallen. Alan Gurney never wore a watch, his own innate sense of timing being a good enough clock for him.
Adam estimated the time to be anywhere between midday and one o'clock. Unsure whether he had been knocked unconscious himself and, if so, for how long he'd been 'out', his best estimate that there were perhaps four hours of daylight left. The sun, which had drawn them into this venture in the first place, would withdraw it's warmth from the sky and allow the chill of night to reign until it rose again in the morning. He shivered involuntarily, imagining the cold to come, despite the balmy air caressing his bruised and sore body.
There was no answer forthcoming, save the sound of his father's laboured breathing. He called again, louder this time, but still no reply came to him.
Adam was becoming very concerned about the sound of his father's breathing. |It just didn't sound right to his, admittedly inexperienced, ears. It sounded as though he was struggling to draw each breath. Adam was acutely aware of the real possibility of internal injuries and the potential harm they were causing. The all-too-real possibility of witnessing his father's death whilst being unable to help or prevent it made him feel as weak and as useless as he had ever felt. Hot tears of shame pricked at the corners of his eyes and he hung his head in forlorn shame, fervently wishing that he had been anywhere else on earth this morning than at home.
Amongst Alan Gurney's many interests, outdoor pursuits such as this expedition today, came close to the top of his list of favourite pastimes. 'Getting back to nature' was his euphemistic explanation for uncomfortable holidays spent under canvas in inhospitable fields, miles from appreciable civilisation, save for the entrepreneurial farmer who had seized the opportunity to make a few pounds of profit for no outlay.
Ostensibly scheduled for a minimum of one week’s duration, these ’tortures’ had on many occasions spilled over into a second week at the will and whim of the senior Mister Gurney., if the atmospheric conditions appeared to be favourable. Once or twice even that consideration was overlooked in favour of Alan Gurney’s pride: not for him to admit that he may just have made an error of judgement. His wife and son uncomplainingly complied with his wishes, experience having taught them that no argument, however sound or well presented, would be tolerated.
As Adam has passed from infancy into adolescence his perception of his father, and of the fears and motivations that drove him, clarified. By the time he reached his thirteenth birthday, Adam’s keen mind and powers of observation revealed that his father was essentially a frightened man. His fear of being a failure in his own eyes kept pushing him ever onwards to a higher plateau of self-esteem, regardless of the cost to him in respect from peers or anyone else, including those who strove to give him the love and emotional security he so clearly needed and craved.
Adam knew a little of his father’s background: his paternal grandfather had been a drunkard and had been killed in a bar-room brawl when Alan Gurney was seven or eight years old. His father’s mother, a frail and gentle woman (and slightly feeble-minded according to Adam’s mother, from whom he gleaned this information) had worked herself into premature old age in a bid to alleviate the worst privations of poverty the death of her husband had plunged the family of one daughter and two sons into.
Alan Gurney, as the eldest child, had taken on the role and responsibilities his own father had vacated and the mental scars of those early years had left indelible marks on his psyche.
Possibly because they were younger, his brother and younger sister, Adam’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Georgina, did not appear to feel or understand the pain and loss of their father as keenly as their older brother. Their lives in adulthood had become no more and no less remarkable than their friends and neighbours.
For Alan Gurney every day was a battle to be somebody: to have all of the material trappings that spoke of success, and he pushed himself to the limits to achieve that goal. The Gurney home was full of testaments to his academic and athletic achievements. Plaques and framed certificates adorned walls whilst fancy cabinets of highly polished wood and crystal-clear glass displayed numerous trophies that bore the name of Alan Gurney.
The paradox, Adam realised early on in his life, was that however great the success his father achieved, it would never be enough for him. Sadly, Adam realised that ultimate success, in whatever form it came, would never come for his father however long he sought it. With perspicacity and maturity beyond his years, the teenage Adam pitied his father his demons and strove to be as accommodating of his father’s weaknesses and faults by being as cooperative and uncomplaining as he knew how to be.
His mother, Adam realised, had obviously understood her husband early in their relationship and rarely opposed him. Though never a man of violence, Alan Gurney could quickly fall into dark moods that, in their own way, were as harmful and distressing as a physical blow. For the sake of domestic harmony, she complied without demure for the most part and had taught her son to be equally as compliant from his earliest years.
Fighting to stave off the feeling of hopelessness that threatened to swamp him, Adam forced himself to regain his composure and think. The route his father had chosen to walk was across rough, largely untravelled terrain ("it'll be more of an adventure" he'd said), so the possibilities of calling out for help and other passers-by hearing were somewhere between remote and nil. This bleak, though accurate, summation of their circumstances did little to lighten Adam’s mood.
A mood that before the accident had been as light and as carefree as any he could recall in a long time. After parking behind a small copse of trees that Adam identified as ash, his father strode off, his back straight and arms swinging. Adam had smiled to himself as he likened his father’s gait to marching, taking care to not let his father see his mirth. He caught-up with him and matched him stride for stride. He filled his lungs with the sweet fresh air, as he walked alongside the bigger man.
All the while, his father talked: about rugby, fishing, the hills their feet trod, books, his work and almost any other subject that took his fancy, but mostly about sport. Adam listened, rarely interrupting with a comment of his own, surprised to find himself actually enjoying himself. He liked the animation in his father’s voice; despite the slightly gloating tone that crept in when he described rugby matches he’d played in and had been the star of. The teenager felt that his father was allowed that much, having had his dream of sporting stardom snatched away from him. Besides, days like this had been rare in Adam’s life and in spite of his reluctance to come on this outing he wished to do nothing to mar the day.
In fact he felt an almost overwhelming urge to his clasp his skinny arms around his father and tell him how much he loved him, really. The fear of almost certain rejection and the more tangible fear of embarrassment kept the urge in check. Instead he listened to yet another anecdote of a titanic school rugby match where his father had scored the winning try in the dying moments and had been feted as a hero by team-mates, fellow pupils and masters alike. Adam laughed at the appropriate moments and subtly encouraged further stories with murmured comments and the occasional question. Not for a moment did he feel bored or disinterested as his father walked and talked.
The afternoon had cooled noticeably. His father’s breaths were not coming any easier, Adam also noticed. These facts, coupled with the creeping numbness in his buttocks caused by being sat on the same position for a long period made Adam feel quite miserable. However. His concern for his father’s welfare overrode his own problems.
The pain in his ankle had reduced to a dull, bone-deep throbbing, accompanied by a tightness within the thick woollen sock he wore. Adam surmised that the tightness was caused by the injured area swelling-up. It was uncomfortable but bearable and all of the other aches and pains his body was suffering paled into insignificance by comparison. Urged on by his need to check on his father’s condition, the teenager felt reasonably confident that he would now be able to move without causing himself too much discomfort or further injury.
His father was lying behind him, some ten feet away. The ground between them was fairly flat, but strewn with small pebbles and larger, sharp-edged pieces of rock. Adam was concerned that he might injure his hands and thus render himself of no use to his father or himself if that happened. Deciding that it was a risk he had no choice but to take, having no other logical options open to him, he mentally counted to ten and raised his injured leg slightly.
He immediately cried out in pain as a muscle cramp knotted the stretched muscles from hip to foot. Unable to prevent it happening, Adam’s foot crashed heavily back to unyielding ground, causing another, more excruciating, bolt of pain to course through the injured limb. Writhing in mind-searing agony, the teenager shed unfelt tears of pain as a red veil clouded his vision and his world became wholly centered on the fragile bones of his foot.
For what felt like an eternity at least, nothing else was in Adam’s mind except the pain that seemed intent on destroying his will and his sanity. Gasping and whimpering he lay on his back, his injured leg extended stiffly in front of him, his hands clutching desperately at it while he willed the pain to end.
Eventually the worst of the agony seeped away until he was left feeling sweaty, weak and nauseous. He fought a second battle of wills, striving to keep the contents of his stomach inside his body. He did not wish to add the noxious stench of vomit to his considerable woes and it was with disproportionate relief that he felt his stomach settle again.
Several valuable minutes passed before Adam felt that the pain was again manageable. He wiped the moisture from his eyes, the saltiness of his tears and sweat causing the grazes on his hands and face to sting.
Gritting his teeth with a determination his father would have related to - and been proud of - the teenager gingerly raised his leg again. He felt momentarily alarmed when his ankle twanged again in painful protest, but no worse. He released the breath he was unaware he was holding as he slowly and carefully lowered the leg again and surveyed the distance between himself and his father.
‘C’mon, Adam’ he encouraged himself, ‘you can make it. It’s not that far, now...GO!’
After feeling for clear ground and brushing away and detritus he found, he carefully placed his hands palm-down behind his back. Using his uninjured leg for leverage and with his injured leg raised a few inches off the ground, he pushed himself backwards. Using his hands to pull himself along and raising his buttocks a couple of inches to aid the process he managed to move himself eight or ten inches. Grunting in satisfaction at what he had achieved, he placed his hands again and repeated the manouvre...
They had walked for over an hour, the sun a brilliant flare in the cloudless azure sky, when they had crested a small rise on the path they wear treading and his father had stopped. Adam stood alongside him, a small slight figure against the much taller and well-built older man.
“Son, this country has many faults” he intoned, but when you see a view like that, doesn’t it make you proud to live in Britain?” The tone of his voice made it perfectly clear to Adam that he was proud of it, make no mistake.
It was indeed a spectacular view: mile upon mile of rolling greenery stretching to the hazy horizon, dotted here and there with flocks of sheep and statuesque herd of cows standing in postage-stamp-size fields, their boundaries seemingly marked out with precision-laid hedgerows. Even with his defective eyesight Adam could determine the bright red of a toy-sized tractor making its chugging way across a field whilst, in another, shirtless labourers toiled in the sunshine. Clumps of stubby bushes and stands of trees dotted the landscape whilst the sounds of birdsong and the busy buzzing of industrious insects in the grass and air gave the vista and almost dreamlike quality.
“It’s beautiful” Adam whispered softly, almost reverentially. He felt the weight of his father’s arm rest gently on his slender shoulders and the two of them, father and son, stood together in companionable silence for several minutes, the moment becoming something special as it stretched out.
For Alan Gurney it felt to him confirmation that his struggle to overcome the tribulations of his upbringing were meant for him to relish the precious and simple things in life such as the panorama he was now admiring.
Adam’s heart swelled with a love and pride that, until that moment, he was not consciously aware was within him. Incongruously, he felt tears pricking at his eyelids, so overcome was he with this exciting revelation. Breathing deeply of the crisp, invigorating air and gazing silently at the view before him, he felt that he could quite happily have died there and then without a moment’s regret.
Panting heavily and sweating profusely, the muscles in his arms and shoulders spasming with exhaustion, Adam shuffled towards his father. He was tired, but a small thrill of exhilaration buoyed his spirits at the recognition of his small victory over the situation. Laying on his back, he rested his aching body for a few minutes.
The seat of his jeans had torn at some point and he could feel grit and small stones pressing against his buttocks, obviously having worked their way through the tear. It was uncomfortable but a minor irritation compared to the ache in his damaged leg. He carefully flexed the leg at the knee in a bid to encourage blood circulation again. Each bend felt like a cruel hand was viciously squeezing the bloated flesh around the injury. He persisted with the exercise anyway, fearing his leg would deaden and become even more of a handicap than it already was.
Satisfied he had eased the worst of the ache out of it, he repeated the process with his other ‘good’ leg until the stiffness and discomfort had been alleviated to a tolerable level. He flexed his tired arms and fingers until he felt a modicum of strength return to them, then turned his attention to his father, who had not given the slightest indication of being aware of his son’s proximity.
Vigorously shaking his father’s shoulder produced no response from him. Calling out ‘Dad! Dad!’ did not help, either. Adam became alarmed at the cool clamminess of his father’s skin. Coupled with the breathing difficulties he was experiencing, it was clear that he was in very bad shape and in serious need of urgent medical attention. Adam had only rudimentary ideas about emergency first aid and was momentarily at a loss to think of anything he could do to render assistance to his father.
he knew that there was absolutely nothing he could do about his broken leg or the head would, which was actually much worse than it had appeared from a distance. The wound was a large and deep-looking gash that had bled profusely. It had stopped bleeding if its own accord and the blood had tried to an unpleasant rust colour.
laying on his back with his leg twisted grotesquely under him, he did no appear the imposing figure he had earlier in the day. Adam had seen or read or heard somewhere that accident victims should, where practicable, be placed in something called the recovery position. It came to him in a flash of memory: a short item on a children’s television programme and in his mind’s eye he saw the friendly, cheerful presenter practicing the manoeuvre on his fellow presenter, his voice tone serious and professional-sounding, unlike his usual cheerful bantering voice. Adam’s memory heard the presenter intoning that victims of accidents often suffocated to death through swallowing their own tongue. Looking at his father, Adam felt that that scenario was a strong possibility in his case.
Fear of further hurting his father and potentially exacerbating his already serious injuries caused the teenager to hesitate for a moment. He debated with himself whether it would better to take that risk, regardless of the consequences or to leave things as they were and effectively gamble that his father would not suffer suffocation.
It was a brief, ‘no-contest’ debate: he did not have the right to gamble with his father’s life and, in spite of his reluctance to be the cause of further pain to him, Adam determined that he had to move him. The thought that his father may have broken his back flickered through Adam’s mind, but he dismissed the idea before it could take root, not willing to even consider the possibility.
Adam was seated alongside his father’s right, uninjured leg. Pondering the situation for a few moments, he decided that he would have to turn his father onto the side of his most serious injury to reduce unnecessary movement. Adam carefully got himself into a kneeling position, then placed one hand as far under his father’s right shoulder as he was able to reach and the other on his hip and attempted to lift the bigger man. He shifted barely a fraction of an inch. Again, Adam tried to lift his father’s dead weight without noticeable success.
Sweat broke out on his brow, running into his eyes and blurring his vision. He shook his head angrily as he cried out in frustration ‘for Christ’s sake, give me a fucking BREAK’ as he took a deep breath and gritted his teeth. Setting his face into a mask of do-or-die determination Adam attempted the manoeuvre again. He felt a surge of adrenalin flood his veins and the apparently immovable moved, rising almost gracefully in his hands. For a split second it appeared that his father was going to roll right over onto his front. Adam swiftly thrust out a trembling hand to stay his movement and he settled into the desired position. Adam whooped ‘yes! yes! yes!’ in delight and quickly shuffled himself around his father’s inert body. He was pleased beyond measure to note that he was now breathing more easily, his tongue lolling from the side of his slack jaw. “Perfect” he told the surrounding emptiness.
A little more than an hour after they had paused to admire the views the hills afforded, Adam and his father had stopped again to eat the hastily cobbled lunch Juliette Gurney had prepared for them. While his father liberated an assortment of sandwiches from the swathes of cling film in which they were imprisoned, Adam relieved his bladder behind a conveniently placed nearby bush.
They were at the top of a cliff that overlooked a rubble-strewn valley some sixty feet below. This view was in complete contrast to that which had filled them with such awe earlier, but no less impressive for that, Adam thought. The barren and wild vista brought to his fertile imagination images of prehistoric beasts roaming this land, untroubled by the presence of the few Neanderthals who would one day become the dominant species on the fledgling planet they ruled.
Adam had no idea whether dinosaurs did actually roam this part of the British Isles, but the images in his mind and the prehistoric-looking landscape that he was viewing suggested at least the possibility.
He sat cross-legged, he munched contentedly on a sandwich and crisps, still basking in the warmth of this special time with his father. They ate in silence, words being superfluous. Adam sipped thoughtfully on the vitamin-enriched fruit drink his father insisted they bring “for energy”. It wasn’t Adam’s favourite flavour, but he sucked the fluid gratefully through the straw that came with the soft carton, feeling more relaxed and at ease in his father’s company than he ever had. ‘Perhaps’, he mused to himself,’ today is the beginning of a new start for us’. He refused to allow the nagging voice of doubt to cloud his optimism. Today, nothing was going to spoil his good mood.
“Finished?” his father asked pleasantly, indicating the drink carton Adam held.
“Just a moment” he replied, sucking the last of the drink through the straw, the gurgling, bubbling noises sounding rude and almost obscene in the still and quiet. To Adam’s surprise, on a day of surprises, his father smiled genially as he reached for the proffered carton and Adam returned his smile warmly.
“Listen, son” his father began in a businesslike and lecturing tone, “nothing annoys me more than seeing beautiful places like this spoilt by ignorant people, morons most of them, who leave their rubbish all over the place”. Adam said nothing, but nodded in agreement. It was a familiar gripe of his father’s and he had, at times, railed at length and with vehemence at inconsiderate picnickers who despoiled beauty spots with their litter. If litter bins were provided and not used he was, if the mood took him, likely to fume for hours. However, today was not to be one of those times and he continued talking in a pleasant tone.
“Responsible people take their rubbish home with them if they can’t dispose of it sensibly” he said. “Alternately, they conceal it where it won’t be a nuisance. As I don’t want to carry a load of rubbish around for the rest of the day - and I’m sure you don’t either..?” he paused, looking at his son, waiting for the obvious answer to his unasked question. Adam shook his head in the negative. “In that case, we’ll bury it” he said decisively.
While he collected their rubbish together into a supermarket carrier bag Adam, as instructed, scoured the surrounding area for a large stick or sharp piece of rock with which to dig a hole. It seemed to Adam that all of the stones and pebbles in the immediate vicinity where wholly inadequate for his father’s purpose and there was not a stick of any description to be found.
“Ah, this’ll do” his father said from the cliff edge.
A sharp, triangular point of grey rock protruded about eight inches from the dusty ground. As Adam approached, his father sat on his haunches and began to tug vigorously on it. The rock, which had lain undisturbed for many, many years, was unwilling to readily relinquish its hold on the soil in which it was embedded. However, the man’s determination and strength weakened its position and it gradually worked loose under the attack it was subjected to.
“Bigger than it looked” Alan Gurney grunted to his son as the stubborn rock gave up the uneven contest and revealed its damp lower half to the warm air for the first time in many decades. With his son alongside him and the rock in hand, Adam’s father stood upright and made to step back from the cliff edge. Suddenly, the ground beneath their feet, weakened by the removal of the large rock, fell away. For a split second, as realisation dawned on father and son, they both wore identical expressions of horror as their world literally fell away from them and they were plunged helplessly into emptiness.
Adam was tired and thirsty. He had expended a lot of energy in moving, first himself, then his father. His abused body cried out for rest, but still high on the adrenalin rush he had experienced a short time ago, Adam felt he could accomplish anything. However, the nagging voice of reason cautioned against rashness: to be of further assistance to his father or himself required a cool head and carefully thought-out actions. He knew that he had done well so far, given the circumstances. An old adage about a battle won does not win a war came to his mind. This ‘war’, the teenager acknowledged, was a long way from being won. It was time to assess and plan.
His throat was parched and raw from his exertions so far. He remembered the two spare cartons of drink on the cliff top.
“Might as well be a million miles away” he thought sourly as he surveyed the bracken-covered and rock-strewn slope between himself and the thirst-quenching fluid. Mentally tearing his thoughts away from the imaginary feel of the liquid wetting his throat, Adam turned his attention back to the more pressing and urgent problem of getting medical help for his father.
The idea of somehow trying to carry the unconscious man flitted through his mind, then flitted away as quickly as it has arrived. Lame himself and his father comatose and weighing probably three times as much as Adam himself, the idea did not even warrant momentary contemplation. On his small but determined shoulders had fallen the onerous burden of responsibility for finding a way out of this dilemma in a calm and adult manner. The teenager sat and pondered.
His father’s car was the most obvious point to make for, he reasoned. In his mind’s eye he could see the mobile telephone that was neatly fitted to the dashboard. it was potentially a life-saver... if he could get to it.
He estimated that, allowing for their stops en route he and his father had walked at a leisurely but steady pace for about two and a half hours, covering at most, he calculated, about five miles. His heart sunk at the thought of having to retrace their route alone and in falling darkness. However a quick, guilty, look at his father’s pallid face was all the motivation he needed to tell himself that not only could he do it, he had to do it.
Before he could contemplate that stage, there was the small matter of a sixty feet rise to negotiate first. The cliff appeared to extended for some distance in both directions and Adam was wary of using up valuable time in trying to find a way round rather than taking the more direct route; back up the way he and his father had fallen.
For a reasonably fit person the climb would pose no more than a strenuous but not altogether unpleasant exercise. For a less-than-physically-imposing fifteen year old boy with a possibly broken ankle..? Refusing to become overawed by the scale of the task ahead of him, Adam nodded to himself confidently, more confidently than he actually felt, as he made up his mind to attempt the scent.
"Dad, I'm going to get help" he told the recumbent figure. "I don't know how long I'll be, but I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?" he added. Only the sound of his father's breathing answered him. Leaning towards his father's ear Adam whispered an emotion-choked 'I love you, Dad' and patted him affectionately on the shoulder before turning his mind and body to the task ahead of him.
Adam immediately realised that his previous mode of moving was not going to be adequate or practical to tackle the climb. The cliff sloped gently, but was too steep to enable him to negotiate it from a sitting position. Only by getting himself upright could he hope to achieve his objective. Using his father as leverage, Adam cautiously eased himself upright on his uninjured leg., wobbling uncertainly before plucking up the courage to stand unaided, his injured foot as close to the ground as he dared for balance. Satisfied that he was not going to fall, he muttered 'right, hop to it, Adam', giggling nervously at his own pun before hopping forward.
Crying out in pain he collapsed to the ground again as sharp bolts of pain travelled the length of his injured leg, numbing his mind for long moments. Bright dots of light filled his eyes and a wave of nausea brought the sour taste of bile into his throat as he lay as still as he was able, waiting out the waves of agony. The shock from the single hopping movement seemed to have bypassed every other part of his body and centred on his most vulnerable point: his injured ankle. He gasped and panted as he fought the despair that threatened to overwhelm him. For several minutes the teenager lay with his eyes closed until the pain receded to a manageable level and rational thought returned to him.
"Okay, it hurts to do that, right?" he asked himself. "I knew it was going to hurt, didn't I?" The question was rhetorical. He had subconsciously accepted that there was likely to be some discomfort, but had be unprepared for the degree of actual pain he had experienced. So, do I just give up!" he scolded himself as he struggled to an upright position again. "No pain, no gain, right? he muttered through gritted teeth as he braced himself for the pain to come and prepared to hop again. He clenched his jaw tightly shut, closed his eyes and hopped.
The pain was as intense as before, but before it could overwhelm him, he hopped again, then again, gaining in confidence as the base of the slope grew larger in his sight as the distance shortened. Panting loudly from effort and the intense pain every hop caused him, Adam hopped awkwardly forward. He almost lost his balance when his lead leg landed on a large stone and twisted his foot away from the direction in which he was moving. Only willpower and defying the laws of gravity kept him upright and it was with huge relief that he leaned against a sparse, leafless tree trunk that could have been any one of a hundred varieties, Adam paused to regain his breath.
He allowed himself but a couple of minutes to bring his breathing back to a more normal level before casting a final glance at his father. Urging himself to continue he pushed himself away from the tree.
A large rock was several feet in front of him at the base of the slope. He hopped toward it and grasped its rough surface gratefully with his sore hands. He pulled on it as hard as he was able to test how securely it was wedged before entrusting his weight to it. Leaning against its solidity, Adam surveyed the slope in front of him.
A healthy-looking gorse bush was within easy reach. Adam placed his lead leg in front and propelled himself forward, his fingers gratefully grasping the bush securely. Without pause he groped blindly for his next hand-hold - another lump of the coarse grey rock that dotted the slope - and began his slow ungainly climb.
The discomfort from his injured ankle was a constant reminder to him to exercise caution as the first ten feet were negotiated. It was slowing his progress considerably, having to be kept raised and avoiding contact with the ground. His other leg was tiring quickly with the demands he was making on it. Adam realised that his inadequate stamina would not enable him to complete the climb in the manner he had so far employed. Looking up the slope he saw that there were far more potential hand and footholds than he had been thus far able to use. Making the decision before he gave himself time to dismiss the idea, Adam lay himself as flat on the slope as he was able to and began to crawl his way up.
He discovered that his progress became much swifter and considerably easier. As the ridge loomed closer, his confidence grew and his spirits began to rise again. He thought he must have presented a ridiculous picture had anyone been there to see him: a skinny kid in a filthy tee-shirt and ripped jeans scrabbling crab-like up the slope, one leg cocked behind him. he uttered a humourless bark of a laugh as he manouvred himself to his next position, his attention concentrated on the near-enough-to-touch ridge above him.
END OF PART ONE