Why climb it? Because it's there. The simplest and noblest pursuit - to do things better. Each time, just that. Do things better. It doesn't matter what the thing is, but once you have it, it must have you completely. Or a thing isn't worth doing. I don't know, it is so simple, but it can't be explained in words.
So close. The blizzard is coming in now. I can't see where he went. I can't even see the summit any longer. It was there, before. There close enough that I could reach out and touch it. Close enough that George was never going to turn back, whether we had the oxygen for the run or not.
If I can just back into the lee of these rocks some more, the snow is drifting at my feet and I should be nicely cocooned from the dropping temperature and all the ice thrashing through the air. But then how will he find me on his way back if I'm so hidden? Of course, it's George. He'll find me.
I jerk awake to the sound of his voice. How long has it been? Hours already, or just minutes? It's getting dark, I know that. The blinding white glare is dimmed and I can safely take off my goggles without fear of searing my retinas. Where is he? I can hear him, but I can't see him. There's a drift up to my waist and just a small part of my face must be visible from outside.
'George!' I try to call, but it comes out in a hoarse whisper. And then he's there, punching through the snowdrift, the gas mask over his mouth, black-lensed goggles pulled up over his head. He clasps me on the shoulder and his eyes smile. I know in that instant that he's done it.
I try to move, but I'm rooted to the spot. George hooks his arm through mine and levers me up and then I'm falling falling falling, rolling down the mountain, arms and legs pinwheeling and breaking. I hit, and I realise all I've done was fallen down, right back where I was sitting. George has vanished. Evaporated. He's gone. He was never there. The snow drift barring my way remains pristine.
I have no idea what the time is. It grows darker. The stars up this high are something else, provided the sky is clear. It isn't. It remains fuzzed over with cloud, though the snow is mercifully slowing. But everything else is indistinct. I know the summit is off in that direction somewhere, but where exactly I know not. I feel like I'm sat at the centre of a ball of cotton wool up here.
I feel so calm, so certain. The cold that burned in my fingers and the tip of my nose is now gone. No feeling there, no feeling in my feet, but warmth at my core. All is well. Hug in tighter to the rock. Hunker down. A night on the mountain this high would be suicide, they said. But it's nothing so far. I can do this. George will come back with his prize; the illusive, ephemeral treasure of being first to do that which holds no reason or reward but the right to say 'I did that. I did what no one else could.' If George doesn't, I dare say no one will beat the mountain.
Slowing down. Sleep is coming again.
We are at one with God here past the second step. Everest is a modern Olympus. I hear him in the wind. I see him in the whip and eddy of the snowfall. This Kingdom of God has an area measured not in square miles but in square hours. It is a kingdom with all the time in the world. But now I have used all the time available to me. My oxygen cylinder hisses nearing empty. George too will be existing on the last dying embers of God's alloted time. Now we must seek an imaginary sort of time, a time of our own making, apart from this existence.
Sleep is coming again. Huddle in deeper.
Has he made it? He must have made it. He must have. But then where is he? Did he come back and miss me, hidden in here? Did he have to return by a different route? What do I do? I have the unshakeable thought that I should panic, and yet I'm not panicking. He will come. I will wait. He must come.
I can no longer move my arms. If I could only rub my hands together, I could maybe feel something there. Fingers and toes, fingers and toes, frostbitten fingers and toes. I'll lose some for sure. Small price to pay. I can't feel them, I don't need them. All I need is this hearth burning in my chest.
Had to go for it. Had to go for it. Couldn't get this close and not have a tilt. Must have made it. Must have. But what if he didn't? What if he fell? What if he's trapped? What if he's sheltering, like me? Does it matter if he makes it up but we don't make it down again? Does that count? The thing is in the getting there, isn't it? Not the getting back again. God will see. God will see George on his doorstep and will welcome him in. He will be safe there.
But he will make it. And he will come for me. And what does it matter? What does it matter if he touches the top of the mountain or not? It will only be his word - his word is all anyone should need, but the world out there questions everything, even his unquestionable integrity. He has the camera for proof though, I forget. It doesn't matter if I'm there to see it, he will photograph the whole world beneath him. In the dark. With frozen fingers.
But what if he doesn't come back? They'd never know. No one would ever know. I'd know. But it doesn't matter really. Doesn't really matter whether they know if he did it or not. Purpose, you see. He only cares that he does it.
I don't even feel the cold anymore. Not really. Doesn't really matter. I could sleep, though. I could definitely sleep. He'll come, but sleep is coming first.
Congratulations, and thank you for a great read Hafferby