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by Tom Mahony

Water flooded over rock and shook the granite beneath my feet. I studied the rapid, a class-five monster. My heart pounded. Clients and fellow guides chatted oblivious beside the rafts.

I led this rafting trip. Everyone depended on me, assumed I’d find a route, scout for hazards, run the show. They blindly awaited my verdict, but shouldn’t.

I was terrified.

The canyon walls loomed above, the sky laced with cirrus. Stringers of pine and fir snaked through the Sierra Nevada granite. I both loved and hated this place. More like an addiction I couldn’t shake. I had some weird knack for river guiding. Everything came easy, except the fear. I could never shake the fear.

Quartz sloughed off the rock beneath my pacing feet. I shivered in my wetsuit. I wanted out of here, wanted my couch, a beer, the remote control. A voice nagged from deep down.

Run, coward, run.

Yes, yes. Scale the canyon walls and keep running: from this rapid, this responsibility, this life. That could work. I wasn’t suited for adventure. Had the skill but not the stomach, the gift but not the balls.

I studied the ridge. I could reach it, drop into the next canyon, and never return. It seemed so easy.

Abruptly I turned and scrambled upslope. Grabbed onto rocks and roots and branches. Pulled myself away from the river. Higher. The talus tumbled around me.

Somebody called my name. I stopped and glanced back. Everyone watched me.

I just stood there, frozen. A distant red-tail screeched like some prehistoric heckler. I took a few hits of mountain air, crisp and sharp, ice in my lungs. My pulse slowed, head emptied.

And in that silence a flash of clarity: I controlled almost nothing in this world. Never had, never would. I’d fought that truth far too long, like pushing water uphill. But no more.

A beautiful release.

The sun angled lower. The shadows grew long in the canyon. They called my name again. Time to go.

I eyed the ridge one last time, then donned the mask — that perfect front, that seamless lie — and headed down to the rafts. Nerves vanished to some hidden place. I cracked an involuntary smile. It would all be over soon.

One way or another.

Copyright © 2010 by Tom Mahony

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