The Pinnacle

Ivan shivered as he unzipped the tent, and he knew it was not from the chill of the night alone. The sweat on his forehead and the twisting in his guts spoke of sickness. But he forced himself to stand tall, taking a deep breath to stay his pounding heart.

Clouds hung low and heavy, an icy mist that shrouded their camp at the top of the Pinnacle. All Ivan could see were the rocks where they’d sat last night, and the pile of empty bottles, all but one finished off by Doritch.

It was like nothing else existed. This place was a limbo, and Ivan was free to act in any way he pleased.

He’d considered pushing Doritch, faking a drunken accident, but a body would lead to questions. Then he’d considered poison, but he could see no way of administering it without arousing suspicion.

No, this way was best. While Doritch slept, Ivan would leave. He’d take both packs, abseil off the rock, and let nature take its course. There was no way the man could climb down, and it was late enough in the season that his body would not be discovered until the spring.

Nobody would care that he was dead anyway. The man had no family, and no real friends. Easy come easy go, he used to say. Live for the moment. He refused to believe ties were anything but a bind.

Ivan had practically forgotten his one-time friend until Doritch had shown up a few months ago. Some of their shared memories were pleasurable, in the way youthful adventures often are, but that was behind him now. Ivan worked hard to maintain a good standard of living, and it pleased him that Lilla had all she desired. Ivan had made something of his live, but Doritch had not grown over the years. Where Ivan was a man, Doritch was still a child.

But a child who looked too often at Lilla, in a way Ivan didn’t appreciate. And so when Doritch suggested a trip, for old-time’s sake, Ivan agreed. He saw an opportunity, and he grabbed it. This was not pleasure, but business. He was doing what needed to be done, in order to protect what he held dear.

They set off at first light, Doritch moaning at the early hour. He did mention Lilla, once, asking if she would be alright on her own.

“Probably have friends round,” Ivan had replied. He could imagine them, gossipping and giggling like women half their age. Getting drunk in the steam room, ordering pizza and making lewd suggestions to the poor delivery boy. But Ivan knew Lilla would not do anything rash. She wouldn’t risk the house, and everything she possessed. She had a good lifestyle, because Ivan provided for her. He trusted her.

It was people like Doritch he couldn’t trust.

They’d reached the rock early in the afternoon, and it had been dusk when they topped out. They set up their tents, then sat and rested, eating and drinking. Of course, Doritch had been doing this all day, and Ivan finally demurred, taking a bottle and toasting old times, or some such nonsense. The stuff was foul‌—‌and maybe that was why he felt so rough now. But Doritch downed bottle after bottle as if it were ambrosia.

The man had always abused his body. He had no respect for anything. Throughout the day, he’d talked of his adventures, of his conquests, but there was no hint of emotion beyond selfish lust. He saw his bed-hopping as a source of pride, but Ivan saw it as an increasingly desperate escape for someone who had no way of making it on their own.

At times, Ivan thought of his plan in an altruistic light. He wasn’t only protecting himself and Lilla, but all those others who Doritch would prey upon. And, in a way, he was doing what was best for Doritch himself. The man was trapped, and Ivan was providing a final escape.

But he should never have accepted that drink. Ivan’s stomach heaved, and he doubled over. The vomit splattered loudly on the rock, and he groaned, unable to keep the sound in. The sharp stench hurt his head.

When the nausea had passed, Ivan turned, a part of him imagining Doritch opening his tent, woken by the sounds of Ivan’s unsettled stomach. But there was nothing. Just his own tent, unzipped, one flap swaying in the breeze.

Ivan couldn’t remember leaving it open. He was normally fastidious about things like that. But it must be the illness. It was making him miss things.

Like the fact that Doritch’s tent was not there.

Ivan peered into the misty darkness, but he could only see one tent.

They had left their packs by the rocks, and these were missing too.

All that remained were his own tent and the nest of empty bottles. And Ivan himself.

He staggered, and almost fell. His boot struck the bottles, and the tinkling of the glass cut through him.

There was a scrap of paper stuck in the neck of one of the bottles. Ivan bent down, his whole body trembling, and extracted it. He sat, the rock cold even through his clothing.

He pulled a pen-light from his pocket, unrolled the paper, and read the large scrawl.

She never really loved you. You gave her everything but what she really wanted. You treated her like a trophy. And now it looks like you’re the one on the pedestal.

The paper slipped from his fingers as Ivan’s stomach clenched, and vomit splashing over his boots. He heaved until there was nothing left to come, and then heaved some more, his throat ragged and his chest tight.

The dark and the clouds closed in, shrouding him. He curled into a foetal ball and cried.


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