TOUGH CLIMB • by Dianne Williams

Oliver adjusted his goggles as he assessed the climb before him. A world of pale blue and white surrounded him, clouds swirling underneath his feet. It was cold up here, even though they were so much closer to the sun, and his brother Henry’s scarf flapped violently in the wind.

“You ready for this?” Henry asked.

Oliver took a shuddering breath and nodded. He tried to look calm but he knew that his brother could see through it.

“Relax. We are soon to be Henry and Ollie, the amazing duo. The first men to climb a cloud. And not just any cloud, little brother, but the tallest cloud in the sky! People are going to talk about us from London to the wild western frontier of America,” Henry said, clapping a gloved hand on Oliver’s shoulder.

“Sure,” Oliver said. He hated it when his brother called him Ollie, but he didn’t say anything. “Just have to make it up this last bank and then back down safely. That’s not so bad.”

“It’s a little late for second thoughts,” Henry said, approaching the mountainous cloud before them. “The only way left is up.”

Oliver watched Henry pull his scarf up over his face to protect it from the ice as he climbed. He made himself focus on Henry’s figure as he watched him start the climb. Anything to keep his mind off of how high up they were. It wasn’t second thoughts he was having, not really since they had been his first thoughts as well. He didn’t like heights and he’d never shared his brother’s enthusiasm for this expedition.

But he could never say no to Henry. Not when they were children and especially not as adults. Henry had always been the first one to the top of anything when they were kids and Oliver had always struggled to keep up with him. But he’d always wanted to go wherever his big brother was.

“Come on, little brother. It’s amazing up here!” Henry shouted down.

He’d completed the climb and was leaning over the edge, silhouetted by the sun behind him.

Now it was Oliver’s turn.

He checked his goggles again and tightened his gloves. The clouds were far more difficult than the mountains Oliver and Henry had started on. They froze Oliver’s hands and good hand and footholds were constantly shifting and crumbling on him. Every time that he thought he had a firm grip the cloud retreated from him.

“Don’t look down,” he whispered to himself as a foothold disappeared, leaving him hanging for a moment. He looked back up at his brother and the two locked eyes for a moment.

“You’re almost there, Ollie,” Henry shouted down.

Henry had never spoken an encouraging word in all of their climbing together. Oliver wondered at just how frightened his face must look. He regained his footing and worked his way up the cloud.

He hadn’t realized how close to the summit he was until Henry grabbed his hand and helped pull him over the edge. Oliver brushed some stray ice off his jacket as his big brother came up and put his arm around his shoulders.

“Didn’t I tell you it would be amazing,” Henry said, his face glowing as he looked out over the landscape.

Oliver took a breath and looked over the edge. The sight knocked that breath right back out of him. It wasn’t just London laid out before him, it was the entire countryside. City, fields, streams, and ocean were all lined up below him, like the tile in God’s bathroom. He soaked in the sight of it for a moment before answering.

“Amazing,” he said.

He looked around the cloud for a second, pulling a spare bit of rod from his pack.

“What are you doing?” Henry asked.

“Give me your scarf,” he said, pulling it off of his brother’s neck and tying it to the rod.

“Hey,” Henry said.

“We have to leave something up here, to tell people that we made it,” Oliver said. “We have to.”

Henry nodded as the flag went up, waving merrily in the wind. Oliver walked back over to the edge.

“Hello down there! We are Henry and Ollie, the amazing duo!” he shouted down to any who might be able to hear him.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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