He died the moment he slipped down to this ledge. He hadn’t fallen yet, but time would weaken him. There was no way up, no hope of rescue. And now he was staring into the small crevice before him at something that was inexplicable. It didn’t register at first. It didn’t matter. He was a dead man now. He knew it. This was just a moment in time, his last moment, for however long it lasted.
—The realization of it made what he was looking at insignificant. His arms stretched into the hole, but there wasn’t room to climb in. His head would barely fit into the rock.
—The hole was deep. Maybe twenty feet, straight in. Above him, it was twenty feet to the edge of the cliff. Below, three hundred feet straight down. He had slipped, looking down. Slipped, his hands clawing the curve of sand and rock, while wondering about what appeared to be an opening. It had happened quickly. One moment safe, and the next. . .
—It was getting dark now. He was alone. He always hiked alone. People told him not to do that, but he liked being alone in nature. It was his nature.
—It was too late, now. There were no other hikers in the area. He had already yelled until his voice left him. No one had come. He thought back to other hikes. Not that he was trying to think, yet. The thoughts flashed by him, and he was observer to them, as if from a distance. Flashes of memory. Wisps. There was no self recrimination to his thoughts. He was past that, now. The moments of his explorations and meditations were behind him. This was the last such moment. This was the end.
—When acceptance finally came, he focused and considered what he was looking at. It was a stash of jewelry, covered in dust. A long string of pearls and necklaces. Gold or fool’s gold? It didn’t matter. There was no luster to it. The thought flashed by him that it must be real. No one would put costume jewelry in a tiny crevice twenty feet down a ledge no one could get to without a rope.
—The thought was distant, and he struggled to keep it. Wanted to grasp it, like a handhold that didn’t exist on the face of the rock. How much was there? Who had put it there, and why? The thoughts were smoke drifting away. He flailed at them, like he had struggled to get both hands to grip, before pulling himself up into this position. Other thoughts flashed too: memories of rock climbers he’d seen doing what seemed to be impossible. . . placing their hands into niches in the rock, using pitons, cleats, ropes. He had no such things, but even with them there would be no way to save himself.
—He stared at the stash of jewelry, the line of treasure. It was like a rope, in a way. He might grasp it in one final effort, were it connected to something, which it was not. He might hold on a bit longer, and yell again when his voice returned. He chuckled at this thought. The laugh was guttural, a rasp in his throat. He was staring at a “treasure trove,” as such hunters liked to say.
—Everyone was such a hunter, he realized, except him. Anymore.
—His arms were getting weaker, now. The last sliver of the sun slipped out of sight down the horizon to his left. But there was no green flash. It was shades of gold, fading. Fading into shades of grey.
© 2017 by Jonathan Lowe, the shortest new story in an upcoming collection of new and previously published stories in October.