There is only one way out.
The echoes of my throbbing brain accompanied by the unbearable dryness of my throat and difficulty breathing became all too convincing: I wasn't gonna make it. I am lost, forever.
I have not seen a single human being or plane in the three days I've been here. My calls for help received no response. I guess I simply didn't plan on being stranded here with no way to return, so I thought it fruitless to prepare.
My phone is shot. It's dead, and of course, I forgot to bring my portable charger. Water? I've been out for two days, hanging by a thread re-swallowing my saliva and drinking my own piss. It's salty... but much more tolerable than I imagined it to be. If there was one thing I learned from television it's that you can drink your own urine in emergencies. This is certainly an emergency, although one I never thought I'd have to experience.
I wasn't exactly planning on being gone for this long—two hours at most. My last Cliffbar has been digesting in my stomach since early this morning and while my food and water situation is bad now, it'll be near impossible if I don't experience a miracle soon.
"Deep breaths," I say out loud. Reaching down, I insert my finger in between my shoe and ankle, slowly making my way around the collar to create relief for my swollen feet. Blisters have formed on both sides of my pinky toes. "Don't panic, don't give up yet."
I don't understand–I've been racking my brain and I still don't understand how this could've happened. I parked less than a quarter of a mile away from The Cliff but when I turned back to head to my Outback after snapping photos for the blog, the perpendicular path I took to get to the cliffside just kept going and going and going. There was no sign of a road anywhere near me, as if somewhere along the way I blinked and was transported to the middle of nowhere. It feels a little like walking on a treadmill with a virtual reality headset strapped on, except you can't get off.
Maybe I had a stroke and didn't know it. Otherwise healthy 24-year-olds have strokes sometimes... don't they? Maybe I blacked out from the heat and wandered off without conscious awareness... I really don't know but there's a chunk missing from my memory between what happened after I shut my car door and walked to the edge of the 4,396.325 foot tall drop under the blazing afternoon sun.
Just ahead, a tree had fallen through natural means. The jagged-burnt edge of its trunk was proof of that. However, I can't tell if it's fresh. "Must've been lightning," I posit. I don't remember seeing this on the way. I think I'll sit for a moment. I need to think.
When I first got to the edge of The Cliff–after the initial awe of the vast blue expanse ahead had dissipated—I truly thought of the walk as an easy one. I remember thinking it was such a piece of cake and that I barely broke a sweat, even planning for a future return, and yet I haven't been able to find my way back. Odd. In my mind it's simple enough—scenic roads always line the water's edge, right? All I had to do was walk perpendicular to the edge of the cliff to find pavement, just as I had come, yet the road never appeared. It's gone. I've been walking perpendicular to that cliff for days! I don't want to give up. Not just yet. What if I turn back and lose all my progress? What if I turned back when I was almost there? Where did I go wrong?
I feel my panic intensifying, becoming a terrorizing, foul, beast that needed to be tamed. Stay calm, I tell myself. All I could ever want in this moment is to fly above the forest canopy—my heart breaks into a thousand shards when I realize that's physically impossible. Hopping into the air in a 360-degree twirl would solve everything had I the ability. Just this simple thing can save me, I think to myself, and yet it will never be. If only I had this ability, if only I had this ability, I'd say over and over like a broken record. At least the canopy provides comforting shade from the blazing sun.
"I am not a bird, not a kangaroo, I am not a cheetah nor a giraffe," I say in defeat, picking up my bag and throwing it over my shoulder. I don't bother dusting my pants off. "I am not even really a chimpanzee. At least not anymore. As far as I'm concerned, I'm nothing..."
The flesh around the tiny, sharp pieces of bark stuck underneath the skin of my palms, fingers, and thighs from the tree I tried to climb earlier have become much more swollen, showing signs of early infection. Slight contact is wincingly painful. Merely looking up at the sky has become a whole body operation. My desperation is flowing over. I see nothing the cruelest ending: Moving steadily forward full of hope yet not going anywhere. Hoping for a miracle is important in desperate times, but when you're doomed and nobody gave you the memo, hope is but a heinous joke.
"These fucking woods must be playing a cruel trick," I murmur, praying for a plane to pass. When was the last time I even saw a bird! "Did I eat some mushroom and forget? What the hell is going on? Something doesn't feel right..."
The winds have picked up. Its sharper temperature stings my cheeks, turning them into a rosy pink. My dusty fleece flannel will suffice for now but at this rate, Devil's hour will probably be sheer torture...
Something is pulling me to the water. Whatever it is, it's clear and distinct, albeit intangible. With great hesitation and near debilitating fear and uncertainty, I decide to turn back. The silent yet bright woods go much deeper and despite walking in what I thought was the right direction for what seems like an entire day, still it is so unclear whether I am making any progress towards my goal at all—home. My sweet Mu, the kindest, cuddliest, British shorthair in all of the town...
Despite only walking for a few minutes towards the cliff—the opposite direction I've been walking towards for nearly two days—I can already see blue ahead of me, behind a line of trees some a hundred yards away.
"It must be dehydration. I'm getting time all mixed up." If I survive, I'm going to write a book about this...
That's good, a voice says. I look around. No one is there.
"Hello? I need help—please, where are you?" I call out to the forest.
There is no one here but you, said the voice. It's good that you're thinking about writing a book if you survive. You haven't given up. You still want to live, don't you? You still have many things you want to cross of that list of yours...
This is just dehydration. I read about this. I've read countless stories where lost hikers hallucinate and things like that... or people developing schizophrenia after being in isolation for too long... I've seen it in a movie before.
Stepping into the brightness as I clear the chunk of forest I've been getting nowhere with, my eyes adjust slowly to the intense exposure of the late afternoon sun. My reality sets in and my heart drops. Out of breath, light-headed, and on the verge of tears, I'm starving of everything imaginable: air, energy, moisture inside my mouth, and hope.
"This world is an evil, sadistic fucking place," I mutter. At the edge of The Cliff about a foot away, I look down at the deep blue below me, longing to gulp its entirety into my mouth. My legs, feeling unconfident at holding me in place, steps back from the edge of The Cliff. My heart beats triple fast; it was a close call. I sit down to stabilize myself. The combination of hunger, thirst, confusion, and acrophobia is making me lightheaded; I think I'm going to faint.
It's too far, it's the voice again, a voice of a woman. It isn't my voice, it doesn't sound like mine. What are you gonna do? It's too far... and you're thirsty, aren't you...?
The lady is taunting me. She's making fun of me. She thinks my pain is funny. She thinks it's a joke. Who the hell is she? Who does she think she is, thinking she can talk to me like this? Like she knows what I'm thinking or what I'll do? She's not on my side. It's obvious. She's hurting me! She could just tell me where to go, which direction, but instead she's causing me even more confusion. No one asked her to come, no one asked her to pipe in.
"You're not helping," I hold my tongue against calling her a bitch.
I get to work fashioning a straw long enough to reach just inches under the water's surface below. It'll be made entirely of plastic and can be molded using just the heat of my fingers.
Taking a wide slab of the sticky white plastic goo laying on the sandy soil onto my lap and placing thin lines of the red goo on top about an inch apart to create a white and red stripe pattern on the straw just like the ones at Sally's Cafe on 6th Avenue, I begin to roll it up. It will look much better and more professional with the red added. The pattern will also help with the saltiness, I postulate.
With my arms up in the air, I pull and stretch it until it's 4,396.40879 feet long, rolling its entire length using just my thumb and index finger. I do this because I am dying for it—the formless stuff below—even with all of its damned salt. Besides, my body needs the salt, doesn't it?
The sun, now a yellow-orange hue and much closer to the horizon, was watching and cheering me on. It's leaving the show early because something important came up. The sun apologizes to me, saying it wishes it could stay but it really has to go. Wishing me luck, it waves goodbye. I smile and nod, gulping.
"I understand," I say, not taking my gaze off the endless loops of white and red plastic on my lap and all around me. I can see the sun from my peripherals. For some reason, I feel ashamed to look at it in the eye. "Thank you for coming anyway, sun," I say.
The sun doesn't like you very much, she whispers. It's lying. It's pretending! It hates you actually. It makes fun of you when you're not around. It wishes you never existed and never had its rays wasted on kissing your ugly, evil, wicked flesh.
Tears begin to form in my tear ducts but I bend my head further inwards so she can't see. I can't let her see that her words hurt. I scoff instead. Pinching the mouth of the white and red striped straw between my left pointer finger and thumb, I place it carefully in between my teeth. With both hands, using what's left of my energy, I throw the thousand-plus meters of plastic coil over the cliff.
The soft crashing of the waves against the rock below is music to my ears as I repeat the same grab and toss motion until gravity pulls the rest of it over. Completely exhausted, I sit on the dusty cooling earth and pay no mind to all the sand and dirt now all over my shorts and legs. I inch closer to the edge and cautiously lean slightly over. Just as I measured, the straw was only long enough to break through the topmost layer of the water's surface by a couple of centimeters.
Satisfied, I take the deepest, most controlled breath yet to prepare for the following movement: sucking the straw to bring the sea closer. The Cliff is high and it could take hours. Pinching the end to widen the hole after having unconsciously bitten on it too hard, I take care to maintain its open shape by holding it in between my fingers and lips with just the right amount of pressure.
I watch as the sun walks further and further away and to my disappointment, I cannot ask it to stay. I don't believe for a moment what the woman said. The sun is kind, sweet, and generous. The sun would never say such a thing, would it?
You're fooling yourself, girl. The sun hates you, that's why it burned you! It knows you're too stupid to think otherwise! The woman said. Although I can't see her, I feel like she's standing to my right, leaning down over my shoulder to whisper in my ear.
High pitched giggling emanates from the woods. I turn, and for a moment, I think I see something small with a grayish-green face hiding behind a tree.
It's just your imagination, there isn't anything there, I reassure myself. You're just lonely and scared. This will go away, just keep sipping on the straw. You're just thirsty. You're almost there!
I sip and I sip and yet again, it feels like the liquid isn't going to come. The effort feels useless but what if I'm almost there? If I give up now, I'll lose all of my progress.
Stupid girl! There is no straw. Look! The woman's voice says. I hear the giggles again, and then something next to it with a much deeper voice joins in on the laughter.
I look down and my hands are pinching nothing. I'm sitting on the dirt cross-legged with both of my hands held close to my body holding an invisible straw that didn't and never existed. My heart shatters into another thousand pieces and salty liquid begins to uncontrollably stream out of my tear ducts. I grab my empty bottle and unscrew it quickly. With no time to gag at the smell of drying urine coming from inside of it, I press it against my cheek to catch my tears. I press its cap on the other cheek, careful not to waste any. Then, I cried until I was dry—until there was nothing left.
I'm sorry I took your straw. I know you worked so hard for it. I was only playing with you! I didn't mean to make you cry... she said.
She was moving as if she were the wind dancing around me. One moment I'd hear her on my right, then behind me, then to my left. Every sensation, every sound, was a part of her voice.
Here! I'll give it back to make it up to you, she said.
The straw materialized on my lap and quickly began to slip away. I grab it before it went over the edge. I could feel it in my hand—it isn't just my imagination—nothing that feels this real is just imagined.
I made it stronger for you, the woman's voice said. I'm very sorry I took it, you worked so hard. But I did mean what I said about the sun. If you look in the mirror you will see what I mean. It's the moon that watches you lovingly...
"I don't have a mirror," I replied, defeated. It was getting dark. Soon everything will be pitch black.
There is only one way out of here you know, said the high-pitched voice in the woods. Gulping, I turn back but there is nobody.
It's down. You better hurry before it gets too dark! You have a long way down, it says.
If you were in my shoes right now—my tattered, well-worn, horribly pungent shoes—you would realize that you never actually experienced true anxiety or panic before. Panic before big exams or debilitating jealousy in a romantic relationship pales in comparison to knowing you lost your mind but feeling like all the craziness is real.
I examine the straw. It does in fact seem much sturdier. I begin tying it around the trunk of a young redwood ten times over. I circle the tree, making sure it's fastened securely, and weave the end in between each loop. With my left leg against the trunk for leverage, I tug on the straw to tighten it further, checking if it'll hold.
"The only way is down, so down I must go," I say aloud.
I walk to the edge of The Cliff with the straw in my hand. I peer below me, into the deep dark blue void. Suddenly I remember what my sister had said about this place.
"You didn't know? Over ten people have disappeared in that area in the last decade. About nine years ago there was a woman who apparently jumped after her twin sister committed suicide there," she told me. "She wrote in her notebook that they promised to do everything together. Crazy, right?"
I tug at the straw again to make sure it's strong enough to hold then begin to lower myself gently, both feet against the rock. My palms begin to slip on the plastic so I wipe the sweat on my flannel. I manage to descend about six feet before I hear it—the snap—
So, Bobby Darin's song, "Beyond The Sea", is playing on the radio. You bet I'm humming along. It's a classic! Happy we'll be, beyond the sea... mm-hmm...!
It's such a happy perfect tune for such a beautiful, clear day. I'm making my way towards The Cliff, on the 1, to take some photos for the blog.