's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Climb

Submitted by Sam Pinson (email)

On a blue and green world drifting through the cosmos, there is a land of mountains and valleys, stretching high into the sky and deep into the earth. Of these mountains, one in particular rises far past the point of the floating clouds. Called the God's Peak, this grand mass of sheer stone loomed over the grassy valleys and lesser hills, a silent peak watching over its peaceful dominion. Far down at the very base of this mountain was a small wooden cabin, nestled in an ocean of grass. There, in that cabin, lived an old artist. A photographer by trade, the elderly man had willingly secluded himself out in the wilderness many years ago, preferring the peace and quiet of nature to the company of other people.


Each day, the old man went through a simple routine: he woke up, bathed, dressed, ate a simple breakfast, and tended to his garden, trimming the flowers and collecting the ripened fruits. Afterwards, he would head out into the plains surrounding his home, exploring the forests and valleys with his camera around his neck. As he hiked up and down the hills and mountains, the old man would take photos of everything he saw, ranging from the little birds that flew around the plains and nested in the great trees that stretched up into the sky to the little lizards resting on rocks and darting into the bushes as he approached. The old man loved to see just how much the familiar landscape could change over the seasons as he traveled, the babbling creeks drying up in the summer only to become raging rivers in the fall and solid sheets of ice in the winter. It seemed like no matter how long he lived there, everything would still seem new, and the old man was happy in this peaceful land of his.

However, reality was quite different. As the years passed, the familiar started to become dull. The old man still found comfort in his home, and enjoyed exploring the land he lived in, but it felt less than it once was. The wonder he once felt at exploring the land gradually faded, and he stopped venturing out as far from his home as he once had. It took so much time out of his days to walk out to the forests and hills, just to see the same things he already had seen many times before. It wasn't as though he hated or even grew frustrated with the life of solitude he had.

No, he was just tired. Tired of wandering the hills and valleys. Tired of heading out on daylong treks through the wilderness with the sun at its peak and of coming back when it had sunk below the mountains. Back to a cabin full of photos of things he'd seen a thousand times, along with hundreds of half-finished sketches, never quite going anywhere he wanted them. The walls of his cabin were covered in those images, pictures of the things he once found new and exciting, that now seemed as dull and gray as the penciled sketches he left across his table and desk, some crumpled and torn in the occasional fit of frustration. After some time with this persistent feeling of exhaustion, the old man stopped heading to the forests and hills. And when the feeling refused to go away, he stopped walking through the plains. Sometimes, he took a chair outside and sat to watch the grass sway in the breeze. Eventually though, he stopped leaving his home entirely, staying in his cabin full of unfinished works and familiar photographs. Why bother traveling, when he had all the sights he'd ever seen in this place, right there? It simply felt like too much.

One cloudy day started just the same as all the others. The old man awoke in his bed, stayed down for a few minutes to blink the sleep from his eyes, got up, dressed, and put a pot on the stove, opening a can and filling the pot with soup. Shambling sleepily, he was tempted to just lie back down on his bed, but no, he had at least a few responsibilities to take care of. Filling his watering can in the sink, the man yawned, then set out to his duties, first watering the tomato plant he was growing on the windowsill, before taking care of the larger crops that grew his food. At least, that was what he had intended to do.

Instead, when he reached the window and began watering the little plant, he noticed something outside. Out in the middle of the field was someone in a dark blue robe, staring at the mountain next to his home.

The old man frowned. It had been many years since he'd actually seen another human being. The place he'd chosen as his home did not get many visitors. It was naturally secluded in that sense, largely untouched by any person aside from himself. Lost in his thoughts, the old man blinked in surprise as he noticed the robed figure turn their head towards him, their features hidden in the shadows of their hood. The two of them stared at each other for a bit, before the old man slowly raised his hand and waved at the stranger, a bit bewildered. It was hard to tell with their hood up, but the stranger's skin seemed almost blue in the shade.

The robed stranger stared at him for a few more seconds, before turning to look at the mountain once more. The old man blinked slowly as he continued staring, still trying to process the stranger's presence, when the robed figure suddenly walked towards the mountain, an unknown purpose in their strides.

The old man frowned again, an odd sort of curiosity filling him. What in the world was this person up to? Why come out all this way? For the first time in many, many years, there was something new in his home. Still frowning in thought, the old man set down his watering can, and went back to his bed. He sat down, and pulled on his old hiking boots, curiosity filling his mind as he thought over this new presence in his peaceful life. Grabbing his camera from his desk, he placed its strap around his neck and ran outside the cabin. He looked around in confusion before noticing the robed figure once again, and then the old man stopped completely, staring in utter bafflement.

The figure was climbing the God's Peak. That should not have been possible. Of all the mountains in the valleys, none was as tall or as completely sheer as the massive peak. The old man had hiked every hill and mountain in the valley, but the impossibly smooth elevation right by his home had always defeated every attempt he made to climb it. And yet, this random person, dressed in a bulky robe no less, was scaling it with ease, like a little blue beetle scurrying up a boulder.

An odd sort of indignation filled the old man as he watched the stranger climb, and he quickly made his way to the mountainside. He pressed a hand against the seemingly smooth cliff side, and his jaw nearly dropped when his palm sunk easily into the stone there. Slowly pressing his fingers into the mountainside, the old man marveled as he found the stone hold firm when he tried to pull his hand down. He looked up again, watching the robed figure get further and further away. A part of him was wary at the prospect of climbing up the mountainside when something so clearly strange was going on, but another part saw this as an opportunity. That part realized that this strange occurrence was likely a chance he would never get again, and leaving at this point would likely mean he could never climb the massive peak in his remaining lifetime. At the same time, he knew he should take some time to consider everything, to think on what he'd just seen, and that he should go back to his cabin and get prepared to climb the mountain, not just dig his hands into it like a child playing in the dirt.

The old man stared upwards, and came to a decision. He reached up and started to climb. As he crept up the cliff side, the old man's mind was awhirl with worries. He had no food, no hooks, and no ropes. He wasn't prepared to scale a mountain in the slightest, and pulling himself up hand and foot like this would leave him exhausted before long, but, still, something drove him on.

As he climbed higher and higher, the man found that he was not tired. Not in the slightest. The aches and pains he'd learned to live with seemed to have faded. He felt years younger. Perhaps even better. Even as a young man, he would have eventually grown tired or hungry and needed to rest on such a journey. And yet, he felt none of that weariness. Why did he feel completely fine? How long had he been climbing?

 Abruptly, the man stopped, and, against his better judgment, looked down. Below, there was nothing but white fog, obscuring the valley completely. He stared, an uneasy feeling taking root in his heart. He should go back. He had no guarantee that the mountain would keep acting in the odd way it had been, and being left on a sheer cliff face with no way down except plummeting was a horrifying thought.

So why did he want to keep going?

The man took a few deep breaths, steadying himself, and continued climbing, his eyes focused on the sheer cliff face and clear blue sky above. Intent on his goal, he didn't notice the figure beside him for quite a while. Eventually though, he glanced over by chance, at the merest glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye, and had to press himself right up against the mountainside to keep himself from falling, his body going stiff with shock.

Right next to him was a blue-robed figure, maybe the same one as the person he had first seen, walking up the side of the mountain. Not climbing, walking, the sound of bare feet against stone echoing out under their robe.

The man stopped, and stared at the bizarre sight, before he noticed there were more of them. More blue-robed figures, more strangers, walking up the smooth cliff side, their hands pressed together in the sleeves of their robes as though they were praying.

The man simply stared for quite some time, trying to understand what he was seeing. A seemingly never-ending procession of people in deep blue robes was making its way up the mountain, all of these strangers heading for the summit for some unknown purpose. Perhaps some sort of religious gathering?

That was probably the best answer he was going to get, the man decided, finally giving up on understanding the ridiculous sight. Suddenly, the man perked up, glancing down at the camera lying against his chest. Hooking one hand into the mountainside and adjusting his position until he was certain he could not fall, the photographer took his camera and started to take pictures of the procession of cerulean pilgrims. A faint smile graced his face as he hung precariously off the cliff side, laughter bubbling up inside him while he captured the fantastic images in his humble camera, the utterly surreal sight immortalized in his photos.

Suddenly, a desire struck the man, both familiar and new all at once. He wanted to see the peak. He needed to see the top of the grand mountain, see with his own two eyes what could possibly be drawing such an incredible sight to it. Letting his camera lie back against his chest and drawing his jacket closed protectively around it, the man resumed his ascent, a determined gleam in his eyes and an excited grin on his face.

Climbing faster and faster, his path never obstructed by the walking pilgrims, it seemed like the man reached the summit in no time at all, his fingers suddenly grasping into the open air as they reached over the lip of a cliff. The man pulled himself up with nary a thought, finally standing on flat ground at the very top of the truly enormous mountain. Though perhaps plateau would better describe it.

The very top of God's Peak was no peak at all, but a completely flat surface, that seemed to stretch farther than it should have, as though a field of empty stone was nestled in the sky. Of course, the man was barely thinking about the bizarre nature of the mass of stone he had just scaled. No, he was far too distracted as he found out just what the robed figures were there to see.

Looming tall over the people who had lined up around it was what seemed to be the most gargantuan bird the man had ever seen, if the term "bird" even applied to it.

The creature had no true body, merely thousands upon millions of colorful feathers in every possible shade swirling in place, held together by a veritable maelstrom of wind and lightning. Muted crackling and roaring echoed out in the otherwise silent place as the avian creature watched over the gathering of blue-robed beings, the very air heavy with anticipation.

The man stared as one of the robed figures approached the avian and removed its, her, their robe, revealing a pale blue body beneath it, and the being's truly bizarre appearance.

The blue being had no joints; it was not stunted, no, it stood tall before the avian. The parts of its body just didn't connect to each other; the segments of its fingers floated around hands without wrists atop arms without elbows and shoulders. It didn't have a neck either, nor did it have most of its head. From where he stood, the man could see the back of the being's face, a hollow mask smiling joyously as it spoke in a melodious whisper to the massive beast.

Under the avian's gaze, the being pressed a hand to its chest, and drew out a notebook, offering it to the great bird. An arm, made of swirling smoke, fog, or clouds drew silently from the avian's chest, taking the offering and drawing it into the swirling storm.

Silently, the avian swept out a great wing, lightning curling around its surface, and drew it around the blue being, embracing it in what could be considered an odd hug. When the lord of the sky pulled its wing back, the being was gone. A chatter arose from the blue robes, excited babbling echoing out before subsiding as quick as it came.

Suddenly, the man stiffened, his body locking up as the avian turned its gaze towards him. It had no beak. Instead, the creature's head consisted only of feathers arranged vaguely in the shape of an avian skull with two crackling balls of lightning serving as eyes. As the man met its gaze, he was drawn into those shifting, glowing spheres of blue and violet energy. He could see a thousand horizons stretching out before him.

He gulped, well aware now that he was in the presence of a being far greater than himself; something powerful, something unfathomable, something ancient. His camera grew hot against his chest, an odd pulsing against his skin like a beating heart. Its strap felt as tight as a noose around his neck as he continued staring at the Beast. He was intruding on something he should never have seen, and yet, he could never look away, and it did not demand he leave. He could feel the Beast's gaze on him, and he could feel its judgment. The man stared back, surrounded by a sea of blue robes. His heels were right up against the cliff's edge.

The man took a step, and saw the sky.