Time for a new confession. A new revelation, if you will.
We were in the Himalayas for several months while trying to flee the Tree Walker, for the better part of 1998, if memory serves. We had employed one of the local Sherpa as a guide, but he knew nothing of the Tree Walker. His name was Ang Jangbu and for all the months we spent in the Himalays, he made sure we never starved or froze. On one occasion when I fractured my shin, he carried me for several days, even when it would have been more advantageous to leave me behind. He was a true companion, truer even than Benjamin or Winston, at times.
But the bond between Benjamin, Winston and I was not a bond of brotherhood. It was a bond of blood. And so when the time came to make a sacrifice, it was Ang who got the short end of the stick.
About six months into our trek, we were scaling a cliff to reach the next leg of our journey. I was the third to climb the cliff, with Ang behind me. As I was approaching the edge, I saw Benjamin whisper something into Winston’s ear, then heard Winston yell out. I looked down to see what he had been yelling about, a sudden burst of laughter from Benjamin punctuating the moment. Far below us, the Tree Walker was standing, shadowy tendrils spilling from him like blood. Ang, who had been shouting at me for looking down, saw the look of terror on my face and turned to look himself. Both of us were frozen with fear for a few moments until Ang started screaming in terror. His screams woke me up and I pulled myself up the last few feet to reach the cliff. Winston caught me under the arms and hoisted me up. Then, Benjamin took out a knife and started giggling again. He kneeled down and cradled the rope like Mary holding Christ’s body, then started hacking at it with the knife. Ang started screaming, but it wasn’t the monster below him that scared him; it was the monsters above.
It only took a few good slashes for Benjamin to send Ang hurtling to his death. Winston and I averted our eyes but Benjamin watched with a morbid fascination as the Tree Walker…eviscerated him. We eventually pulled Benjamin away and continued on our journey, hoping that our sacrifice would sate the Tree Walker’s hunger for a little longer.
When I look back at this memory, a lot of things strike me; the way the Tree Walker’s tendrils seemed to fall out of his body, Winston’s icy calmness, the rich peals of Benjamin’s mad laughter. But one thing always stands out over all others. In fact, sometimes I still hear it in my dreams. Ang’s screams, from when he first saw the Tree Walker, to his terror as Benjamin hacked at his rope, to that final, horrible moment when he fell to his death.
These screams have never left me because, through each and every moment of fear, Ang screamed only one thing; my name. He called out for me to help him, to save him, and I turned him away. As he plunged to his doom, he reached out for me to save him and I did nothing. I wish I’d stopped then. I wish I’d walked away from Benjamin and Winston, even if it meant walking into the Tree Walker’s waiting arms. Anything would have been preferable to the madness that came next. Anything.