21/10/2224 – The Anticipation Experience
Nerea sat inside the sun-warmed windowsill and counted the daisy’s petals. 48. Small chocolates remained untouched on the hotel’s plush pillows, and her shoes were tucked neatly in the closet. She rested her temple against the cold glass and hugged her knees tight. Seventeen floors was a long way down. ‘Control yourself.’ ‘Be still.’ Criss-crossing strangers wandered far below. Why was life so cruel? Their interactions, for all their urgency, were meaningless. Repetition and routine imprisoned infinite potential. She brushed the daisy across her cheek. How could she enjoy this moment while billions of others stumbled through an unrelenting monotony? There must be someone more deserving. For twenty-one and a half years, Nerea hid loneliness and shame behind an expressionless exterior. She was a champion at asking questions people most wanted to answer, and a master at avoiding them herself. The real Nerea hid in silence behind a wall. And now, she waited nervously for the door to open. ‘Your Decision is power—seize it! Join us. Come with me!’ In a flash of spontaneity, Nerea had accepted Sloan’s proposal and now awaited his arrival. He promised the unexpected and dared her to leave her comfort zone. ‘Maybe…’ Nerea took a deep breath, pinched one of the flower’s long, white petals and pulled it gently from its core. She brought it to her lips and practiced a small kiss. ‘…he loves me.’ Who knows where the afternoon would lead? Could she open up? A shiver of electric joy flowed from her knees to her knuckles and her face had to fight against a smile. She released the petal and watched it float gently to the floor. Sloan was late. Nerea pulled a second petal from the daisy and paused. Like everyone she encountered, it was beginning to die. Hope dripped from her body and made room for deep-rooted boundaries and fears. She should not have agreed to this. Trust was a mistake. Nerea looked to the closed door. Had he abandoned her? BANG! BANG! BANG! Sloan’s fist pounded loudly against the outside window, mere centimeters from her face. Nerea tossed the flower, flash-rolled and fell to the floor. He hung perilously, seventy meters above the ground; one hand on the windowsill and the other in a narrow space between building panels. He grinned with inexplicable confidence and looked straight into Nerea’s eye. Her heart pounded in admiration as she stood. He had definitely delivered the unexpected. Sloan pointed to the window’s handle. Nerea approached and cautiously swung it open. “You’re insane! Come inside.” The invitation was dangerous. His smile widened as he shook his head. “No.” He placed his hand on top of the window. “Follow me!” Sloan stepped onto the window ledge, gripped a piece of structure above and continued his ascent. Nerea watched his feet rise and disappear upwards. Cool air blew calm intensity into the space, and Nerea was left with an empty room and a call to adventure. Should she dare? So much of her life had already drifted by without meaning or consequence; maybe it was time for change. She hopped onto the open windowsill and peered to the oblivious people wandering far below. It was a long fall to the pavement. Her body teetered, and for a moment, she imagined the freedom of plummeting to an early end. A gust of wind brought a shiver of fear, and Nerea pulled back into the room. She spotted the daisy dying safely on the floor. Was that a better way to go? Nerea closed her eyes and embraced the breeze. ‘Breathe.’ ‘Relax.’ A sliver of smirk betrayed her indecision. Nerea opened her eyes and whispered to the wind, “It’s time to dance.” She stuck her head outside and scanned the towering wall. Sloan was now two floors up and moving quickly. She grabbed the frame above the window, twisted to a foothold and pulled herself onto the building’s face. Her right hand found a solid side grip, and she extended her leg to leverage against the sill. Up she went. After quick hand adjustments on shaky holds, Nerea gripped an inner-joint that gave confidence. There were modest cracks for toes and occasional big cracks to rest fingertips. Nerea found a rhythm and began to flow up the naked structure. Technique came from years of scaling the sheer and overhanging boulders on Clara’s private island. Climbing without a rope brought freedom and exhilarating danger into her over-controlled life. Trained focus blocked out the growing void under her feet. Nerea danced up the wall with a gecko’s grace. Each smooth movement deepened her confidence and strength; she was taking control. Ten floors up, there was a new challenge: the building changed from vertical to horizontal panels, and Sloan had stopped. He was contemplating his next move. Nerea caught up and understood the next hold was out of reach by an arm’s length. “Too much for you?” she poked. He did not answer. His breathing had changed. They both pinched delicate holds, but while Nerea’s confidence remained, Sloan’s left leg was beginning to shake. He was stuck. Nerea needed to act, and down was not an option. “Stay with me!” She looked up, pulled her toes into the next crack, curled into a spring and leapt to the distant hold. Nerea flew free in the air with both hands stretched far above her head. After an eternal split second, she stuck three fingertips from each hand into a tiny crack. ‘Shit!’ It was only three millimeters deep, and the friction was already failing. Her legs dangled in the wind. She pulled with all her strength and shot her left hand to a higher joint-hold. It stuck! She brought her feet to the finger crack and found a rest point. Safety! Nerea exhaled and looked down. The soul below her was panicking. His legs wobbled as he looked to the ground. Her pulse raced. “Jump! You can do it. The first hold’s thin, but the second’s a jug!” Sweat dripped from his forehead. He was not listening. His fingers were ghost white and losing grip. “Focus on my voice. You can do it! It’s not far. Come-on!” His jittering slowed to a stop and his shoulders drooped in resignation. Sloan would not make it. He was giving up. Sloan looked up into Nerea’s eye and smirked with a defeated grin. He shook his head, let go of the wall and dropped backward with eyes locked into hers. Nerea watched the fall in slow motion as Sloan descended to the ground. His empty stare remained fixed on hers until the instant he exploded on the pavement. Her stomach tightened with the splat, and Nerea was amazed at the instant lifelessness of the body that remained. The wind kept blowing, and the sun kept shining. The panicked screams of the crowd below were the only signs that anything had changed. In that instant, Nerea buried her soul even deeper inside. She looked upwards to focus on the task at hand and continue the impossible flow up the wall. Nobody was between her and the sky above. And nobody was there to help. ~ Nerea opened her eyes and looked over to the empty simulator beside her. Sloan had left. All flash and no depth. He would not get a second chance. Nerea was empty and alone.