Hell’s Watchtower was a jagged citadel of bare rock, which loomed over the Death’s Head by nearly seventeen hundred vertical feet. Though it was considered an advanced climb, one that some would even call suicidal, the view at the summit was all-encompassing. The Backcountry wilderness area surrounding, which some of the county locals called Gia’s Backbone, seemed to stretch out forever and then some. On a clear day, the view seemed postcard and calendar quality.
It was one of those spectacularly clear days. For the last week, there hadn’t been any of the usual afternoon thunderstorms. Even if a storm suddenly did manifest, he’d been on Hell’s Watchtower enough times to know of several places he could shelter, riding out perhaps any storm, although, he knew better than to have such arrogant thoughts.
Tarot was quite accommodating when Lankin asked for a small amount of Donavan’s ashes. The only reason he gave was a private matter between the two of them. Shortly after Bethany’s death, Donavan requested Lankin scatter both of their ashes off of Hell’s Watchtower, since that was where they were trying to go when the storm hit. Lankin offered to take young Jimmy when the time came, but Donavan shook his head.
“This is between me, you, and the memory of Bethany, Lazarus,” he said. “If my boy never goes up that rock, I’ll be happy.”
From his pack, Lankin pulled the bag that contained the little bit of Donavan’s ashes and then a jar, which contained Bethany’s. Both looked like fine grayish powder. He smiled bittersweetly as he poured the bag into the jar, replaced the lid and began to shake the ashes together. Everything mingled almost instantly and the sound of shaking ashes was that of forever.
The night before they left on that fateful, and fatal, hike, Bethany told Lankin she hoped if he ever decided to retire, he would just go off into the Backcountry and never come back. In her mind, that was where he truly belonged. With a smile, he mentioned perhaps both she and Donavan belonged out there just as much, if not more, than him.
Upon the summit of Hell’s Watchtower, he found himself making good on markers; the funerary request of Donavan and Lankin’s thought that Donavan and Bethany belonged in the Backcountry as well. With a heavy sigh, he once more opened the jar, stepped to a ledge, and began to scatter the ashes to the tundra wind. The sun was warm upon his wiry frame as the memory and matter of his friends floated along breezes that whispered of forever. Despite the melancholy of the moment, Lankin found himself smiling. He had gotten his friends home.