Lachlan willed his hands to stop shaking as he grabbed another branch and prepared to lower himself onto another tree limb. His feet left the branch he was standing on, and he descended for one heart-lurching moment before he found his footing on the target branch.
“I hate this,” said Sam from below him. “I hate this. I hate this.”
Sam had been alternating between repeating the phrases “I hate this” and “don’t look down” like methodical chants since they’d started their descent about five minutes ago.
“You’re not the only one,” said Lachlan as he lowered himself onto another branch. “Oh God, oh fuck!”
“You can do it!” said Jen. “Just keep going and don’t look down!”
Lachlan glanced down before he could stop himself and his whole body seized up as he saw how tiny the foliage farther toward the ground looked. He could hardly see the ground from where he was, so it was hard to judge exactly high up they were. Not that he wanted to know.
“Ah! Oh God, oh fuck, okay!” He looked away from the distant ground, trying to focus on maintaining his balance. “As much as the encouragement is appreciated, every time either one of you says not to look down, I immediately look down and regret every choice in my life that led me to this moment.”
“It’s okay!” Jen hopped down from one branch to another. “See? Just keep moving and think positive!”
As annoying as Jen’s relentless positivity was becoming, she must have been doing something right because she was farther down the tree than him or Sam. They were still close to the top of the tree, while she was nearly halfway down.
“Right, because the very real possibility of falling to my untimely demise makes it so easy to stay positive.”
“I never said it was easy to stay positive, but it’ll help if you try!”
“Yeah, well, at the moment, I’m a bit preoccupied with trying not to slip and plummet to my death but I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”
“I’m pretty sure being sarcastic doesn’t help,” said Jen.
She took a graceful leap between two branches that made Lachlan’s stomach turn just from watching.
“I find it very helpful, thank you very much,” he said. “You have your methods, I have mine.”
“Doesn’t seem like your methods are working all that good,” she called up to him.
She was far enough down the tree she had to raise her voice a bit.
“All that well,” he corrected, calling back down to her.
“Whatever!” She jumped onto another branch. “Ignoring you now!”
He was happy to ignore her back; the way she was hopping from branch to branch like the tree was a piece of playground equipment was making him nauseous. He turned to Sam.
“Are you okay?” he said. “You’re saying ‘I hate this’ a lot.”
“Well, I do hate this,” said Sam, “but I’m fine. Are you okay? You’re looking very… green.”
“Oh, me? I’m fine. Great. Peachy. Happy as Larry. Just swell. I love being a hundred meters off the ground on a slippery alien tree–” Lachlan’s foot slipped a bit, and he caught himself on the branch. “Ah! Oh, God! Fuck!”
“There’s no way we’re a hundred meters off the ground. It’s hard to judge, but at most, we’re probably more like thirty.”
“How is that not helping? Thirty meters is less than a hundred. That should be comforting.”
“Thirty meters is still a very fatal distance to fall.”
Sam was silent for a moment, not even mumbling that he hated this. Then he spoke again.
“Listen, about what I said earlier…”
“Sam,” said Lachlan. “I want to continue that conversation. I really do. And we will. But I’d prefer to have it with my feet on the ground.”