The metal monstrosity stood black against the black sky, silent and foreboding. I shivered, looking at it behind a fence that surrounded the construction. The wind blew warm, heat from the day still radiating from the pavement. I took a deep breath and glanced around. The street behind me was quiet and dark, not even lit by street lights. A siren sounded in the distance. I tightened the straps on my backpack, pulled on a thick pair of workman's gloves and climbed the fence. At the top, I pushed the barbed wire down with my hands and gave a little jump.
I fell, sneakers landing, legs bending, hands hitting the ground, breath coming out of me in a gasp. I stood, feeling an ache in my knees, a good ache, one that comes from moving your body. I took off the gloves and stuffed in my bag and began making my way towards the crane.
I maneuvered around the massive hole that was the foundation for the new building and quickly ducked behind a trailer as a car passed on the street. I breathed in and out slowly as my heart thudded in my chest. Calm down, I told myself, you're alright.
I wasn't alright, though, not really. Someone whose alright doesn't break into a construction site, not without a good reason and my reason was flimsy at best.
But that didn't matter anymore, I was in, I was going. I'd planned it for days, wondering why I was planning anything at all and now that I'd started, I couldn't stop. I'd crossed the threshold. Going back now, I'd always wonder, 'if I'd gone this far, why didn't I simply go through with it?'
My sneakers crunched gravel as I made my way to the bottom of the crane. I passed other machines, rusty dump trucks and towering excavators standing still as statues covering me in shadows as I went. I put my hand to one as I passed and shivered as it felt as warm as a living being. I could see it's dark windowed face as it slumbered waiting for an operator to bring it to life.
I came to the bottom of the crane and looked up. I couldn't tell what was crane and what was sky. The night was a dark hole without stars and no moon that I could see. It would have been pitch black to someone who walked out his door into the darkness but I'd walked the whole way from my apartment here with little to no light, forcing my eyes to adjust. Though the top was lost in the darkness, I could make out the structure of metal in front of me on the ground well enough. I clambered over bars and walked over plywood, my shoes making hollow thumps, to the ladder.
I took deep breaths until my heart slowed a little. I took off my bag and pulled out a black sweatshirt, slipping it on despite the warm night. I drank from a water bottle. Then I pulled the backpack back on. I tied my shoelaces as tight as they would go. I tightened the straps on my backpack and I climbed.
I climbed, rung over rung, feeling good. I worked slow, methodical, careful, right hand up, left hand up, right foot up, left foot up. The hard metal felt good in my grip, feeling strong. I was soon sweating in my sweatshirt and wondering if I should take it off.
It wasn't long before I was above the trees, black bushes beneath my feet. I took a moment to catch my breath and wipe my sweaty hands. I could see lights twinkling in the distance, the land stars of a bustling city. A red light in the sky blinked as a plane passed high overhead. I heard vehicles driving on the road, honks at an intersection. Buildings rose near me. I was not above them yet. I could see the the bridge and the river, reflecting the city's lights. I looked up and realized I had a long way to go. I shrugged. I didn't feel tired. In fact, I felt excited. I had no idea what I was doing or why but I felt elated. I wanted to get to the top. I needed to.
I climbed again, faster, reaching, stretching, grasping rung after rung, lifting, pushing myself up at a good pace. I was really sweating now and regretting my decision about the sweatshirt. I stopped once again, gasping for breath and wiped my hands on my sleeves. I was above most of the buildings now, looking down at square rooftops and the cars looked smaller as they drove, headlights beaming across the ground. I shivered.
I wrapped my arms around the ladder and tried to relax for a moment. It was then I realized the exact situation I was in. Metal bars surrounded me in a cage around the ladder. It was a long fall to the ground and I had only my own strength to hold on. A brisk wind blew fluttering the straps on my backpack. I shivered again, my sweat feeling cold against my skin.
I hugged the ladder, trying to get my backpack off so I could grab the bottle of water. I slipped it out of one arm, then the other and then the strap slipped out of my hands. I made a grab for it, jerking my body but it was too late. I caught myself as the pack plummeted. It bounced as it fell from one side of the cage to the other, thumping, banging and finally hitting the ground with a soft thud.
I gulped, seeing myself fall as the backpack had. No soft clean fall to the bottom here, no sir. Who knew how many bones you would break before the bottom finally ended your agony. Maybe it was time to head back down, grab whatever was left of my bag and get the hell out of there.
"Fuck that," I whispered out loud. I was this far. I was getting to the goddamn top. I looked up and started climbing again.
I don't know how long I climbed but I remember looking up again and again and feeling as if the top had not gotten any closer. My arms and legs ached as I pushed on. I felt myself getting more and more tired, my muscles protesting the repetitive movements. A foot slipped, a hand missed the rung. I gasped, I grabbed, I stepped, and I kept going.
My neck hurt from looking up so I stopped. I looked only to the next rung, focusing on that alone and nothing else. I didn't hear the cars below anymore. I only heard my labored breathing and the enormous machine creaking around me in the cold wind that blew.
I pulled my up my hood, shivering against the cold. The metal rungs were chilly on my palms.
Oh god, I thought, is this really how I go? A fall from a crane? A messy jumble of body parts splattered against the ground below? I thought of the story, of what people would think. They wouldn't know what to make of it. 'Man falls from night climb of a construction crane, alcohol may be involved'. That's what everyone would assume, that I got drunk and thought 'hey, climbing that crane seems like a fucking cool thing to do!' I smirked at the thought. The truth was even more silly. I was completely sober. The question, that ultimate question of human existence would pester everyone. Why? Why did this happen? They would ask it over and over, why would someone do such a thing? What was the point? What was the ultimate truth here? The motive, the answer, the revelation?
I thought of Forrest Gump right then, running. "I just felt like running," he'd said to that question. "Well," I said out loud to nobody, "I saw something fucking tall and felt like climbing it."
I looked up and there it was, the top of the crane nearly in reach. I could see the metal assembly and the gigantic arm extending out into the blackness. I climbed up and collapsed onto a narrow metal landing, breathing in huge gulps of air. My muscles burned and I closed my eyes resting my head against cold steel.
I opened my eyes and forced myself to stand. Beyond the bars and walls of metal lay an entire world stretched out before me. I laughed and shouted and hollered and screamed. I sat, still laughing. I didn't think about how I'd get down or what would happen if I was caught on the construction site or what sort of laws I'd likely broken. None of that mattered. I patted the crane with my hand, banging the hard metal. I'd conquered it. I didn't have a flag to plant but I had something else. I pulled a black sharpie out of my sweatshirt.
"Jake was here"