“The Ladder” is a short story written by an L+C member, Greg R. He wrote the story during his time at Calvary Healing Center, and he wants to share it with The Life Challenge community. Enjoy!
“Again?” He thought to himself… How can this be happening again! Coming to his senses in an unfamiliar place seemed to be almost normal anymore. As for the blur that served as a recollection of what had happened leading up to this moment, there were no details.
It was completely dark. So totally dark in fact, that he was unable to see anything. He desperately felt his pockets. They were empty. He timidly stretched out his hands in all directions, but could only feel what must be a very hard dirt floor. He got onto his hands and knees. His elbows and knees felt bruised and his back was aching badly as if he had fallen or tumbled down a slope or some stairs. Of course, he had no memory of falling or being hurt. How often he had awakened with unexplained bumps and bruises.
He slowly crawled forward sweeping his hands back and forth hoping to find some clue as to where he was. He had crawled perhaps three feet and he abruptly ran into a wall. The wall felt cold and perhaps a bit damp. He slowly ran his hands upward. He felt large smooth stones, rounded like from a river. The river rocks were embedded in the wall, spaced unevenly here and there. He continued to feel higher and higher up the wall. By now, he was on his knees reaching as high as he could without standing. He began moving to his left, slowly feeling the wall as he went. It seemed that the wall was curved because as he moved further to the left, he had to move his knees backward slightly.
After following the wall for only a few feet, he suddenly bumped into something in the dark. He recoiled terrified, not knowing what it was that he touched. He fell back into a seated position. He sat there stunned for what seemed several minutes waiting to hear something or sense some movement.
His head was spinning, he was feeling that sickness again. That agony that takes over the entire body when it has been too long since he had gotten loaded. The last time he got sick, he truly wanted to die. He had been so hopeless and desperate. He wanted a way out. A way to end this horror, but as always, he went back to the only way he knew to end the suffering. He had found what he needed and got loaded again. Somehow, he had ended up here.
He imagined that he was not alone in the dark. That someone, or something was looking at him, but he was unable to see back. He reached out his right hand, trembling with fear, to find out what he had bumped into. Whatever it was, it made no sound when he hit it. Suddenly, he felt it. It was hard, and cold. It felt like a board or piece of wood. He grasped it in his hand. It was wood alright. He could feel the grains and pattern of it. He gingerly stretched out his left hand to where the right hand was. Slowly, he slid his left hand upward. Without going too far, he felt another piece attached to the first. This second piece was parallel to the dirt floor. He inched closer on his knees to get a better grip on his wooden companion in the dark. With his left hand, he followed the parallel piece slowly until it abruptly ended with another piece like the first.
He ran both hands down the left upright piece towards the dirt floor. It ended just a few inches above the bottom. The piece on the right went all the way to the floor. He grasped both uprights firmly, and shook them a little bit. They moved easily as the left upright was not touching the floor. He slowly realized that this must be an old wooden ladder.
His eyes had adjusted to the dark somewhat, but it was still very, very black. He could now barely make out the shape of the ladder. It appeared very old, very worn and very dangerous. “This piece of shit ladder won’t support me.” he thought. He was convinced there must be another way out of this mess. He went back to the wall, and continued to search for another way out. After feeling his way along the wall for what seemed an eternity, he realized that he was going in circles and the wall was in fact round. He concluded he must be in a round pit, or well. Had someone thrown him in here? Had he fallen in from staggering around in a mental fog? Not wanting anything to do with the rickety ladder, he thought maybe he could just wait it out. Perhaps when it was light out, he could call for help. No, he could not stand to be in this situation any longer. He had to accept the fact that there was no way out except the ladder.
He skeptically viewed what he could make out of the ladder. The rungs were unequally spaced, and unusually far apart. Climbing it would be difficult and in his weakened condition this was a scary realization. The first step was chipped, and split in half, and was quite a bit off the floor. He had to grasp both sides of the ladder and raise his leg fully to get onto the first step. As he did just that, the ladder shuddered and moved from side to side. He froze for a moment to make sure he was firmly on the first step. As he stood there on the swaying ladder in the dark, he said “I’m a complete wreck.” “I can’t control anything about life, and now I’m probably gonna fall off this ladder and die right here in this miserable place!” After a few seconds, the ladder stopped shaking. He really wasn’t ready to take the next step, but he knew he couldn’t stay in this awful place. When he regained his nerve, he very carefully moved towards the second step.
The second step, like the first was damaged and loose. It shifted when he put his foot on it making it difficult to keep his balance. The steps were far apart, which made going backwards very difficult. “Up!” he said out loud as if to give himself courage where there was none. He strained to get to the second plank and once again, the ladder wiggled dangerously. “Is this going to get harder as I go along?” he wondered out loud. As the ladder steadied, he knew that he only had one choice, and that was to continue. “God, if you’re out there somewhere, you gotta help me outta this mess…Please!” He moaned.
“Do I continue?” he wondered to himself. “Well, if God is gonna help me, then I just have to keep going and trust him” his trembling voice didn’t sound so confident as he stretched out for the third rung of the ladder.
His head was still spinning, his body in torment. He wasn’t sure if the ladder was going to support him much longer. Every step he took, the ladder swayed unsteadily, and creaked as if it might break apart. The fourth rung was a good arm’s length higher. He realized that the only way to continue upward was to let go completely. He released both hands and leapt up a bit. He stretched out his arms in one quick motion and grabbed the fourth step with both hands. He pulled himself up and managed to steady the swaying ladder. He could rotate his waist to kind of sit on the step. There he rested. He was drained from the effort so far. “I can’t do this!” he muttered as tears of frustration welled up in his eyes.
As he sat there on the fourth step, he began to think about all the crap he had gotten into, all the shit he had done. All of those who he had trampled on and over on his way to the bottom of this damned hole. He inwardly knew of all the things he needed to change about himself. Could he do it, could he change? He wasn’t sure, but he knew he could quickly name all the things he would change if he could.
After a bit, he eyed the next rung. It seemed out of his reach. He realized that knowing all the things about himself he needed to change, wasn’t enough. He needed to share his mistakes with someone he trusted. Someone that knew him and understood. Only then, would he have the nerve to try to change. As he reached for the fifth step, he no longer felt so sick. He felt like maybe he had the strength to get out of this pit.
There, within his reach was the sixth step of the ladder. Suddenly it seemed like he had some inspiration in moving forward. Was God really helping him? If he was, could he help him change?
Now he could see the seventh step. It was just over his head. Then he realized that he could vaguely make out some dim stars, way above in the darkness. Excited that he could see the way out, he renewed his resolve to keep going. He swore he was going to determine who he had hurt along the way. Yes, it was a long list, but he didn’t care anymore. He was going to get out of this hopeless pit, and change his life completely.
The eight step, then the ninth. The stars were becoming clearer. The edge of the pit was only two or three ladder rungs above him now. He knew what he had to do. Now, more than ever, he finally had direction. The tenth rung, then the eleventh. There he was, at the very edge of the pit. He could feel the rim of the hole.
It was then that he realized that God had been beside him the whole time. Not just helping him find the courage to climb the ladder, but even before he fell into the pit. Knowing this, he felt a burning desire to know this God better. A God that he had not known before, or even believed could help him and care about him.
Reaching the top of the ladder let him fall sobbing onto the grass around the hole. He struggled to his knees and looked to the stars. He thanked God for not leaving him for dead. For not quitting on him even though he had despised God, and quit on himself. As he looked around, he thought about the struggle he had endured to get out of the pit. He saw in the distance the lights of town, and life. Normal life. Life without the pain and desperation. That desperation and hopelessness he had felt in what seemed like a never-ending battle.
As he turned to walk away and leave the pit behind him forever, he heard a voice. A voice crying as he had not long ago. A voice of someone lost in the darkness of the pit. He returned to the opening of the hole and called down to the scared voice in the inky blackness. He said, “I was down there before.” “Let me help you out.” “Listen to my voice and take the first step….”