Hawaiian mystery of romance, revenge

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Chapter 21: Akaka Falling'

Akaka Falls, our next stop, plunges 420 feet from top to the bottom. The walk is a botanical garden trek and our party crossed several streams. I was surprised the band members were tagging along, actually curious. Desi informed Jeffrey, and thus me, that the band members seldom took in the sights that the tourists have on their brief stop itineraries. The youthful noise makers were intrigued. My father lugged my HDTV equipment. Michael carried the ladder. The walk back up the steps was going to require strength and sweat, an event I was silently eager to witness. With Michael Kaaiea, that is. I could see why the ladder was necessary. The falls were gorgeous, but tourists must stand back behind a chain link fence. With the ladder, I had an unobstructed view of the falls from top to the rocks below. The ladder was sturdy and I didn't go all the way to the top. I couldn't see over the drop-off below me.

The others, after admiring the plunging falls and mist sprays, began to wander down the steps to smaller waterfalls. I was left alone.

Changing lenses on the Nikon camera I went for wide angle. I took another step up the ladder. After a minute I switched to a fish-eye lens to capture artsy dimensionals. Back in my bathroom darkroom in Santa Monica I might experiment with some high contrast chemical impressionistic styling, suitable for framing.

I was falling.

A wobbling slow motion tumble and I grabbed at the ladder as it teetered and then slid over the fence. A sharp yank to my shoulder, the ladder nearly pried from my grasp. The bottom rung of the ladder, upside down, now the top rung caught on the fence post. I re-gripped and looked down. Nothing below except the stream flowing through large jagged, broken rocks, a couple of hundred feet below. My camera dangled from my neck, choking me, the least of my worries.

The ladder rattled but held as I shifted my weight. The ladder step was not hooked, it was lodged, and a shift of the whole ladder might break it free. Think fast. I didn't have a lot of time to wait for a rescue party. If I tried to pull myself, crawling the ladder to the top, my weight, changing the fulcrum's balance, probably would be the cause of the ladder's break-away.

The fence, from the ground toward the falls was not entirely a cliff. It sloped slightly with mossy vegetation from the waterfall's constant misting. Vine root appendages stuck out of the dirt and rock stringy thick hair, like rope. I did a flip to the inside of the ladder against the cliff. I held my breath to see if the shift sent me plunging. My hands were sweaty, slippery. I am not good at gymnastics, but past history of the swim team, gave me upper body strength. I grabbed at the rung above and did a chin-up a few feet. Catching my breath, I grabbed at another rung. Turning, I reached out, grabbed, and gave a tug at a root vine. It came away in my hand.

A new thought to my dilemma: a rope is made of many twines twisted. One-handed and swinging to the cliff, I gathered a fistful of slimy roots, twisting them together as best I could. The tug grip to them felt strong, and I put my faith in the floral braid. I let go and slammed against the cliff, my lifeline slipped a few feet to my weight but held. I could not return to the ladder.

Hand-over-hand I inched upward. Unused muscles strained my arm sockets. In high school gym rope climbing, I never made the required top for a high grade mark. Struggling with dirt flying into my face, I was close to the metal strand fence when a hand poked under the fence between grass and dirt. I reached with one hand and the hand pulled me up farther until I grasped the links of the fence and leveraged myself up, hauling my body over to collapse on the ground, exhausted, scratched, safe and thankful.

Kukui stood looking down at me. My rescuer. Not Michael. Not my father.

"My gods sent me."

"Thank your gods for me." Relieved, I leaned back against the fence and the ladder chose that moment to fall to a clanging, destructive crash into the gorge bottom of Akaka Falls.

I heard tourists walking our way, high-spirited cackling, off-loaded from a sight-seeing bus.

Kukui helped me to my feet and put the HDTV equipment over her shoulder and walked slowly up the trail. I carried the 35 mm camera, rescued like myself, its lightness added weight of my ordeal. In front of a botanical marker that read, "Koali Vines," my terrestrial saviors, she turned and surveyed my damage, finding me filthy, breathing heavy, and worse for wear, somehow buoyant at avoiding my close call. She got in my face, inches away.

"You could not die this day. You're here to serve a purpose..."