Tom clasped his hand around the cold steel bar and made sure he had a good grip before letting go with the other, all the while his feet felt for something solid so he could continue his ascent. The sound of the wind in his ears at two hundred feet made even a little breeze sound gale force. At some point going up this gigantic steel needle an invisible plane was broken and he entered a world of sky, a place inhabited by birds, airplanes and clouds—and on occasion radio towers. As the platform was still a long way up, and as he had to pause periodically to attach his safety hitch, he found that he would often start to talk. At first he was talking to himself. One day, however, he realized a voice was responding. It was the voice of the red light at the top of the tower. Now he knew this wasn’t a real voice, and that beacon lights don’t actually talk, but he played along because it eased his nerves and helped to pass the time during the long trek to the top. The funny thing was that this particular light thought it was a star—just like the ones in the sky. Tom thought this was hilarious and he never had the heart to tell the tower light that it wasn’t really a star.
Today, however, the light was silent. This worried Tom, and yet he had other worries to keep him company on the climb. He had recently run into an old friend, Jessie, with whom he had sat for an advancement exam. Jessie was now in a government job sitting behind a cozy, warm desk reviewing schematics and, of course, making the big bucks. Tom would have been doing this, too, but he had not passed the test. He had been condemned to a career of tower climbing. Still, being a tower dog was never dull so he didn’t mind too much—that is until recently when he found out his daughter was sick. He didn’t have the insurance, or the money, to get her the medical care she needed. This was the last straw for his wife as well. She left him last night.
“Hey, Red-eye!” that is what Tom called the light, “Why are you so silent today?”
No response. Tom clanged on the ladder and looked up toward the top. The light of day was fading and he was surprised he couldn’t see Red-eye’s familiar glow. “I hope they didn’t have Zeke take you down already,” Tom remarked.
“Hey, Red-eye, we really got to talk!” he yelled again. “They’re thinking about shutting you down. Yeah, no kidding.” He listened again for a response but none came. “See all those midget cell towers dotting the landscape down there? They are going to put you right out of business! You are becoming obsolete, my old friend!” Still nothing. “Even a star such as yourself,” Tom laughed, “they are going to pluck you right out of the heavens!”
“Ah, don’t take it so hard. We’re not finished yet,” he added, but Tom did wonder if maybe he, at least, was finished. He really could have used a blink from old Red-eye or maybe a reassuring word or two. But not today—just silence.
As he got up over eight hundred feet, with just one more long stretch of ladder to go, Tom became seriously worried. Not only was Red-eye not responding as it always did, but now it was clear that no light was shining from the top. As Tom picked up the pace his footing slipped leaving him hanging by mere fingers. He was tired, and depressed, and even his imaginary friend wasn’t talking. The earth seemed to invite him down, “Just let go, Tom. I will take your troubles away.” But something kept him hanging on, he had to see Red-eye.
When he pulled himself onto the platform at the top, the horror hit home. Red-eye was gone! The whole unit had been removed. He walked over to the place where it had shone for all those years. Tom couldn’t believe it. He raised his hands to his head and, after a moment of disbelief, started to sob. Before his hands fell to his sides they gently embraced the now empty space. The pounding of Tom’s heart from the climb joined the hammering inside his head. It was now dark and the lights from the distant ground spun below him. He tried to take a step toward the ladder, but his knees were weak and he stumbled. All the energy in his body, and his life, was gone—all except the despair feeding the relentless drums inside his head. He pulled himself to the edge, tossing his legs over the side. Like a rag doll he slumped forward and let go into the abyss. His mind raced madly as he plummeted toward the ground. In spite of the maelstrom descent something broke through to Tom—it was a red light! As he passed the halfway point his safety clasp caught a support bar, violently jerking him back into the tower. He hit the steel hard, breaking his arm in two places. There he dangled, helpless, five hundred feet in the air. It was dark and cold. The wind howled in his ears. In the distance there was a red star that Tom had never noticed before. Delirious, his mind clung to it. The red star’s glow seemed comforting and familiar. He thought he heard it whispering, “Don’t fall! Don’t fall! Who else will look for me in the sky, among millions of stars, and know who I am?”
The next night when Tom awoke in the hospital his wife was bursting with good news. The tests were wrong and their daughter was going to be okay. “And you, Thomas, you gave everyone quite a scare, hanging five hundred feet in the sky from a thread! They say it is a miracle you lived. You are lucky they could get you down.” She continued, inquisitively. “You know, Zeke couldn’t understand what you were doing up there yesterday. He told me that when he went up to remove the unit the week before, you had already done it!”
“What?” asked Tom, “I didn’t remove the light.”
Then her voice turned serious, “Hey, Tom, what do you say we give it another try?”
Tom eased himself out of bed and made his way to the window. He looked toward the horizon and found the red star that had kept him company the night before. He gazed at it for a moment, and then answered, “Sure,” he said, “I’ll give it another try.”