He forced his weary body onwards and upwards, ever upwards, hampered at every turn by the sack he dragged behind him, bumping it from step to step. He was so tired he no longer cared about the contents of the sack, if ever he had cared.
The steps seemed never ending. Ancient stone, crumbling at the edges, narrow and winding, dangerous. No wonder nobody ventured up here.
His breath was coming now in short gasps. He rested for a moment, wishing he'd thought to count the steps as he started. How many was it now? A hundred? Two hundred? Six hundred? He had no idea.
The sack was growing heavier with every step he took. He hefted it towards him, but there was no room on the step for both him and the sack so he had to rest it on the step below. This spiral stone staircase was medieval, leading him to the very top of the church, the tip of the tower, several hundred feet from the ground. It should be high enough, he thought, for his purposes.
The steps opened out into the ringing chamber where the bells were hung, allowing him a brief respite, but he daren't stop for long. He had to make it. Taking another deep breath he pushed on, hampered now by the wind swaying the tower. Was this normal, this terrifying swaying motion, this movement of the tower? Or would it collapse and him with it, never mind the huge sack?
He was stupid to have agreed to this, to have attempted it in one go. Someone else should be doing it, not him. He was too old for this sort of stress. But still he pressed on, ever upwards.
And then the spiral steps ended, suddenly, abruptly, without any warning.
He found himself straddling the bare wooden beams of the roof, his heart in his mouth as he stared down, down, down, between the beams. There was no floor. Suppose he slipped? It would be the end of him. He lifted his eyes. It made him feel weird, looking down. Was this vertigo, then?
He saw the ladder, clearly the final stage, but what a stage. Just an ordinary wooden ladder, propped carelessly against the wall and leading to a trapdoor in the roof.
His heart was thudding now, thumping painfully against his ribs. He wanted to close his eyes, but afraid of the gaps between the beams, dared not. Carefully, painstakingly, he inched forward, towards the ladder.
One hand closed on the rungs, the other dragged the sack. He wasn't sure how he was going to manage, the sack was so heavy now. He offered up a prayer, then forced himself to climb. When he reached the top of the ladder he was slick with sweat. He wedged his knees as best he could, and wound the arm carrying the sack around the ladder. Then he pushed on the trapdoor with his free hand.
It felt solid to his trembling limbs, but he heaved with all his might. It gave just a little, forcing him to climb another rung to gain the advantage. Then, with a final mighty shove, it was open.
He pulled himself through the narrow entrance, emerging into the wind as it tore at his clothes, but he was able to lower the sack onto the roof. He advanced towards the parapet, and for a moment was stunned at the view. He could see for miles over the countryside.
Then he looked down. They were all there. Anxious faces gazing up at him. He had half a mind to wave, but with a grim smile he opened the sack.
Taking out the first one, he threw it over the edge of the tower, impervious to the collective gasp which greeted his action. He went on tossing them over the edge until the sack was empty, not caring where they ended up. Then he threw the sack. No way was he going to carry that down again.
His job done, the Reverend Albert Hall slowly descended the steps.
That was it for another year. Another load of teddy bears had successfully abseiled - or near enough – the church tower at the annual church fete. Thank God.