Life

 

Edward F. Stack

 

I believe many things, now. Skeptical before, I was becoming a cynic, but now I am a believer. Perhaps believer is the wrong term. Is it belief when one knows something to be true, or if one no longer doubts things one rejected out of hand in the past?

There are so many things that I feel sure about now, but there are also still very many questions. But now, in simple terms, I am a believer. I believe that I can be a mother. By the side of the bed I see Jim sleeping, and I believe we will be able to keep our marriage together. Under the blankets are my feet, and although I can't see or feel them, I believe the doctors will let me keep them. I hope so, for there are so many things I want to do, so many things I want to make right.

And I believe that I can.

I remember how it began, Jim wanting something and not taking no for an answer. He hated being denied anything. In this case he wanted to see the cave in the cliff on the other side of the ice-canyon. We had seen a couple of these chasms during our tour of the glacier, but this was the first which had a snow bridge across it. Eric was our guide, an expat-American from Montana. He told us he went to college on a rodeo scholarship to stay out of Vietnam, dropping out as soon as he realized his number wouldn't come up in the draft. After a few years back-packing and working around the sub-continent he'd ended up here in Nepal and become a guide. Now he was standing in the snow trying to explain how dangerous the ice was to another tourist who thought he was in Disneyland.

Jim just didn't seem to understand. Maybe he thought the whole world was designed by engineers in consultation with lawyers like himself. Eric flatly refused to cross the chasm. We didn't have any equipment for climbing and he said the recent thaws made the whole area unstable, which meant the bridge could collapse under us, or after we'd crossed. In either case we'd be doomed to a slow death by freezing. Although I'd read that the final stages of hypothermia were supposed to be pleasant, that people felt warm and comfortable just before they died, I didn't relish the preliminaries. Not that death might be so bad, considering...

Then Jim just dropped his pack and headed off across the canyon, with Eric dropping his own gear and chasing after him. I was tired so I didn't go with them. From where I stood I could see them arguing the whole way to the cliff, not stopping even after they'd been to the cave and started back. That was the last thing I saw before the bridge collapsed, clouds of snow and ice billowing up out of the canyon and obscuring the two men from my view.

When everything settled I was alone. Jim and Eric were only a couple of hundred yards away, but the other side of the chasm was as far away as the moon. Eric yelled over and told me what to do. I was to retrace our route back to the village, which should only take a few hours since it was mostly downhill. My pack contained enough food and supplies to last the afternoon.

He said I'd be alright if I just followed our tracks in the snow. If I didn't lose the trail, and didn't take any branching paths, I would get home safe. There I should tell the authorities what had happened, and they'd rescue the men. Meanwhile, Eric and Jim would be working their way up the cliff-face to higher ground to wait for the helicopters because the wind from the rotors would be dangerous where they were. With a little luck we'd all have dinner together.

What did that song say? If it wasn't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all? Well, I had lots of luck, beginning with the wind which blew the snow over our tracks before I'd gotten very far. I still don't know when I got lost. I guess you could say I was lost all along, but you know what I mean.

Somewhere I took a wrong turn, probably to get the wind out of my face because it was blowing harder and harder and if you've ever had a winter wind blowing snow into your face for any length of time you know you'll do anything to make it stop, even if you are properly dressed and wearing goggles and everything.

Anyway, I finally rested in a cave I found. It was at the head of a dead-end valley I wandered into and was too tired to walk back out of right then. Just a few minutes rest, or so I thought. Did you know that if you fall asleep in the cold you can freeze to death without ever waking up?

Even now I don't know what woke me, but it was dark and I was almost deathly cold. More importantly, the feeling in my toes was already gone. Among the supplies I had with me was a small propane stove, and that was what saved me, the heat it gave off being just enough to make the cave survivable.

When I'd arrived at the cave my socks had been soaked in sweat and I'd taken them off, along with my boots, to dry out. Of course, I'd fallen asleep. My footwear would eventually dry, but my feet were too frost-bitten to thaw, and swollen as they were I couldn't even get my boots back on. Which meant that even after I was warm and had eaten one of those little cans of fruit I couldn't walk out.

The fire of the stove saved me, and it also brought her. I think she was lost, but maybe she was just getting in out of the storm, like me. Of course, that raises the question of how she could get lost, here in her natural environment. But then, cats get stuck in trees, don't they? Whales run themselves aground and birds sometimes forget to fly south, so maybe she was lost. I don't know.

I do know she was a beautiful sight to me, both then and later. At first I thought she was beautiful because I saw her as a rescuer, but later I found out how truly exquisite she was, even when I knew what she was. My first view of her was obscured by the light of the stove. At that time I didn't know she was a she, but I do now, so I'll say she. There was snow blowing behind her and she was just a shadowy outline as she crouched in the entrance to my cave, not coming in.

That confused me. Were the ski patrol or Red Cross or whatever they had here afraid of fire? Or were they afraid I would already be dead and didn't want to get too close?

After a few minutes I called out to her, and waved her in. That didn't work, she just hunched down a little lower and a couple of times she turned to look out at the storm as if considering leaving me. My frozen feet would keep me from going after her. Terrified at being abandoned I began to beg and plead, even cry. Looking back I think it was the crying that made her stay, that and the storm, which had been getting stronger and stronger.

For a long time she stayed in the doorway, just sheltered from the worst of the wind but not really inside. I think she could feel some of the heat from the stove, but not much. Perhaps I slept again, I don't know. Eventually, after what seemed like hours, she moved in a little closer, very cautiously, and when nothing terrible happened, she came closer still. During that time I thought I must be hallucinating, and couldn't understand why she didn't save me, or talk to me, or do anything except crouch by the wall like a frightened child. When she got closer I understood, and I was afraid.

My first thought had been that she had a lovely fur coat, and when I think about how right that thought was even in its wrongness I smile a secret smile to myself. All wrapped in her fine fur, with a fur scarf and fur hat, matching gloves and all. How silly I was, but what would you have thought? For she wasn't wearing clothes, of course. The fur was hers they way our skin is ours.

It finally dawned on me, she wasn't a rescuer, not then anyway, she was trapped too. What are they called, abominable snowmen, or snow-women? I hate that, she wasn't abominable in any way. Yeti, that is the word, she was a Yeti. I'm not sure what it means in the local language, I must remember to find out, but it sounds better to me than abominable anything.

In appearance she looked much more human than ape. Her form was slender and well-proportioned, and her face was much more like ours than a gorilla's. Later I saw that her eyes were grey. They were very deep, and I felt that if I looked into them too long my soul might fall in and not come back. We looked at each other for a long time, each marvelling at the proximity of the other. The advantage was with her, I think, for she must have known that humans existed while for me she was a creature of legend and lies.

Looking closer I saw that she was indeed female, with small breasts showing through the white fur high on her chest. Then I realized why she had risked the fire and light in this cave for shelter, it being the only one in the area, as I found out later. All too clear was her concern, the bulge of her pregnancy obvious as she edged closer to the stove and its heat.

What a pang of anger and pain I felt then.

My own miscarriage was what had caused Jim and I to drift apart until we felt that only a trip to somewhere far away and totally unknown would erase the memories of our empty nursery and empty hopes.

Maybe we could have survived the miscarriage, our love having been strong and true, but finding out I was sterile from complications doomed us. Jim wanted children as much as I, if not more. What a wonderful father he would make, almost as wonderful as he was a husband, at least before the miscarriage.

He didn't really blame me, of course, he was too honest for that, but he did want children of his own so badly. Selling the house with the bunny-rabbit wallpaper in the room upstairs behind the door we didn't have the heart to open hadn't been enough. Nor had moving to another city. The reduction in Jim's salary as a junior partner in a new firm had made things worse, and my inability to find a teaching position only made me seem more of a failure, in both our eyes. Neither of us really believed that, but we both thought it sometimes, secretly, and one or twice we even said it, in anger or despair.

And so here I found myself.

Without thinking, I slid my hand across the snow to press it on her distended belly, to feel it. Although she tensed and her eyes never left mine, she didn't stop me, so I touched her. The fur felt very soft, and slightly oily. Maybe it helped keep the cold and wet out, like the feathers of ducks, but I could feel the life inside her stirring, kicking, almost ready to leave the womb.

I laughed, and she smiled, one of her hands reaching out to my stomach. I stopped her, and shook my head with a sad smile. She looked confused until I touched my stomach with one hand then clapped both together and opened them flat, empty. A look of infinite sadness crossed her face. In an instant it was gone, replaced by one of thought and concentration which surprised me.

I guess I dozed, for when I looked up she was gone. My feet hurt even more than before, and I was more alone than I've ever felt. Glancing at the stove I saw the flames flickering, and knew the gas must be running out. Outside the storm had stopped, and I could see bright sun. How ironic, I was dying in a dark cave and the world was going merrily about its business, not caring about me. Idly, I wondered if Jim had survived, and how he'd feel when I didn't come back. Would he be sad, or would he feel release? I missed him, and hoped he missed me. At least I'd have a chance to know if the stories of dying by hypothermia being pleasant were true.

Then there was a shadow in the entrance. It was her, but she wasn't alone. Two other Yeti, both female, came in, but only after she insisted. By this time I was too cold and tired to resist as they touched my swollen feet while talking among themselves in a soothing purring sound which put me back to sleep.

I was awoken by being shaken. Night had fallen while I slept. Looking down, I saw that my feet were covered in an ointment of some kind; the doctors still aren't sure what it was and I can't tell them. My coat was open, as was my shirt. Kneeling in front of me were my friend and her two companions. They seemed to be praying, each of them clutching their stomachs and rocking back and forth while humming what sounded like a hymn. Then the first one opened her grey eyes, reaching out a hand covered in some type of balm to touch my stomach, and I fell asleep again.

When I awoke the next time it was just after dawn and I was being carried by two larger Yeti, who seemed to be males, and my friend was walking in front of me. There was no feeling in my feet, no pain. As I looked around I recognized the mountains above the resort we had been staying in, and I knew that the chalet was just over the next rise. Laughing, I pointed there, and my friend beamed, nodding. Then she dropped to her hands and knees and began crawling towards the ridge, looking back at me, then crawling more. Finally I understood.

With a smile the two males gently released me, and I fell softly to the ground. Carefully, I began working my way up to the crest of the ridge, and when I reached it I could see the chalet with people standing around it. Behind me I saw my savior and her companions grin, then turn away. Almost instantly I lost sight of them, but somehow I knew they were watching me, looking after me.

Calling out and waving my arms, I started down the slope, with people seeing me and rushing to help. There in front I saw Jim, and the look of love on his face made me feel more welcome than I could have dreamed. As I collapsed in the snow I felt a rush of warmth and hope I hadn't experienced in a very long time, not since the first moment I knew I was pregnant. Just before I fainted, I felt another rush of warmth that had also been missing for too long, and I knew I would experience the feeling of bearing life again.

I believe that it will be soon.

 
 
 
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Author Bio

After paying for his undergraduate degree as a soldier, scuba diver, and marine archaeologist Edward Stack spent eight years teaching high school history at American International Schools in Africa and Latin America. Now he is back in Canada as a faceless bureaucrat in Ottawa, with two children who he says are far more wonderful than anything he has ever seen or will ever write.

His epic fantasy novel Ily's Dream is available from Roxybooks.com, and at Barnes and Noble. Roxy is also publishing his collection of speculative fiction, Wizards, Wonder & Worry. Many of the stories in 'WWW' have been printed before, but others are available here for the first time.

"Life" is from Wizards, Wonder & Worry: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror to make you shiver, smile, sigh and squirm." The book was a Dream Realm Award 2000 Finalist.

His web site has some free samples, come and see.

Read another story by Edward: The Magicians' Birthday

 


 

 
 
 

"Life" Copyright © 2001 Edward F. Stack. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.
 
This page last updated 4-1-01.

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