April 06, 2010

Hunting Yeti

Another short story/scene:

Dusk lurked on the other side of the Himalayan mountain's peak. The chilled wind taunted us as we navigated the long shadows. Our ragtag band of rugged explorers trudged along the narrow trail in a silent, single file march.

"Clearing!" shouted our local guide. "Rest?"

I nodded and signaled for for a break. The guide led us out onto a ten foot by ten foot stone ledge that jutted out of the steep slope. I stepped to the edge of the rock, swung my pack off, and knelt to search for my water bottle. As it graced my parched lips, Thompson hollered. His shout cut in and out as the wind stole the words and whisked them away, but I got the gist. He'd found something.

Abandoning my quest for water, I jumped to my feet and pushed through the others to get to Thompson, who stood over a deep crevice in the mountainside. The entrance to a cave. Thompson, my wide shouldered, brute of a friend, beamed.

"He's in there, boss!" Thompson said, his baritone hoarse from sucking in the cold air. "I can smell him."

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I had a hunch, too. I took a step forward and felt a hard tug on my backpack's strap. Turning, I met the disapproving glare of Talia, my wife, whose icy gaze made me freeze.

"Not so fast," she said. Her hands rested on her hips. She meant business. "Head lamps, maybe?"

"Everybody light up!" I shouted. I flashed her a smile. "Course, sweetheart."

One by one we lit out head lamps, careful to block the wind so that the wind didn't snuff the candle out before we even set foot inside. I entered the cave first and heard Steve's call from over my shoulder.

"The guide's spooked. Says he'll wait out here."

"By himself?" my wife asked. "That's crazy!"

"Leave him," I said. "Everybody stay close and be on your toes!"

We descended into the crevice. My wife came behind me, then Steve, and then Thompson. A cool draft of cold mountain air snaked through the underground tunnels. Compared to the buffeting wind, it felt refreshing. The slim passageway soon opened up into a massive room. I stopped dead in my tracks.

"What is it?" asked Talia.

I pointed. A dung heap. Not a goat's. Certainly not any other creature that would venture this high into the Himalayas. Talia's eyebrows shot up. A professor of biology at Yale, she knew a thing or two about animals. This wasn't something she'd ever seen before.

"Pretty fresh," Steve commented.

"Look alive! This may be it."

I took another step. Stopped. Thompson swung around. "You hear that?"

"Sounded like it came from deeper into the tunnels," said Talia.

"Wasn't human," Steve said.

We paused in the dense darkness and stretched our ears. Only the momentary drip of water off the cave walls could be heard. I grimaced and waved us onward.

"I don't hear it anymo-"

Thompson shut his mouth as a shadow passed through the black recesses of the cave. Steve cursed and grabbed at his satchel for a pistol. Mine was already drawn.

"Back's to each other!" I hissed. "Be quick about it!"

We backed into a four-pointed star and stared into the black that surrounded us. Doubts started to set in. Had we really seen the shadow or was it just our minds playing a trick on us? Where had it gone? Where was it now?

"I hear something," said Steve. He broke the four-pointed star configuration and took two steps forward. "It was right over here."

He took another. Then two more.

"Careful, Steve," said Talia.

She had barely uttered the words when a cacophonous bellow boomed throughout the cave. Steve's eyes went wide. The hulking figure of a beast covered in white fur flashed out of the darkness and into the light cast from Steve's head lamp. Steve's cry and the light from his head lamp cut out simultaneously.

Silence followed.

Stunned, I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Steve? Steve! Where are you?"

Thompson let forth a guttural groan. "It killed him! The bloody thing snapped his neck! Where are you, you sonofa-"

Another bellow. The beast appeared right in front of Thompson. Easily twelve feet tall with dingy, white fur covering its entire body, the creature appeared unearthly. Yellow fangs barred in defiance as it threw its arms up in a crazed fury. Thompson brandished his knife, and then charged. Talia and I cried out as one, but to no avail. The monster swept one arm across its chest and swatted Thompson to the other side of the room. I heard a thump, a sickening crack, and then nothing. Thompson was unconscious, or worse.

My hand trembled as I aimed my gun at the beast. It snarled and took a step closer. Talia frantically pulled at her backpack. I pulled the revolver's trigger back. The flare from the pistol lit up the room. The monster took the shot in the chest and screamed in pain, but the bullet only seemed to make it angrier.

Talia finally found what she was looking for. Pulling out a kerosene lantern, she hurled it onto the cave floor. The lantern shattered, sending a splash of kerosene between us and the creature. She pulled a match next and tried to strike it. I fired again. The creature snarled this time and barred its teeth. The bullets only provoked it. It spread its arms and growled defiantly.

"Talia! Run!" I shouted. "Go! Save yourself!"

"You're coming with me!" she shouted.

The match suddenly caught fire. She flung it onto the ground just as the monster charged. The flames leapt into the air as the creature passed through them. It shrieked and writhed as its coat caught fire. Flailing wildly, it jumped back and glared back at us with hate-filled eyes.

"Come on!" Talia shouted. "Let's go!"

We ran. Our legs burned from the high altitude. We made two turns. The exit was so close. The pain-filled moans of the beast grew distant. I almost breathed a sigh of relief when Talia suddenly stopped.

"No!" she cried. "No, this can't be!"

"What? What is it?"

Her fists pounded into the cave wall. Realization set in. A dead end. We'd taken the wrong path. Tears slid down Talia's cheeks. I swore. And then we both shut up. A sound traveled down the length of the corridor. A horrible, vile noise. The kind that nightmares are made of. Unmistakable, but unthinkable...

The yeti was chuckling.

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