That cold ain't the weather. That's death approaching... [First place]
|The Myth of Mount L'ween
Thank you TarynSloane ~ Writing for the beautiful ribbon that graces this item...
Prompt: That cold ain't the weather. That's death approaching
"Com'on, man," Curl cried. "Don't give up now."
"I am not giving up," Kasha said and dug deeper into the snow. "There is something under here." His foot had hit something hard. He piled the snow on both sides as he continued to plough. By and by he unearthed a flask. Then a hand holding the flask. At this point Curl joined him. And then the owner of the hand himself revealed himself lying under a couple of feet of snow.
Panting Curl and Kasha looked at the man and then at each other.
"Well," Kasha shrugged. "He wouldn't need that flask." He said eventually pulling the flask from the man's grip. He looked into it after unscrewing the cap. "There's stuff left."
"Kasha," Curl's voice trembled a little. "Look at that face man. It's gross."
He was not wrong. The man under the snow had his mouth open in a scream, his eyes were bulging out of the sockets. His other hand was frozen half way to his face, palm facing outward. In his other hand he was holding the flask which had its narrow mouth exposed.
"Maybe he got scared of something or someone," Kasha said.
"An avalanche?" Curl suggested half doubting himself.
Kasha shook his head and pocked deeper into the groove to reach the backpack that was still fastened to the man's back. "An avalanche won't sneak up on him and he wouldn't stop to enjoy a drink if an avalanche was after him. Its something else."
"This ain't the Himalayas,Curl. Or Earth," Kasha warned before his face twisted as he tried to pull out something. A pouch came to his hand. It was frozen solid. Curl lighted the small blowtorch that he carried and melted the thin ice crust. Kasha opened the pouch and brought out the contents. A razor, a toothbrush, a toothpaste, a some cash, and an identity card. Kasha dropped everything and picked it up.
"Name: Robert Jackson," he read out loud. "Age: 42."
"That's the license for professional mountain guides," Curl said and his eyes widened. "Man, this is the missing man we are after?"
The license was dangling from Kasha's hand, his eyes fixed on the man's face. The creases between his eyes deepened as his eyes fell on the man's wrist. He grabbed the hand and loosened the watch.
"4:39 am. 27th December 2181," he read out loud. "Does that ring a bell?"
"Yes," Curl said. "Phil detected some anomaly in the upper ranges. Sudden earthquake: discreet and discontinuous. Abrupt drop in temperature. But that was three weeks ago. I had studied that data myself."
"About the time this man went missing," Kasha stood up. He looked about himself taking the the surroundings. They were about 16502 feet above sea level, on the slope of mount L'ween on Neptune. They had crossed last habitat thousand feet before and were going up to the summit, following the last recorded route taken by Robert Jackson. Right now they were surrounded by vegetation-less snow covered mountain.
And here was the missing man buried under snow, dead.
"Let's go up and investigate," Kasha said and stood up.
Curl glanced at the man at his feet and shuddered. He turned on his Satellite Tracking System and kept his location on sharing mode. At least if he died, someone would know.
Kasha and Curl went up the mountain for another hour without any trace of anything that might scare the man.
"This is Jackson's last recorded location," Kasha said consulting his tablet. "Whatever happened to him, happened here."
"Then he rolled down?" Curl scratched his head. "Well, I'm turning on life-scanner."
Kasha did the same and they both went in different directions to increase the radius of their search but the scanner returned nothing.
"I'm buffed, man," Curl dropped on the snow. "This place is ..."
His mouth remained open. Kasha's muscles stiffened on hearing the sound. It was like someone screaming, carried by the wind.
"Did you hear that?" Curl asked jumping to his feet.
Kasha only nodded. He had heard it and his sixth and seventh sense was screaming in alarm.
"I think its coming from up there," he said slowly.
Curl swallowed. His mouth had already gone dry and his heart was thudding madly in his chest. He was lean and short man, an engineer mainly. He had just tagged along with Kasha for he was bored of the lab and he wanted some fresh air. Not that he wasn't cursing himself now for leaving the safety of his labs.
Kasha on the other hand was an ex-serviceman back on Earth. He had left Earth at the age of thirty, after serving in the Navy for ten years. Now, after two years as a mountain ranger, he had started to miss his ship and the sea.
Kasha strained his eyes through the night-glasses. It was 2 pm at night. The moons, Naiad and Despina, shone in the northern sky showering the mountain with silvery glow that made the snow sparkle.
The cold air was sliced by another shrill cry. Curl clasped Kasha's hand and swallowed.
Kasha nodded. "Let's turn about..."
He had barely started to step back when the air suddenly turned into a gust of wind just as it feels of be under the wings of a giant flying bird. Only Neptune didn't have birds.
The temperature was plummeting at an alarming rate and within a fraction of a second it had gone from -20 to -65 degree centigrade and it continued to do so. Culr's teeth chattered uncontrollably even after he had raised his suit's artificial temperature.
"What happened to the weather?" Curl asked looking at the thermometer. "Man, its cold."
"Its not the weather," Kasha said, his eyes frantically searching for a physical assailant, wishing for one.
The gusts of wind followed. Kasha pushed Curl behind him and brought out his gun: a handheld weapon with long barrel that has the range of over hundred feet.
"This is the anomaly," Curl said through his chattering teeth.
Kasha only gestured him to descend.
They had hardly gone a few steps when wind rose in speed, and picking up snow started to hurl at them. Both the men jumped skipped and skidded down the slope.
The wind increased in velocity, tiny ice crystals hit them like bullets. The mountain screamed furiously now as if it was offended by the presence of mere humans.
Curl tripped and fell. Kasha pulled him up by his arm.
"Stop, stop," Curl screamed. "I think I had sprained my ankle."
"Let me see," Kasha said raising his voice above the screaming sound.
"No. Oh!" Curl's eyes enlarged and his jaws dropped. Kasha saw this expression change and turned around.
He might have nerves of steel but the made even his knees weak.
Pieces of snow had loosened off and were being thrown at them by the haphazard wind. About thirty yards ahead of them the air thickened. A long slit appeared that started to draw in air from all directions. Gradually the slit started to glow and take form of a being. It appeared human-like but the men had not known any human who could float in the air and glow like radium in the dark.
"Is... is that thing alive?" Curl stammered. He grabbed Kasha's arm and stood up. "Tell me I am dreaming, man. Tell me I am dreaming."
"Relax," Kasha managed a word and raised his gun. Not that it would be of any use against a ghost or spirit or whatever it was but the feel of the trigger on his finger gave him some confidence.
The shrill cry returned while the wind increased in velocity. Both the men struggled to stay up on their feet. The human-form raised its hands. Lightning cracked from its long fingers, striking everywhere around the men flinging snow and ice at them.
"Biting blizzards!" Curl exclaimed. "What... what... uh..."
Kasha turned to find Curl collapsing. His eyes rolled into his head, his mouth remained apart. Kasha grabbed the man and shook him.
"Curl," Kasha cried and turned back to the human-form. The thing was almost on them, shedding lightning like someone would burst crackers. Kasha couldn't believe what he saw. He was frozen stiff, in fear or in amazement, he wasn't sure. His mouth had gone dry. His heart was pounding in his ears. He was afraid he would have an attack any moment. And then he realized what had happened to Robert Jackson. That poor man had had a heart attack on seeing this monster - he didn't know what else to call this thing he was seeing.
But he was not giving up. Whatever that monster was he would need to leave it behind.
The human-form was approaching them, slowly gliding on cold air. Streams of light and went out in all directions like long hair caught in the wind. Kasha could see its eyes now. Long, narrow and black.
Lifting Curl over his shoulders, he broke into a run. He had to lift his foot above the snow at every step to take the next one. Lightning continues to fall around them, blinding him and their combined weight and the weight of their equipment loaded backpacks pushed him deeper than usual. His progress was slow but the cracking of lightning around him and the mad screaming encouraged him more than anything.
With every step, the flashes increased and once Kasha turned to see when he slipped and fell taking down Curl with him. The men tumbled over and over till the snow and ice covered them completely.
The sun was up in the eastern sky. The mountain was a quiet and peaceful scene against the blue sky. There was no rumbling or trembling. Little gusts of wind blew now and then like it always did.
Kasha broke the ice cover and came out of his sleeping bag. Curl had just started to stir. He had blacked out after their fall. When he regained conscience, the mount L'ween was quiet again. He was stiff with cold and certain that most of his skin had suffered frostbite. Curl was still unconscious. He put Curl in a sleeping bag and went into another himself. Most of their equipment had broken. The only thing working was a radio that he used to draw in the rescue team.
Kasha exhaled and watched the breath turn into mist. He didn't know if it was luck but he was glad to be alive. He never thought that he would ever meet this monster. It was a myth, story people tell to scare the new arrivals to this planet. Where there's smoke, there's fire, but he never believed in the fire. He doubted anybody would.
He would need to convince his superiors to cordon off L'ween.
Curl groaned and twisted in his sleeping bag.
"Man, my head hurts." He blinked to adjust to the light and then opened his eyes wide. "Where are we?"
"Five miles from the Third Base."
"We... we are alive?"
Kasha nodded. "Yes. So much for the anomaly."
"Yeah," Curl said jostling half out of the sleeping bag. "It wasn't the weather, man. It was ... what? Death?"