Friday, April 27, 2012

The Nightmare

Part Four

April 27, 2012

The sound of water hissing on hot stone broke the kiss, though Will lingered for just a moment longer, his tongue gently touching the softness of her lower lip.  Drawing his head back, he looked into her eyes, gratified to see she seemed a bit dazed, glad the kiss hadn’t just affected him.  Reluctantly, he moved around the fire, kneeling to carefully tilt the MRE away from the heat.  As he prepared the second packet, he glanced across the flames, and got a jolt that seemed to spark something in his chest when their eyes locked.

Slowly raising a hand to her lips, she murmured, her voice husky, “That was the best…apology I’ve ever had.”

Will smiled.  “It was the best…apology I’ve ever given.”  Then he bent his head to stop staring at her like an lovesick dog, leaning the second meal on the stone before carefully adding more wood to the fire.

Eva noticed how Will dealt with every task: easy and assured, calmly getting the job done.  It was clear he was very familiar with this kind of life.  She wasn’t sure what to think about him, this great kissing man, who had just knocked her right off her feet.  Cocking her head, curious, she asked, “Why are you here?”

He spared her a quick look as he poked the fire, adjusting it to keep one packet warm as the other cooked.  Quietly he said, “I guess you might say I’m on a pilgrimage, though after ten years, I may be less a pilgrim than a nomad.”   Will smiled, though it was no more than a movement of lips, and didn't warm his eyes.

“Ten years?”  She couldn’t keep the incredulity out of her voice.  “Why?  What is it you’re still looking for after all that time?”

“It’s a very long story,” he said abruptly, “and not one I particularly want to talk about.”  He frowned, then muttered, “I don’t know why I even told you that much.”

Snorting, Eva said,  “Yeah, you really overwhelmed me, spilling your guts like that.  I don’t know how I’m going to handle all that information.”

Will tried to glare, but couldn’t stop the grin as he took in the flash of irritation in her eyes, the hint of impatience with his attitude.  “I didn’t mean to piss you off.”  His voice deepened; somehow she felt the vibration across the fire, in her stomach as he said, “Guess I'll need to apologize some more.”

“We’ll be holding off on that, Donovan,” she said quickly, then scowled when he laughed out loud.

Raising his hands in surrender, Will acquiesced.  “Okay, okay.  We'll start with dinner.”  He waited a moment, then casually murmured, “We’ve got all night to work on…apologies.”

Eva drew breath to sputter, then noticed the twinkle in his eye and the effort he was making not to laugh again.  Relaxing, she smiled sweetly.  “Yes, we do,” she said softly, “a long…very long…cold night.”  When his eyes widened, and she heard a loud, gulping swallow in the sudden silence, she burst out laughing.  For a second he wasn’t sure which way to go, then the sound of her laugh, low and slightly rough, led the way for him.  Laughing with her, he prepared to dish up.


Later, Will gazed at Eva as she sorted through her things—the mountain of things she had squirreled away in her clothes.  He still couldn’t believe it.  “How did this come about?” he asked, gesturing to her possessions.  “Have you always travelled this way?”

Smiling, she shook her head.  “I was in Pokhara, getting supplies, arguing with the Tourism Board about a guide, acclimating to the altitude and I was befriended by this old woman at the hostel where I was staying.”  She paused, remembering the ancient, wrinkled face, the toothless grin.  “I was having trouble with my pack—one of the load bearing straps had gotten ripped somewhere between Australia and here.  I didn’t want to buy a new pack, but I couldn’t get the strap fixed properly.  Then this woman sort of took me under her wing.”

“You speak the language?”

“No, but her great-granddaughter could speak English.”  She laughed softly.  “I ended up being more than just their paying guest.  They just…enfolded me into their world.  The food was wonderful, the family was huge; so nice, so helpful and kind.”  Her voice had dropped to a near whisper.

“What’s wrong,” Will asked softly.

“Oh, nothing really.  They were just good people.  Poor, but rich, you know?”

He had his own memories of people with nothing, and yet with everything that truly mattered.  “Yeah, I do.”

With a little smile, Eva began arranging her things in small, organized piles.  “The old woman, Nima, showed me the amazing usefulness of a native skirt and coat.”  Her eyes sparkled in the firelight.  “There are more pockets, nooks and crannies in these clothes than you could possibly imagine.”

“I couldn’t have imagined if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

“Turns out, however, there is one tiny flaw in this mode of travel.” Eva said quietly.  When he raised a brow in question, she said, “I’m so used to my pack, how it feels on my back, between my shoulders, the balance, the weight; I know how to walk with it.   I wasn’t used to having all my things in pockets and compartments, so when I got hit with that huge gust of wind, I just sailed right off the edge of the mountain like some clueless amateur.”   She looked gravely at Will.  “If you hadn’t been there…”

“But I was there.”  He paused.  “When I was getting you off that rock, what did you mean about being hurt on so many levels?”

The corner of her mouth turned up a fraction as she gave him back his own words.  “It’s a very long story and not one I want to talk about.”

“Okay, I deserve that,” he conceded, but he waited, patient in the silence.

She was quiet for so long, Will thought that was the end of it.  He built up the fire while she fiddled with her gear, making more small piles, sorting into groupings that made sense to her.  Balancing her pockets, Will thought.

Finally, “I guess you might say I’m on a pilgrimage, too.”  Taking a deep breath, her voice low and quiet, “I used to be a mountain climber.  I’ve been all over the world, climbing was all I knew, what I loved.  About six years ago, I was on an expedition in Alaska to climb Mount St. Elias.”  She shot Will a look when he softly whistled.  “That’s a legendary climb,” he murmured.

She nodded in agreement.  “I was with a group of eight.  Two of the climbers should never have been allowed to be part of the group.  Once it was clear they were too disruptive, too cocky, they should have been sent back.  They were overbearing, wouldn’t listen to the guides, insisted on doing things their way, constantly questioned every decision.  They were a real threat to the success of the climb, and a danger to the group.”

Something was tickling in the back of Will’s mind.  Why did this seem familiar, a tale he already knew?

“At the start of the second week, we were approaching our last base camp to rest up for the final push.  That night there was an bad argument between the lead guide and the two men.  Nick was adamant that the group would wait, rest, relax before attempting the summit; they wanted to climb the next morning.”

“Nick?  Wait, I know this.  Nick Barlow.  He was killed—”  He stopped, saw the stricken look on Eva’s face.  “God, you were on that expedition?”  She just stared at him over the snap and crackle of the fire.  The story was coming back to him, the details, the senseless loss. “Those two guys went out on their own, got in serious trouble, and Barlow had to rescue them, isn’t that how it went down?”

“We tried to persuade him to wait for more rescue personnel, but he was the experienced lead on the scene, and it was his company, his expedition, his responsibility.  He knew if we waited for outside help, it would be too late.”  Her voice trembled.  “Nick died saving one man, the other was already dead when Nick found them.  Later, the families of the two men sued his business partner and his estate.  In the end everything was lost: Nick, his business, everything.”

Will knew there was more, some detail he was missing, though maybe it wasn't important now, after so much time had passed.  What did matter was Eva.  He couldn’t believe she'd been on that fateful trip.  It had to have affected her, deeply.  Gently, he asked, “Why are you walking the Annapurna?  What are you looking for?”

“Truthfully?  I don’t know anymore.”

He cleared his throat, unsure what to say.  “Talk to me, Eva.  Tell me what you’re doing here, how I can help you.”

Shadows under her eyes, a weariness in her voice, Eva stood, stretched her stiff muscles, rubbed a sore spot on her thigh, no doubt bruised in her fall, then said quietly, “I need sleep, Will.  Can we do that now?  Maybe talk tomorrow?”


Nick hung upside down by a leg tangled in his climbing rope; the only thing at the moment keeping him from a thousand-foot fall.  Eva could see he was bleeding from a bad gash in his chin, the blood running in a red furrow into his eyes, dripping off his forehead.  She lay on her stomach, braced with ice screws, ropes and her ice axe, and looked into the crevasse with horror at Nick, hanging 20 feet below her with no way for her reach him.  His rope had snagged on a jagged edge of rock inside the deep cleft when the ice bridge had collapsed.  Without that accidental snag, Nick would already be gone.

“Nick!  Nick, can you hear me?”  She didn’t know how to get to him, how to pull him to safety.  She wasn't even sure he was alive.  Her heart thundered with fear.  “Nick, god damn it, answer me!”

As his body hung, swaying gently, Eva thought she heard a sigh, maybe a soft moan.  “Nick, it’s me, Eva.  Come on, talk to me if you can.  Help is coming!  You just have to hold on.”

She was half in the crevasse herself at that point, feeling the deep, eerie silence of the blue ice, hearing the slight creak of Nick’s rope as he moved in a ghostly breeze that seemed to come up from far, far below, sending chills into her soul.  How could this be happening?  My fault, my fault, my fault!

“Eva.”  The whisper seemed to waft out of the frigid air, ethereal, insubstantial. “Sorry…”

The harrowing dread was unbearable.  “Nick!  No!  Stay with me!  Nick!”

There was an odd tremble in the snow under her belly, small crystals of ice drifted past her face and fell in sparkling flashes toward Nick.  And then the crevasse seemed to shift, the rope holding Nick loosened, and slowly, snakelike, in a slithering nightmare of motion, it uncoiled from the rock.  As she screamed his name, over and over, Nick fell, gently, gracefully, into the depths of his frozen tomb.


“Eva!  Oh god, baby wake up.  Please wake up!”  Will was rocking her tight in his arms, close enough he could feel her heart jackhammering in her chest, her mindless screams thick with horror and grief, pain and loss.

They had gone to bed in his little tent, cozy and warm from the fire, and though it was almost agony to lay so close to her, he consoled himself that at least she didn’t object when he spooned in behind her, tucking her body into his.  Murmuring into her hair, he told her it was to keep them both from hypothermia.  Her snort made him grin.  They had fallen almost immediately to sleep.

Until the screaming.

He rolled her over, took her face in his hands and began to kiss her frantically, whispering nonsense words, kissing her eyes, tasting the tears.  Her screams became moans, the moans gasps, and finally she seemed to hear him.  “Eva?  It’s Will.  I’m here, you’re not alone.”  Her breathing was harsh, ragged, but at least she was awake now.  Still kissing her—gentle, soothing touches—he breathed into her ear, “What was it?  Tell me what happened.”  Her body began to shake in the aftermath of the nightmare so he drew her closer still, giving her all the warmth he could.

“Nick,” she moaned.

“You had a nightmare about Nick?”  Again that niggling thought, that detail of something he just couldn't grasp.

“I saw him fall.  I was there when he fell.”  She hung onto Will’s shirt, her fists tangled in the fabric as she wept.

“It was just a nightmare.  Hush now, it was a bad, bad dream.”  And just like that, he remembered.  His heart lurched, he looked at her, and he remembered.  You were Nick’s business partner.  You’re the one who was sued, lost the business, lost everything.  Oh, Eva.”

A tormented whisper. “Yes.  Me.  I lost the business, my home, everything.”  Her voice was raw from the screams.  “But I didn't care about that, none of it mattered.  How can anything matter after you've killed your husband?”


  1. Gruesome. Coincidentally, speaking of climbing disaters, one of the books I'm reading is Into Thin Air...

    1. Awhile back, when I was still in Edinburgh, there was a great series on the BBC about Everest. One of the shows was the very disaster you're reading about--an unforgettable and haunting story.

  2. Oh my word Terlee....this is haunting. Beautiful and full of agony in the same heartbeat. Wow.

    1. Thanks so much. I'm hoping to finish the whole story in two more parts--a hope based solely on what my characters still want/need to say.