3rd Place – October 2020

White Out

By Donna Pierce

“Come on, Honey, you’ve prepared for this hunting trip for two years. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I have a strange feeling about going.”
“Mike made this trip several times and enjoyed it. I’m not worried, Ben. You’ll have that guide, Robert, who Mike respects.”
“I know, I’ll be fine. I just wish I weren’t going.”
Marci waived goodbye.
Her hand dropped as she remembered waving goodbye to her brother, right before he was killed. Fear overcame her. “Wait Ben, wait!” She ran to the driveway, but he was gone!
***
The driver dropped Mike and Ben off at the lodge. They found Robert in the back. Robert waived to them as he shoveled snow.
Ben noticed Robert’s face was rough and sported a long white beard. A white braid ran down the middle of his back, and a red scarf covered the top of his head.
“Glad to see you,” Robert said. “It’s a cold one this year with plenty of snow, but we’ll be fine. While shoveling the snow this morning, I uncovered this medical bag I lost last week.” Robert pointed to a row of snowmobiles alongside the cabin. “Pick a snowmobile and throw your things on it. They’re fueled and ready.”
“Robert, this is my friend Ben.”
Robert shook Ben’s hand. “Hi Ben, glad you could join us. You’ll enjoy this trip. Have you ever shot an elk?”
“No, this is my first hunt. I’ve looked at pictures that Mike brought back the last several years. This is really beautiful country.”
“A lot different than Chicago I bet,” Robert said.
“Did you bring a map?” Mike asked, as he climbed onto his snowmobile.
Robert looked over at Mike. “The printer was down so I only have one, but you’re welcome to it. The Missis is at the other end of this walkie-talkie, so she’s our rescue if we need it.”
“Let’s get started, we need the daylight. Glacier Park is wide open terrain. We’ll stay above the ravine I pointed out last year, Mike.”
“Rip um, let’s ride,” Robert yelled.
                    ***
I have never seen anything so beautiful. Rays of sun beamed across the glittering wonderland. He smiled when he noticed the pine branches leaning towards the ground, heavy with snow. Reminds me of Christmas. Ben watched wisps of ice twirling in small tornadoes driven by the wind, crossing in front of him.
“Look at that,” Ben pointed to the river.
They came upon rising steam flowing above a river. Two moose stood in the water. Robert pointed at them and swerved so they wouldn’t get frightened and run.
I am going to enjoy this.
A few hours later Robert raised his arm and stopped.
“What do you think, Ben?”
“It’s beautiful.”
“We have thirty more minutes of travel before we camp,” Robert said.
Within a few minutes, Ben started falling behind Robert and Mike. His snowmobile slowed. He moved it to full throttle, but he was still losing speed.
Suddenly, a strong wind howled around the mountain peaks, blowing snow and wiping out visibility.
It’s a total white out! Where are they?
Ben heard a grumble, then a loud roar.
Did the ground just shake? What is going on?
As the visibility started to clear, Ben saw a huge burst of snow and trees, move down the mountain.
Then Robert screamed, “Go!”
Ben turned to see a mass of snow roll over them and continue down the side of the hill.
What the hell? Did they just go off that cliff?
Ben’s snowmobile sputtered and stopped. He pulled off his goggles. Robert and Mike were gone.
Oh my God! Was that an avalanche?
Ben jumped off his snowmobile and ran toward where he’d last seen Mike and Robert. He came to an abrupt stop. The side of the hill was gone! Bent and broken trees stood up through the snow all the way down the hillside.
Shocked, he ran over to the edge and looked down.
It’s a long way down. I can’t see them!
“Hello, are you down there?”
They’re not answering, but that doesn’t mean they’re dead. Maybe they can’t hear me. 
Ben paced back and forth. “Shit, shit, shit… what the hell.”
He walked back and sat on his snowmobile, put his face in his hands and cried.
They’re dead. I need to return and let the authorities know. How do I get back? Oh yeah, follow the tracks. I can’t think. What am I going to do?
Ben tried to start his snow mobile.  It sputtered and refused to start.
I told Marci I didn’t want to come on this trip. What if I freeze out here? Poor Mike, I must let his family know. I have to call Marci.
Ben pulled his phone from his coat pocket and hit Mike’s name.
No reception.
What should I do? It’s getting late, I need to get ready for tonight. What about the cold? I’ll try to set up that tent Marci sent with me. Shit. Robert has the food and rifles on his snowmobile.
Ben untied his gear and opened the little canvas tent. A granola bar fell out.
He sat in the snow and ate the bar as he thought about his situation. His attitude began to change. Ben grew madder by the minute. How could all this have happened? He stood up and yelled at the top of his lungs. “You are not going to beat me. I will not let you.”
Ben saw a ledge and dragged the tent and heavy sleeping bag to it. He dug snow from underneath the ledge and pressed it around the opening for insulation, and then set his tent up inside.
God help me please. I can’t stop my teeth from chattering. If I sleep, I’ll freeze.
I need to get up and wave my arms, walk in place, anything to avoid freezing! When first light comes, I’m going down that cliff to those snowmobiles. It’s my only chance. I need food and whatever Robert packed to stay warm.
Morning came after a miserable night. A fresh blanket of snow covered the ledge. He pushed out of the snow and saw the sun rise across the mountain.
I should try that damn snowmobile one more time. My feet are numb even wearing these mukluks that Marci bought me.
Ben tried to start the snowmobile, but it didn’t turnover.
Ben walked to the cliff. Here I go. It doesn’t look bad, just boulders and spaces of sheer rock hundreds of feet down.
Ben made it halfway down when he grabbed a clump of tall grass which uprooted, and he lost his balance. He rolled about twenty feet before a boulder stopped him.
“Damn that hurt.”
A crushing pain took his breath. Ben looked down at his hand and got sick. The splintered bone stood up above his bloody knuckles. Throbbing pain shot up his arm and made his hand shake. He stumbled a few feet and sat down. Crap, I’m going to get sick.
Marci, I’m trying, Babe. I don’t know if I can do this.
He slowly got up and held his hand close. As he reached the bottom, Ben saw the two snowmobiles.
“Oh my God, they’re crushed. Look at them. Shit, there’s Mike.”
“Mike,” he yelled. “I’m coming buddy, I’m almost there.”
He rushed to Mike and sat down beside of him. “I’m sorry, buddy, I am so sorry. I’ll bring help.”
Ben held Mike’s hand and wept. He remembered Mike telling him about this trip and how excited he had been.
He slowly walked to Robert.
He seemed like a nice guy. It was a bad way to die.
Ben pulled the food bags from Robert’s snowmobile and searched for anything to help protect him from the cold. Then he saw Robert’s walkie-talkie.
He grabbed the walkie-talkie and pushed the button.
“Hello, hello, anyone there?”
No answer.
I might be out of range in this ravine. I’ll try again when I get on top. Please God, let it work.
Ben found Robert’s medical bag and wrapped his hand tight. Then he opened a can of beans. He threw what he could in a backpack and didn’t look back when he headed out.
Determined, he headed in the direction from which they had come. Ben walked toward the next hill when he noticed a bear. The bear stood up and watched him.
His face turned white. Shit. A bear are you kidding?
The walkie-talkie blared a series of loud squeals that echoed quite a distance. The cold air carried the high-pitched sounds to the bear. The bear turned and ran away.
That was close.
Hello, hello, anyone there!” Ben shook the walkie-talkie and tried again but received no response.
He grimaced with each step and sat down to pull off his boots.
My toes are black, shit, frost bite! I don’t care if I have to crawl, I’m going home.
A voice blurted out on the walkie-talkie. “Robert, is that you? Anyone there? Robert come in!”

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