The Choice (long...)

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Dingus Milktoast

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Mar 5, 2002, 4:53:35 PM3/5/02
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Once, hiking down a slot canyon in southern Utah, alone in
the world, I was haunted by the prospect that ancient feet
had many times trod the same path. Bent on unknown missions,
they lived and died in a desert I have only barely been able
to visit. They were at home in a world that is
simultaneously alien and attractive to me. They lived and
died and left the barest of hints in their passing. Sitting
on a bench above a scary slot I tried to imagine what it
might have been like. No amount of imagination can ever
truly fill out the vast blanks on the pages of history.
Doesn't mean we shouldn't try though!

**********************************************************************


The Choice
By Dingus Milktoast

Trial:

Tol rolled over on his side and was instantly awake. The
still air was taut with the expectation of violence. He was
well attuned to this sense of danger. Years of practice had
cultivated in Tol an ability to sense the minute changes in
air pressure, the muffled sounds and subtle shifts of odor
that signaled peril close at hand. He knew they were being
watched. He knew those doing the watching had nothing in
mind but bad intent.

He and his companions were camped in a small glade at the
top of a hill. They'd camped in the area many times,
countless times in fact, and knew well of the nearby stream,
the soft beds of needles and the commanding view. It was a
strong defensible position and well above the cold air
currents farther down the valley. The trees shielded them
from the wind and hid them from prying eyes.

Tol decided upon his strategy without really thinking about
it. Choices were easy when there were none. He would lie in
quiet and react if the attack came. His only chance depended
upon his lightening quick reflexes, his familiarity with the
surrounding countryside and a large measure of luck. He'd
either fight them or run. He lay there, tense and alert,
waiting for death.

They attack came just before dawn, from the other side of
the hill. The quiet was shattered with blood curdling
screams as the bandits slashed and stabbed at the prone
campers. The first two sleepers died without waking. That
didn't stop them from being hacked to pieces though. More
died as they tried to rise, hands, arms and even heads
flying in all directions. It was over as quickly as it
started.

Tol didn't linger to survey the damage. He realized the
hopelessness of a fight. At the first scream he rolled away
from the fire, rose to a crouch and dove over the edge. It
was nearly a clean get away. Nearly. One of the bowmen saw
him rise. The quick arrow pierced deeply into Tol's shoulder
just as he sailed out over the void.

The side of the hill was steep. The impact of the arrow sent
Tol off balance. He rolled as he fell and landed squarely on
his back. That drove the shaft of the arrow out through the
front of his shirt. He screamed in agony. For a few seconds
he was insane with it. But Tol was used to pain. He stifled
his screams, sprang to his feet and took off into the
forest. He knew they'd be coming after him.

Tol and his people lived on the other side of the mountains.
He considered himself a trader, but smuggler was closer to
the truth. It was a dangerous life. Warriors patrolled the
lands south of the pass. Smugglers were hunted down and
killed. And their customers were often more dangerous than
the soldiers. Many times his people had conducted a trade
only to be robbed by those same customers the next day.

Life was no easier on Tol's side of the pass. His village
was high enough to suffer the extremes of winter. They
lacked a long enough growing season to feed themselves. They
relied upon steady trade to survive. The amber they smuggled
south and the bronze they brought back were both so highly
valued that rich proceeds were to be had by those daring
enough to take them. But it was a rough and dangerous life.

Their entire village was on the brink of extinction. They'd
suffered a hard winter and the pass opened late, well into
summer. Their traditional partners to the south had all but
abandoned the old meeting places. They were forced to trade
with anyone they could find. As such, the quality of the
goods they brought back declined. So they had to make more
trips.

As the season lengthened and the expected bounty failed to
materialize a last trading party set out for the high pass.
Accompanying Tol were two experienced traders and 6 older
boys. It wasn't their practice to expose their children to
the dangers of the high pass, but they had no choice. These
were the last able-bodied men in the village. No one else
knew the route or possessed the skills to navigate the
dangers. If they failed no one would take their place. It
was a last desperate gamble in the face of a fast
approaching winter and now it had turned to disaster.

Tol didn't need to think this through as he ran. He lived
and breathed it every day. He was all too aware of their
failure, of his failure. He was all too aware of the impact
this would have on the village. He didn't need to dwell on
the fact that this likely spelled the end of his people.
Each and every person in their party knew well the vital
nature of their mission. Failure simply meant death. And now
it had begun.

Tol didn't bother to look back as he scrambled up the ridge.
He knew they'd pursue. They always did. The pain radiating
through his shoulder was bad. He knew he was losing blood
and with each beat of his heart, more of his life oozed out.
He needed to staunch the flow but he couldn't afford to
stop. His one chance lay in making the ice before they
caught him. His one chance lay in out climbing his
pursuers.

But even that chance was exceedingly slim. He'd managed to
grab a small bundle of personal affects as he fled camp. But
the bulk of his equipment had been left behind; cloak, food
and most of his climbing tools. His people jealously guarded
the secrets of those tools. He wasn't worried about the
bandits using them. He knew they wouldn't fathom their
purpose. But it was unlikely he'd survive a high passing
without them.

To make matters worse, as if that were possible, dark clouds
enveloped the mountains. A major storm appeared to be moving
south and he was climbing directly into its maw. He was only
a mile or so from the ice. That didn't allow much time.

Tol's people had begun to master the art of mountain
climbing long before he was born. Clever craftsman and
skilled climbers developed tools to aid their dangerous
work. They used specially forged bronze pikes on the
ice-rivers. They used braided horsehair ropes for safety.
These were often fixed over the many short vertical steps on
the north side of the pass. But their greatest invention and
the single most valuable tool at Tol's disposal were the
Bear Claws. Forged from bronze, these metal spikes were
strapped to their feet. They gave purchase where no mortal
man would dare tread. These he'd managed to retrieve as he
escaped.

Most outsiders regarded them with suspicion and outright
hostility. The bandits were even worse. They thought Tol's
people were in league with dragons. Lacking any
understanding how people could navigate the ice, they
suspected witchcraft. That's why they always pursued. They
feared the retribution a survivor might bring down upon
them.

Tol scrambled over a sharp step and paused to look back for
the first time. Although only a few minutes had passed the
day was already growing brighter. He doubled over in a spasm
of agony. Just as quickly he straightened up, panting and
blinking rapidly to clear his eyes, to clear his mind. He
could see two pursuers coming up from below. Without another
glance he turned and started up.

Above him the ridge climbed very steeply, disappeared behind
a knoll, then rose again in the near distance. Just beyond
he could make out the bottom of the glacier. Higher still he
could see how the ice-rivers dropped down from the high
pass. Normally he would have been able to see the pass as
well as the peaks to either side, the Guardians as his
people called them. But this morning the entire mountain
mass was hidden beneath dark clouds. He knew not to attempt
the pass in such conditions. He also knew there was no other
choice. He either climbed or he died.

His breathing was labored. He felt light headed and weak. He
knew they were gaining ground with every step. He felt the
hopelessness of the situation. Pain and despair were his
only companions. But he couldn't give up. It wasn't in his
character to ever give up. He held on to a single ray of
hope, that against all odds he would survive the high pass
and return to his village. He'd lead them down the mountain.
He'd find a way to save his people. Without him all hope was
lost. He held onto that need. Fighting for others gave him
the strength to continue.

He reached the foot of the ice just as the first snowflakes
began falling. As quickly as he could he strapped the Bear
Claws to his boots and set out. He immediately felt safer.
Even in his weakened condition he smiled grimly at the
irony. Most people, his pursuers included, were so afraid of
the ice they would not set foot on it. Their superstitions
and ignorance held them back. But Tol, an experienced
mountaineer who had lived his whole life crossing this pass,
knew the real dangers ahead. That these coming trials were
safer than what he faced below was a sorry state of affairs
indeed.

The glacier descended from a huge cirque below the high
pass. Tol needed to climb about half way up the ice and then
traverse off to a rock ridge. By climbing the upper ridge he
would avoid the worst of the icefalls and bypass the
bergschrund. But the rock was steep in places and he deeply
feared the growing storm. Once above the ridge he faced a
long, slow climb to the pass itself. He did not think of the
trials he faced on the descent. The northern aspect of the
pass was far more difficult than the southern, even going
down. But he'd deal with that when he got there.

The arrow was still lodged in his shoulder. There hadn't
been time to even look at it closely. With the storm already
upon him he knew there was no time still. His right arm hung
uselessly at his side. The pain filling his shoulder nearly
drove him mad with its intensity. But without quite knowing
how, he managed to push it deep into his mind. The agony
never left him, not even for an instant. But it did not
consume him.

He climbed in torment. Twice he stumbled and fell hard.
Twice he screamed into the storm. His tortured cries were
lost in the greater cacophony of the storm. He forced
himself to continue. Navigation was impossible in the
whiteout. But so familiar was the pass that his feet seemed
to find a way where his eyes failed. He climbed for hours in
his world of white, higher and higher. But with no landmarks
with which to measure progress he lost track of time.

He found himself standing at the base of the ridge without
memory of how he'd gotten there. The black rocks soared up
into the gloom, wet with snow and seeded for disaster. Tol
was growing weaker. He was tempted to rest for a while and
wait for the storm to let up. But he knew there'd be no let
up. He knew if he sat down he'd likely never rise again. He
still wasn't ready to surrender. Lurching, haltingly, he
started up into the clouds.

He climbed with the commitment of the damned, stabbing his
hand upward while standing in balance on snow-covered rocks,
sheer drops all around him. The wind howled and the snow
fell and Tol climbed. He was several times compelled to
catch himself with his right arm when he lost his balance.
His screams once again sailed out into the tempest and were
lost forever.

He finally dragged himself over the last steep section and
collapsed onto the snow slope above. He had only to climb a
few hundred yards more to reach the pass. But it was so
hard! To this point the wind had been annoying. It had been
loud and frightening as it whipped around the rocks. It had
blinded him and made the rocks very dangerous. Now there
were no more obstructions.

He faced a cold malevolent spirit of unbelievable fury. His
people even had name for it, the Wind Demon. The gale came
out of the north on the wings of the storm. It was forced
into a narrowing funnel as it climbed the mountain and then
it was squeezed still more through the tight confines of the
Guardians. It blasted Tol right in the face as he tried to
look up. It froze his flesh, stung his eyes and iced his
beard. The Demon sucked the air from his lungs and stole
around the edges of his life, looking for a way in.

Tol had a warm bear cloak but that was on the ground back at
the camp. He had mitts and a warm hat. Those too remained
behind. He had nothing to keep the fury of the Wind Demon at
bay. Standing still or moving it did not matter. With each
passing minute Tol grew colder and weaker. He stumbled and
staggered. He fell to his knees more times than he could
count. His shoulder grew wooden and then he felt nothing at
all. He no longer thought in terms beyond his next step. He
just climbed.

Finally he neared the top of the pass. The Demon, terrible
in her fury before, brought forth a burst of malice so
powerful Tol had to fight with each step to keep from being
blown over backwards. The snow and ice burned his face and
worked its way into every nook and cranny of his clothing.
He was beyond fear of death. He was beyond endurance. He was
beyond anything he'd ever known.

And then he was standing right in front of it; the Stone
Door. It was a cave really, just above the ice near the foot
of the West Guardian. His people had long known of this
place. Tol had sheltered here from several storms over the
years. He didn't seek out the cave. The thought never even
entered his mind. But his mind had ceded logic to his body.
And his body knew it needed to get out of this storm.

Behind the Door a small gap between two boulders led to the
flat-floored cave. It was dry and completely still inside.
The quiet seemed almost an affront after the ordeal outside.
The cold still air frosted his breath as he crouched in the
gloom. He half-sat half-collapsed against the wall and
rested for the first time since the attack. It seemed like
an eternity, like a different life.

His shoulder was so long past feeling that he forgot about
the arrow sticking out of the front of his shirt. Eyes
closed, he wondered when the storm would let up. He wondered
too, at the fact he'd gotten this far. He'd come so close to
dying so many times he'd come to take it for granted. He
would just rest here for a while before he headed down the
other side.

He thought about his village, about the old women, young
children and broken men still living there. They didn't have
enough food to last the winter. They lacked the resources to
trade for more. They needed him and not just the goods he
should have been carrying. They needed his wisdom. They need
his strength. But mostly they needed his courage. He was the
last of the mountaineers and without him they'd have no
means of making a living. No means for survival.

Tol wasn't given to feeling sorry for himself. He'd lived a
hard life. Everything thing he'd ever loved, with the
exception of these mountains, had been taken from him. He'd
watched his children die one by one and when the gods were
no longer satisfied with his offspring, they took his wife
as well. His eldest son had a son before he too was cut
down. That boy, Tol's grandchild, lived still with his
mother. That boy was his only living relative and the last
hope for his line. He owed it to that boy to get down off
this mountain

The wind continued to howl outside. The storm refused to let
up. Tol quietly slipped into a fitful sleep where his
pursuers took on more sinister forms, if that were possible.
He was permeated with a feeling of sadness, of loss. He felt
empty and hollowed out. His soul fought for survival and his
anguished dreams reflected that struggle.

He stirred. Storm or not, he had to get up and continue. He
tried to rise but just couldn't summon the will. He sagged
back again. He'd rest for a bit longer. Then he had to find
a way to get down. As his breathing slowed, as he felt the
cold reach deep into his core, as his eyes began to close
again, he thought briefly of his mother. He remembered, so
clearly it hurt, her smile. He missed her. He missed her a
lot. It had never occurred to him before.

Jim Leininger

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Mar 5, 2002, 5:54:15 PM3/5/02
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Ya know, Dingus, you should really consider having something like this
published...What a gift for words, and an ability to put them down on
paper..
My hat is off to you... A beautiful thing...

Dwight Haymes

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Mar 5, 2002, 10:09:34 PM3/5/02
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Very plausible, Dingus. It's a great mystery isn't it? Great story, thanks,
Dwight

Dingus Milktoast <crha...@midtown.net> wrote in message
news:3C853E5F...@midtown.net...

Anna V

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Mar 5, 2002, 10:46:42 PM3/5/02
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Wonderful story, Dingus!

Oddly, it seems a plausible story for the iceman they found in the
Italian/Austrian mountains...

Anna V

Michael A. Riches

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Mar 6, 2002, 12:26:34 AM3/6/02
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in article 3C853E5F...@midtown.net, Dingus Milktoast at
crha...@midtown.net wrote on 3/5/02 2:53 PM:

> Once, hiking down a slot canyon in southern Utah, alone in
> the world, I was haunted by the prospect that ancient feet
> had many times trod the same path. Bent on unknown missions,
> they lived and died in a desert I have only barely been able
> to visit. They were at home in a world that is
> simultaneously alien and attractive to me. They lived and
> died and left the barest of hints in their passing. Sitting
> on a bench above a scary slot I tried to imagine what it
> might have been like. No amount of imagination can ever
> truly fill out the vast blanks on the pages of history.
> Doesn't mean we shouldn't try though!
>
> **********************************************************************

Funny thing about that desert...it has this effect, on those of us, that
really bond with it...I have often sat on a high top, after a day of
wandering, looking over the 360 deg. vantage and felt those that lived and
struggled their lives in that wonderland...Powerful stuff, this little
secret of ours, powerful stuff, indeed.

Thanks, (sayz)
That RatDhuuude...(as he kneels before the master...)

Phil Box

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Mar 6, 2002, 12:27:18 AM3/6/02
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Dingus, mannnn, Yer gunna get the gong in this years best of, if yer not
careful. Beautiful and masterful story telling.
...Phil...


- no spam@hotmail.com Irishman

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Mar 6, 2002, 8:25:59 AM3/6/02
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"Dingus Milktoast" <crha...@midtown.net> wrote in message
news:3C853E5F...@midtown.net...
> Once, hiking down a slot canyon in southern Utah, alone in
> the world, I was haunted by the prospect that ancient feet
> had many times trod the same path. Bent on unknown missions,
> they lived and died in a desert I have only barely been able
> to visit. They were at home in a world that is
> simultaneously alien and attractive to me. They lived and
> died and left the barest of hints in their passing. Sitting
> on a bench above a scary slot I tried to imagine what it
> might have been like. No amount of imagination can ever
> truly fill out the vast blanks on the pages of history.
> Doesn't mean we shouldn't try though!
>
> **********************************************************************

Good stuff.

I sometimes like to imagine future people looking back as us in this
same way. I wonder what they will see. I wonder if some 200 years from
now will respond to this post and answer my question.

Irishman

Brutus of Wyde

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Mar 6, 2002, 1:52:46 PM3/6/02
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Dingus Milktoast wrote:

[snip


> The Choice
> By Dingus Milktoast
>
> Trial:

[snip]


> He remembered, so
> clearly it hurt, her smile. He missed her. He missed her a
> lot. It had never occurred to him before.

Great stuff! So do we get to read Chapter 2?

Brutus

Dingus Milktoast

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Mar 6, 2002, 2:10:52 PM3/6/02
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Brutus of Wyde wrote:
>
> Great stuff! So do we get to read Chapter 2?

Well, since you asked, what would you do?

Given a choice that is...

*********************************************************************************************************************

The Choice
by Dingus Milktoast

Serendipity:

Erik stretched lazily in the sun. Yawning, he sat up,
momentarily bewildered. The breeze was getting stronger and
despite the direct sunlight it's chill had set him moving.
He rubbed his eyes and struggled to focus. He took a big
drink of water and put the bottle back in the pack. Then he
looked out once again at the arresting view spread beneath
him.

It seemed an odd place to catch a nap. He was perched atop
the very summit of the West Sentinel. Jagged, formidable
peaks surrounded him in all directions. Valleys spread out
from a knot of mountains like the spokes of a great wheel,
the green treasures in their depths calling to him from
miles away. He could actually make out the village where,
many hours earlier, he had departed in the predawn cold.
Slowly his eyes followed the line of his approach up the
valley, his ascent of the moraine, the lower part of the
rock buttress and finally the last bit of serrated arête.

The climb had been harder than he'd imagined, but easier
than he'd feared. It was a good route, difficult yet never
out of control. But the gathering clouds had moved much
closer while he napped. Now they were getting close enough
for worry. He knew better then to allow himself to be caught
out in a storm.

He started down the East Ridge, aiming directly for the
pass. The descent was well established though not many
bothered with this mountain anymore. It wasn't hard enough
to be fashionable, nor was the climbing good enough to
render it popular. It was a remote peak in a backwater area
and according to the register he was the only climber to
have visited the summit in the last couple of years.

The storm was moving faster than he'd guessed. In fact, it
was moving so quickly Erik felt a sudden surge of panic. He
stifled the emotion and willed himself to remain calm. But
it was clear he would not be off the mountain in time. He
could not afford a mistake. Backtracking could be fatal once
the weather was upon him. He needed to nail the descent
first try. As long as he reached the pass before the worst
of it, he figured he'd be OK. Lightening was his biggest
fear and a few close calls had given him a healthy respect
for its power.

He continued down the ridge as fast as he could. The
climbing wasn't hard but it was involved and very exposed.
He really had to watch himself. He paused at the top of a
vertical cliff. He expected this obstacle, but now he began
to regret his nap. With a growing sense of urgency, he
removed his pack, dug out his rope and rigged a rappel.

The raps ate up the clock. As Erik was coiling the rope he
felt the first drops of rain. He put it away and dug out his
jacket. By the time he was moving again it was raining in
earnest. The rock grew slick within minutes. The climbing
was easier now. All he had to do was gain a ledge system a
bit lower and then scramble down increasingly broken
terrain. A final cliff separated him from the pass and while
he could see no easy way around it, the route seemed
assured.

Then it happened. It was like someone hit him in the side of
the head with a shovel. A light so bright it seemed to
spring directly from the heart of the sun filled the sky and
blinded him with its intensity. He felt the thunder as much
as he heard it. It sounded like a thousand trains crashing
together at the same time. It felt like bombs going off
inside his head. Electricity filled the air. His ears were
ringing like the day after a rock concert.

It took him a moment to regain his senses. He was crouched
on a steep, rubble-strewn ledge. The rain now hammered down.
The wind picked up in a fury and howled around him in all
directions. He felt impotent in the face of the storm. He
felt inadequate to its challenge. He was afraid. He shook
his head, shook it off and started down once again, only
faster this time.

Lightening struck twice more. The 3rd blast actually knocked
him down and left him dazed. He almost fell! He smelled
burning hair and the top of his head felt warm. He literally
vibrated for several seconds before the blast and that fact
scared him more than anything else. The horror of that
terrible vibration, that harbinger of death, was almost
unbearable.

Finally he stood atop the last cliff above the pass. His
fear rose to a whole new level as he looked at the sheer
glacier-smoothed walls beneath him, now icy slick in the
steady rain. He could see another way down but to reach it
he'd have to reclimb several hundred feet and descend a
different arête. He didn't have time! To underscore his
plight, another brilliant bolt of lightening split the sky
and the thunder boomed as if from the mouth of a canon. Erik
hastily abandoned his descent and began searching for
shelter.

After just a minute he reached a ledge and scrambled behind
a large rock. As he did so he felt a different sort of
chill. He squeezed between some rocks and found himself at
the mouth of a cave. Erik sniffed cautiously, wondering what
lurked within. Further cautions were driven from his mind as
yet another lightening strike hit on the opposite side of
the pass. He crawled in.

It was dark. He could make out very little detail. But it
was dry; and quiet, eerily so. The cave was flat floored
with a low ceiling. And it was cold, icy cold. It felt like
a freezer, much colder than outside. But at least he was out
of the rain. He heard more thunder and was grateful for the
respite.

Erik realized he was already getting colder. He pulled out a
dry shirt, a hat and gloves. While he was at it he fished
out his headlamp too. Working quickly he donned the extra
clothing. A sense of calm returned as he warmed a bit. For
the first time since the initial lightening strike, Erik
relaxed. He switched on the light.

The cave was covered with the dust of ages. It was a small
enclosure. He noted how the arrangement of the rocks outside
the door shielded the cave from the elements. He was
protected from the storm, the rain and even the constant
howl of the wind. It was like he'd squirmed into a tomb.
He'd never have found it except by this accident of fate.

He turned from the door and looked across the room. His
light fell upon a man propped against the opposite wall. A
man! Adrenaline once again coursed through his body. He
scrambled toward the door and was half way out before it
occurred to him that the figure wasn't moving. Heart
hammering, stomach in the back of his throat, Erik looked
back inside.

Sure enough, the man wasn't moving. In fact, as he studied
the form more carefully, he knew it was dead. He fought off
a feeling of revulsion. He wanted nothing more to do with
the cave, the grave or whatever it was. He wanted out of
there badly. But as he crouched in the doorway fresh
lightening struck the slopes above, the wind changed
direction and rain pelted him. Reluctance tempered with
fear, he crawled back inside.

Erik soon became used to the idea of sharing the cave with a
corpse. He studied the body from a distance. As he examined
the remains he assumed he was looking at a lost hiker or
climber. He wasn't familiar with the area. He didn't know if
anyone had gone missing. He'd report the body to the
authorities when he got down and grieving relatives would at
least have a body to mourn.

But the body was odd. Something about it just didn't seem
right. In fact, nothing about it seemed right. It sat with
it's back against the wall. Its legs were stretched out.
Oddly, the legs were covered with dust, a lot of dust. It
had the effect of a blanket. He could see the feet sticking
up, the hump in the dirt revealing their location. The dust
covered not just the legs though. It also covered the torso,
the shoulders and the top of the head.

Stifling a sense of trepidation and swallowing bile, Erik
crept in for a closer look. He cautiously sniffed the air.
He wasn't about to touch a rotting body. But the air in the
cave was dead, as inert as when he first entered. There was
absolutely no hint of decay, of disease. Had he smelled
anything odd, he'd have bolted immediately, lightening or
not.

The body sat with its head lowered, chin on its chest. Erik
shined his light into the face of the dead man. It was a
mummy! The face was nothing more than black leathery skin
dried and stretched over a skull. Its eyes were shut but the
teeth were visible in a horrible grin of death.

It seemed to be a man, but even that wasn't a definite
thing. It had high cheekbones, a big forehead and a narrow
chin. Death and time had caused the dried skin to shrink
tight over the skull. The ghastly smile unnerved Erik to no
end. He took note of what he supposed to be a bear claw
necklace. Lower he noted a strange object sticking out of
the front of the man's shoulder. It took several seconds to
recognize it for what it was… an arrow. Not just any arrow.
It gleamed under the cold, clinical glare of the headlamp.
The arrowhead was stone!

Erik literally gasped with excitement. This thing was old!
Really old! He'd discovered an ancient body, a mummy in the
mountains. Tentatively, and then with more confidence, he
brushed at the dust covering the lower torso and was
surprised at how light and easy it was to disturb. A cloud
of the stuff billowed up and before he knew it he was
breathing it in.

A renewed sense of revulsion sent him scrambling for the
door. There was no telling what ancient spores might be
whirling about. But the rain and lightening drove him back
inside. He hovered in the doorway, uncertain of his next
step. The dust swirled in the light, making it hard to see.
Erik thought about it for a minute, took a big breath and
crawled to the body. With a quick sweeping motion he brushed
off as much as he could. Then he shot back through the door
and this time went all the way outside.

All around him the wet rock shined darkly. He couldn't see
much. Clouds were all about him. He worried that he wouldn't
be able to find his way down. The wind howled as ever, but
the lightening seemed to have moved off. Even as he stood
there the rain diminished to a light mist. A brief clearing
revealed the pass below and the thin line of the trail. With
relief he realized that he could just rappel down from the
ledge.

Then his thoughts returned to the body in the cave. He
crawled back in. Once again he was struck by how cold it
was. His light reflected on something glistening in the dark
recesses. Dreaming of lost treasure he investigated. It was
ice. A thick flow of primordial ice covered the entire back
wall of the cave. No wonder it was so cold! He returned his
attention to the body.

Now he could see the legs though much dust remained. Once
again he couldn't believe his eyes. The man wore what
appeared to be a crude pair of crampons. The black spikes
were bent and broken, but their purpose spoke clearly
through the ages. Erik slowly shook his head in wonder. A
stone arrowhead, crampons, this body was ancient beyond
expectation, beyond belief.

Erik noted more and more detail. The shirt had intricate
stitching. The cuff at the left hand was adorned with small
beads. The necklace held 10 claws; each held in place with a
small black clasp. There was a stick lying next to the body
and the end of it had obviously been sharpened.

Erik slid back across the cave to his original position. He
wanted to take a picture but he'd left his camera at the
inn. Questions began to float through his mind. Who was this
man? How did he get here? How old was he when he died? How
long had the body laid here undisturbed? What was an ancient
man doing in the mountains in the first place?

Erik began to think beyond the immediate, beyond the cave.
People would take notice when he told them about this! He
might be famous. He imagined his name in the paper, the
scientists, the interviews. Erik even began to imagine the
lecture circuit, telling the world over how he found this
ancient man.

And then it happened. Erik remembered the discovery of
another body in the mountains; the Ice Man. He wondered how
close he was to that area. He really had no idea. He
wondered if these two bodies were somehow related. He'd
watched some TV shows and even read a book about the
discovery of that other ancient mountaineer. And he
remembered, slowly at first, but with a growing sense of
disquiet, the many controversies surrounding that discovery.

He recalled some lunatic hacking at the Ice Man's leg with
an ice axe. He remembered stupid and selfish climbers
trampling all over the Ice Man's tomb. He remembered a
famous mountaineer was summoned to examine the body, as if
by virtue of his many climbing accomplishments he was
somehow qualified to make pronouncements about dead bodies.
The governments of two countries fought bitterly over
possession of the remains. The body was locked away in a
vault.

He was troubled by their disrespect. He felt they'd treated
the body like it was something to be owned. He felt so sorry
for that ancient traveler; so ashamed of the treatment
modern man had afforded him. He remembered it all and the
similarities were startling. And somehow, without quite
realizing it, he began thinking it should not happen again.

Erik wasn't religious. He was just a common man, an average
climber. But he held a deep respect for the dead. He
appreciated the accomplishments of those who came to these
mountains before him. He very much wanted to do the right
thing with regard to this man. He pondered what that meant.

Erik sat staring at the old climber but he was lost in
thought. The cold that had so permeated his body was for a
time forgotten. He knew it was easy to denigrate modern
civilization, to find fault and to criticize anything
wrought by technology. Yet Erik knew he'd never have found
this body, perhaps even climbed, were it not for that
technology. He owed his very existence to technology.

But he was not a man of science either. He didn't feel the
need to know everything about everything. He valued life's
mysteries. He felt science was at times too intrusive, too
callous and too disrespectful of its subjects. He didn't
like the notion of someone pawing through the remains of his
ancestors and he could readily imagine others feeling the
same.

He recalled the outrage of the American Indians when
archeologists dug up their ancient kin and put their remains
on display, as if they had the god given right to do so.
That none of these grave robbers would have tolerated the
same fate for their ancestors was an irony apparently lost
upon them. He didn't relish the notion of such men and women
picking over this climber with their cold, callous and
fine-toothed combs.

Erik thought more about the notoriety. Would this be Erik's
Man? Would he get to travel around and take part in some
interesting interviews? Might he even get his name in a few
books? But to what end? Erik really didn't care much about
fame. He was shy and introverted. Given over to solo climbs
deep in the mountains, Erik had avoided attention his whole
life. Fame would intrude on his climbing time. It wasn't
something he coveted. No, the call of fame was lost on
someone like Erik. He laughed at himself for even thinking
about it.

And finally Erik found himself once again alone with a dead
man in a cave. It all came down to this, this meeting
between the ancient and the modern; Fellow Travelers. He
felt in his bones a kindred spirit with this climber. And he
was certain the man had been a climber. That he died in the
cave, with an arrow sticking out of his chest, was a mystery
beyond comprehension. He couldn't even begin to imagine the
trail of woe that led the man to this small hole. He had no
idea of how this man might have lived or how he met his
fate, yet he felt certain that this person faced life with
courage and conviction. He imagined that the two of them
weren't so very different.

The more he thought about it the more resolute he became. He
knew without a doubt to whom his debts were owed. Erik's
debts were to those who came before him. The hundreds and
thousands of mountaineers, who climbed and learned, lived
and died, and passed on the incredible legacy of walking in
the clouds. The debt he owed to such men and women was
visceral. He could almost taste it.

He owed this man and no one else. His allegiance was held in
this cave, not down in the valley. The respect due this
mountaineer outweighed any obligation he may have felt to
science, to modern civilization's relentless quest for more
information. As Erik gazed over the ancient, desiccated
body, he knew what he had to do. It was obvious for anyone
with the courage to see.

Erik realized he was shivering. Violently. It was cold! He
was reluctant to leave. He felt a strong kinship with the
dead man. But the shivering told him the bitter truth. He
couldn't stay. He wouldn't survive a night in this hole. If
he stayed he'd freeze to death and then the two of them
could face eternity together. As strong a bond as he felt,
he had no desire to leave the earth yet. He had many more
mountains to climb.

He crawled once more from the cave. The storm had finally
passed. The dying rays of the afternoon sun pierced the
receding clouds. He only had an hour or so of light left.
With luck he could make the pass and descend part of the
moraine before darkness took him completely. He had to start
down.

He gathered up his pack and took one last look at the lost
mountaineer. He tried to memorize everything about him. Had
he felt closer to some god he would have offered a prayer.
But he wasn't the kind and besides, his gods would likely
have considered this man a heathen. He could brook no
religion that alienated him from this ancient kinsman. He
settled for a nod of the head and a wry grin. "Goodbye my
friend," he quietly whispered. "I'm glad we met."

Erik rapped the final slabs and with half an hour to spare
made the pass. He looked back up the smooth granite walls to
the ledge. He couldn't see any evidence of the cave. It was
highly unlikely, as unlikely as his original discovery in
fact, that anyone would find it again. Satisfied, Erik
started down the trail. With luck he'd be back to the
village before the inn closed.

As he hiked down the valley, everything in the world seemed
new and fresh and filled with wonder. He marveled at the
shapes of the rock, at blades of grass, at beautiful
flowers. He imagined ancient feet scrambling over these very
rocks, their owners bent upon unknown missions in the alpine
heights. He felt a sense of companionship heretofore absent
in his solo scrambles. He felt at home and among family. And
now he not only felt it, he knew it. Erik descended into the
night, as content as he'd ever been in his life.

Justin Driemeyer

unread,
Mar 6, 2002, 4:40:16 PM3/6/02
to
Wow, that was excelent. Thanks a lot Dingus, the story was great, both
parts.

The Choice: I'm a man of science, so I'd tell the authorities.

Justin D.


Phil Box

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Mar 6, 2002, 4:53:25 PM3/6/02
to

"Dingus Milktoast" <crha...@midtown.net> wrote in message
news:3C8669BC...@midtown.net...
Snip

> The Choice
> by Dingus Milktoast

Part two has scaled new heights of writing to which we all must now
aspire (damn, I`m not even in the race for the best of rec.climbing trip
reporting now).

Thanks Dingus, you`ve made my day. I love it when a story captivates me
and it transports the insides of my head to far away places.

...Phil...

A. Cairns

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Mar 6, 2002, 4:52:49 PM3/6/02
to

Dingus Milktoast wrote:

> Chapter 2

'The kindness of strangers' has acquired some unsavoury overtones,
but many of us owe a lot to people who never met us before, helped
us, and never saw us again. My own parents long ago were blown
ashore on an island off the Maine coast during a bad storm. It was
cold, wet, and dark, and the wind was howling. Someone appeared
out of the night and took them to a cabin where supper was already
prepared. It's interesting to think about an act of mercy to someone
already dead.

About how _we_ will be seen from the future - all too well. I'd let
you borrow my time machine but it is busy returning beer empties
to the future where the deposit covers the cost of beer now. The
perpetual beer machine.

Andy Cairns


- no spam@hotmail.com Irishman

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Mar 6, 2002, 5:38:07 PM3/6/02
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"Dingus Milktoast" <crha...@midtown.net> wrote in message
news:3C8669BC...@midtown.net...
> Brutus of Wyde wrote:
> >
> > Great stuff! So do we get to read Chapter 2?
>
> Well, since you asked, what would you do?
>
> Given a choice that is...

I'm glad you posted this. The first part lacked closure, that is, it
left the finish to the readers imagination. The problem is, my
imagination sucks. I wish I understood how people can write stuff like
this.

Thank you

Irishman

Andy Gale

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Mar 6, 2002, 6:50:33 PM3/6/02
to

Dingus Milktoast wrote:

> Brutus of Wyde wrote:
>
>>Great stuff! So do we get to read Chapter 2?
>>
>
> Well, since you asked, what would you do?
>
> Given a choice that is...

<snip>

A great read Dingus. Bravo.


My choice? Hell, I don't know. I'd have to be there.

Andy

Brutus of Wyde

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Mar 6, 2002, 7:16:08 PM3/6/02
to
Dingus Milktoast wrote:
>
> Well, since you asked, what would you do?
>
> Given a choice that is...

Me?

Being a bootyhound from my first days of climbing,
I'd check to see if those bronze crampons fit me.

Thanks, Dingus, for an incredibly good read, that took me
there and back again.

Brutus

Michael A. Riches

unread,
Mar 6, 2002, 11:57:07 PM3/6/02
to
in article 3C8669BC...@midtown.net, Dingus Milktoast at
crha...@midtown.net wrote on 3/6/02 12:10 PM:

> Brutus of Wyde wrote:
>>
>> Great stuff! So do we get to read Chapter 2?
>
> Well, since you asked, what would you do?
>
> Given a choice that is...
>
> ******************************************************************************
> ***************************************

Hey...I have to agree with Brutus, I'd have at least took the spikes...

Thanks again, loved it...

So who's next...???

We should add, to the 2002 awards, some sort of "best of the best
fiction"...all of you would be Speilberg's out there....write something,
submit it to the critics here at recdotfantasyland and let's see if we can't
drown out the latest stench of Muskie shit....


That RatDhuuude...

Phil Box

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Mar 7, 2002, 12:30:19 AM3/7/02
to

"Michael A. Riches" <rock...@earthlink.net> wrote in message
news:B8AC4167.13314D%rock...@earthlink.net...

> in article 3C8669BC...@midtown.net, Dingus Milktoast at
>
> We should add, to the 2002 awards, some sort of "best of the best
> fiction"...all of you would be Speilberg's out there....write something,
> submit it to the critics here at recdotfantasyland and let's see if we
can't
> drown out the latest stench of Muskie shit....
>
>
> That RatDhuuude...
>
I`ll second that, although of course my efforts will be somewhat pale in
comparison to Dingus the master of this genre but I`m up for a try.

...Phil...


tab

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Mar 15, 2002, 3:44:27 PM3/15/02
to
Great story! I think Erik made the right choice.
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