The Day the Snow Came Down - A 3 Random Word Story
This month's 3 Random Words: Peak, Compassion, Grind
In the half-second between the rumble of the mountain and the snow breaking loose, Jaden was able to stab the rear binding of his right ski with his pole, freeing one foot. The seconds after the snow cracked open and pulled Jaden under were critical.
With his left ski still attached, swimming to the top of the avalanche presented an enormous challenge. He opted for the thrashing technique, throwing the snow off his body as quickly as it hit to stay on top. The snow moved like a freight train and sounded almost as deafening, but he had to keep moving. He swung his arms over his head, trying to impersonate an Olympic backstroke swimmer, but all that did was rip his goggles from his face. Eyes pinched shut; he didn’t stop swimming.
It’s been said that near-death experiences elicit a highlight reel of your life, flashes of your favorite memories, and the faces of your loved ones. But the only thing Jaden could see was the one thing he wouldn’t get to do if he didn’t survive this. He’d been the best skier in Colorado for three years running, and he’d finally caught the attention of Team USA. Just one more tryout. The one happening next week. The one only happening if he got out of this alive.
Stay calm, he thought. Just stay on top.
As the snow bore down on his body, he reached his arm into the sky, fighting every icy blow to keep his fingers above the drift. Jaden knew the statistics; over ninety percent of avalanche victims perish under the snow. But he also knew how to survive one. If he could keep fighting to the top, keep his arm in the air, he’d be able to dig himself up and out when the avalanche surrendered.
Then he’d call his mom – tell her he was sorry for what he’d said that morning. He was on edge. It was the grind. It was his training schedule. His diet. His relationship with Layla. Any excuse to avoid the truth that lingered at their dinner table like an unwelcome guest.
Stay calm, he repeated. You just need to ride this out.
His body collided with something too soft to be a tree but too solid to be snow. His ski hooked the mystery item and jerked his momentum backward. The force of the snow drove into the top of his foot, locking his ankle against the unknown mass. Pressure rose in his joint as the avalanche forced him the wrong way down the mountain. His leg was a wire trapped in a vice, and his ankle was the only pivot point, bending slowly, tauntingly in the wrong direction. His heart leaped into his throat as he fought the momentum of the snow, fought the clock ticking in his head, fought to release himself from the unbearable torture tearing his tendons apart.
A searing red pain exploded from his ankle as it snapped in half, his body seizing under the sudden rush of adrenaline. But it wasn’t over. The snow continued to mercilessly toss his ski back and forth, twisting and turning his dangling foot around the mystery object’s garments. A mystery object that felt more like a body by the second.
It wasn’t possible. It was well before six a.m. when Jaden crested the peak that morning. Early enough that he thought he’d avoided his mom’s judgmental glare, early enough to sneak out before his demons woke to find him alone and vulnerable. He thought he could outrun them. Thought they couldn’t follow him there.
Breathe, J, he thought. Breathe through it.
Panic threatened to consume him as the avalanche whipped him aside like a ragdoll, freeing him from the foreign body. He frantically searched the sprinting snow for any signs of life, but the excruciating torment threatened to rob him of his consciousness. His ankle rotated around the bottom of his leg like a blade on a fan, completely at the mercy of the thundering snow. His mind wandered and rolled, desperate to escape. What if?
It wasn’t possible.
It had been more than two years since that night. The police concluded that Ricky ran away. No signs of foul play. No signs of forced entry. No suspicions toward his older brother.
It’s not possible, he thought. Right?
The snow showed no compassion as it dove over a steep rock, shooting Jaden into the air and giving him a momentary glance at what laid ahead. Through the blinding pain coursing through his body, he managed to pull himself into a ball, landing on his back as the wave continued to wash him down the mountain.
It stayed cold on the mountain these past two years, though. Barely any melt at this altitude. Now all of Jaden’s secrets were spilling out of the mountain, laying bare for the world to see.
They’ll know, threatened a voice from the depths of his mind. They’ll know it was you, and they’ll show you no mercy.
Sheets of snow spun beneath him, turning him toward the mountain, his head pointing toward the base like a skeleton bobsled. As the snow continued to pour over the rocks now above him, he caught a glimpse of a green and blue snowsuit before the avalanche swallowed it whole.
His stomach churned and threatened to betray him as fear ran like ice in his veins. Green and blue. Ricky’s favorite colors. At least they were Ricky’s favorite colors. Before. Before he threatened Jaden’s chance at the Olympics. Before the stupid bet. Before the mountain claimed Ricky’s life.
And you let it, the voice taunted. You let it happen. It’s your fault. You deserve this.
The raging cascade pulled Jaden under one final time before it roared to a halt. Jaden lay motionless, fear and anger and shame coursing through his body. He could let the mountain take him, too. He should let the mountain take him.
It would only be fair, the voice growled. Why should you survive? You deserve this icy grave. You deserve death.
But his body begged for air, and his brain complied. He thrashed demonically until all the snow retreated from his body as if it knew of his sins. His eyes landed on the hint of a green and blue snowsuit peaking from the aftermath of the avalanche.
“Ricky!” Jaden yelled, dragging himself to his stomach, desperately trying to make it to his brother. He screamed in agony as he pulled his feet beneath him, his ankle buckling at the break point. It dangled from his leg like a dead snake.
You’ll never ski again, the voice taunted. You’ll never be anything. You signed this death warrant when you murdered your brother.
“Ricky!” he cried out, his voice cracking and crumbling to pieces in his mouth. The tracking beacon beeped silently from the depths of his snowsuit. “Ricky!” he tried, but there was nothing left in his lungs.
His head pounded and spun. He lost sight of Ricky’s body right before he collapsed.
“Jaden,” a watery voice shouted over the chopping helicopter blades. “Jaden, can you hear me?”
“Ricky,” Jaden whispered, pointing in the direction of the slowly disappearing mountain. “He’s dead,” he breathed heavily. “I killed him. He’s dead.”
“Jaden, open your eyes and look at me,” the voice demanded. Jaden’s eyes landed on Layla’s, then Moose, Layla’s rescue dog. “Jaden, look at me. That wasn’t Ricky. That was someone else. Another early morning skier.”
“Dead,” Jaden repeated. “I killed him.”
“Well, your skis certainly did a number on him, but he’s not dead. He’s going to make it,” Layla said. “Ricky is still out there, J. He’ll come home one day. You’ll see.”
BONUS: Extended Ending
A fresh wave of nausea rushed over Jaden as he realized his truth: his demons would never let him go.
Unless I do something about it, he thought. Unless I end them permanently.
Layla turned to secure Moose’s harness as Jaden rolled toward the chopper door. He felt his demons dissipate with every second he lost altitude.
And then they were gone.