Friendship Contemporary Adventure

Eyes wrinkled as if squeezing out sand granules. The climbing troop leader sits revelling in his youth.

“We climb zero six hundred, tomorrow,” the troop leader says.

I nod. Back to reading ‘Ransom’ by David Malouf.

 “Gramps,” the leader taps my mahogany desk. “Listen. You listen?”

I nod. Back to ‘Ransom’ where Priam and Somax are entering the Greek camp.

 “So, what I say?”

 “You will leave at six A.M to stomp on, stab with ice pics and conquer the lower slopes of Gyachung Kang.”

“Ahh good,” the troop leader rubs callused hands. He offers me a cigarette from is pack of Lucky Strikes.

I shake my head. Priam and Achilles embrace. I exhale.

“Shouldn’t you boys be carbo-loading?” I pointedly look to the mess hall. “Go on, you paid for 5 kilos of rice to be hulled in by mules. Best you can do is eat up.”

“I want practice English.”

“Your English is far better than my Hindi.”

“I learn from Richie Benaud, marvellous,” he says pretending to hold a microphone. The man stands up to shadow bat. A flashing cover drive followed by a hook shot. The Luckies spray all over my office floor.

“Sorry Gramps,” he scrambles to pick up each smoke. Delicately putting them into the pack, for a symmetrical fit.

“It’s fine. You’ll have to bugger off now though. I’ve gotta fill out your crew in the logbook.”

The troop leader nods, turns, and strides to the mess hall.

I return to ‘Ransom,’ Achilles gives Hector’s body back to Priam. A funeral games and pyre can now proceed. Rightfully returned to his people, Hector’s will journey to Hades.

Cho Oyu’s twin peaks block the afternoon sun, darkening the camp. The troop stamp out fires and shuffle into shared wooden cabins.

My right knee twitches as I hobble around the camp performing my ‘duty of care’ checks. Stanza Insurance International changed my policy. Apparently Himalayan blizzards and hundred-ton avalanches are okay, but God forbid a bonehead tourist forgets to lock the bolt on a cabin door.

What has the troop been eating? A vomit inducing smell seeps from the cabins. Maybe, investigating yeti feces comes under ‘duty of care.’ I round the corner, a figure sitting cross legged with eyes illuminated by lighter flame.

“What are you doing?” I ask. “You need to get in the cabin. You’re about to get your ringer frozen out.”

“Gramps, just couple more.”

“Oh, it’s you, a couple more smokes is it?”

“No, is little snake.”

The Troop leader is tapping on the dirt to a rhythm. Tweezer fingers pull up a wriggling earth worm. Dirt clumps are shaken off Frankfurt hotdog sized worm. He makes a pendulum of the worm in front of is Ronald McDonald grin. Eyes transfixed on his prey. Gradually, he raises the flame to the worm. About seven inches out the worm strains, reaching in vain up to the troop leader’s fingers.

“Mate,” I reach out showing my palm. “Don’t burn it. Come on.”

My words join the flowing wind, carried into the night.

The worm doesn’t burn, it pustulates worm juice. Eventually bubbling out its guts and shriveling up. I pinch my nose. The troop leader drops the remains onto his pile. He inhales, as if a hippie come here after ‘finding themself’ in India.

I’m waiting for the stench to fade, now with my hand covering my mouth too.

“Is good,” he picks up a handful worm husks letting them sift through his fingers.

“Is not good. Is pretty weird, mate,” hand straight back over my mouth.

“You see. Now no big mumma snake,” the lighter flickers. “I go every mountain, tap tap,” he nods to the ground. “Little snake come up. I burn. Now no big mumma snake. I go all Himalaya, stop the snake.”

“What,” I put my hand now freezing into my pocket. “You’re killing all the snakes, in a frozen mountain range?”

He nods continuously, soon his whole torso is rocking.

The troop leader may be insane or more likely brain-dead. One category he definitely fits into is ‘a person or persons’ in my duty of care. What would the folks at Stanza Insurance International say when I explain this? He froze outside his cabin incinerating worms in the hope of cleansing the Himalayas of snakes. You know, how worms are baby snakes and all. Gotta get ‘em while they’re young.

I’ve got to herd this one inside with the rest.

“I’d just like to thank you for your continued efforts. If you don’t deal with the Himalayan snake scourge, who will,” a good question. I rub my beard feeling the beginnings of icicles. “The last group of mountaineers told me they saw snake trails on Gyachung Kang’s lower slopes. Luckily, you’ve come here just in time.”

The troop leader continues his full body nod, smiling like a jackass.

“I reckon the priority here is a good night’s sleep. Get up as early as possible and hunt down the big mumma snake.” I light the path to his cabin with my torch.

Glints of light shine off dust he kicks ups as the troop leader hoists himself. In front of his chest, he presses his hands together and bows.

“Smart-smart Gramps. Thank you.” Like an angel only kicked in the head by a pegasus during infancy, he follows the light into his cabin.

I slide ‘Ransom’ into the splintered bookshelf between ‘Fly Away Peter’ and ‘An Imaginary Life.’ The flock of David Malouf books in their rightful place.

A chorus of plastic zippers, buckles and searing trangias wake me. It’s five thirty A.M and colder than a dead mother-in-law. I roll over so my back can be warmed from where my front had slept.

At six A.M sharp the zipping ends, a few straps tighten, and a pitter patter of steps exit my camp. At three P.M they’ll return showing me digital photos of snow-capped peaks and a pile of flat stones in descending size.

Tourists, mountaineers, and unhinged troop leaders, all ants. Ants coming and going from a hive. Winter will sweep Gyachung Kang clean of ants. The ants can’t stay lest they be shed with the snow and join thawing rivers of spring. Only in summer can ants march forth from Gokyo and Ngozumba.

I ink out the logbook’s daily entries at nine A.M. I place the wire bookmark on the August the fifth twenty sixteen. Snapping the beautiful leatherbound shut a gust ruffles my beard. I place the logbook into the second draw of my mahogany desk, its rightful place. The tingle in my chin lingers.

Ten A.M, still tingling.

Eleven A.M, burning sensation.

Twelve P.M, Dante’s inferno rages within my chin.

One P.M, Dante’s inferno persists.

Two P.M, Dante’s inferno ever present. Grey beard tassels lay wasted on the office floor.

Three P.M comes the troop leader wearing a glimmering dark helmet. Indian file troop in his wake.

Three ten P.M, closer. Weathered face concealed within scales. Yellow scales streaking into the majority black scales. Stains of snake blood line his cotton jumper and ragged pants.

“Gramps,” untying his backpack. “I no come with just my ten finger.”

“I can see that,” I reply through gritted teeth.

“Big mumma snake, hiss hiss from a tree. I walk slow,” he wiggles his index and middle fingers like a pair of legs. “I throw rock, crack crack. Big mumma snake look at the crack crack,” a machete comes out of his backpack. The troop leader nods gazing at his machete. “Chop chop.”

The hell storm in my chin continues. Shooting pains begin are bouncing up and down my neck.

Marvellous. Thanks for killing the big mumma snake. Now Gayachung Kang is much safer, I suppose. Can I ask you for one more thing?” A coughing fit overcomes me. The troop leader stares at me, waiting. “Well, when you get to Gokyo, I need a doctor sent out to me.”

“Gramps,” his bloodied palm reaches out. “Of course. First thing I do in village.”


“Easy,” he removes the snakeskin helm, face dripping blood. “I meantime, I leave this with you. Bring good luck.”

“No na no, this is your prize. Mate, I wouldn’t feel right keepin’ it.”

The troop leader strides to my mahogany desk. Plonk. Snake blood splattered across the desk. Doesn’t he know blood stains wood? My desk is not the rightful place for snake heads.

A toddler bounces a slinky made of knives within me.

“Resting heart rate of sixty beats per minute and blood pressure one-fifteen over seventy-five,” says the doctor in her thick German accent. “You’re certainly a healthy eighty-year-old.” She points a plastic gadget at my forehead, after a second it beeps. “hhhm, exactly thirty-seven point two degrees Celsius. Your friend, the climber, told me pain started five days ago, is that correct?”

“That’s right.”

“Currently, on a scale from one to ten, where would you rate your pain?”

Without thinking, “Ten and rising.”

She jots down notes.

“Look, your vital signs are perfect. In other words, there is no obvious sign of illness other than your pain,” she flicks her blonde curls out of her eyes. “At your age though, you’re going to experience discomfort from time to time.” She begins counting pill packets. Ten packets of Endone stacked beside the snake head. “This is a strong painkiller. Take three pills a day,” she holds up her thumb, index, and middle fingers. “In one month, you will receive a letter with the results of your blood test. I recommend you relax in that time, dig into your books,” she walks to the bookshelf. “All the classics but no Goethe?”

“I don’t like translations,” I cough up flem. “Something maybe lost, you know?”

“How come you have this then,” she waves a copy of ‘The Hobbit.’

“Tolkien wrote that in English.”

“Actually, many scholars would argue ‘The Hobbit’ is an adaptation of his Beowulf translation. Obviously,” she looks at the snake head, “you slue a dragon too.”

“That was the young man who visited you in Gokyo. It’s a long, dumb, and complicated story. He killed a giant snake on the slopes of Gyachung Kang. He’s purging the Himalayas of snakes. He bestowed the head to me for luck,” I say shaking my head. “He killed that snake on Gyachung Kang,” she places ‘The Hobbit’ back into the bookshelf before ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

“You probably reckon I’m losing my marbles. See the blood stains on the desk. That’s where he placed it five days ago.”

The doctor chuckles. “Nearly, you nearly tricked me. You Australians with your stitch ups. You paid to have the snake sent here, just to scare tourists. Wunderbar.”

She neatly packs her kit bag and says “I need to head back to Gokyo now. Hopefully, I won’t see you for a while.”

I pop a pill out of its plastic and tin foil packaging. A mouthful of water washes the pill down. An hour passes, no relief. The toddler is still jangling the knife slinky inside me. I take my second pill at lunch to no avail. I switch to a different pill packet at dinner. The first must be a dud batch. No improvement.

On the third day I toss the pills onto the dirt. The snake head glares at me when I renter my office. A mahogany desk isn’t a snake’s home. The creature on my desk belonged to Gyachung Kang. Grown too old to be shed with the snow in summer. The troop leader’s big mumma snake is part of Gyachung Kang.

A packet of sultanas, two litres of water, and the snake head go into my tattered backpack. I dust off my boots. At six A.M with the morning sun on my back I limp west, into Gyachung Kang.

My pain and creaking right knee force me to take breaks at ten-minute intervals. I pass the pile of flat stones. I hit a rhythm and progress at a good clip. The toddler has relaxed and is less violent with the knife slinky. At about midday the pain has retreated to my neck and chin.

The path is little more than a parting of boulders. It sways and curls ahead into Gyachung Kang. I stumble, trying to grab onto a nearby rock. I can’t grip the icy surface and I plummet. The remaining litre of water smacks down into my kidney. A few inches of dirt get stuffed up my right nostril.

Himalayan winds begin freezing me to the ground. I’m an eighty-year-old man face down wheezing on Gyachung Kang. Soon to be Yeti food. Embrace a mountain for twenty-five years to be struck down by altitude sickness. It’s the fault of that of that worm burning jackass. I’m not sure how, but I blame that idiot.

I unstrap my backpack and rollover. Might as well eat the sultanas before I get Walt Disneyed. With my remaining strength I lean my back against a boulder. I tear open the sultana packet. One-by-one savouring their chewiness and their sweetness. My arm grows tired and misses my mouth, instead I hit my chin.          

Stubble, pricks of stubble. My beard is growing back and there’s only a tingle in my chin. The big mumma snake tree can’t be far.

I take the snake head from the backpack and shove it under my shirt. Gyachung Kang’s wind lifts me to my feet. I set off gripping onto the stones towering over me. I shuffle onward dragging my right leg.

The boulders clear. A sickly olive tree shivers surrounded by a wall of boulders. I rummage around under my shirt. Retrieving the snake head, it glares at me. What a jackass. I place snake head at the base of the olive tree.

January 20, 2022 11:28

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