Read Snowman Online

Authors: Norman Bogner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Snowman

SNOWMAN
by Norman Bogner
For Robby Wald
and Bob Eisenstein
for the pleasure
of their friendship

 

In 1966, five years after the Edmund Hillary Expedition to Mount Everest, another group, known as "The Bradford Search," was stopped at the Lhotse Face. They were then at an altitude of 27,980 feet, three miles south of the summit of Everest, separated from it by the South Col and a long ridge over 25,000 feet high. Except for Bradford and his Sherpa guide, Pemba, the entire party mysteriously disappeared, in circumstances that have never been explained.

Prologue

Along the wall of the Lhotse Face the towers of ice rose like twisted needles as the endless night slowly dissolved into an explosion of fierce sunlight which blinded Bradford. He and Pemba lay motionless on a pitch of ice, though they both knew they had to move or freeze.

Frenzied animals slithered down the glacier. Snow leopards, wild yaks, and the great black-faced monkeys known as langurs plunged to their death just above him. The Lhotse Face, littered with bodies and carcasses, had become a slaughterhouse. Bradford and his team—and now the animals—were being purged from the mountain. The signs of the rampage were everywhere. Packs of tailless Tibetan rats scurried down crevasses. Musk deer which had wandered away from their herds lay decapitated in stinking blood-soaked piles. Crisscrossing the climbing trail were monstrously large triangular rainbow-colored tracks.

It had been impossible to foresee that Bradford's search for the Snowman would terminate in this devastating spectacle. Based on all the sightings and reports Bradford had read about, he had hoped to locate a mammal of some kind, covered with reddish hair, and no larger than a man—a rogue strain of the ape family which had adapted to a glacial environment. From his early student days in anthropology, Bradford had theorized that such a creature could exist in these climatic conditions, even though his colleagues at Harvard had scoffed at the notion. Only field work, he had felt, outside the confines of a university hothouse, Could prove his case.

He had been wrong on all counts. The Snowman was something else, beyond classification, a mutant which had been formed in a prehistoric age. As a result of Bradford's quest, ten sherpa porters and nine men in his party were already dead—hacked to death, their dismembered bodies consumed by a beast with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

Now Bradford was in flight with Pemba, the only Sherpa guide still alive. They slithered across the ice, stumbling on their broken crampons, driven by the stark terror of being eaten.

The sixty-mile-an-hour wind became a bellows as it channeled between towering pinnacles of ice and the great saddle of the South Col. But there was another sound, playing a violent counterpoint with the wind, frightening enough to drive the men onward—a piercing hum that came through the rarefied air. As they pushed ahead, the mountain seemed to be collapsing; the surface of the glacier split and twisted into a maze of chasms. The two men staggered onto a ledge.

It was hopeless, Bradford sensed, even as he and Pemba went through the motions of tying the nylon rope around their waists in a bowline. Bradford could hardly bend his fingers. He had lost his windproof woolen gloves and was now down to the last layers, which were made of silk; his caked blood stuck to them, making it agonizing to hold the rope.

Pemba slashed the ice with his ax, digging in up to the haft.

Bradford reeled giddily, but the sensation lasted only for an instant. Just above him, blending in with the tortured ridges of the sérac he had moved from, was a pair of eyes, hollow caverns the size of saucers. They had no irises, and the beams of light they emitted revealed impenetrable depths. Bradford stood hypnotized as Pemba pleaded with him from below to climb down. The light from the eyes was melting the snow, creating a throbbing cataract of hissing water.

A gigantic arm reached out for him. The skin was gray, leatherish, armored with sharp bonelike protuberances. The Snowman moved in an upright position, and Bradford was paralyzed by the colossal size of him. He must have been over twenty feet tall. Pemba pulled on the rope to signal Bradford, but his voice was lost in the violent reverberations of the Snowman's roar. From the creature's gnarled fingers retractable claws the size of butcher knives flicked out. Bradford felt the flesh being torn from his shoulder blade. A mouth, a black orifice with rows of swordlike teeth, opened wide as Bradford lurched back. Pemba was climbing toward him, shrieking in Nepalese to divert attention away from Bradford. But the Snowman was closing in on Bradford. His massive horned feet crunched on the slope, and fragments of ice filled the air.

The platform of the ice step collapsed, but Bradford had only a dim realization of falling. He was weightless, his arms and legs tangled in the guy ropes like a marionette's. His fall was broken by a mound of soft, powdery snow.

Human hands seized him and pulled him into a cave, where there was firelight. The smell inside was putrid, and he watched through glazed, disbelieving eyes as robed men struggled with a large boulder and rolled it to the mouth of the ice cave, blocking out the tormented cries of the stampeding, hysterical animals.

Bradford heard only silence now, the sweet silence of the dark which had been denied him when the Snowman's claws had touched him. No more could he await the release of immediate death. He felt pain, he was still matter, he could think: He was terrified.

The cakes of ice these men were laying on his wound numbed his flesh. In the glow of the fire at the rear of the cave he made out the spectral forms of men, and he knew who they were.

When the search had begun, his party had stopped at the Buddhist monastery of Thyangboche to pay respects to the abbot, and he had heard about the Tibetan lamas who lived high on Everest, men who dedicated their lives to placating the Snowman, whom they called the Yeti. They believed that their presence prevented the Yeti from destroying the Sherpa villages at the foot of the mountain. He had asked Pemba, his head guide and the
sirdar
or manager of the Sherpa porters, about them, but Pemba had refused to confirm or deny the existence of the sect. His reaction was typical, a refusal to discuss religious matters, for a vein of profound and unshakable mysticism ran through these Sherpa tribesmen.

But the evidence was before Bradford. Through the sealed cave he heard the spitting of a giant cat, which caused him to shudder. From the reaction of the men in the cave, he knew that the Snowman was just outside. The Snowman's ability to mimic other animals was part of the legend, a way of concealing and camouflaging his movements.

As the roars—now those of a mountain lion—grew louder, Bradford wondered if he wouldn't have preferred to die alone on the mountain, in mortal combat with the Yeti, rather than suffocating in a cave filled with these doomed holy lamas, who could accept death passively, according to some Oriental idea which he could never understand.

He craned his neck, searching for Pemba; then it occurred to him that Pemba might still be outside . . . A procession of lamas approached him with flickering torches. They were wearing hideous painted devil masks and swaying in a serpentine Lamaist ceremonial dance. Some held prayer wheels; others blew conch shells. In the rear of the cave, sitting by the fire, were two lamas sounding the great Tibetan ceremonial horns, some fourteen feet in length. The charivari of these sounds mixing with the droning chants disturbed him. He shifted his weight and struggled to his knees.

The lamas were before him now, and he could see that all of them had been horribly mutilated in some way. Several were blind, with livid scars across their faces; others had lost arms and legs. Maimed, mauled, and mangled by whom? he asked himself.

In a jumble of words, some Nepalese and Mongolian, he heard the answers:

"
Meh-Teh!
" a lama shouted, kneeling on one leg.

A manlike thing that is not human.

"
Dzu-Teh!
" an armless Lama shrieked at the boulder.

A hulking thing.

Behind them, being carried on a filthy litter made of reindeer skins, a mockery of a throne, was a creature with Oriental features slicked by the fat of ram chikor. All that remained of this being was a torso, covered in an abbot's red prayer shawl, a scarf draped across the wrinkled neck. The creature was lifted from the litter and brought closer to him. The abbot's eyes were two gray filmy cataracts. It was a vision straight from hell.

Beside the abbot stood Pemba, his palms together, his fingers extended upward. Bradford feebly touched his guide's shoes in a gesture of gratitude. The abbot's tongue was guided to Bradford's wound. Bradford squirmed as the tongue licked his raw, torn flesh. The contact sickened him, and for a moment he thought that the ritual was a form of farewell before he was to be offered to the Yeti as a sacrifice.

The procession passed him and moved to the mouth of the cave, Bradford crawled away toward the deserted fire. The lamas laid holy red Khadas at the foot of the boulder and spun prayer wheels. They then formed a circle around the abbot's litter and joined hands. In a trancelike dance, they undulated and chanted their mystical holy prayer over and over again in a low, sepulchral chorus:

"
Om Mane Padme Om . . .
"

The jewel is in the lotus.

The repetition made his eyelids droop. He mustn't sleep. He lit an incense stick and staggered to his feet, lurching against the walls of the cave like a drunk.

"
Om Mane Padme Om . . .
"

On a flat smooth surface Of the wall he saw cave paintings of the Yeti. Below the Yeti was the miniature, figure of an archer with an arrow poised in his bow.

The chanting stopped abruptly, and a thin reedy voice coming from the upraised litter cried:

"
Sogpa. Sogpa. Sogpa!
"

Bradford stretched out to brace himself, but he began falling, losing consciousness and entering a long black tunnel of dreamless sleep.

Chapter One

Beauty queens are a headache. Before their coronations they have a charming naive innocence that is consistent with the flaky mental process that enables them to enter such events. But afterward, the soft curves, the sweet little backside that jiggles on command on a stage, and the gaiety of the empty smile suddenly assume the rockhardness of a frozen mountain cliff.

Janice Pace, Miss Great Northern Resort's Snow Queen of 1977, was no exception. She was demanding, peevish, a whiner of great distinction. It seemed only fitting and just that she should become Cathy Parker's problem. It was Cathy, Great Northern's public relations and advertising director, who had thought up the gimmick of a contest to endow the opening of the company's new ski resort in Sierra with the trappings of glamour.

Cathy was a tall, lithe woman with chestnut hair, which she wore shoulder length. Her eyes were hazel and contained an edge of worldly perceptiveness which had matured in the male society she moved in. She suffered from her own intelligence, for she had discovered that, far from regarding it an asset, the men she came in contact with felt threatened and inhibited, preferring to treat her as one of the boys rather than as a woman.

Great Northern's Lear jet had been delayed three hours, and Cathy's whole schedule had been thrown off. By the time the garishly painted orange creation with its logo of a pyramid containing the symbol of infinity finally set down at the Sierra airport, many members of the reception committee had left.

Of the original party, only a local hired photographer, along with Jim Ashby, editor-publisher-reporter of the
Sierra Messenger
, remained to welcome the Queen. The Sierra High School Band had gone off to rehearse their program for the school's Thanksgiving hockey game. Sierra's alderman had departed for a Lions' luncheon, where he was the keynote speaker. None of this, however, was as serious as the discipline situation Cathy faced with the Queen's retainers. The four ski instructors acting as the Queen's coachmen were decked out in outlandish Viking costumes with fur stoles and horned brass helmets, and by noon their mutiny had reached alarming proportions.

They had polished off two cases of Coors and were now smoking grass in the back of the old covered wagon that had been designated the Queen's coach. Cathy knew better than to threaten the boys, because it wasn't possible to find certified instructors at the beginning of the first holiday weekend.

When the plane taxied in, Janice was first off. She looked lumpy in a big brown parka.

"They sent the wrong size clothes," she complained. "Fourteens." Her attention wandered to the gold painted coach and the banner draped across it. "Oh, terrific. They got my name wrong. It's Janice, not Janet."

"We've got one part-time signmaker in Sierra, but I'll see what I can do," Cathy said.

"What a mess," Janice protested.

"It's not that serious," Cathy said.

"Oh, I don't mean the damned sign. I've got an earache from the flight, I'm starved, and I'm late with my period."

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