Twilight fall leads to finding help from beyond

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

(Part two. Continued from last week.)

Summary: The narrator, while skiing near Vancouver, British Columbia, has become disoriented during twilight and lost her partner.

The snow was falling faster now, black clouds rolling in from the west, and the wind had picked up to a roaring level, seeming to come from the valley to my right. That valley, by the way, was quickly becoming enveloped in deepening layers and shades of blue. It was while looking toward that valley, trying to orient myself, that I became aware that Derek was no longer in my field of vision.

“Derek?” I called into the crystal silence. “Derek? Where are you?”

I could feel my heartbeat quickening, my throat muscles beginning to tighten. I felt, rather than heard, two skiers glide up behind me, sliding to a stop then balancing on the slope.

Bundled so tightly in knit masks, heavy scarfs and huge olive-green parkas that I couldn’t tell at first if they were men or women. The huge red crosses on their parkas and their canvas backpacks did, however, tell me that they were ski patrol.

“What’s goin’ on, miss? Some kind of problem?” He pulled his mask and the heavy plastic goggles from his head, letting the snow settle on his blond, brush cut hair.

“You seem to be kinda lost.”

The man reached for a pocket of his backpack, unsnapped the canvas flap and pulled out a plastic pocket-size box, labeled “L.S., M.F.T.”

Extracting a cigarette, he cupped his hands against the wind, flicking a silver lighter until it blossomed forth a flame.

“Want a cancer stick while you tell us what we can do for you? Have a seat so we can check out your condition.”

His female partner raised her mask, pushing back red hair, wrinkling her freckled nose into the night wind.

“Jerry, don’t you read the newspapers ? Those things are supposed to be bad for you.”

Jerry snickered. “Yeah. Okay. So who wants to live forever?”

“Well,” I took a deep breath, “I’ve lost my partner, lost my way, not sure where the lodge is. Should I come up with something to make it worse?”

Ellen, which I had discovered was the woman’s name, looked up from where she was bent over in the deepening snow, assessing my legs and ankles. “Honey, it could be a lot worse. Looks like you’re walking away from that fall with no injuries. You feel strong enough to just follow us back in? It’s only about two miles.”

“Sure.”

I hadn’t expected any injuries, not really. My panic state had more to do with being lost. But what fall was she talking about? Must’ve made a mistake.

We glided slowly down the trail, cautious in the darkening night, sometimes three abreast, sometimes with Jerry opening the trail in front of us. During one of the three-abreast times, answering Ellen’s question about how we’d found the lodge, she looked at me for a long minute when I mentioned the Internet, then touched Jerry’s shoulder. “Make sure they check for disorientation and confusion.”

The lights of the lodge opened up before us, and like I always do, I got ahead of myself when the last 100 yards separated me from the holding area. I pushed on ahead, figuring my patrol rescuers would catch up.

Derek swooped me into his embrace, crying, waving back the ambulance crew that, I only now realized, was there to meet me, in case of injury.

“After you went down that hill … came and got help as fast as I could … thought we would need a rescue chopper … can’t believe you made it in … and okay.”

“Whoa! Went down what hill?”

By now we were sitting in front of the lobby fire, sharing Irish coffees with the manager, while I further convinced him that, no, I did not need a trip to the hospital, I was fine.

“Where did Jerry and Ellen go? I need to thank them.”

The manager’s face blanched.

“Jerry and Ellen? What did they … what did they look like?”

Before I could tell him, he left and came back with one of the lodge’s commemorative books. Opening it, he asked, “Do they look like this?”

“Yeah.”

I was feeling weird.

“Do you know them?”

The manager looked at the fire. “Ummm. Jerry and I started out on ski patrol together.”

“But, not to be rude, aren’t you around …”

He smiled, looking at something far away.

“No problem. I’m 63. Well, there was … it was in 1965. There was an avalanche. Jerry and Ellen, they were caught in it. Yes, they were both killed.”

He closed the book. My head was spinning, but not from the Irish coffee.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at:
clyde_davis@yahoo.com