This story is by Ryan D. Welsh and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The four of us stood atop the white mountain looking out at the setting sun. It seemed to gain steam as it fell into the dark tree line. It was gone and the sky gleamed with bands of red. “Geez, will ya look at that? Only God can paint something that beautiful,” said Sather. I looked at Bradley rolling my eyes. When did Sather get all righteous? We’ve been best friends since we were five. He didn’t even go to church growing up. I had to, my parents saw to that. Oh, chalk it up to the booze. He’s drunk and gets sentimental, after all it’s our last night together I realized.
We’ve been drinking like college gloms for the past three days and my body hurts. I was tired, and I missed Annie and the kids so much. “All right pecker heads let’s head down, loser buys,” I said. “Just wait a damn second, let’s take this beauty in and let’s go down the back run, “suggested Sather. “It goes straight to our cabin.” “No way,” I argued. “A, it’s a closed run. B, it’s a double black diamond and C, I’m not drunk enough.” “Come on Welch,” said Bradley purposely mispronouncing my name. “Yeah! you pussy,” said Scovey. Scovey was drunk enough. Heck he was drunk by noon. He wiped out once and his plastic flask filled with cinnamon whiskey exploded on his chest. It was hilarious. We gave him a ton of crap about it. I think he ingested that whiskey through his skin. “Fine!” I conceded.
Sather led as we diagonally strided a couple of hundred yards to the closed double black diamond run. A sudden feeling of elation came over me by the thought of getting home.
Ever since we were kids, Sather was the leader, I was his right hand. Scovey, Scov or Scovballs, as we affectionally called him, and Bradley joined our group in high school.
The run was probably about 60 yards wide, so we had plenty of room to all go at once. We pointed our skis over the edge side by side. “Look at that virgin snow!” Exclaimed Bradley. “Not for long! Scov slurred. “See you guys in the emergency room!” Yelled Sather going over. I started just behind Sather and I was gaining. Bradley was just over my shoulder. Scovey had veered off to the right. I started to worry a little about him and losing him but I was too engrossed in the competition. I was confident I could take down Sather and end this trip a winner. This would be a badge of honor that I could carry for years. I looked to my right to check on Scov. “Holy shit!” I exclaimed. Scov was blazing and was crouched down like a ski jumper! It looked like a white cloud was on his heels. “Avalanche behind Scov!” I yelled. Sather turned around and said, “It’s behind us too! Get to the tree line!” We had to maintain speed and take the perfect angle to get there. Sather was taking on a more aggressive angle than I was but I thought we needed more speed. Bradley went with me so I knew he trusted my strategy. We were about 5 yards from the tree line when I had to come up with the exit plan. Sather took a hard left and disappeared into the rich green pines. The trees were whizzing by me and I started to feel the ground moving underneath me. “Whap!” is what I heard and then darkness. When I came to I could tell my entire body was inverted but heard a voice getting louder. “Welsh, Welsh… Welsh!” It was Sather and it came from up above. Above my feet. And I yelled, “Help! Help!” Thank Christ, Sather was digging me out. After what seemed like an eternity, I could see a little light coming into the wall of packed snow. Finally, I could hear him clearly. “You okay buddy?” “Yeah, ouch!” I winced. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “My ribs, I think I cracked some ribs.”
Sather got me out as gently as he could. “Let’s find Bradley,” he said. “He was behind me so let’s try up here,” I suggested. We each picked a snow pile and started digging and yelling. Finally, a faint sound came from a pile of snow in front of Sather. We dug. We found him, and he was alive but in bigtime pain. We dug around him and as we got down to his chest he was breathing heavily and repeating, “My leg, guys, my leg.” When we cleared the snow around his waist line I could see something was wrong. The snow down there was blood stained. “Is my leg still there?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. I looked at Sather and we both looked at it. It was the most awkward angle and his thigh bone was sticking out through the back of his ski pants. The force of the collision and push from the snow snapped it. When we tried moving him he screamed. “No, no, no, don’t!” I gave him my flask that contained some schnapps and said, “This will help.” I walked behind the other tree with Sather. “We got to move now,” he whispered. I agreed. The plan was to move him about 15 yards to a clearing and Sather was going to go for help. As we lifted Bradley up and carefully picked up his dangling leg he shrieked. We aborted and set him up against the tree. Sather took off his ski jacket and tied it around his leg. “I’m going to go for help and I’ll try to find Scovballs,” he said. “If anyone made it down it would be that little bastard.” I waded out to the ski run to take a closer look and get my bearings. There were buildings down at the bottom but they looked more like sheds than cabins. It was clear we weren’t on the right run and Sather‘s internal compass was way off. Almost as off as his rule of no cell phones on the ski slope.
I went back to Bradley and his breathing was quicker and irregular. “Hey, look at that sky,” I said. Wow, he said in between breaths. It was now almost a black sky with the most sparkling cluster of stars. Even a shooter or two. I untied the jacket and saw that he was still bleeding. This situation was getting dire and I couldn’t grasp the thought of seeing Bradley die. I began to pray. Then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Phew, ask and you shall receive, I thought. “Hey Bradley! Help’s here!” A dark shadow eerily moved from tree to tree. Then another one behind that shadow and another. Then one behind me. The tall dark shadows seem to surround us. I figured I was hallucinating. They were closing in. I could feel the hair standing on the back of my neck. What is going on? What is this? I could feel something or someone closing in? I must be bleeding internally I thought. Then a deafening sound filled the air. It was a horrendous high-pitched ear-piercing howl that seemed never ending. The tall shadows came closer and we’re upon me. Then I went dark. I awoke sharing an old red flannel blanket with Bradley. It looked like something out of the 1950s. I could hear the engine of the snowmobile approaching from the distance. As I sat up my eyes were drawn to the big bonfire crackling right by us. We were in the clearing we attempted to get to earlier. The paramedics whipped up on two snowmobiles with sleds behind them and Sather followed on his own machine. The paramedics went immediately to Bradley and then they started inspecting his leg. One turned around to me and said,”Good work Chief!”
When Bradley was lifted onto the slide I could see some sort of makeshift cast on his leg. It looks like weeds and twigs packed together with mud. Sather came and helped me in the other sled. I was in pain but it wasn’t too serious considering what Bradley was enduring. “Scov?” I asked. “He didn’t make it, broken neck,” said Sather. “Didn’t you dig him out?” he asked. I didn’t answer.
As we sat there at the Assembly of God Church in Osceola, Ia, I stared at Scovey’s daughters holding each other during the eulogy. For some reason I wasn’t too sad. In the eyes of most of us here Scovey died honorably. We knew his recent path of self-destruction could have ended much worse. The same mighty force that took him is the same one that didn’t take us on that mountain. It saved us. There was no more denying in my life after Big Sky. I became a believer and now know there is a higher power. And like Scovey, I am now at peace.