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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 10, 2016

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Submitted: May 10, 2016




The strong winds threatened to throw the man off his feet but he trudged on painstakingly through the snow. He did not know how deep the snow was, it could be to his knees or even to the waist. The blizzard had been savagely assaulting the Himalayan Mountains for several days, persistent, incessant and stubborn. But the man battling his environment was far more determined than any element of nature. Whatever happened, Joe McAllen would not turn back.

  McAllen was one of Europe’s most famous mountaineers, who had climbed every intimidating mountain peak of the Alps and the Andes, all failing to quench his undiminished thirst for adventure. Finally his passion or ‘madness’ as most of his friends called it, brought him to Asia to fulfil a desire he had harboured ever since he was a child: to stand on the top of the world. Scaling Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth, was all that mattered to him now.

  McAllen was now eight thousand and eight hundred meters high up in the mountains, walking through the snow alone caught in a blinding snowstorm. The snow beneath his feet was soft, something he would have craved for when on a vacation but had learnt to dread when on his expeditions. Soft snow was a treacherous enemy, one of the most deceptive traps of the mountains. Only three days ago, an hour after he had left Base Camp Three, he had taken a wrong step only to find himself stuck in the thick snow. With extreme effort he had dug himself out and made a silent promise to be more cautious.

  Clearing the snow and ice from his goggles, McAllen checked the time: four minutes past three in the afternoon, but there was barely any sun. A fraction of the sky would clear sporadically, only to be covered by more clouds. The sun would flash suddenly and at the very next moment disappear, as if taunting McAllen. He was now walking up a steady incline but the snow and ice pellets flying haphazardly in every direction obscured his vision, making it impossible to figure out the terrain only a few meters ahead. McAllen knew that keeping his balance would be tougher now and went down on all fours, never stopping for rest. Rest, he knew was another lethal adversary of a mountaineer. He knew a friend who had set out with three of his companions to scale the Mont Blanc. Halfway through the first day’s journey, this friend had suddenly dropped down squat on the ground refusing to take another step. He had promised to rest for two minutes, but he extended it to five, then ten, and he never got up. His companions had turned back to get important resources from the Base Camp, while their exhausted companion just sat there, getting buried in the snow. Eventually the severe frostbite cost him two fingers of his right hand.

  Joe McAllen was smarter and much more experienced than his friend which put halting for rest out of the question. Arms aching, Joe crawled on, carrying the weight of his own body and his heavy rucksack. The fact that he was not afraid to die seemed to give him more strength. It wasn’t true that Joe was confident that he would survive the ordeal but the truth simply was that he was not afraid of death. His friends said that the reason behind this was that he had no family; no parents to answer to, no wife to love, no children to father. He had never regretted being alone though and when some suspicious friend would inquire into the reason for his choice, McAllen would say, ‘you say I’m alone, I say I’m a free man.’

  However, as every beast or human must have an Achilles Point, so did Joe McAllen: he could not breathe normally without an oxygen mask at high altitudes. So, like always, Joe carried on his back an oxygen cylinder attached to an oxygen mask which covered his nose and mouth. It was the moment when Joe checked the gauge on the cylinder that he felt the ice-cold fingers of fear creeping down his spine. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the cylinder! The unprecedented snow storm had slowed him down far more than he had estimated. Base Camp Four was far behind and the summit was at almost the same distance ahead by Joe’s calculations which seldom yielded an incorrect result. If he turned back, he might just have the chance of making to the Camp alive, but the odds were against him. However if he continued forward he might be able to stand on the top of the world, and fulfil an age old desire, however with this triumph would come inevitable death. Joe McAllen was torn between two options- to return home a living failure or to die a conqueror. Joe was running short of oxygen already and if he sat there any longer, deliberating, his chances of survival would reduce from slim to none.

  Return a failure or die a hero? All his life he had learnt not to turn back, then why now? What chances did he have of returning alive? What if he died on the way back? It was not the way he would like to die- like a puny soldier scampering back to the safety of his city walls when his army is being slaughtered. He’d rather die in the battlefield, at the hands of the enemy than be shot in the back while trying to flee. He chose to fight.

  McAllen stood up, energy coursing through his blood and a wild fire of defiance in his eyes. One step in front of another, the mountaineer trudged on, fearless, unshaken and unabashed.

  After a long fatiguing hour of walking, climbing crawling and relentless struggle, McAllen still stood straight on his feet. The blizzard had oddly died out, and as if it were a fantasy movie, three yards ahead of Joe was the summit. The national flag of Nepal fluttered in the wind among various others belonging to different countries. The sky had cleared too, and it was brighter, allowing Joe to behold the grandeur of the place. He could see the snow-capped mountains all around but they were all so small when compared to the giant he had conquered. Joe had never seen anything more beautiful than what he saw now. Then suddenly everything went black.


Rohit Roy.

© Copyright 2019 Rohit Roy. All rights reserved.

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