Sacrifices 

You fan out. To your right and to your left, as distant as possible, but still within sight, are other searchers.

You fan out. To your right and to your left, as distant as possible, but still within sight, are other searchers. The evening rings with the sound of her name. You stomp your frozen feet and wriggle your fingers, sideslip through the trees, calling, calling.

You fan out. To your right and to your left, as distant as possible, but still within sight, are other searchers. The evening rings with the sound of her name. You stomp your frozen feet and wriggle your fingers, sideslip through the trees, calling, calling.

There’s a girl missing, and you’re thinking how cold, how frightened she must be. Your shoulders and neck are tense, braced against the chill, your body’s involuntary shiver. The voices seem to hold the night back, but not for long, and there’s a menacing whisper in your brain that says, once night falls, the game is up. A command echoes down the line, a stretched-out Chinese whispers rippling along a human conduit. They’ve found her.

They’ve found her. Ten hours you’ve been going now from start of the workday, to being rounded up in the locker room and sent back up the mountain to join a search party. A wave of fatigue threatens to pummel you, hold you under. Someone is yelling out — stay together. Ski out together. Skidding out from the glades, people emerge. You recognize faces, hadn’t realized they were there. Nod, smile. Follow each other’s arcing skis down the mountain. They found her.

Home. Hot bath. Instant soup. You sit by the fire and recount the story to your housemates. When the boys come home, hours later, you realize how little of the story you knew. They found her, and you’d just assumed she was alive. Nearly seven hours, she’d been missing. Only your ignorance prevented you from realizing you were part of a recovery, not a rescue. She’d never kissed a boy, still believed in fairies. Suffocated in a treewell. While you were eating french fries, playing Statues.

Your housemates had been further up the line. Brett, over six feet tall and rugby-strong, held Pete’s feet and lowered him into the treewell. Head first, clearing snow away, breathing steady, thinking, as the tunnel narrowed, as he reached closer to the little girl, be gentle with her, just don’t hurt her.

But she was a long way past being hurt. Gone into the good night. Or the angry mountain’s belly.

You live in a mountain town. Small enough that the local papers don’t even have an obituaries section. But every year, there are deaths, and you’re only ever two or three degrees removed from them. There’s no statue or memorial for them. Just the razorback ridges of mountain against the sky. The alpenglow bleeding across the range. That ache at your heart, that reminds you that you are alive. For now. The mountain exacts its toll. You remind yourself of this. You can’t count on tomorrow.

Lisa Richardson’s story Sacrifices is the winner of this year’s Words & Stories, Tales of Mountain Life writing contest, presented by Pique Newsmagazine. Among Lisa’s prizes are tickets to the Words & Stories presentation at the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival. Words & Stories takes place Sunday, April 18 at 8 p.m. at Maurice Young Millennium Place.

Thanks to all who entered this year’s contest.

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