Dr. Jacob Richards, PhD, slipped gracefully along on the snow, lagging behind his guide. Their tracks were the only blemish in the pristine powder squeaking beneath his snowshoes, refusing to pack in the extreme cold. His dual-pane helmet and layers of Thermolite® isolated him in a private world, surreal and separate from the -29° C chill of the January Nepalese winds.
Obscured by clouds somewhere to their right, Mt. Everest’s peak towered up to the brink of the troposphere, a monument of grandeur separating Nepal and Tibet. Jake had dreamed of making that popular ascent, but such a climb would have to be made in May, not January when hurricane force winds pummeled the summit and temperatures could drop to an unsurvivable -60° C. One day, Jake would conquer that peak, but this expedition wasn’t about reaching heights; it was quite the opposite. It was precisely because of the unbearable climate at high altitudes, that the doctor had secured a guide for his trek across this Himalayan plain.
Prem, the guide, came to a sudden stop in the distance. He stood as frozen as the world around him, studying the surrounding snow carefully as Jake approached slowly from behind. Prem put out a hand to stop him when he finally caught up.
“Meh-Teh,” Prem’s voice buzzed from underneath his helmet. He pointed toward an uncharacteristic mound in the otherwise flat field of snow, perhaps 100 meters ahead.
“I don’t speak Nepalese,” Jake’s muffled voice buzzed back.
Prem shook his head. “We should proceed with extreme cautions, Dr. Richards.” His voice slurred the doctor’s name in his slight accent. He pointed again. “Do you see it?”
Jake looked at the mound and nodded and Prem began moving slowly again. “I din’ expect so soon,” he labored. “Never this low before.”
“What are you talking about?” Their voices hung still on the air, difficult to hear.
Prem turned and quickly tapped his hand to his face guard twice to signal for silence. “Extreme cautions,” he said again.
“Why? So there’s a rock under the snow. So what?”
Prem stopped to sweep his hand slowly across the panorama. “Do you see… rocks?” He tapped his mask again and they moved on in silence.
The mound in the snow was about a meter in height, completely covered in the smooth quilt of powder like everything else. As they drew closer, Jake could see that the snow surrounding it was completely undisturbed. Prem stopped a few meters away and stood like a statue again for a minute. Then to Jake’s complete shock, he unsnapped his helmet and removed it. Turning his ear slowly he listened carefully to the entire landscape. He made a series of strange guttural cooing sounds, clicking his tongue in between each one and then listened again. When there was nothing, he refastened his helmet.
One slow step at a time, Prem approached the mound, taking several minutes to cover the short remaining distance. He knelt carefully beside it, and began to brush away the powder, carefully, one thin layer at a time, until finally, a coat of course white hair emerged from beneath the snow.
“Holy Mother of God!” Jake gasped.
“No. Meh-Teh,” Prem flashed a grin from the other side of his mask.
Little by little, Prem cleaned away the snow and the creature lying beneath it began to take shape. It was perhaps two meters tall, lying prone. It was shaped like a bear, but with long hind legs. The feet at the end of those legs were wide, thick with a padding nothing like American Geographic Society’s chief paleoanthropologist had ever studied before, and they bore not claws, but toes, five on each foot.
“Damn!” Jake dropped to his knees and shed his pack. Unstrapping the top flap, he began to pull out his photographic equipment.
Prem reached over in alarm to push the equipment back. “Dr. Richards, no. We agreed no cameras.”
“Are you kidding me? This is every scientist’s dream, Prem. I’m going to be famous.” He pushed Prem’s hand aside and began to set up his camera.
“Dr. Richards, no!” Prem’s voice was a frantic whisper. “You don’ realize what you doing.”
“The hell I don’t,” Jake retorted. “I’m snapping the cover of next month’s Scientific American!”
“But you agree no cameras.”
“So I lied. Sue me.” Jake snapped together the flash and the large handle that would allow him to operate the camera with his gloves on.
Prem interposed between Jake and the fallen snow creature. “You don’ realize,” he said. “Thousands of years Meh-Teh has live here in peace. If you bring back the photographs, people will come. They will hunt Meh-Teh, drive him up to high altitudes where he will starve.”
“How is that your problem?” Jake asked, snapping pictures despite Prem’s best efforts to intervene. “Besides, looks to me like he’s already dead. Come on. Help me roll this thing over, so I can get its face.”
“No, I cannot. Meh-Teh is sacred, and…” Prem paused, looking nervously around, “this one is a girl.”
Jake stopped to stare at his guide. “You’ve really seen them before?”
“Oh yes, many times.”
“I thought at best we were talking about snow mirages.” He pushed at the beast’s shoulders. “God, this thing must weight a ton.”
“Dr. Richards, please. If I know you bringing cameras, I never lead you here. You must stop.”
Jake stood up. “Look, Prem. No harm will ever come to these creatures from scientists. I promise.”
“Like you promise me no cameras? The harm that will come, it will be caused by you, Dr. Richards.”
Before they could argue any further, a long shadow fell first over Jake, then Prem and then stretched out gradually, seventeen or eighteen meters beyond them. Jake’s blood went as cold in his veins as the Nepalese winds. He turned slowly to find towering over him a creature more than three meters tall, completely covered in white hair, shaped very much like a man in a hairy snowsuit. If it wasn’t so tall, Jake would have believed this was some prank.
He began shaking uncontrollably as he stared up into the creature’s face. Coal black eyes shone fiercely back at him from underneath the fur as it reached down and grabbed his camera from his hands. Jake winced as nearly $4,000 crunched and ground in its powerful iron grip. It hurtled the camera pieces across the snow plain a good 200 meters in the air before landing, and then it bellowed in his face, a loud guttural cooing sound, like an albino Chewbacca. Bits of saliva sprayed from its mouth, freezing in mid-air and tinkling off of Jake’s face mask like a tiny hailstorm.
Behind him, Prem made some of the same noises he had made earlier and the creature stood and straightened. “Dr. Richards,” he said softly. “You standing between an angry mother and her young. I tol’ you cautions.”
Jake stepped aside. In two quick steps, the mother was hoisting her daughter over her shoulder, and with one sad-looking backward glance, she bounded off across the plain and disappeared, white against white. Jake sat down on his pack in disbelief. There was still a large hole in the snow, but there were no footprints save the two behind him, as if by some magic design, the tracks covered themselves as the creatures ran.
“Sorry about your camera, Dr. Richards,” Prem apologized smugly. “Shall we continue on?”
“No,” Jake sighed after a long, long silence. He would be ridiculed right out of his profession if he tried to tell anyone about this with no proof. He stood and hoisted is lightened load back onto his shoulders. “No, I think we can just head back now.”
© 2013 Anne Schilde