The Shasta Caper
by John Pirillo
They felt like little kids playing choo choo train as they watched their breathes cast curls of smoke ahead of them as they hiked up the trail that Samuel had found. No one had much of anything to say the first hour, their thoughts were on what had happened the night before. The Snow Beast, and the legend of it sparking their imaginations as well as fears.
Jimbo kept his right hand on his pistol the whole time they climbed, even if it made it somewhat difficult at times as they pushed around boulders, past shrubbery and sometimes through it as Samuel traced the path he had discovered, or rather that Al led them upon.
Al and M...or Marilyn...as her fans had all called her, almost danced the entire way, their feet never quite touching the ground. Even if they had, they were too ethereal to leave a real footprint, but both Samuel and Nanny found it amusing to watch them, as it took some of the tedium of the hike off their minds.
Even though the mountain was splendid to look at and beautiful beyond description with its myriad of evergreen trees clinging to its rocky and snowy sides. Tiny pearls of ice dotted and hung like strings of living jewels from the firs as they passed and tiny chipmunks, still not quite believing it was so cold, peeked out from occassional holes and chittered at them, warning them to button up and fur down or freeze.
They didn't have to be warned about that.
"How much further?" Jimbo asked, actually breathing hard.
Nanny looked back at him. "It's the altitude. You need to take deeper breaths."
"If I took them any deeper, I'd be breathing the snow off my feet." Jimbo quipped, but did so anyway.
They managed another hour, before they were totally bushed.
"Time out!" Samuel said, making a time out sign to Al and M, who nodded and drifted from view.
Samuel and Nanny went looking for wood, while Jimbo strung up a small tent they had brought along for shelter. It was getting colder and colder, and even though it was early still, they knew better than to push their luck with a storm edging its way into view again.
When Samuel and Nanny returned with their arms filled with wood, they found the tent all made up and Jimbo sitting in front of it, digging out a pit for a fire.
"You better do it inside the tent." Nanny warned.
Jimbo nodded and began digging it inside instead.
Samuel looked at Nanny. "You're expecting that strong of a storm?"
"Maybe stronger. This time of year we get the Wendigos."
"You could call them that. They sure sound like it when they come ripping past your ears, all shrieking and screaming." Nanny laughed.
She and Samuel dumped their wood inside, then made it a point to zipper the front entrance shut. Nanny looked to the roof where a small vent was and opened it all the way.
"Won't that let rain in?"
"It would if it was rain. Snow might block it a bit, but the wind will pretty much clear it out, so the smoke from the fire can exit. But just in case, because smoke starts low, then builds."
She began making a trough that ran across the center of the tent ground from the fire on either side, and under the tent edges.
"Won't the..."Jimbo started, but stopped on Nanny's look. "Okay. You're boss. But if I freeze my buns off tonight, you're personally going to have to warm them up again."
"Promise." Nanny said with a laugh.
They unwound their sleeping bags and laid them in a circle about the fire, then Jimbo pulled out three cans of black beans. "High in protein. And filling."
He shoved them into the fire they started, then looked at the others. "And easy to cook."
They warmed their hands over the fire. Outside the wind was whipping up, but nothing severe. They could see through the one plastic window the tent allowed, and huge snow clouds were dripping almost to the ground, casting their burden of wet water frozen into tiny fractal crystals of dazzling winter beauty.
Jimbo sighed. "It's so easy to forget how beautiful Mother Nature is when you live in a desert town like Vegas most of the time."
"Don't forget Mother Nature can also be a bitch." Nancy shot back.
Samuel smirked. "And ain't no bitch like a mad bitch."
Both Jimbo and Nanny looked at him.
Samuel sat up straight. "Now where'd that come from?"
He realized that one of his feet was slightly touching the ground outside his sleeping bag. "Oh. That!"
He looked at the others. "I think I must be picking up the impressions of whoever slept here last, or..."
"Whatever." Jimbo added.
"Yeah. Or whatever."
He and Jimbo both knew that stranger things than sleep happened on heaven and earth.
"Done!" Jimbo cried out happily and scratched the cans of black beans out with the help of a crooked piece of wood for the fire. He propped them in front of him, then pulled out a Swiss knife. He grinned. Sometimes, these little babies sure come in useful."
In several minutes he had the lids opened and pried back on the three cans, handed everyone a can and a spoon and dinner had begun.
They finished the cans, and put them in a plastic bag, then all laid down.
The moon was rising outside and casting a silvery, ghostly light through the single plastic window. The wind had stopped, but snow kept falling and sliding from the window. The soft patter of the snowflakes was pleasant to their ears and in moments they had drifted off to sleep.
Samuel woke up once to the sound of a gentle singing and Marilyn was seated across from him by the fire, and singing to Al, whose eyes were closed. He looked very happy.
He opened his eyes once to look at Samuel and smile. "Sweet Dreams, Sam."
Samuel's eyes fluttered shut the same time as he smiled and he drifted off into a cacophony of gentle images and Marilyn's singing. For one night at least the three would have a peaceful sleep. But what came that night might not come again for a long time. Such is the lot of adventurers.