Disclaimer: Some of the places mentioned in this story are real and some are made up. All of the characters are fictitious and any resemblance they have of real people is coincidental. This story includes sexual scenes involving two women.
THE OUTFITTER PART SIX
BY M.E. TUDOR
Robin was relieved when they made it through the treacherous part of the hike early that morning. She could only thank the Creator that there had only been a light dusting of snow on the trail. Karen had been crazy enough to want to stop in the middle of the cliff to take pictures. Robin had allowed her to get a few brief shots because the view was so breathtaking.
It was late morning when they reached an area Robin called The Bowl. She called it this because it was a large bowl shaped valley. Robin stopped in her tracks at the edge of the descent into The Bowl causing everyone to have to come to a stop behind her.
Marvin had been walking directly behind her and almost ran into her when she stopped. “What is it?” He asked raising his sun glasses up to have a better look at the field of snow.
“There has been an avalanche here recently.” Robin stated quietly.
“Okay,” Marvin said uneasily, not really understanding what that meant.
Tom, Tim, and Barry came up beside her. “Oh shit.” Barry said quietly.
“Yep,” Tim agreed.
Marianne came up to Robin, “What’s going on?”
Robin looked down at Marianne and tried to mask her fear, “There has been an avalanche here in the last day or two.”
“What does that mean?” Marianne asked innocently.
“It means this could be a challenge for us to get across.” Robin stated grimly.
Marianne turned and looked at the glistening snow that stretched down from the mountain to their left down to the forest at the far right and below them. It looked peaceful and innocent. Only at the far edges did there appear to be disturbed snow. “How do you know that?”
Robin studied the valley, “The snow level in the valley is too deep for what little snow they have had here so far and the edges roll under.”
“So what are we going to do?” Josie asked as she too studied the valley.
Robin turned and looked at the ominous purple-gray clouds that now covered the mountains behind them. Robin knew the snow was coming down hard there and they would not be able to make it back through that area even if they had enough supplies to try going back that way. Robin had never gone around the valley and was not ready to take the chance on running into a worse scenario by trying to do that. Their only choice was to cross it. Robin knew it was two miles across the valley and would take them close to an hour to make the hike across. Robin looked up at the hazy sun. It was not going to get much warmer which was in their favor. If luck and the Creator were with them they would be able to cross this valley without a hitch. If not they could be buried under another avalanche. Hopefully it had been long enough since the first avalanche occurred for the snow to have settled then there would be less of a chance of a new avalanche.
Robin turned to the group, “Does everyone have an avalanche beacon in their packs and do you know how to use them?”
They began the process of checking the avalanche beacons and going over what to do if there were another avalanche. Everyone was very frightened, especially Marianne. She had never experienced anything as dangerous as this.
Robin called her father on the radio and explained their situation. Jack Hawke told her that he would immediately call the mountain rescue team. He told her that they would make plans to get some snowmobiles and start heading in Robin’s direction as soon as possible just in case something went wrong.
Jack told her he had a very bad feeling about what Robin was about to do but she told him there was not a better route for her to take. He told her he would pray that they would make it across the valley safely. Robin thanked him and told him that she loved him. She said her own prayer when she got off the radio as she was sure everyone else did in their own way.
The group put on their snowshoes and got in pairs. Robin insisted that each woman should be with a man because they would need his strength should something go wrong. Robin and Marvin started the crew off with everyone following behind them. Josie was with Tom, Brenda with Tim, Karen with Barry and Marianne was with John at the back because she was having trouble walking in the snowshoes.
They trudged along silently for almost fifty minutes. Robin turned to see how everyone was doing and she noticed that Marianne and John were lagging about a hundred feet behind the rest of the group. “I’m going to go back and help Marianne and John get caught up. I think we are going to make it okay. I haven’t felt the snow give any since we started.”
“Me neither.” Marvin said as he looked back as Marianne tripped over the snowshoes and fell. “Yeah, you better give him a hand so we can all get this over with.”
Robin walked back to Marianne and John. “Marianne you have to allow for the length of the snowshoe.”
“I just can’t seem to get this.” Marianne panted as she dusted off the snow from where she had fallen.
“I don’t know how to explain how to walk in these to make it any easier for her,” John said, a little exasperated.
“Like this Hon,” Robin said as she showed Marianne how to make strides in the snowshoes. She took a few steps then came back, “Now you try it that way along side me.”
They walked together and Marianne finally seemed to be getting the hang of it when they heard a loud explosion that shook the ground they were standing on. “What the hell?” John said as he looked around. They saw the huge cloud of smoke roll up towards the sky. It was coming from the direction they were headed but seemed to still be several miles ahead of them. Then they heard another horrible sound. It was the rumble of the loosened snow on the side of the mountain as it began to charge towards them. “Run!” Robin screamed.
Robin and John literally drug Marianne with them as they raced towards the trees that were just ahead of them and just past the edge of the area where the last avalanche had come through. The rest of the group was far ahead of them but when they got to the trees they turned and yelled encouragements to John and Robin as they tried to pull Marianne to safety but the avalanche was coming too fast.
They were ten feet from safety when the powerful rush of snow hit them. It immediately pulled John away from them and tossed him towards the trees. Robin put her arms around Marianne and yelled over the thunder of the avalanche, “Don’t let go of me for any reason.” Marianne had no chance for reply as they were swept away by the tide of hard, cold snow.
The rest of the group could only watch in horror as their friends were swept away. Everyone began to cry. Josie kept screaming, “Oh my God,” until Marvin pulled her into his arms and let her cry on his shoulder. It was the most horrible thing any of them had ever seen in there life. They felt helpless and unsure of what to do next. They watched as the rushing snow finally stopped and the valley returned to its peaceful state as if nothing had happened.
“What can we do?” Tom asked Barry.
Barry wiped a tear from his eye. “We have to call Jack and ask him to get here faster. Other than that, we have to try to find them.” He got out his avalanche beacon transceiver and changed it to receive the beacon instead of send it but he was not reading Robin, Marianne or John’s beacon. The only thing they could do was take their collapsible ski poles out and try poking through the snow in the area they thought that their missing friends might be.
Jack Hawke looked grimly over the valley where is daughter was now buried under the snow. Barry had called him on the radio and told him about the avalanche. Fortunately he and the rest of the rescue crews had already started heading in their direction and was on the scene in less than ten minutes.
The group had already begun trying to search the area where they last saw Robin, Marianne and John and were moving towards the trees at the edge of the valley. Jack was looking at the avalanche transceiver to see if they were getting a signal from any of the beacons yet but there was nothing.
Suddenly Barry yelled, “Look!” and pointed in the direction of a tree about two hundred feet from them. They could see the snow moving at the base of the tree then suddenly a gloved hand poked up out of the snow. A cheer went up and the rescuers immediately headed in the direction of the tree. Within minutes they pulled John from the snow. He had a broken leg from where he had hit the tree and possibly a slight concussion. He was quite upset when he heard that they had not found Robin and Marianne yet.
The rescuers got John secured in a rescue sled and took him to an area where a rescue helicopter could pick him up and take him to the hospital in Durango. Everyone was relieved that they had found him but they still had yet to be able to detect Robin and Marianne’s avalanche beacons and they were quickly running out of time.
Jack studied the valley. Every minute they were buried under that snow brought more danger for the women. He knew that Robin had been trained to survive being buried in an avalanche but it had been twenty minutes according to Barry since they had last seen Robin and her friend. “Barry come here please,” Jack said without turning from the valley ahead of him.
Barry came and stood beside him, “What do you think?”
“Did you see them get pulled down by the avalanche?
“Yes,” Barry replied sadly as he remembered the horror of seeing them swept away.
“Where were they?” Jack asked thoughtfully.
Barry pointed out towards the middle of the valley, “They were about fifteen feet out in that direction and the snow seemed to pull them down and straight towards the trees down there.” Barry pointed to the edge of the forest several hundred feet away.
Jack sighed, “We will have to keep moving in that direction.” The rescuers were already covering that area carefully but they now had less than thirty minutes to have any hope of finding them alive.
* * * * * *
Barry was right about the direction they had gone. The two women had come to a stop just a few feet from the trees at the edge of the forest. They were still clinging to each other when the wave of snow stopped. Marianne must have hit her head on something along the way. She had small cut and a large lump on her forehead that Robin could make out as she pushed the snow away from her lover’s face.
Robin made them an air pocket and immediately checked her avalanche beacon which appeared to be working. Hopefully it would not take long for the rescuers to find them.
Robin had never been this terrified before in her life. She had never been buried under the snow even when she and Red Bird used to play in snow forts as kids. She could only pray that they would be able to track her beacon and find them soon. She kissed Marianne’s cold lips and tried to remain calm as she waited for them to be rescued. She continued to try to wake Marianne up to no avail. She felt herself drifting off to sleep but kept pinching herself to wake herself back up. Finally she lost the battle and fell asleep with her head close to Marianne’s.
* * * * * *
Jack Hawke studied the avalanche transceiver and it still showed nothing. The rescue crews continued to cover the area they thought Robin and Marianne might be in but had found nothing. Jack looked up at the gloomy sky and had begun to speak to the Creator when he saw the eagle. It was flying in a circle over a small area of the snow near the edge of the forest. Jack continued to watch, expecting it to swoop down and grab a rabbit or some other small animal to eat. The eagle continued to just fly in a circle.
Perry Crow Man moved up beside him. “What do you think?”
“You see that eagle?” Jack asked as he pointed to the eagle still flying in the circle.
“Yeah.” Perry said as he shielded his eyes and squinted in the eagle’s direction.
“It’s been flying in a circle like that for the last few minutes.”
Perry shrugged, “Maybe it’s pray keeps poking its head out of its hole and going back in again.”
“Maybe, but wouldn’t the eagle make bigger swoops around and swoop towards the ground?” Jack asked as he studied the eagle, which was now crying out.
Suddenly Jack had a vision of his dead son, Red Bird. He looked frightened and then he pointed down. Jack looked at the eagle and he knew that Red Bird was trying to tell him where Robin was. “Everyone follow me,” Jack shouted. “I think I know where they are.”
Jack took off in a full run, as best as he could in snow shoes, towards the area where the eagle was circling. He stopped when he got close and looked up. The eagle was still circling and calling out even louder. He turned to Perry who caught up with him first. “They are in this area.”
Perry scanned the area quickly but didn’t see anything to make him think the women were under the snow there. “How do you know?”
Jack pointed to the eagle, “Red Bird is trying to tell us she is here.”
Perry nodded and looked up at the eagle that swooped down and landed on a branch of a tree that hung just over their heads. The large eagle turned to stare at the two men then flew away when the rest of the rescue group arrived.
John flew up to Jack, “I’m getting a faint signal from her avalanche beacon. They are here somewhere.”
Jack looked up at the eagle and prayed for more guidance. He looked around and noticed a slight dip next to the tree the eagle had landed on. “Let’s start digging right here.”
Ten men and four women began digging around the base of the tree. Six feet down they found the top of the air pocket Robin had made and found the women lying next to each other.
“Sweet Jesus,” Tom cried as he and Jack pushed away the snow to get to the women.
Jack immediately checked Robin’s pulse. “She is still alive.” He announced with a huge sigh. He checked Marianne’s pulse, she was alive too. “Get the helicopter on its way now!”
“Already done, Jack,” John stated, “they expect to be here in five minutes.”
Jack pulled his daughter close to his chest and kissed her forehead, “Please great Creator,” he whispered, “I can bare to lose another child.”
Over head the eagle circled and cried. He swooped down closer as they heard the helicopter in the distance. When the helicopter was within sight the eagle landed on the branch above the group. Jack lifted Robin up to the men waiting then he lifted up Marianne. When he climbed out of the whole he noticed the eagle on the branch. He held out his arm to the eagle that flew to him with quick flutters of its large wings that made the rest of the group jump back. The eagle gently wrapped its tongs around Jack’s arm and cried out. Jack and the eagle looked each other in the eye for what seemed like a long time to the onlookers. “Thank you Red Bird.” Jack said quietly. The eagle dipped his head towards Jack then flew back to the branch where it stayed perched until the rescue crew left on the snowmobiles that were pulling the rescue sleds that Robin and Marianne were secured to. Jack climbed on to a snowmobile with another rescue crew member and rode to the area that the helicopter had landed. Robin and Marianne were secured into the helicopter and Jack climbed in with them.
After the helicopter took off, Tom and Perry watched the great eagle take fly off and become just a speck in the sky.
Tom looked at Perry, “Do you really think that was Ben?”
Perry turned to Tom, “Absolutely. Ben’s animal spirit was always the eagle.”
Tom looked back up in the direction the eagle had flown with a sigh of wonder then he turned and joined the his friends and the other rescuers as they made their way back to their snowmobiles that were waiting on more solid ground.
The rescue crew took the rest of the hiking group to the Tall Aspen Lodge where Marvin convinced the lodge’s owner to let them borrow the lodge’s van so they could go to the hospital where Robin, John and Marianne were. They didn’t even take time to eat or get cleaned up. They wanted to get to the hospital and make sure that their friends were okay.
Jack paced outside of the emergency room doors where they had taken his daughter and her friend. The last time he had been here for one of his children had been when Red Bird had died. Jack was praying as he paced. He just couldn’t bare the thought that he might lose Robin. He had called her mother as soon as he got to town and she was on her way to the hospital with some of their other family members and friends.
Within a short time the emergency room was filled with the Hawke family and friends. There was a burst of cold air that made everyone turn towards the door. Marvin led the crew from Back Lands into the waiting area. He went straight to Jack and asked if they had heard anything.
“Nothing yet about Robin and the other girl but your friend John is doing okay. He just got out of surgery so they will probably let you see him after he leaves the recovery area.” Jack answered sadly.
Robin’s mom, Betty was hanging onto Jack’s arm. “I wish they would come out and tell us something. This waiting is awful.”
Jack put his arm around, “They will come out when they can. We must be patient.”
As they were speaking the doctor stepped out of the emergency room door. “Jack.”
“How is she Mark?” Jack asked Dr. Mark Carter, a friend since high school.
“Robin is doing very well. She is a very strong woman. We will be allowing you and Betty to go back and see her. Do you know how we can reach her friend’s family?”
Josie stepped up, “I’m her boss. I can contact . . . them.” Josie could feel the tears rolling down her face. “Is she…?”
“She is still unconscious which is not a good thing but she is breathing good. She has a slight concussion but she is not responding to my satisfaction to the prompts we have given her to try to get her to move. We will have to do some more tests and watch her very closely for the next twenty-four hours but I want to contact her family as soon as possible so they will have a chance to get out here.”
“I’ll call them right away,” Josie said as she searched her backpack for her cell phone.
“Jack and Betty, you can come back to see Robin.
Everyone else waited in the waiting room for Jack and Betty’s return and for word from the doctor about Marianne. Josie got a hold of Marianne’s parents and they were on their way but it would take them close to six hours to Durango from Denver.
Jack and Betty finally come back out after they had been back with Robin for an hour. “Robin is doing really well.” Jack announced. “She said to thank all of you for your help and prayers. Marianne is still unconscious. The doctor suggested we all go home or to our hotels and get some rest. He is going to call me and Josie if there is any change in Marianne’s condition.
Josie insisted on staying at the hospital despite Marvin urging her to at least go back to the hotel to get a shower. “I want to be here when her parents get here.” She said and settled into a chair in the waiting room. Marvin knew there was no point in trying to argue with her. He knew she felt responsible for Marianne because she had picked her for this job.
Robin’s family and the Back Lands crew reluctantly left the hospital. Marvin promised to come back in a short while to bring Josie a change of clothes and some food. She just nodded turned her face solemnly turned to watch to snow that was beginning to fall heavily on the trees outside the hospital window.
* * * * * *
Marianne’s parents arrived in the wee morning hours to find all of the Back Land’s crew asleep in the waiting room. Josie woke when she heard Marianne’s name mentioned as Janice and Mike Jones asked the nurse about their daughter.
“She is still unconscious.” The nurse was telling them. “I’ll call the doctor and make sure it’s okay for you to go back.”
“Okay,” Mike said quietly.
“Excuse me,” Josie said softly as she approached Marianne’s parents. “I’m Josie Whittle, Marianne’s boss.”
Janice took her hand and shook it limply and Mike refused to take her hand at all. “What on earth were you thinking taking an inexperienced hiker out in the woods like that?”
Josie didn’t let his attitude get to her. She understood that he was upset. “Marianne had some experience hiking and she was out with the rest of us who are all very experienced hikers and we had an outfitter who takes people on these hikes regularly with us. It was a freak accident that no one really expects, especially not this early in the winter season.”
“What happened exactly?” Janice asked as she gave Mike a slightly hateful glance.
“Because of the storm we had to change our original path with led us to an area where there had been an avalanche in the past few days. An area like that can be unstable for a few days after an avalanche but we didn’t have any choice but to cross the valley where this had happened. We were almost across when there was a large explosion that shook the area and caused another avalanche. Fortunately, Robin, the outfitter who was leading our group, had already called ahead and the rescue crew was on their way to meet us just in case things went wrong. When the avalanche happened, Marianne, John, one of the photographers at Back Lands, and Robin were trying to catch up with the rest of us. Marianne was having trouble with the snow shoes which kept her and John behind and Robin was trying to help them get caught up. When the avalanche came down it pulled John in one direction and Marianne and Robin in another direction. Fortunately we found all three of them.”
The doors leading back to the emergency rooms opened and Dr. Carter stepped out. “Mr. and Mrs. Jones?”
“Yes,” Mike answered.
Dr. Carter held out his hand to him and Mike shook it, “I’m Dr. Mark Carter. I am the physician attending your daughter.”
“How is she?” Janice asked.
“Other than the fact that she has not woken up since we got her here, she is doing fine. All of her vitals are good. We just can’t seem to get any responses from her. Her brain waves are fairly normal, although she did suffer a slight concussion. We are hoping that your being here to talk to her will help bring her around. Please come with me and let’s see how she responds to you.”
Janice turned to Josie, “Thank you for calling us and staying here for her.”
“She is our friend and we all care very much for her. We will be here as long as we possibly can.” Josie said quietly as a tear fell down her face. She felt so responsible for this happening to Marianne. She kept telling herself that Marianne had insisted on coming. She went back to the waiting area and prayed that they would hear something soon.
* * * * * *
It had been three days and Marianne still had not woken up. Robin had been released after twenty-four hours. She had come back to the hospital as soon as she had gotten cleaned up and had been there for the most of the last two days. She had tried several times to get into see Marianne but one of Marianne’s parents was always in the room with her. Robin didn’t know what she could have done differently to have protected Marianne better. There was not much that a person could do to protect themselves in an avalanche. She just really wished that she could talk to Marianne. She wanted to touch her face and try to help get her to wake up but she knew Marianne’s parents were not going to let her near Marianne, especially if they found out that had been sleeping with her.