Everest After By Wendy Swore The tent canvas rippled and snapped, its fabric straining against icy

winds that raged across the South face of Mount Everest. Each breath formed into frozen puffs which lingered over Hannah’s pale face as she endured the day interred within the sleeping bag. Hands drawn up over her heart, she clutched a walkie-talkie; her link to Kevin. Be safe, be safe... A tremulous sense of anticipation had accompanied each leg of the journey. Together, they had crossed the treacherous Icefall and survived a night in the Valley of Silence where, deep beneath their tents, the ice moaned and split—a constant reminder that the landscape lived and breathed, indifferent to the miniscule intruders who trespassed above. Camped at the base of the Lhotse ice wall, they saw the lower Himalayas swathed in clouds whose fine tendrils grasped at bits of moisture caught within the atmosphere. Perched like an eagle’s nest jutting from the four-thousand-foot ice wall, Camp Three had transformed mundane tasks like nighttime potty breaks into terrifying ordeals where dubious lines stood between life and the sheer abyss below. She had followed Kevin over the edge of the world and onto the land of the spirits, the Deathzone where they huddled together, half in fear and half in excitement, dreaming of the summit run that would come the next day. Her tongue slid over cracked lips. A tear of both pain and frustration froze on her lashes. That evening she had tossed sleepless, her head splitting with agony that aspirin couldn’t touch. Chris, their guide, confirmed what she and Kevin already guessed: Mountain Sickness. She would not summit. “I’ll stay with you. We’ll try again some other time.” A patchwork of white and red blotches marred Kevin’s face which peered out from his green sleeping bag, a hands breadth from hers. “There will never be another chance and you know it. The money, the permits… This took everything we had.” “But it was our dream, together.” “Take a picture for me. I’ll wait for you.” With a fierce embrace, Kevin kissed Hannah goodbye and left with three men before midnight, the crunch of their footsteps receding into the darkness. Hannah, Chris, and two other failed summiteers fought the crushing disappointment in silence as day broke over the mountain. At half past noon, the satellite phone rang in Chris’s tent. Hannah stilled, holding her breath. “They made it! They’re at the summit!” “Yes! They made it. He made it.” Hannah cheered with the others, despite the lump in her throat. I so wanted to be there with you. Crying increased the pounding in her skull. She reached for another oxygen bottle. Hours passed. When the sun dipped below the horizon, she unzipped the tent and stepped into the frozen waste. Chris stood looking through binoculars. “Can you see them?” “Something’s moving on the South face. I think it’s them.”

“Can you call?” “I did.” “And?” “They didn’t answer.” Inside the tent, the radio crackled to life. “Hannah?” She seized the walkie-talkie, not bothering to zip the tent behind her. “Kevin? Where are you?” “They fell!” Her world lurched on its axis and Chris pulled the flap aside, his face grim. He took the radio. “Who fell?” “We were coming down the Knife Ridge, down Hillary Step, and Jerry slipped off the rocks. The others tried to get to him, but they’re gone. All gone.” “You’re alone?” “I’m tired…so very tired. I can’t feel anything.” Kevin said. “Are you still moving? Do you have enough oxygen?” Chris asked. “I’m… I see something.” He’s hallucinating! She snatched it back. “Kevin! Get up! You have to move. Come down here right now.” “It’s floating over… So beautiful…” “Listen to me, Kevin Dane. You get up. Walk, you hear me? Walk!” “Just a little rest…” Chris took the walkie-talkie. “Kevin, buddy, listen. You need to come back, then you rest. Understand? If you don’t move, you’ll freeze.” Nothing. “Kevin?” Hannah grabbed the radio. “Kevin? Answer me!” “Beautiful…” “Kevin!” She screamed and begged for a reply, turning the volume up until it crackled with static, white noise. Nothing but snow. The next day Chris recovered Kevin’s things, including a photo from the summit of Kevin smiling against the heavens, the world at his feet.

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