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Spuyten Duyvil's Alpine Adventure - Bit 1 & 2

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  • Spuyten Duyvil's Alpine Adventure - Bit 1 & 2

    That nice girl Etive wondered if I was going to slap any of my drivel onto the website, so here it is.

    This is the first part of a longer story. The intro's a bit abstract, but that's how it came out. Spuyten Duyvil gets a bit distracted by minutiae.

    If anyone would like to read more, type in:

    'Rah! Rah! Rah!'

    If you've had enough already, put:


    I won't be upset. There's tons more like this at home. Here we go.

    > The face was grey. That, after all, is the colour of granite. There was hair, a bushy blotch of yellow, and an odd little moustache of a darker, greener hue. There was only one eye, an oriental slit of black, a fleck of iridescent mica. The nose didn't appear until the tiny rivulet of red etched out the profile, trickling down the rock, meandering along indefinable contours of resistance. The nose was too big. Ugly. Spuyten Duyvil didn't like it. He turned his own head on one side to reappraise the face from a new angle. No better. He grimaced and felt the frozen skin around his mouth crack apart. He wanted to sleep.

    The effort of reaching out to the simulacrum on the rock was immense, but he managed it. His numb fingers brushed the little visage, ruining its horrid nose. He turned the black glove over. The frost-etched fibres of the nylon were clear, meshed in intricate detail, painfully hyper-real in the icy mountain air. The blood didn't show up against the dark material. Listlessly, Spuyten reached out again and obliterated the face-in-the-rock. Clumsy rubbing with fingertips that he couldn't feel. He tore of the lichen hair, the lichen moustache. A grey-green smear and a curve of watery crimson, and no more face. Just a tiny piece of mica in a slab of granite.

    The blood trickling down from the spike of rock above the slab was congealing in the cold, like raspberry sauce poured over ice-cream. Spuyten allowed his tired eyes to make the ascent of the scarlet cascade, following the crawling blood to its source as it meandered, split and coalesced. A delta of mortality. It wasn't a fresh journey for him. Carl had led this pitch, and they had clambered on crampon-points up this very slab, made a running belay over this same spike.

    And now Carl lay in ruin, his torso bent over the spine of rock, his legs dangling in air. His half-face stared down at Spuyten, jawless, the skull caved in below the nose. His goggles interrogated Spuyten's survival while the roof of his mouth spilled red onto the granite.

    Spuyten swallowed and stared back into the black lenses. The pain in his left shoulder was a nebulous cloud of discomfort, no longer stabbing, no longer making him retch. He knew it was badly bruised, but not broken. Carl's fall had jerked them both out over the crag, two flailing figures and an umbilicus, a bola of desparate humanity. But the rope had caught on something, somewhere above. Spuyten serendipitously recoiled on a bungee, swinging into the mountain with force enough to harm, but luckier than his companion. Carl's end of rope, like his life, had been shorter, but not short enough to stop the impact.

    An accident of physics. Not the accident Spuyten had actually had in mind, but an accident that had fortuitously resulted in the intended outcome. Well, almost.

    He smiled to himself thinly, conscious of his brittle face. He should have chosen his protection with a little more care. A cam wedged into a nice near-vertical crack and a doubled-over sling looped over that bomb-proof spike should have been enough to hold him onto the ridge. To hold him secure as Carl arced out into the alpine air, propelled by a well-timed and forceful downward yank on the rope from his treacherous partner. Except the camming device had not quite bitten through the almost frictionless layer of verglas coating the rock surfaces in the crack, and the spike (or gendarme as Spuyten ironically remembered they were called locally) had turned out to be not so bombproof.

    So as the rope pulled taut on Spuyten's harness, Carl having reached the perigee of his dramatic swing, the assassin was torn from his eyrie and flung into the void, joining his victim in a plummet that ended two hundred feet lower down the bristling flank of the Dufourspitze.

    Spuyten tried to summon up a suitable expression of his emotions.

    'Bollocks' he whispered.

    Hoist by his own petard. He laughed. The sound was a distant bark, almost airless. Petard. Retard. Rock Hard. Savoyard. He was drifting; time to move.

    Spuyten shifted his weight uncomfortably and automatically began to coil in the rope, his left arm aching. It was so cold that the nylon fibres were freezing, and the rope was stiff, bending awkwardly at angles rather than lying smoothly. He pulled in a few yards from the mass looped somewhere above Carl's body before the corpse took a deep breath. Spuyten stopped, a deeper chill cooling his insides as he gazed at the ruined face above him. Nothing. Then it breathed again. The jawless face rose up, blood and saliva dripping in cooling gobbets from the exposed palate, reddish bubbles bursting at the nostrils, before it sank back with a sigh as the spasm passed. Carl was dead, but the cells of his body were performing a final danse macabre. Spuyten shuddered and briefly considered bashing Carl's skull in with a lump of the loose scree scattering the ridge (part of his original contingency in the event of Carl surviving the fall) but decided quickly this would be altogether unnecessary. And in very poor taste. Carl was gone.

    'Time to go'

    He struggled to his feet, awkwardly, stiffly, knees bent to stay upright as his head swam. He pushed his goggles up onto his forehead and swung his gaze outwards. The saw-toothed silhouette of the Alps loomed in all directions, a corrugated interstice between the opalescent dawn and the fluffy soup of luminous clouds filling the valleys. He took a deep breath. The vertiginous sight made him a touch giddy, but cheered him up. For Spuyten Duyvil, natural beauty was always a spiritual panacea. Even for guilt.

    He watched as a cluster of black dots drifted across the clouds far, far below. The birds were probably Alpine Choughs, he decided as he massaged his battered shoulder, rolling the joint into painful motion. He wondered if the birds would have a bit of a go at Carl's body before his murderer could get down and alert the authorities to the 'tragedy'. Spuyten watched as the flock split apart like a breaking fighter squadron. One of the black dots started spiralling up towards him.

    He shivered again, but this time with a merely physical cold. He decided that he might as well ditch the rope, dismantling the remnants of his 'secret' belay. His explanation of the accident would of course vary in detail from the actuality, and he wanted to keep the story straightforward. He gave the human wreckage a final nod.

    ''Bye, Carl'

    Painfully, like an unoiled mechanism of dry gears and rusted levers, Spuyten lurched into motion. An awkward scramble to the left would bring him back onto the ridge itself. He shuffled precariously over down-tilted, icy slabs, his crampons squeaking skittishly over the rock. Fortunately his route was well-provided with solid handholds, flakes of pointed rock jutting above him like the spinal plates of a petrified stegosaur. Grimacing against the pain of his shoulder, he grasped the spikes, using them to drag himself by main force across the most exposed section, swinging his legs across the slabs in a series of bridging moves. Within a few minutes, all sense of cold had left him and he was perspiring freely.

    There was a bad moment when an apparently solid lump of rock came away in his hand, crumbling as he pulled on it and sending him gasping and grasping back, unbalanced and scared. For a moment he thought his own body would hurtle down to emulate Carl's in a prompt assertion of natural justice. But he recovered his equilibrium and continued, his sweat and snot freezing as icicles in his five days' beard.

    The sun's red disc was just clearing the eastern horizon as Spuyten regained the ridge. He relaxed a little, breathing slowly, and loosened his rucksack straps. His shock-induced desire for sleep had been dissolved by the activity, and replaced by a visceral hunger. He shrugged off the sack and perched himself on a boulder. He tried not to get too comfortable; experience had taught him that it was all too easy to sink into dormancy in the thin air. The cover of the sack was snapped open and the drawcord loosened, and Spuyten rummaged hungrily in the malodorous depths of the orange plastic liner. A misshapen flapjack and a bar of chocolate disappeared in quick succession, and he was just reaching for the dented blue aluminium of his old Sigg water bottle when a black shape hopped into the periphery of his view.

    Despite himself, Spuyten jumped. The chough regarded him quizzically through an eye turned side-on. The bird stood squarely on its crow's feet, orange-red beak down-curved in an impudent scavenger's scowl. Spuyten raised his eyebrows and stared back at the visitor. Moving slowly, he reached into his rucksack and carefully fished out another flapjack. Unwrapping it, he broke off a corner and lobbed it gently towards the bird. He had never been able to resist feeding animals. He was quite soft, at heart.

    The chough hesitated for a moment then, with an awkward gait, gingerly approached the tit-bit lying on the thin snow coating the rock. It followed an indirect course to the food, curving around it whilst keeping Spuyten under a gimlety close observation. Finally bestriding the fragment of cake with an air of conquest, it flicked the prize up into its delicate beak and fluttered up onto a slab to consume it.

    Spuyten smiled to himself. He might have just killed a man, but it was somehow reassuring that life went on regardless. The mountains were unchanging, just as they were when Carl was alive an hour ago, and the choughs would be harassing climbers a hundred years after he himself was dead. There was something reassuring in that, he decided as he chewed on the sickly chocolate. The endless cycle of life and death, renewal and decay, and through it all -

    'You gonna eat all that yourself?'

    A frisson of fear rose up his neck, perhaps the inescapable disquiet of even the most sang-froid assassin in the immediate aftermath of his crime. He jumped up and stared with dilated pupils up and down the ridge. There was only the bare, crenellated rock, the ice and the void. No-one. Except the bird...

    ...which was staring back at him from its perch and speaking again.

    'Or can I have some more?'

    That's it.

    PS: Would anyone like to come climbing?
    You'd be quite safe.
    With me...Heh Heh Heh!

  • #2
    That's not bad at all Perdix. I managed to read it all despite my short attention span which is always a good sign ;)

    I would be interested to see the whole picture, let's have some more!


    • #3
      We should have moved this thread to the Enclave long ago. It got buried, and I didn't notice it.