Prologue: Everyone’s Everest
Bright afternoon sun glinted off an expanse of pristine white snow that had recently fallen on the sloping mountain face. Each perfect flake seemed to
cunningly reflect the bright light back into his squinted eyes as he took in the inhospitable world around him, regardless of the heavily tinted
goggles he wore. His heavy boots crunched through the snow pack with every labored step as the bone-chilling wind snaked its way under his fur lined
hood. Frost collected on the outside of the thick gray flap that protected his face as he gasped and wheezed his way inexorably upward.
Steven Carter of Colorado stopped a moment to catch his breath and suck a cool gulp of water from the tube under his protective face guard. He glanced
over his shoulder before starting out again. The rest of the team was still there, close at hand in their brightly colored climbing gear.
Just behind him was their Sherpa guide, whom they were fortunate to have with them. Steven felt a pang of jealousy at how easily the native Tibetan
was breathing and how graceful each measured step was, despite the fact that the man wasn’t much younger than Steven himself. Steven, at age 51, was
easily the weakest link of their climbing team of six, despite being in what he felt was the greatest shape of his life.
Grumbling to himself, Steven started plodding along again. It wouldn’t be much longer now.
They had left Camp Four earlier that morning when the weather seemed like it might cooperate. So far the final climb was going smoothly. With each
step, he was taking himself closer and closer to his dream. He wondered briefly what it would feel like, finally achieving what he had longed for and
trained for his whole life.
Grinning, Steven glanced up the slope and his determination renewed.
For a fleeting moment he caught a glimpse of color and his breath caught in his throat. His pace doubled as the adrenaline hit his system. Within
several strides his eyes confirmed what his dreams had shown him for decades.
Less than two hundred feet away he could see the brightly colored prayer flags that marked the summit of Mt. Everest.
Attached to thin poles driven into the snow at the summit, the arrays of small flags starkly contrasted with the blue sky behind them and the
brilliant white beneath them.
For Steven, the last few hundred steps took on a surreal quality. When his mind finally caught up with him, he realized he was no longer moving, and
that the snow he stood upon was no longer sloped.
In shock, he turned in a slow circle. His teammates were not as close as they had been. In the back of his mind, he realized he must have powered up
that last ascent faster than he had thought. Still, they would soon be upon him.
Continuing his circle, Steven noted that nothing on Everest’s summit was taller than he was. For one moment in time, he, Steven Carter, was the
tallest man in the world. Inside his orange tinted goggles, the 51 year old man felt a warm tear run down his wind-burned cheek.
Beneath his frosty face guard he grinned like a schoolboy.
bruptly, his smile dropped from his face and his eyes popped wide with surprise. He thought he had seen the impossible. With a raptor’s intensity,
he focused on the spot just beyond the prayer flags. His legs were shaky as he stumbled to his left, in an attempt to see around their flapping
In an instant, he stood frozen. Not with the pervasive cold that was the norm for this altitude, but with dawning realization that something was
terribly wrong with what he was seeing.
Before him, sitting in the snow with his back toward Steven was a man. This man looked to be in his mid-twenties. He was wearing faded blue jeans and
a white hooded sweatshirt that was worn with use. The man sat with his elbows resting on his knees, seemingly looking out across the horizon.
Despite the freezing gusts of wind, the man’s sandy blonde hair lay flat and thick upon his head. His white sweatshirt lay still.
Steven could only gape as his mind tried to fathom how this man could have made it to the Everest summit dressed like that, let alone why the wind
didn’t seem to touch the man even as it pulled at his own hood and bright yellow parka.
With a start, the man glanced over his shoulder and locked eyes with Steven, who stood rooted to the spot. The man’s eyes were a dull green and for
a moment they darted around, intensely scanning the area before returning to Steven.
Gently, the man placed one very ungloved hand to the snow and pushed himself up. His full height seemed to dwarf Steven’s six feet by several inches
at least, until Steven realized that the man’s white and black running shoes had sank not even an inch into the snow pack.
There were a hundred questions that came to Steven’s mind at that moment, but he stood rooted to the spot in wonder and shock.
Casually, the blonde haired man who had seemingly climbed Everest in blue jeans, running shoes, and a hooded sweatshirt, zipped up the sweatshirt and
put his hands in its front pockets. He did this not with the urgency of someone who desperately wants to warm cold fingers, but with the ease of
someone who doesn’t know what else to do with his hands.
With a slight smile on his face, the man nodded toward the boundless horizon around them and said in flawless English, “Take a minute to enjoy the
view before you climb back down.”
His voice carried just above the wind, loud enough so that Steven could barely hear it. There was a hint of good natured sarcasm that was discernable
over the chilling gale.
These words snapped Steven out of his stupor and he whirled around to see his team climbing the last few steps and finally become level with him.
Suddenly, his traitorous voice returned to him.
“Get up here now! You’re never going to believe this!” Steven shouted so that the rest of his team could hear him. Sensing his urgency even
through the multiple layers of gear, they hurried over and looked where he was pointing.
When Steven looked back at the spot where the man had been, it was vacant, void of anything but snow and sky and prayer flags. His team turned to him,
asking puzzled questions about what he had seen, but Steven shrugged them off and moved to where the man had been sitting.
[Edit to add breaks. ATS doesn't like indentations apparently.
[edit on 18-7-2009 by SeekerOfAUTMN]