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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Shah

November Contest Winner: Club Shishir Ritu

Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. This month, writers were ask to write from the prompt "Dead of Winter" with a maximum word count of 1,000.



Club Shishir Ritu

By Anne Johnston




“Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!” the bubbly, grey-haired man exclaimed, waiving his little clipboard to beckon me further along the path. “Come, come! I’ll introduce you around a bit and show you the ropes of our exclusive, little club. Get it? Ropes?!” He gestured at the rigging around each of our waists as he grinned at the joke. My face stretched in an exaggerated, not-quite-smile as I nodded and glanced about the snowy landscape.

People loitered along the slope, arrayed in groups as though creating steps up the mountainside. A clear, rock-paved path cut down the middle and led up into a halo of brilliant sunlight dispersed by thin, omnipresent clouds. I stamped my feet, shifted the pack on my back, and breathed briskly into my glove-clad hands as I eyed that coveted goal so very nearby.

“Yes, yes,” the jovial guide said, peeling my eyes away from the summit. “We’ll take you to the peak in due time, but first we have to get you oriented and catalogued. And there’s really no need for all that now.”

I stepped back from the man as he waved dismissively at my attempts to warm my still numb hands. Only then did I notice none of the hikers around us wore their usual full-face coverings. A few had done away with their layers of insulated leggings as well. No warm breath plumed in the chilly mountain air.

I cautiously slipped my reflective goggles up onto my forehead and squinted at the man, who now stood several meters ahead of me on the trail tapping his foot and lifting one eyebrow at me. No harsh wind burned my eyes and no snap of dry air chapped my newly exposed cheeks.

I pulled down my neck gaiter and moved slowly toward my guide as my eyes scanned the surrounding assembly. They looked on impassively.

“That’s better. Come along,” the man turned to head father along the path. “The name’s Karl by the way,” he threw over his shoulder.

“Donald,” I murmured.

“I know. You’re on the list.” I heard him tap the clipboard. We passed silently by several bands of the hauntingly still figures, their eyes tracking our steady progress up the slope. Every so often, I looked back at the NASA emblazoned jacket of Karl moving steadily before me. Drifting away from his form, however, I stumbled slightly as we passed by a man with his hand on a hip, the other jutting out to the side. He looked down haughtily at me, assessing something I could not discern, before lifting one corner of his mouth slightly and nodding in conspiratorial acknowledgement.

“Hi,” I said to the man on the side of the path. He rolled his eyes and turned away.

“Don’t mind Paljor there,” Karl piped up. “He and the other guideposts tend to be a bit snooty at first, but once you’ve been around a while, they’ll warm up to you. Metaphorically speaking anyway.”

“Guideposts?”

“Oh, you don’t recognize him?” The man referenced his clipboard again. “You definitely passed by him on your way, but I get it. We all get summit blindness to some extent, I suppose. It’s okay. Whatever you do though, don’t call him Green Boots. He hates that!”

The neon green boots sprung to mind immediately and I realized I had indeed passed the man during my climb. I looked back with my face stretched in silent apology to find that Paljor was already in conversation with another vaguely familiar figure.

“One of our other guideposts is Hannelore, though you might not have seen her depending upon how the weather was during your trek,” Karl chattered away despite my diverted attention. “So, you’ll have noticed that our club members are arrayed in bands along the slope. Which band someone occupies is based on a combination of seniority in the club, how close they got to the top before joining, and where they finally got their membership. You got pretty close to the top but didn’t quite make it, but that you got into the club while you were still so close is going to net you some good points. And don’t worry, no matter which band you get assigned to, at least once a year everyone gets a turn at the peak. You’re pretty new though so after this trip you might be waiting awhile.”

“What club?” I asked. “I don’t recall getting a new membership.”

“Ha!” the short, yet surprisingly lithe tan man in front of me barked. “We all got the membership whether we expected to or not. And we’re members in perpetuity, I suppose. Don’t worry about it though, you’ll fit right in in no time. Here we are!”

All further questions were forestalled.

I’d dreamt for many years of the moment I could see this peak, but nothing had prepared me for the cold, stark beauty of it. Standing now amid the clouds, looking down the vast range, I could not see the specters of other hikers below. The crisp, fresh smell of ozone reminded me that I should really be using my O2, but my hands found nothing at my hip to supply the oxygen with. With no remedy for the lightheadedness at hand, I let my hands fall to my side and simply basked in the wonder of the world spread out before me.

“Picture time!” Karl chirped. I jerked my head in his direction and grinned. Certain that my teeth reflected as much light as the sparse, windswept snow scatter about the peak around me I moved to the pole that marked the successful summit. I threw up a wave with one hand and went to grab the pole in triumph with the other.

My hand passed through the marker.

Only then did I understand my new club status and despair my attempt at Everest.

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