The village seemed far away. A Christmas card scene at the bottom of the mountain.
“Come on, Jamie.” I called. “We need to keep going. Need to see if anyone needs help on the other side.” We straightened our back packs and set off again, boots crunching crisply underfoot. I knew the way as Dad had taken us there several times in the summer. “I can’t wait to see Lake Wilson in the snow.” I shouted over my shoulder. “Dad says it’s amazing.”
The sun was rising as we crested Calico Mountain; melting trails of golden light, drizzled like syrup over vanilla ice-cream. The lake picked up the rays and shone like polished glass.
“Wow.” Jamie was as impressed as I was. “Let’s have a rest, Luke.” He pulled off his back pack and I followed. Being thirteen, I had more stamina but had to admit I was tired too. I tossed him some chocolate and we munched away, enjoying the shifting colours of the sunrise.
“Dad’s so lucky to work out here.” Jamie’s words were muffled through a sticky mouthful.
“He is.” I agreed. “I want to be a guide and rescuer, just like him.”
Jamie nodded as my thoughts turned to Dad. He was a born adventurer and had always worked in the outdoors. Often he would go deep into the mountains and return with tales of helicopters and rescues and men and women of great courage. I longed to go with him but he always refused.
“You’re too young, Luke. Your body’s not strong enough yet. The mountains may seem harmless but they can be treacherous. When you’re older I’ll take you out with me.”
I stretched my legs and pulled myself up. “Let’s go, Jamie.”
The accident happened as we started our descent down the mountain. Jamie stepped on a slippery patch of ice and went crashing down the slope, careening over frozen humps until he finally slammed into a tall pine tree.
“Jamie! Jamie!” I scrambled down the mountain, heart thumping against my ribs. “Jamie! Are you alright?” I clawed at the snow, desperate to see if he was in one piece.
“My leg. My leg hurts.”
He was alive. I brushed the snow from his face and saw a frightened little boy, skin pallid against a halo of white. What had I done? I should never have come out here. Should never have tried to prove that I was stronger than the mountains.
“Go get Dad. Please Luke.”
My thoughts snapped to attention. There wasn’t a person in sight and our parents thought we were asleep in bed. I would have to go back. I upended my back pack. Chocolate, bottled water, torch and batteries, matches and a space blanket. At least I had brought something of use. I unpacked the thin foil sheet and carefully cocooned Jamie like a giant caterpillar, even tucking it round his ears. I didn’t know what else to do. I had fallen from great mountain explorer to frightened teenager.
It took me ninety minutes to get home and with burning cheeks, frozen fingers and chapped lips I stumbled into the house. Dad grasped the situation immediately, barking orders down the phone, gathering equipment and dressing in layers of thermals and wool. “You’ll have to come with us, Luke. We need you to show us where Jamie is.”
I felt like a fool as the adults tramped through the snow with me. I was no better than the tourists we always laughed at. The ones who came unprepared and ended up being rescued. The feeling intensified when we reached Jamie. As I saw his frozen features and heard the quiet sobs as they winched him into the helicopter.
I laid my hand on Dad’s arm. “I’m sorry, Dad. I thought I was tough enough to be a rescuer like you.”
Dad’s face was stern. “You’ve made a foolish mistake, Son.” I nodded as his face softened. “But I think you have the potential to be a great rescuer.” He gestured towards the men and women behind him. “There’s not one of us here who hasn’t made mistakes. It’s a process we’ve had to go through. A learning curve that takes time. “
I nodded again as he wrapped his arm round my shoulders. “We’ll talk some more later but right now there’s space for two more in the chopper. Coming?”
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