So I’d managed to pull a bartending
gig at Pinehaven for the summer, which was cool. Pinehaven's one of the last ski resorts
in the northern hemisphere since global warming
came along, and it's way up in the Himalayas
, even above New Kathmandu
. The bar I was working at was called Xanadu
- like from that old poem
- corny as all hell, but my boss was OK, as far as these things went, and didn't seem to mind if I drank at the bar as long as everyone got served promptly. I was making good money - richies
might be stingy as all hell about actually leaving a tip
, but they get drunk easily enough, and leave their change lying around like it's WOW
money - and if the going got slow there were always a few pretty butterflies around to chat to.
The butterflies mostly came from Wings, the flying school round the other side of the mountain, and were a mix of richie kids and workers (like myself) on vacation. All of them were instantly recognisable from their complete lack of regard for the gentleman's club atmosphere of Pinehaven and of course, by the Genome wings of all colours and patterns growing out of their backs. Some of the Pinehaven patrons were known to complain about their antics, but management turned a blind eye because of the amount they ate. The WingGenome drug, in addition to making wings grow out of your shoulderblades, also lightens your bones and vastly speeds up your metabolism to make you lighter and give you enough energy to actually use the wings to fly. As a result, anyone on the drug has to eat like crazy, and if the butterflies wanted to buy their food at Xanadu, that was just fine by management.
I was into the fifth hour of my seven hour shift, and was in the bar alone with Chad, one of the old timers, who was well into his cups and telling me (again) about how people shouldn't physically be able to fly at this altitude, and it was only because of the sea level rising that the air was thick enough at this altitude to allow it. I suppose he might know - he was around before Holland became another Atlantis, after all - but there are only so many times you can hear a story before you find yourself masking yawns and glancing at the clock. Then the girl of my dreams walked into the bar. Beautiful ash-blonde hair, a fine boned face and deep blue eyes - it was only later that I could pull my eyes from her face, only to find a body just as beautiful, and great, silver wings run through with streaks of deep blue. With difficulty, I managed to take her order, and with even greater difficulty, remembered what she had said instead of the way her mouth moved as she spoke.
By the time I given her her beer and returned from the kitchen with a steaming plate of soy stew and pasta, I had composed myself enough to form polysyllabic words, and even string those into simple sentences in her presence, and so was able to chat to her while she ate. Her name was Amanda, and she was a hippie, born about a hundred and fifty years too late. I clicked she was a richie when she told me she was vegetarian by choice, but she had such an easy-going attitude that I found myself easily slipping into conversation with her. Amanda was a strong believer in Gaia, and thought that since animals clearly had a strong connection to Gaia, the best way to get close to Gaia was to become like an animal - in this case, a butterfly, although she preferred bird, since the flying style was different, and as she said, butterflies couldn't live up here in the snow. She'd already spent time as a winged monkey in the vast natural preserve of the Amazon, searching for her connection to animals and through them to Gaia.
Before I knew it, my shift was up, we'd each had a few beers and Amanda had eaten two more plates of soy stew and pasta. We'd swapped usernames and blog addresses, and I was about to request a follow-up meeting when she announced that she needed to get back to the school before it got too dark. I offered to walk her back, and inwardly winced at my stupidity as I said it - why would she walk when she could just fly? She smiled at me, touched my arm, and told me that she'd like to see me again.
I was walking on air for about half an hour after she left, until the storm descended. In the mountains, storms can come out of nowhere, and are perilous. Visibility is cut down to a foot or less, and the windchill can freeze you solid in under an hour if you're out in the open. I alerted the safety team at Pinehaven, but communication was down, and even if we had managed to pick up anything on her radio, there was no way anybody could have gone out into the storm and survived. In my mind's eye I could see Amanda, blown into the ground by the biting wind, and slowly freezing over while her beautiful silver wings fluttered uselessly around her.
The storm lasted all night and halfway into the next day. It was the longest eighteen hours of my life. As soon as the storm cleared, groups were out on the mountain looking for her, Pinehaven and Wings both. We searched everywhere, expecting all the while to find nothing but a body cocooned by wings, half buried under loose snow. It was a Pinehaven team that found her in the end, and this part of the story you may have already heard from the news.
She was still alive.
Caught in the storm, she had managed, against pretty much every odd I can imagine and many I can't, to find a small cave. Cowering for shelter in a space barely larger than she was, wings wrapped around herself to protect her from the cold, she had finally dug out her flashlight to make out more of the cave, and made the discovery that saved her life - she wasn't alone. Curled in the corner of the cave was the frozen corpse of a mountaineer. His body was later dated to the 1930's, some hundred and eighty years ago.
I can only wonder what went through her mind as she cut off bits of his body with his own knife and ate them, struggling to maintain her high metabolism and to keep from slipping into that irreversible sleep of hypothermia.
When they found her, she was a wreck. She'd managed to take the jacket off of the corpse, and had wrapped it around herself as best she could. Still clutching the jacket, she was led into the waiting helicopter and whisked to hospital, where she stayed for almost a month before discharging herself, refusing all psychiatric help. By now, the ever-fickle media had grown bored of her, and moved onto fresher stories.
I kept an eye on her, however. Her blog is still available, and I see that she opted to go into the moon program, helping with studies on asteroids and deep space telemetry; doing quite well for herself too, from what I can see. I wonder, though, whether she is still looking for her Gaia in the cold dust of Gaia's dead sister, or whether she found her, in that cramped and grisly cave, and is now hiding - as best she can - from whatever grim vision of her God that now haunts her dreams.