Every month I receive a writing challenge as part of a writing group called Deadlines for Writers. This month is our longest challenge of the year at 2500 words; and the prompt was “charge.” Thanks for reading!
“You aren’t scared are you?” Erica rocked the chair-lift back and forth, suspended forty feet above glistening snow.
“Stop it!” Molly’s gloved hand grabbed Erica’s arm, but quickly released it. “I’m not scared.” Molly returned her hand to the metal bar protecting the girls from certain death. “I don’t want to swing on the chairlift is all. I want to get to the top and ski down. Why has it stopped?”
“Some kid probably tripped getting off.” Erica relaxed into the seat and clacked her skis together.
They lurched forward, Molly’s grasp on the bar tightened. “Come on. It’s safe up here,” Erica said, “And now we’re moving again. I thought you skied before?”
Within seconds, they lurched to another stop. Molly closed her eyes. She had skied before. One time, Erica’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Adler had organized a ski day for the elementary school. Although, it would be more accurate to say Erica’s family funded the field trip to the ski resort they owned. Erica’s parents descended from the gold miners who had settled this corner of Colorado a hundred years ago, every generation building upon the wealth of the last one. The town of Orrey, once a gold miner’s dream, had transformed herself into a year-round destination for thousands of tourists from hikers to skiers.
When Erica Adler’s parents approached the school principal about hosting a ski day for the children, staff and teachers took to the lounge to bemoan the ostentatious display of wealth.
“Their kid misses school every Friday to ski.”
“Now they think they can schmooze us with a day at the resort.”
Many students had participated in the field trip, even receiving brief lessons in the morning. The Adler’s were forgiven their daughter’s absences, wealthy parents bought seasonal passes, and lower income families dealt with the fallout of their children begging for skis. At the time, all Erica knew was that her parents had bought her another special day, without spending any of it with her. All Molly knew was that her few trips down the slopes were terrifying and she hadn’t been tempted to ask for more. Six years later, here she was – sitting next to the rich girl, failing to be cool, failing to be brave.
“Yes,” Molly clipped, “I’ve skied before. It’s just been a while.”
“Come on, we’re fourteen! Let’s have some guts!” Erica laughed. “You do know about the history of combat skiing don’t you? If I have to drag you along to the mountain every weekend, then you need to at least know about our skiing ancestors.” Erica propped her left elbow up on the back of the chair, she turned her body to face Molly, bringing their skis into collision. Molly held her breath until everyone’s feet stilled again.
“First of all,” Molly held up one hand in a stopping motion. “I am brave. Secondly, it was your idea to bring me skiing and it was your idea to ask your parents for an extra pass. It was your idea to tell my parents all this gear is a hand-me-down from you. You didn’t drag me here, you wanted me here.”
“First of all,” Erica mimicked Molly’s gesture, “it was my parents’ idea to invite you and pay for everything. They like your parents and supposedly that means I’d like you too. Secondly, your parents think you need a friend too. Loner much? Reading your crime novels and studying anatomy flashcards. We don’t take biology until next year, dork.” The chairlift inched forward again; the two girls folded their arms with a huff, staring ahead as they progressed to the trailhead.
When the chairlift halted for a third time, Erica turned toward Molly, “So, do you or do you not know the history of combat skiing?”
“No, I do not know your made up story of fighting with skis.”
Erica’s jaw fell, “It is not made up. And, they didn’t fight with skis. They fought on skis. You’re stuck here, so I’ll just tell you.” Molly did not react.
“Back in the 1200’s, deep in the oldest village in Norway, the town of Tunsberg was under attack. King Skakke forced the women and children to flee into the mountains. The men stayed to defend the town against troops coming from Oslo.” Molly raised her eyebrows. She couldn’t resist a good story, but she was hurt Erica suggested their friendship had been purchased.
“The men hid until they could see the Oslo troops approaching. Battle broke out.” Erica waved her arms around to aid her history lesson, “The townsmen were outnumbered; the echos of their cries lifted into the mountain tops. The women knew their men were losing. So, they strapped the children onto their backs and skis onto their feet. They picked up anything they could find to use as a weapon. Most had brought their own hunting supplies, not knowing how long they’d be in hiding.”
This time, Molly didn’t flinch when the lift resumed its route to the top, “Hurry, what happened next?”
“The women skied halfway down the mountain and stopped. They stood shoulder to shoulder in a long line across the crest of the last hill before the village. They looked down upon their town, their cabins ablaze, their men crying out. Blood poured through the streets, mixing with snow, and glistened in the fire light.” Eyes wide, Molly forgot every annoyance she’d had with Erica.
“Then, every man froze when they heard a blood curdling shriek, ‘Chaaaaaaaarge!’ and a roar of angry woman yelped as they skied into town. Knives out. They whisked through their village slicing and stabbing with blind rage,” Erica gestured wildly.
The slope summit was in site now, only five chairs ahead of Erica and Molly.
“But, did they kill their husbands on accident?” Molly asked.
“Their husbands were already dead,” Erica murmured.
Four chairs until the girls would be on their own skis.
“Erica, that’s a myth.” Molly shook the fear from her head, “It’s not true.”
Erica nodded vigorously, “It is true.” She pulled out her phone. “Look, Siege of Tunsberg, right here in bold letters.” The phone returned to Erica’s pocket before Molly could read anything else on the screen.
“It’s true. You wouldn’t know, since you’ve only gone skiing once. You haven’t been taught. That’s why women shout, ‘Charge’ before their runs. Even in the Olympics! But, you have to listen carefully. Look, it’s almost our turn.”
“Keep your feet straight and get out of the way of the lift. We have a lot of room up there. We don’t have to ski down right away. Hold your poles in one hand and use your free hand to push off,” Erica said.
One chair. Molly nodded. A pair of snowboarders in front of the girls glided off into the snowy arms of the trail route.
Erica raised the safety bar. “Feet up, Molly!”
Four skis made contact with the platform. The girls planted a free hand on the chair to help them push up and out of the seat. One of Molly’s poles slipped from her hand. Her ski slipped over the pole, causing her to lose balance. She stretched out an instinctive arm for support, but she accidentally pushed Erica instead. The girls tumbled into each other and the chair came to a stop. An attendant rushed out of his booth, “Are you okay? Let me help you up.” He righted the girls, fetched their poles, and gave them a little nudge to the flat clearing ahead, where other skiers and snowboarders prepped their gear for descent.
The girls slid to safety. When they finally made eye contact, the gurgle of nerves and embarrassment surged forth in a shared giggle. Their laughter grew with all the freedom and none of the insecurity of being fourteen. Leaning on their poles for support, the girls returned to breathing normally.
“Remember, large pizza pie with your skis. Big s-curves and you’ll cruise nice and slow down the hill,” Erica said.
Molly nodded, “Got it.”
Using their poles for leverage, they made several awkward steps toward the top of the run.
“This is a green route. It’s the easiest. But, you know what we have to do before starting a run. Right?”
Molly grinned and raised her poles in the air. The girls shouted in unison, “Charge!”
[15 years later]
“What do you mean snowed in? I have to report back to work in Durango on Monday,” Molly said. She yanked out her phone, tapping with fury to open the weather app.
Mrs. Simms, Molly’s mother, twisted her dish rag, “Just what I said. The passes are blocked, no one can get into town or out. I’m sure your precinct will understand.”
Molly sat at the long dining room table, rubbing her temples. The two women turned at the sound of heavy footsteps thudding down the guest staircase. Her parents’ owned a cozy bed and breakfast, currently occupied by five guests. All five came into the dining room talking in a chorus, “What are we going to do? We aren’t going to be charged extra days are we? What’s the town’s plan for this?” Mrs. Simms invited the guests to sit down. As she tapped into hostess mode, a forceful thudding on the front door startled everyone.
Whoever had knocked couldn’t wait. He had cracked open the door and called, “Molly! Are you in there?”
Molly and her mother exchanged worried looks. They both knew that voice: Jesse Pier, the lead Ski Patroller at the Adler’s resort.
“Coming Jesse!” Molly called as she hurried toward the front door. “What’s going on?”
“It’s this storm. I’ve got all of my patrollers on duty tracing the mountain, helping down the stragglers. But, I got a report of a single skier stuck on The Lodge. Possible sprained ankle.” Molly knew where this conversation was going: to the summit of Bald Mountain. Adler Lodge was the final destination of the resort’s longest gondola. It boasted itself to be the most luxurious lodge in Colorado, and it sat at 11,000 feet above sea level. Now, everyone referred to the building and adjoining black diamond trail together as The Lodge.
“Molly, can you jump in as patroller? I know it’s been a couple years, but we need you tonight. You know The Lodge like the back of your hand. The other patroller ready to go.”
Molly shook the distraction of work from her head. “Yes, of course. I’ll grab my gear and meet you in the truck.”
Within minutes, Molly was riding beside Jesse headed for the gondola. He must have been desperate if he was asking for her help. Molly ran through a mental safety checklist in case the skier did have a sprained ankle. She visualized the fastest, but safest, route down from Adler Lodge to Base Lodge at the bottom of the mountain. Even with snow packed streets, it took Jesse less than 5 minutes to drive from the Simms’ BnB to the bottom of the gondola lift. It wasn’t until Molly stepped through the automatic door did she wonder who her patrol partner would be. When she saw Erica’s face, she almost turned around and walked home. The thought of a person alone in the snow with an injury propelled her into the gondola.
Jesse leaned in, “Walkies? Lamps? Medical supplies?” Yes to everything.
“The skier is near Pole 10 with her flashlight on. You’ll pass over her and see exactly where to go. I’m your contact on the walkie if you need anything. When you get to the top, send the attendant back down. You’re the last to go.” With that, he stepped toward the control panel and sent the gondola up the mountain side.
Even though gondola rides signaled longer and steeper routes, the gondola itself always made Molly feel safe; like a bird encased inside a protective cage where she could look out and marvel at the world. Now, she was torn between thoughts of the injured skier, a weekend trapped in her hometown, or the gondola ride trapped with her ex-best friend.
After the breath of an awkward silence, Erica ventured into conversation, “How’s your parents?”
Molly sighed. “All I want is to get to the top, and get the skier back to Base. We don’t need to do anything more than that.”
Erica let the silence linger for the span of a minute. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Sorry for what, Erica? For all the lies you told me? For treating me like I was only your friend because you were rich? For ditching me altogether? What are you sorry for?” Molly asked.
“All of it. I’m sorry for being a terrible friend.” Erica said. Then she added, “And I’m sorry for dragging you here for a patrol run.”
“What do you mean?”
“I insisted that Jesse come get you to be my partner tonight. There were other patrollers, but no one I trust as much as you,” Erica said.
Molly rolled her eyes, “What if I don’t trust you?”
Erica’s nostrils flared. “I wasn’t a good friend. But, I’ve always had your back on the mountain.”
Closing her eyes, Molly rubbed her forehead.
They rode in silence until they passed over the flashlight of the skier in need of a rescue crew.
“There she is!” Erica said. “She’s in a great spot for getting her on the board.”
“Yeah, with the wind down, this should be straight forward.”
“Molly,” Erica said in a gentle voice Molly hadn’t heard in many years, “I’m truly sorry. I was focused on my own fun and thought you would do the same. It was careless. Even though we only hung out in the winter, skiing, you were the most authentic friend I ever had.”
Molly stared at her ski boots.
“I spent years mistreating you. I figured my parents had bought you off with the ski passes and gear. But, year after year you showed me true friendship. I didn’t know it until you were gone. I’ve spent years hoping I could try again.”
“I work in Durango now,” Molly said.
“I know, I know. I don’t know what a friendship would look like. But, I’ve missed you so much.” Erica had never begged anyone for anything. She’d always made demands for what she wanted. Molly didn’t understand this new, gentle Erica.
Molly surprised herself with a nod, “Maybe coffee when I visit.”
The summit was near, four cars ahead. Neither woman needed coaching for how to exit the gondola. Neither woman needed a helping hand onto the snow. They strapped on their safety gear, sent the attendant down to Base, and hovered near the trailhead bent over in basic athletic stance.
One thing Molly had learned, was that true friends would seek you out. And, everyone deserves a second chance.
She looked at Erica, raised her poles and waited. Erica laughed and raised her own. The two women shouted, “Chaaaaarge!” and sped to the rescue of a skier in need.
Comments: The Siege of Tunsberg referrenced here is inspired by an historical event. However, everything else Erica says, is fabricated by me. I’ve taken the true story and twisted it in the way a mischievous 14-year-old might do when inaccurately recalling a history she’s heard and bending it to her own purpose. Here’s a wikipedia article that inspired the thought – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C3%B8nsberg_Fortress