Avalanche

I was happy when I looked out my cabin window this morning and saw the huge flakes coming down soft as white rain. And no wind. This was my chance to slip up to the little cave and grab another bag of gold nuggets.

Searching for gold last summer in the ‘Caribou country’ of British Columbia, I’d come across a small cavern a few miles west of my claim. Poking around with my pick inside I uncovered a vein of gold. I’d struck it rich! So I staked that claim, too, and built my shack in a valley nearby.

However, I knew I’d have to be careful. Lots of other miners are nosing around these days, paying attention to anyone who comes into town with gold nuggets and following them to their claim. I can’t guard the vein twenty-four-seven and leaving bags of gold stacked in my cabin sure isn’t a smart plan. A fellow has to use his head. So I dug this little cave in the mountain a mile or so from my cabin, stored my gold inside, and covered it all up carefully. Now that it’s winter I only hike up there when I know my steps aren’t going to show. Just in case.

So once I’d had my breakfast this morning I threw on my overalls, boots and parka, grabbed the pick I’d need to move a few rocks. At a whim I stuffed a box of matches and a couple of candles into my pocket, too. Out here a person needs to be prepared; never know when you may have to start a fire. Then I headed out as those pure white crystals swirled around me. We’d already had a few good dumps of snow, so the world is a pretty place in the morning light. I looked back and saw that my steps were disappearing in the sifting snow. I nodded. No one’s going to follow me for long.

Now I’ve climbed up the side of the hill to my cave and raise my eyes to the cliffs above. Pretty white up there. We’ve had a lot of snow all right. With my pick I move a few loose rocks from the entrance to my cache, then get down on my hands and knees to crawl through the opening.

This isn’t a big cave, but roomy enough. Last summer I found and took advantage of a natural gap in the rocks so I didn’t have to move all the dirt out myself; now the rock walls give the place enough support I needn’t worry about it caving in on me while I’m here. I wiggle myself through the opening and pause to rest a minute.

In the dim light I see the bags of gold I’d stacked against the rock, and take a deep breath. There’s enough gold stacked up here to make me a rich man back home. I can live comfortably for the rest of my days. But I want to get as much as I can from that vein before I pack up and go home next fall.

A shadow seems to fall across the cave and I glance through the opening. Snow seems to be coming down by the bucket now and the wind is picking up some, so I’d better shake a leg. As long as I can see the summit of West Ridge I’m all right, but I sure wouldn’t want to get lost in a snowstorm.

Suddenly I hear a rumbling from high up in the mountain, getting louder by the second until it sounds like the whole mountain is crashing down. An earthquake? Can’t be. The rocks around me aren’t shaking; it’s all just noise. I crawl to the opening and see snow falling by the ton in front of my eyes. Before long I see nothing anymore. My cave is black now, the opening blocked by a wall of snow. I push at it, but it isn’t budging.

The darkness feels like ink. Sinister, like you’ve just been swallowed by some monster and are in its belly waiting to be digested. Instinctively I pull out my candles and matches, but hesitate to light them. Do I want to use them up so soon? How thick is that wall? How long will it take me to dig myself out? An hour? A day? I slip the things back into my pocket.

I try moving some of the snow away from the entrance, putting forth a lot of effort and accomplishing nothing. So I sit for awhile, feeling stiff from the cold but grateful I wasn’t outside when that snow came down. I’d have been buried alive! I give thanks for the rock walls that are holding up around me. Had this cave been dug out of the dirt, it might well have caved in from the force of the snow.

I think about lighting a little fire. I did stack a bit of wood in here in case I’d need some dry stuff sometime. Sure glad I brought those matches!

I get up on my hands and knees and feel around; my hand touches a piece of kindling and I pull it towards me. Then remember a fire will use up oxygen. I toss the kindling aside. How long will it be before I run out of air?

To be continued tomorrow…

For awhile now I haven’t given myself permission to sit down and write a long-winded story. It takes so much time! But when I read today’s writing prompt, I decided to forget the clock and just let my imagination take me where it would. This three-part story is the result — hope you enjoy it.

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