Wednesday, December 12, 2007
posted by Steve Tompkins
Snowshoes discarded as an encumbrance, he slid down the frozen declivity until his feet struck something that snapped with an inauspicious crack. The rib-cage of a headless skeleton, the inhumanly slender bones of which identified it as one of the svartalfar. Now that the terrain no longer sloped away from him, his trek brought him alongside similar leavings again and again. This was the killing ground of something unimaginably powerful and insatiably bloodthirsty.
Most men would have been unnerved by such wantonly strewn evidence of ogreish feeding, but most men were not Yukon Cornelius, whose exploits were the subject of song and story from Christmastown to the Island of Misfit Toys, for whom the North beyond the North, which other explorers only glimpsed in the last extremities of hypothermia, had become almost a native habitat. The sole survivor of the ill-fated Rankin-Bass expedition, the adventurer whose escapes from wintry death Robert W. Service had professed himself unworthy of versifying. The treasure seeker who’d braved the hell-pits beneath the broken towers of Thangorodrim, searching for the looted wealth of Nargothrond and Gondolin, and risked his life countless times on the trail of the many-legended hoards of Mhu Thulan and Commoriom.
And so it was that he merely continued on his way, albeit more warily. The glitter of the stars overhead was chilly and compassion-less, like the eyes of the dragons of Old Night. Despite his hypervigilance he saw only one partially effaced track in the few snowy places where a print would show up, but it was not the spoor of a leopard, bear or tiger. It looked more like the print of a bare, misshapen, and gigantic human foot. And the nearby bones had not been gnawed as they would have been in the case of a man-eater. They showed no tooth-marks; they seemed simply to have been splintered, as an inconceivably strong and impatient hunter with marrow on his mind might have shattered them.
Finally he came upon a rudely upthrust boulder to which clung strands of coarse white hair that might have been rubbed off against the stone. An unpleasant rank odor which even his learned nostrils could not identify hung in the frigid air. And then Cornelius, who in his time had brusquely disregarded the crystalline maledictions of ice demons for whom the isolated spark of his body heat was an intolerable trespass, simply stopped and stared, shaken by the identities of the predator’s most recent victims.
Amidst a paltry heap of reindeer scraps, the eldritch red glow that had been responsible for its ostracized owner’s flight into the northernmost wastes still shone. Several dental instruments gleamed in the ruddy light, the prized possessions of an elf whose skull had been cracked open as if to let its resident dreams of a destiny other than toymaking escape.
In that first flush of realization Cornelius would have been willing to wager that his fury would have sufficed to keep him warm had he stepped out of all his furs on the spot. Ahead of him, on the right, a crevasse opened in the icy sprawl of a titanic glacier, a deep trench of blue shadows. And in that trench something moved. The prospector tensed, staring up unbelievingly at the monstrous man-like being which loomed in the twilight before him.
It was like the embodied spirit of this boreal realm, a ghoulish incarnation of a terrible legend, clad in flesh and blood and wrath. The creature was gargantuan, ape-like, but twice the height of a tall man. The shaggy hair which covered it was of a strange snowy white, longer and thicker than the hair on a gorilla. Its hands and feet were more hominid, the great toes and thumbs closer to human than of the anthropoid. This was no arboreal creature, but a bipedal haunter of glaciers and ice floes. The face was simian in general appearance, but the jaw was less bestial, though there was no chin. But its man-like features merely served to increase the dreadfulness of its aspect, and the intelligence which blazed in its saucer-shaped eyes was singlemindedly murderous.
Cornelius knew it for what it was: the monster named in icecap myth and rumor — the Abominable Snow Monster, the gigantopithecine Bumble of the North. He had heard rumors of its existence many times, in wild tales heard from tribesmen met while he hunted for the lost peppermint mines of the Polarian ancients, in ghastly reports of nocturnal raids on the Old Man of the Pole’s castle. Like Grendel maddened by the harps of Heorot, this creature had been unable to tolerate one more chorus of “We Are Santa’s Elves.”
All this flashed through the prospector’s mind as man and Bumble faced each other in a mutually inimical tableau. Then the walls of the glacier seemed to shiver in reaction to the Snow Monster’s deep sullen roar as it charged, low-hanging arms swinging wide, yellow fangs bared and rage-froth bubbling on blackened lips.
Cornelius awaited its coming, poised on the balls of his feet, speed and the long knife forged from star-metal by Inuto shaman-smiths pitted against the brute strength of the Bumble. . .