The Snow Leopard

Tsz Yui Leung

Tsz Yui Leung

Winner of the Merit Place in the Undergraduate Category of the 17th English Short Story Writing Competition

"Sir, can you count three for me?" Someone was saying. He tried to lift his fingers, only to have a jolt of pain in return. "Sir, what is your name?" The voice was shouting. Something slimy in his throat had glued his mouth shut. Smith, he kept repeating to himself inside, everyone calls me Smith. 
The day wasn't supposed to end this way. The cocky weatherman said it was going to be a sunny day, perfect for running. The poor guy couldn't have guessed that he would later be sacked after failing to foresee a snowstorm brewing nearby.
6:30, Smith checked his watch, the old-fashioned type that revealed only time and nothing more. His buddies offered to buy him the newest Apple watch, to which he politely declined, "my old man gave me this, could be saving my life one day, who knows?" The Tiger Ridge he was climbing this time was popular among the runners. Smith had checked online, the trail wasn't tricky, 15 hours would be enough, the real challenge was to run on the 5-feet-wide snow-covered road. It was a test of perseverance, but the scenery at the mountaintop was said to be worth dying for. 
When Smith used to run for a living, all was about adrenaline and pride, he enjoyed chasing the wind, feeling the breeze brushing off his side. He even got his name Snow Leopard for his speed. Smith treated every race as if it was his last, pushing himself to the limit. A normal person would've quitted, but Smith wasn't normal, he lost one of his legs in a car accident three years ago. His friends advised him to take some rest, stop running for a while. He wouldn't and couldn't. Once he stopped, the excruciating pain that he had been suppressing inside would creep back up and devour him. No one could easily dismiss the one thing you love, it is human nature, so Smith never did, he still ran despite the doubling time.
The path uphill was smooth and effortless, although everything was eerily peaceful, as if the calm before the storm. Smith couldn't keep count how many people had run past him, he took no notice of these, an old man like him was no competition of the ambitious young runners. Another hour went by, the quietness was too loud to be ignored. He stopped, trying to slow down his breathing and listened for something, but there is nothing. You would think someone had muted the world if not for the swishing wind.
That was strange, even if he lagged behind, there would at least be some signs indicating a living soul was nearby. He checked the time, 03:45, he should've reached the peak by now. Despite the suspicion and uneasiness, Smith continued on his way. Everyone in town knew Smith was determined. Once he had started something, there would be no stopping of him until it was done, like a shark tasted blood. Smith could run forever as long as the path goes. The truth is, no road goes on forever. Abruptly, Smith came to a halt. The concrete footpath became a dead end leading to a void in the air. He looked over the cliff, one more step and he would plunge to his death. Smith shivered, unsure if it was due to the dropping temperature or the sheer luck. 
At some point, the fog had gathered, it became so thick to be seen through. Smith turned around, hoping to retrace his footsteps, only to confuse himself more, his evidence of being there was erased entirely. Smith knew all too well whoever freaked out was always the first to die. He closed his eyes, trying to calm his racing heart. If he stayed here any longer, he would be a dead man. He had to take a gamble and walk out of here based on his hunch.
Out of nowhere, a shadow, or so he thought, zoomed by him, catching him off guard. The last thing he remembered was falling a long way down until he hit something hard. His blurry vision slowly came into focus, it took him a full minute to register what had just happened. He managed to haul himself up without vomiting. The wind was roaring, snow was falling like shooting stars. Smith glanced around, it was the same milky scene, the world was drained of colours. With every second passed, Smith knew his chance of survival was getting smaller. He limped with his prosthetic leg while dragging the other. Smith groaned, the pain of a broken leg was unbearable, but the freezing cold and lurking fear had numbed him.
He fumbled for his phone in his pocket, his hope to be rescued was crashed when he saw the broken screen. He hollered, surely something in his backpack could help. He scanned his surroundings. There, his slick black bag laying a few feet away in a snow of white. Most of his belongings didn't survive the fall, they were either broken or dropped somewhere. Good God, Smith despaired. Inside was a flashlight with a broken lens, a crumpled map, a whistle, a two-way radio and a box of band-aid.
He put a plaster over a cut on his forehead, "that's much better." he smiled wryly. He tried every buttons on his walkie talkie, hoping a voice would come through at the other end, except there were only cracking and hissing noise. "C'mon, is there nothing that work?" He put his attention on the map. What was showing on it had zero resemblance to his predicament. According to the map, the ever-ending snow floor was supposed to be acres of greenfield. There was no telling where was where.
The wheels were turning in his head. There was a fixed network emergency helpline telephone at the mountaintop in the South, he could call for help there, so first he needed to sort out the orientation. Smith placed all the items on the snow, hoping to get a new perspective, that's when he caught glimpse of his hand. Yes, the wristwatch. "Ok, old scout trick." Although the sun was behind all that clouds, it was there. Smith searched for the memory where his scout teacher was in it, "lay the watch on a flat ground, adjust the hour hand in the direction of the sun, and you'll have a compass! Between the hour hand and the twelve o'clock would be the South." 
Tottering forward, Smith headed to the South. Along the way, he kept blowing the whistle and flashing his torch light, hoping someone, whom he couldn't see, could see him. From time to time, Smith had to check his watch to make sure his was going the right way. He was pushing his luck here, he couldn't distinguish right from wrong anymore.
It felt like ages. Though he hated to admit, Smith lost his direction long ago. He slumped to the ground, his energy completely drained away. "Help! Anyone!" Smith started to hyperventilate. He couldn't go anymore, he had to stop running. He watched as his breath got shallower, he whispered, "I want to live". Through his dying eyes, everything became clearer. The mist dissipated, identical mountains stood before him, green grasses and fresh flowers sprouted from the snowy ground. The thick lake ice had melted, the sun glittered on the calm water. The Internet didn't lie, the view from the top was magnificent. A stream of light penetrated the heavy layers of clouds and landed on him, the warmness coursed through his body, first from his face, then his torso, legs, fingertips and finally his heart. Smith laid there still, relishing the last touch of warmth. In a haze, Smith saw a tiger-like shadow approached him, as it slowly closed in, unmistakably, he recognized it was a snow leopard. The big cat nuzzled him, its warm breaths rested on him. As it passed by, Smith could feel all the heat it trapped under the fur. Smith smiled softly, for he was cold no more.

Jointly organized by the Language Centre and the University Library at HKBU

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