“You’re too young!” snarled the tall Australian with the one-word name: Hunter. Her bright blonde hair blazed in the sunlight streaming into her suite at the Kathmandu Hilton. Months in the jungle had left her with a strip of jute across her chest and a pair of filthy shorts tied onto her hips with bungee cords. Only her combat boots were intact. “You can’t know the historical significance of this moment!”
“I — I…” stammered Meena, taken off-stride.
Two porters lay snoring on the champagne pink carpet. Cartons, crates and gunny-sacks were strewn about the room along with rolls of toilet paper, plastic bottles of spring water and tiny, silk-wrapped sachets of Tibetan medicine. A third porter was sprawled across the white brocade cover of the enormous double bed. The room smelt of ripe durian and blue cheese.
Meena twitched off her heavy backpack and cameras before adjusting the bright orange press badge on her chest. “I’m not young,” she said. “Just short.”
But Hunter was already speaking into her SmartPhone to Time-Asia editor Bingo Crane. “It’s not the Easter Bunny, I’ve caught,” she thundered into the phone, “it’s the Yeti! Cryptozoology’s HOLY GRAIL! And you’ve sent an underage blimp to cover the story of the century!”
“I am not underage,” repeated Meera in a firm voice. “And I’m a tae-kwon-do black belt.” Indeed, she was the only journalist with the seniority to qualify for the task of covering the story. “Incidentally,” she said, “‘Yeti’” is the Western name for ––”
“WHATEVER!” Hunter hurled the phone at the full-length mirror behind the bed. The mirror shattered, but the phone ricocheted off and hit the sleeping porter on the head, with Bingo Crane’s voice still squawking from it. “What I call it is what the world’s gonna call it!” she howled, as she pumped her fists. “Coz I’m God Emperor Dune! I’m gonna get the Nobel! I’m gonna be the POPE! I’ve captured the YETI!”
Later the same day, Hunter and Meena were seated back-to-back atop an elephant. A second pachyderm with a sturdy cage secured to its back followed behind. The porters threaded a path through the dense foliage on foot. The party of five had flown out by helicopter from Kathmandu. Two elephants plus mahouts and rations to last them three days had been chartered in advance, anticipating their arrival. They set off at once for the remote location where the captive had been confined to a tiny cave, chained and sedated.
Administering the sedative had been the most difficult part of the entire campaign, according to Hunter. “Human? That thing? No way. It walks on two legs all right, but aside from that its pure animal. It’s got hair like you wouldn’t believe. Mind you, most men are pure animal too ––” Here she broke off to laugh, throwing her head back while making a sound like a chainsaw. “But that hair! Like steel wool. No question of penetrating it with a dart.”
“So what did you do?” asked Meena. Her voice-corder, strapped to her head, picked up every creak and rustle of ambient sound. The audio would be practically useless. But taking hand-written notes was even more difficult. She and Hunter were strapped into a pair of flimsy benches, facing outwards, slung on either side of the pachyderm’s spine, while the elephant’s body shifted sinuously from side to side, like a geriatric bellydancer.
“Oh, I was just brilliant!” said Hunter in her adenoidal drawl. “Once I was sure it was the Yeti, I resisted the urge to just rush in, grab the evidence and run away again. That’s what hundreds of my predecessors have tried and failed. Instead, I was patient. I was thorough. I took notes, I studied, I recorded every twitch of its daily routine. Six months of plotting and planning. All through those weeks, as I was moving closer and closer, I covered myself in monkey dung to mask my scent. It’s extremely sensitive to smell, right?” According to her, the reason the creature had evaded scrutiny for so long was that it could smell its pursuers long before they could see it.
“Finally, I entered its cave when it was not home and covered myself in its dung! Then I just waited in that cave, until it returned in the evening. Then I waited some more. It did not detect my presence. I crept closer and closer until it was ready to squat down to void its bowels – because it likes to shit in this one spot, you see? Always the same spot in whatever cave it uses to sleep in. A bit like us, in that sense. Likes a bit of privacy. And that’s when I got it. Right in the exposed skin of its arse. With a dart.”
Meena bit her lower lip. So unfair, she thought.
Tracking the creature down, spying on it, outraging its modesty, then darting it in its bum! What could be more disrespectful than that? The local people regarded it with mystical devotion, neither questioning its existence nor expressing the need to confirm it with physical evidence. They called it the Spirit of the Mountains. They knew it was there and that was good enough for them.
“Notice, I said ‘squat down’? It does that when it pees too. I had my suspicions, the first time I saw it do that.” Hunter believed the Yeti was female.
“You don’t know for sure?” asked Meena. “Didn’t you examine it, once you had sedated it?”
“Of course, of course – that is, I tried to examine it. Not so easy, let me tell you. Its hair is not merely dense, it’s sort of … stiff.” She shrugged. “I admit I didn’t try too hard. The fact is, I didn’t see anything that suggested it was one or the other: no package of goodies and no deep dark slit either. There’ll be time enough later. Mind you, it makes sense for it to be female. That’s why there’s only one of her. I reckon she’s taught herself the trick we’ve all been chasing – parthenogenesis!”
Asexual reproduction. Certain lizards had managed it, but none of the so-called ‘higher’ animals were known to have succeeded.
“When I get it back to the West, we’ll be able to uncover all her secrets,” said Hunter. “Clone her DNA. Then teach ourselves to perform the same trick.” She chainsawed raucously. “Then it’ll be Ciao, Adam! Been nice knowing ya!”
They stopped for the night, set off again at first light and reached the cave two hours later. They were greeted by the three porters who had remained behind to ensure that the creature didn’t get loose or harm itself while trying to escape. Like the rest of their team, they were dressed in shiny down jackets, thick padded trousers and wore rugged boots, all thoroughly smeared with mud.
According to them, the captive had given them no trouble. “Sits quietly at the back of the cave all this time,” said the oldest of the men, speaking to Meena in Nepali. “Doesn’t say a word.”
They were standing at the entrance to the cave. Heavy metal posts had been driven into the rock floor just outside the entrance, preventing passage for anything wider than a foot. Behind them, they could hear Hunter bawling out the porters as they set up the camp-site. From within, no sounds.
“It’s still alive?” asked Meena.
“Oh yes, alive,” said the man, who introduced himself as Bhim Singh. “Comes up to the bars, looks out, goes back again. Eats bananas. No rotis, no daal, but we gave him bit of sugarcane I kept in my pocket for the elephant and – wah! That he ate!”
Bhim Singh’s eyes crinkled with the memory. Then he paused, glancing over his shoulder. “Don’t tell Hunter Madam, but I also gave him a …” He made the universal gesture for a chillum, one hand forming a pipe and the other hand cupped against the first one. “Needs it. Knows what’s happening. Doesn’t like it.”
Who does? thought Meena. The hammer of Modernity was relentless. Everyone and everything had to submit to its flattening blows eventually. Or risked vanishing into oblivion.
She thanked Bhim Singh. Clouds crept down from the heights, sending tentacles of mist curling through the ferns and hanging creepers. The sun faded from view. Droplets began to form in the air. Then it was raining. Fine and soft as a baby’s hair to begin with, but gradually growing heavier. Meena pulled the hood of her all-weather Parka over her head and covered her cameras. She gazed towards the darkened slit of the cave’s entrance, gripped by a profound melancholy.
“Oi!” said Hunter, coming up suddenly from behind, causing Meena to jump. “What’re you wasting time for? Go on in there and start clicking! I instructed my men to feed the old girl a knock-out dose of tranqs. She’ll be fast asleep. And anyway, everyone says, she’s harmless. We have bright lights if you need ‘em.”
Meena narrowed her eyes. “Sorry. I’m not taking my chances with a seven foot bi-ped covered in steel-wool!” she said. “In any case you’re going to have to move quickly, to get her loaded into the cage and out of here.” She had decided to go along with the feminine pronouns to avoid an argument. “I’ll take action shots, once she’s out.”
Hunter drew in a breath to answer when her eyes widened and she gasped. “Look!” she said. “Someone’s all woken up ––”
Meena swivelled around.
Then her skin rippled with goose-flesh and she forgot to breathe.
Behind the bars, in plain view now, despite the grey veil of rain, was an immense Presence. It wasn’t tall so much as shaggy and broad. Its fur was a pale shimmery brown. It covered the creature completely, including its nose, mouth and hands, but leaving its eyes clear. They were deep-set, those eyes. Meena could feel their gaze, piercing her skin, raking her. The sensation wasn’t unpleasant, except she found she couldn’t move. She was frozen where she stood.
She could hear sounds from behind her. Hunter, yammering about getting her cameras out. Bhim Singh, yelling incoherently. Maybe the other porters too. There was a buzzing in her ears, however. It was hard to concentrate.
The Yeti, its penetrating gaze fixed on her all the while, had two of the bars blocking the entrance to its cave gripped tight in its shaggy hands. With dreamlike inevitability, it began dragging the bars apart. When it was done, it stepped through.
Meena could hear the huffing of its breath, as it sniffed her, carefully and thoroughly. Her eyes were shut tight. She could feel it smelling her thoughts and her ideals, her memories and her intentions. It paused when it learnt of her fifteen years as a journalist; the awards she had won, the world leaders she had met; it disliked her fondness for beer; it drew back and spat when it encountered her taste in rock music. But when it smelt that she had met with the Dalai Lama, it nodded its approval and accepted her.
Picking her up by the waist, so that her senses swam and her cameras flopped heavily over and off her head, it went bounding up the shoulder of rock that had contained the cave it had been trapped within.
When they were at a great height, the Yeti stopped and allowed her to watch, as the curtain of rain grew into a torrent. Neither the porters nor the mahouts waited to see what had become of the journalist. They turned around and prepared to leave, while they still could. Hunter hollered and roared, but eventually she had no choice but to go running after them too.
Over a period of years, Meena’s connection with her previous existence loosened and fell away entirely. She grew a pelt of stiff, unyielding fur, her shoulders broadened, her height increased, her arms grew longer, her head and skull began changing shape. The Yeti did not speak or share its dreams with her or show her whether it was male or female. Instead it taught her how to summon the thunder and when to fold the night winds into cloaks of invisibility to foil the eyes of humans.
When it had taught her all it knew, including how to transform another as she had been transformed, it climbed a stairway made of sighs and entered the mystery of Unbeing.
Whereupon she became the Spirit of the Mountains.
The Wild One. The Nameless.
Gazing down from the untamed heights.