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Mason Bellamy stared up at the face of the mountain that had killed his father. The mountain's name was innocent enough Cloud Piercer. The rich afternoon light of the New Zealand winter cast a spell over the moment. Snow-clad slopes glowed with the impossible pink and amethyst of a rare jewel. The stunning backdrop of the Southern Alps created a panorama of craggy peaks, veined with granite and glacial ice, against a sky so clear it caused the eyes to smart.
The bony, white structure of a cell phone tower, its discs grabbing signals from outer space, rose from a nearby peak. The only other intrusions into the natural beauty were located at the top of the slopea black-and-yellow gate marked Experts Only and a round dial designating Avalanche Danger: Moderate.
He wondered if someone came all the way up here each day to move the needle on the dial. Maybe his father had wondered the same thing last year. Maybe it had been the last thought to go through his head before he was buried by two hundred thousand cubic meters of snow.
According to witnesses in the town near the base of the mountain, it had been a dry snow avalanche with a powder cloud that had been visible to any resident of Hillside Township who happened to look up. The incident report stated that there had been a delay before the noise came. Then everyone for miles around had heard the sonic boom.
The Maori in the region had legends about this mountain. The natives respected its threatening beauty as well as its lethal nature, their myths filled with cautionary tales of humans being swallowed to appease the gods. For generations, the lofty crag, with its year-round cloak of snow, had challenged the world's most adventurous skiers, and its gleaming north face had been Trevor Bellamy's favorite run. It had also been his final run.
Trevor's final wish, spelled out in his last will and testament, had brought Mason halfway around the world, and down into the Southern Hemisphere's winter. At the moment he felt anything but cold. He unzipped his parka, having worked up a major sweat climbing to the peak. This run was accessible only to those willing to be helicoptered to a landing pad at three thousand meters, and then to climb another few hundred meters on allterrain skis outfitted with nonslip skins. He removed his skis and peeled the Velcro-like skins from the underside, carefully stowing the gear in his backpack. Then he studied the mountain's face again and felt a sweet rush of adrenaline.
When it came to skiing in dangerous places, he was his father's son.
A rhythmic sliding sound drew Mason's attention to the trail he'd just climbed. He glanced over and lifted his ski pole in a wave. "Over here, bro."
Adam Bellamy came over the crest of the trail, shading his eyes against the afternoon light. "You said you'd kick my ass, and you did," he called. His voice echoed across the empty, frozen terrain.
Mason grinned at his younger brother. "I'm a man of my word. But look at you. You haven't even broken a sweat."
"Mets. We get tested for metabolic conditioning every three months for work." Adam was a firefighter, built to haul eighty pounds of gear up multiple flights of stairs.
"Cool. My only conditioning program involves running to catch the subway."
"The tough life of an international financier," said Adam. "Hold everything while I get out my tiny violin."
"Who says I'm complaining?" Mason took off his goggles to apply some defogger. "Is Ivy close? Or did our little sister stop to hire a team of mountain guides to carry her up the hill so she doesn't have to climb it on her skis?"
"She's close enough to hear you," said Ivy, appearing at the top of the ridge. "And aren't the guides on strike?" She wore a dazzling turquoise parka and white ski pants, Gucci sunglasses and white leather gloves. Her blond hair was wild and windtossed, streaming from beneath her helmet.
Mason flashed on an image of their mother. Ivy looked so much like her. He felt a lurch of guilt when he thought about Alice Bellamy. Her last ski run had been right here on this mountain face, too. But unlike Trevor, she had survived. Although some would say that what had happened to her was worse than dying.
Ivy slogged over to her brothers on her AT skis. "Listen, you two. I want to go on record to say that when I leave these earthly bonds, I will not require my adult children to risk their lives in order to scatter my remains. Just leave my ashes on the jewelry counter at Neiman Marcus. I'd be fine with that."
"Make sure you put your request in writing," Mason said.
"How do you know I haven't already?" She gestured at Adam. "Help me get these skins off, will you?" She lifted each ski in turn, planting them upright in the snow.
Adam expertly peeled the fabric skins from the bottoms of her skis, then removed his own, stuffing them into his backpack. "It's crazy steep, just the way Dad used to describe it."
"Chicken?" asked Ivy, fastening the chin strap of her crash helmet.
"Have you ever known me to shy away from a ski run?" Adam asked. "I'm going to take it easy, though. No crazy tricks."
The three of them stood gazing at the beautiful slope, now a perfect picture of serenity in the late-afternoon glow. It was the first time any of them had come to this particular spot. As a family, they had skied together in many places, but not here. This particular mountain had been the special domain of their father and mother alone.
They were lined up in birth orderMason, the firstborn, the one who knew their father best. Adam, three years younger, had been closest to Trevor. Ivy, still in her twenties, was the quintessential baby of the familyadored, entitled, seemingly fragile, yet with the heart of a lioness. She had owned their father's affections as surely as the sun owns the dawn, in the way only a daughter can.
Mason wondered if his siblings would ever learn the things about their father that he knew. And if they did, would it change the way they felt about him?
They stood together, their collective silence as powerful as any conversation they might have had.
"It's incredible," Ivy said after a long pause. "The pictures didn't do it justice. Maybe Dad's last request wasn't so nutty, after all. This might be the prettiest mountain ever, and I get to see it with my two best guys." Then she sighed. "I wish Mom could be here."
"I'll get the whole thing on camera," Adam said. "We can all watch it together when we get back to Avalon next week."
A year after the accident, their mother was adjusting to a new life in a new placea small Catskills town on the shores of Willow Lake. Mason was pretty sure it wasn't the life Alice Bellamy had imagined for herself.
"Do you have him?" Adam asked.
Mason slapped his forehead. "Damn, I forgot. Why don't the two of you wait right here while I ski to the bottom, grab the ashes, helicopter back up to the rendezvous and make the final climb again?"
"Very funny," said Adam.
"Of course I have him." Mason shrugged out of his backpack and dug inside. He pulled out an object bundled in a navy blue bandanna. He unwrapped it and handed the bandanna to Adam.
"A beer stein?" asked Ivy.
"It was all I could find," said Mason. The stein was classic kitsch, acquired at a frat party during Mason's college days. There was a scene with a laughing Falstaff painted on the sides, and the mug had a hinged lid made of pewter. "The damned urn they delivered him in was huge. No way would it fit in my luggage."
He didn't explain to his sister and brother that a good half of the ashes had ended up on the living room floor of his Manhattan apartment. Getting Trevor Bellamy from the urn to the beer stein had been trickier than Mason had thought. Slightly freaked out by the idea of his father embedded in his carpet fibers, he had vacuumed up the spilled ashes, wincing at the sound of the larger bits being sucked into the bag.
Then he'd felt bad about emptying the vacuum bag down the garbage chute, so he'd gone out on the balcony and sprinkled the remains over Avenue of the Americas. There had been a breeze that day, and his fussiest neighbor in the high-rise co-op had stuck her head out, shaking her fist and threatening to call the super to report the transgression. Most of the ashes blew back onto the balcony, and Mason ended up waiting until the wind died down; then he'd swept the area with a broom.
So only half of Trevor Bellamy had made it into the beer stein. That was appropriate, Mason decided. Their father had been only half there while he was alive, too.
"This is cool with me," said Adam. "Dad always did like his beer."
Mason held the mug high, its silhouette stark against the deepening light of the afternoon sky.
"Ein prosit" said Adam.
"Salut," Mason said, in the French their father had spoken like a native.
"Cin cin." Ivy, the artist in the family, favored Italian.
"Take your protein pills and put your helmet on," Mason said, riffing on the David Bowie song. "Let's do this thing."
Ivy lowered her sunglasses over her eyes. "Mom loves skiing so much. It's so sad that she'll never ski again."
"I'll film it so she can watch." Adam took off one glove with his teeth and reached up to switch on the Go Pro camera affixed to the top of his helmet.
"Should we say a few words?" asked Ivy.
"If I say no, will that stop you?" Mason removed the duct tape from the lid of the beer stein.
Ivy stuck out her tongue at him, shifting into bratty-sister mode. Then she looked up at Adam and spoke to the camera. "Hey, Mom. We were just wishing you could be here with us to say goodbye to Daddy. We all made it to the summit of Cloud Piercer, just like he wanted. It's kind of surreal, finding winter here when the summer is just beginning where you are, at Willow Lake. It feels somehow like I don't know like we're unstuck in time."
Ivy's voice wavered with emotion. "Anyway, so here I am with my two big brothers. Daddy always loved it when the three of us were together, skiing and having fun."
Adam moved his head to let the camera record the majestic scenery all around them. The sculpted crags of the Southern Alps, which ran the entire length of New Zealand's south island, were sharply silhouetted against the sky. Mason wondered what the day had been like when his parents had skied this mountain, their last run together. Was the sky so blue that it hurt the eyes? Did the sharp cold air stab their lungs? Was the silence this deep? Had there been any inkling that the entire face of the mountain was about to bury them?
"Are we ready?" he asked.
Adam and Ivy nodded. He studied his little sister's face, now soft with the sadness of missing her father. She'd had a special closeness with him, and she'd taken his death hardmaybe even harder than their mother had.
"Who's going first?" asked Adam.
"It can't be me," said Mason. "You, um, don't want to get caught in the blowback, if you know what I mean." He gestured with the beer stein.
"Oh, right," said Ivy. "You go last, then."
Adam twisted the camera so it faced uphill. "Let's take it one at a time, okay? So we don't cause another avalanche."
It was a known safety procedure that in an avalanche zone, only one person at a time should go down the mountain. Mason wondered if his father had been aware of the precaution. He wondered if his father had violated the rule. He doubted he would ever ask his mother for a detail like that. Whatever had happened on this mountain a year ago couldn't be changed now.
Ivy took off her shades, leaned over and kissed the beer stein. "Bye, Daddy. Fly into eternity, okay? But don't forget how much you were loved here on earth. I'll keep you safe in my heart." She started to cry. "I thought I'd used up all my tears, but I guess not. I'll always shed a tear for you, Daddy."
Adam waggled his gloved fingers in front of the camera. "Yo, Dad. You were the best. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Except for more time with you. Later, dude."
Each one of them had known a different Trevor Bellamy. Mason could only wish the father he'd known was the one who had inspired Ivy's tenderness and loyalty or Adam's hero worship. Mason knew another side to their father, but he would never be the one to shatter his siblings' memories.
Adam pushed through the warning gate and started down the mountain, the camera on his helmet rolling.
Ivy waited, then followed at a safe distance behind. Thanks to Adam, the cautious one of the three, each of them wore gear equipped with beacons and avalanche airbags, designed to detonate automatically in the event of a slide.
Their mother had been wearing one the day of the incident. Their father had not.
Adam skied with competence and control, navigating the steep slope with ease and carving a sinuous curve in the untouched powder. Ivy followed gracefully, turning his S-curves into a double-helix pattern.
The lightest of breezes stirred the icy air. Mason decided he had worked too hard to climb the damned mountain only to take the conservative route down. Always the most reckless of the three, he decided to take the slope the way his father probably had, with joyous abandon.
"Here goes," he said to the clear, empty air, and he thumbed open the lid of the beer stein. The cold air must have weakened the pottery, because a shard broke loose, cutting through his glove and slicing into his thumb. Ouch. He ignored the cut and focused on the task at hand.
Did any essence of their father remain? Was Trevor Bellamy's spirit somehow trapped within the humble-looking detritus, waiting to be set free on the mountaintop?
He had lived his life. Left a legacy of secrets behind. He'd paid the ultimate price for his freedom, leaving his burden on someone else's shouldersMason's.
"Godspeed, Dad," he said. With his ski poles in one hand and the beer stein in the other, he raised his arm high and plunged down the steep slope, leaning into a controlled fall. Just for a moment, he heard his father's voice: Lean into the fear, son. That's where the power comes from. The words drifted to him from a long-ago time when everything had been simple, when his dad had simply been Dad, coaching him down the mountain, shouting with unabashed joy when Mason conquered a steep slope. That was probably why Mason favored adrenaline-fueled sports that involved teetering on the edge between terror and triumph.
The ashes created a cloud in his wake, rising on an updraft of wind and dispersing across the face of Trevor's beloved, deadly mountain.
The things we love most can kill us. Mason might have heard the saying somewhere. Or he had just made it up.