They had to jump, or die.
For it to all end like this, suspended in the pitch dark above the unforgiving terrain, hands gripping the safety bar as the chair bounced up and down on the cable—it wasn’t an ending he had ever imagined.
He and Celia, their dead bodies frozen together like two ice carvings, only discovered once the blizzard had subsided.
He loosened his grip on the safety bar as the wind died down and the rattling of the protective canopy lessened. The unusually designed chairlift had been an engineering failure from the beginning, a poorly designed mess of metal plagued by one problem after another.
He should have foreseen this, should never have taken the risk that the chair would get them into Thredbo before the storm came rolling in.
But Celia had been desperate to get out of Charlotte Pass. He tugged his scarf higher to cover the lower half of his face and inhaled some warm carbon dioxide. He could barely make Celia out under the protective canopy that was fitted over the chair, much less see out through the small rectangular viewing pane. But he could feel her beside him, and he could hear her voice in the lull between gusts.
Teeth chattering, her body shaking, she was reciting Hail Marys with the piety of the blindly devout. That’s what happened when people lost all hope. They prayed.
‘We have to jump!’ he shouted as another burst of wind rocked the tiny capsule. ‘We stay up here, we die.’
‘No . . . I can’t.’
‘You can, Celia. You will. You have to.’ He groped in the dark, his ski goggles bumping hers before he found her arm and curled his fingers around her wrist until she cried out. ‘That crash we just heard—it was a chair up front falling off the cable.’
He waited for her to speak, staring into the tomb-like darkness.
‘I want to stay here,’ she whimpered. ‘Someone might come.’
She started praying again. The Lord’s Prayer this time.
He edged away from the freezing steel framework of the chair and sat in a tight tuck to preserve his body heat. Chin resting on his chest, hands shoved beneath his thighs, he contemplated the drop.
Twenty feet, maybe twenty-five, judging by the seconds he’d counted when he’d unbuckled his skis a while back and let them fall to the ground.
His bowels moved as he pictured the giant boulders and twisted snow gums beneath them. Landing on Mount Stillwell would be
brutal, the odds of survival slim. But the alternative . . .
He wriggled his feet inside his ski boots and counted how many toes he could feel. None. Pain speared through his fingers like a
hundred needles. His throat burned with every breath. Celia’s rosary turned into a cry as another sub-Antarctic air mass built around the peaks of Mount Kosciuszko, arriving in a freezing squall of snow and sleet, howling through Charlotte Pass with a roar that sent the hapless chair swinging sideways in the darkness.
Celia whimpered as her body fell against his, pushing him against the side of the chair. All around, the steel pylons of this, the so-called longest chairlift in the world, swayed and groaned.
And then the wind dropped suddenly, just enough for the chair to right itself momentarily, but Celia clawed at the front of his ski jacket, begging him to do something, or not do something—he couldn’t tell.
‘I’m going to raise the canopy,’ he shouted. ‘We’ll go together.’
But before she could say anything more, he raised the steel canopy against the onslaught. The blizzard slammed into him, ice pellets
stinging his cheeks and forehead. He blinked away the freezing water seeping inside his goggles, until finally, he tore them from his head, his beanie going with them.
As they fell away into the blackness, he hauled Celia towards him and dragged her, kicking, punching and screaming onto his lap before pinning her against his torso with his arms. She went quiet, paralysed by fear and the inevitability of what was about to happen.
He raised the safety bar and gritted his teeth, shifted onto the edge of the seat and pictured the rocky slope in his mind’s eye. When
the chair tipped forward he launched their bodies as one into the blackness.
And he prayed.
Prayed Celia’s body would break his fall.