Today marks the publication of the first of our top five stories in the 9th annual Voorheesville Short Story Contest, Caroline Dolin’s “Rumor.” The theme of this year’s contest was “A Roll of the Dice,” and Caroline’s story has a unique take on it. A bet, a deadly ski trail, and the relationship between a sister and brother all highlight the action. Our judge, Laurin Jefferson, commented on the strength of the setting in this story, specifically the skiing on Gore Mountain. We hope you enjoy it!
As I walked into the cafeteria with my school lunch tray I spotted him right away sitting in my seat. God, younger brothers can be so annoying.
¨Johnny!¨ I hissed. ¨Get out of my seat and go sit with the other monsters at the 8th grade table. You don’t belong here.¨
¨Yeah, little boy, go sit with your loser friends,¨ said Sadie.
How dare Sadie talk to MY brother like that. I hate that she even sits at my lunch table. She has been jealous of me since the 6th grade, I just know it. That’s why she always seems to have it out for me. It’s one thing for her to talk bad about me, but to my brother, there is no way I’ll let that slide.
¨Sadie,¨ I said, ¨Don’t talk to my brother like that. I can handle him on my own without your snarky voice chiming in.¨ If only you were there to see the beat red shade her face turned, man, what a wonderful sight it was.
¨Says the person who can barely ski and needs to take lessons to even be half as good a skier as I am!¨ remarked Sadie.
¨What are you talking about?¨ Johnny chimed in. ¨My big sister is the best skier I know! She can go down any trail better than you can.¨ Now you should have seen the shade of red that my face turned.
¨Is that so,¨ replied Sadie. ¨Then let’s make a little bet since you are such a good skier.¨
¨I bet that you can´t ski down Rumor at the next ski club trip. And when you lose, you have to wear my grandmother’s pajamas to school.¨
I cannot believe this is happening to me right now. Even I know for a fact that there is NO WAY I can ski down the double black diamond at Gore, one of the steepest in the Northeast. Why would Johnny ever put me in a position like this? Before I had the chance to answer the bet…
Johnny said, ¨Yup, she will take the bet and show all of you how good she is!¨
¨Is the little twerp right?¨ asked Sadie.
Now, I had two choices. One, decline the bet and look like the fool Sadie already thinks I am and be further embarrassed in front of my friends, or two…
¨I accept the bet!¨ I blurted out before even thinking about what I was saying.
¨Good, I’m glad we all get to watch you fail at skiing,¨ said Sadie in that annoying tone of hers.
¨Under one condition,¨ I replied. ¨When I win the bet, you have to sit at Johnny’s lunch table with his other 12 year old friends for a whole week.¨
She paused, with a look of nervousness in her eyes. I was praying she would turn down the bet now that I added in my part.
¨You’re on,¨ she said.
From all the glances at me throughout the rest of the school day, along with a handful of “good luck” wishes and even the “it was really nice knowing you” I received, I was pretty sure the whole school knew about my bet by now.
As I was walking down the hall I felt my phone buzz in my back pocket. When I looked at it I saw there was a message in the Ski Club group chat. Great, I thought, what is it now? I clicked on the link that was sent and it brought me to a website captioned ¨The top 10 scariest trails in the Northeast.¨ As I scrolled through the website wondering why this was sent to me, I come across #3. My stomach dropped as I read the following:
#3 – Rumor, Gore Mountain, NY
Well, I thought, isn’t this just perfect! As I read on, the knot in my stomach kept twisting and twisting. The website claimed ¨Rumor¨ was chosen as #3 because of the amount of injuries it has caused – 13 injuries in total over the past 9 years. That’s more than one injury per year! The website said to keep in mind that some of the skiers were inexperienced with this type of trail and warned that skiers like them should not go on the trail. Pictured below this information was a photograph of the trail. Showing an insanely steep mountain with a deathly looking cliff at the top. The caption for the picture read:
¨Rumor, one of the steepest trails in the Northeast, is known to be quite a challenge even for experienced skiers as the trail is not groomed often and there is usually more ice than snow, especially on the cliff at the top, which leads to uncontrollable sliding down the trail.¨
I knew Rumor was a hard trail from all the warnings my dad had given Johnny and me when we would ski by the warning signs and ropes. However, beyond the entrance all that could be seen was a patch of snow that met the sky so I never really knew what to believe. That was until I saw this photograph which definitely confirmed what my dad has always said. What have I gotten myself into? I HAVE to get out of this somehow or I will literally end up dead!
Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see Ben standing behind me. Ben was a senior at my high school who is known for being a good skier. He probably has been skiing ¨Rumor¨ since he was like 9.
¨Hey,¨ he said. ¨So I heard about your bet with Sadie to ski Rumor and let me just tell you it’s not an easy trail.¨
¨Believe me, I know it’s not easy, but if you are here to try to scare me out of the bet then just stop now because I am not backing out,¨ I said a little too confidently.
¨No no no, I´m not here to get you to back out, I´m actually here to help you.¨
¨Help me how?¨ I questioned.
¨Well…I have seen you ski at Ski Club and let me just say you’re really not that bad.¨
¨Thanks, I guess,¨ I replied not knowing if that was a compliment or not.
¨What I meant to say is I feel like you have a good shot at actually making it down.¨
¨You do?¨ that was the most surprising thing I’ve heard all day.
¨Yeah, I mean I´ve seen you ski down some regular black diamonds at other mountains with some skill when half of my friends struggle to make it down. I believe you can do it, you just need to know something that most who attempt the trail don’t know.¨
¨What is it,¨ I asked, fully intrigued into finding out this crucial information.
¨Most people know there is a steep cliff and drop at the top but what they don’t know is you can’t put too much pressure on your ski or go too slow when you turn because of how steep and icy the trail is. It is actually better to turn fast and put less pressure on your skis to limit the chance of tumbling down the mountain. You need to be confident in your abilities when going down, however, because if you are scared, you will mess up.¨
Just then the bell rang to dismiss school. I said thank you to Ben for his advice and encouragement then met Johnny outside at the car.
“Johnny,” I said while getting into the car and starting to drive. ¨I talked to Ben, the guy in Ski Club who is really good, and he said he believes I can actually make it down Rumor!¨
¨Really sis? That’s awesome because I give you a 50/50 chance. I can’t wait to tell Mom and Dad about this!¨
¨Woah, woah, woah there Johnny, you are NOT telling Mom and Dad,¨ I said sternly so he knew not to cross me. ¨And thanks, by the way, for the vote of confidence.¨
¨What? Why not?¨
¨Because I don’t know if I can go through with it yet. Ben said that I need confidence when going down and I surely do not feel confident even thinking about it. Besides, you know what Dad says about Rumor. Everytime we go to Gore he reminds us not to go on Rumor because we are not ready yet in his eyes. When we are ready he must be there with us. He will never let me go on my own.¨
¨Yeah, you´re right, I won’t tell them,¨ replied Johnny.
Over the next couple of days my thoughts were consumed with concern over whether I should go through with the bet or not. Although Ben is considered to be a great skier at my school and he thinks I can do it, Dad, who I also know is a great skier, doesn’t think I am ready yet. What should I do? I feel like I asked myself that question a million times over and over. But a little voice in my head kept telling me that I can’t back down to Sadie, so the best thing to do at this point is research. I got on my computer and started googling everything I could about Rumor and skiing in general. From all my research and previous knowledge I wrote down the following:
- Most snow is on the sides of the mountain so try not to go only in the middle
- Watch others go down before so I know what areas are good or bad
- Make quick turns and don´t go down too slow to prevent sliding
Even with this plan in mind, I couldn’t help but think of ideas to get out of it. What if the trail happens to be closed the day we go due to dangerous conditions? What if the ski patrol stops me from going down because my equipment and answers to his questions reveal I should not be on a double black diamond? Or, what if I “accidentally” drop my poles on the way up the ski lift and can no longer ski on Rumor because I need to have poles to ski on a hard trail? All this contemplating made me exhausted so I decided to go to bed and forget about it all for a little while.
Friday, February 19th – The Day it All Happens
The next morning I woke up and looked at my phone. I read the date and instantly remembered what today was. I still had no idea if I would actually go through with it or not. I got dressed and ready for school then met Johnny in the car.
¨Are you ready for today?¨ he asked me all excited. It’s clear he has been thinking about it almost as much as I have.
¨Johnny, I´m not sure what I am going to do but I would rather not talk about it right now,¨ I replied. So instead we sat silent the rest of the car ride, listening to Taylor Swift’s ¨Shake It Off¨ which helped calm down my nerves.
As soon as I walked into the school, people gathered around me to ask if I was going through with the bet still. I told them all what they wanted to hear so I could finally be left alone. Thank God it was only a half day today because honestly I’d rather still be in bed away from all these people.
When it finally came time for lunch everyone at my table was gathered around Sadie watching some type of video with shocked faces. I sat down at the table and they all looked at each other, then me.
¨What is it?¨ I asked.
¨Oh, I was just showing everyone a video of this guy who thought he was a great skier but actually ended up tumbling down Rumor just last week,¨ she said with way too big of a smile.
¨Do you want to see it?¨ she asked gleefully. By the look on their faces, I knew it was best not to, so I put my airpods in and tuned out Sadie’s irritating voice.
11:00 A.M. – The Day it All Happens
The bell rang to dismiss me from my final class but unlike other days, today I did not want to leave class as fast as possible. After a minute or two, and a deep breath, I finally got up from my chair and got to my locker where Johnny was standing waiting for me.
¨Sis, are you ready to get on the Ski Club bus to death?¨ he asked with a huge grin on his face.
¨You left me little choice,¨ I said while walking out the doors to the bus. Did he have to say ¨death¨?
Our ski stuff had already been loaded onto the bus for us by the time we got there. I sat down at the back of the bus, away from everyone else, and began listening to music again to calm my nerves as the bus started to move. I kept getting glances back at me from people up front, itching to get a look at the girl who was about to either become a school legend or end up wearing grandma clothes to school. I scooted down in my seat so I could no longer be in their eyesight, but I still felt the wandering eyes landing on me.
Two and a half hours later we rolled into Gore´s parking lot and began unloading the bus. I grabbed my skis and walked to the lodge where I began putting on my gear. Thirty feet away from me I saw Sadie talking to a group of people and laughing while looking at me. That’s it, I am not going to put up with her treating me like this. We’ll see who’s laughing when I make it down Rumor!
After a big group of older kids were ready, plus Johnny their mascot, we headed outside and got on a gondola. On the way up I couldn’t help but look at the silhouette of Rumor through the trees. It looked absolutely terrifying and it was probably a sign that only two people were on the whole trail. However, I kept telling myself that I have to go through with it to prove to everyone that I am a better skier than they thought and shut Sadie down. Also, the thought of wearing grandma pajamas to school makes me want to throw up.
Because Rumor is such a steep trail, once we got off the gondola, Johnny and l then had to ski to a chair lift that would bring us to the top of Rumor. I was thankful to be able to warm up first before going on Rumor for the first time. The rest of the group would watch from the bottom of the trail and hopefully see me become a school legend.
My stomach had butterflies the whole lift ride up and I began to feel like I was trapped in a sauna even though it was 30° outside. When Johnny and I got to the top of the lift, I knew there was no chickening out now because everyone was watching from below and Johnny was counting on me. However, that was only until I actually got to the top of Rumor and slid past the roped entrance. Surprisingly, there was no ski patrol or really anyone at the top except two men who turned away shaking their heads. Next to the top of the trail there was a sign that read:
Are you an Expert?
This is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT terrain.
Falls WILL result in UNCONTROLLABLE SLIDES!
Conditions change constantly. Be prepared for the UNEXPECTED.
In that instant, I knew it wasn’t worth it. I had to stay true to my gut and what Dad had told me. It should mean something that I felt I had to keep this a secret from my parents.
I turned to Johnny and said, ¨Johnny, there is just no way I am going through with this, I can’t do it! I’m not going to literally risk my life because of Sadie. She’s not worth the effort.¨
As if Johnny didn’t hear a single word I said, he replied, ¨see you at the bottom, Sis¨ and vanished over the edge of Rumor.
I was in so much shock that I didn’t know what to do. I took a deep breath, knowing the ski patrol may have to save two of us today. Instinct took over and I just went for it. As I dropped off the edge my heart raced. Down below I could see Johnny sliding on his back screaming for help. His screaming sent me into full on panic mode as I knew there was a very high chance of him getting hurt. All of a sudden my skis started to take control of my movements. I started to swiftly make sharp turns while remembering Ben’s advice about putting only a little pressure on my turns to keep myself from falling. Pretty soon I was making my way down to Johnny without having to think about my movements. As I got further down, Johnny was not in sight. Instead, a blue helmet stuck out over the snow near a tree at the edge of the trail. I quickly made my way over to the blue helmet as I immediately recognized the bright red J sticker on the side of it. When I got to Johnny, he was buried under a mogul, only inches from the nearest tree.
¨Johnny! What on earth were you thinking going down this trail? You could have killed yourself,¨ I exclaimed.
¨I´m sorry, Sis, but I needed you to realize that you can do it.¨ ¨Look,¨ he said while pointing up the mountain. ¨We are already halfway down!¨
I glanced up feeling very thankful for a brother like Johnny but also scared to death because we still had to make it down. While not as steep as the first section, the second section was just as icy and filled with moguls. I grabbed Johnny’s arm and yanked him up from the snow. Man, this kid is heavier than I thought.
¨Follow me and remember not to put too much pressure on your skis,¨ I said to Johnny.
As I started going down again I began to pick up speed, a little too much speed. So much speed that when I missed seeing a bump in the snow I felt my skis lift up from beneath me. Luckily I was able to land safely but when I looked behind me I saw that Johnny had fallen down again. I helped Johnny up then looked down the mountain. There was only about a quarter of the trail left and I could see my classmates standing at the bottom cheering us on. Johnny and I kept going but this time, at least for me, I had greater confidence in myself for surviving a near fall.
Two minutes later, Johnny and I finally made it to the bottom of the trail where everyone was clapping and some were filming. I pulled Johnny in for a big hug and told him to never do that again but that I was still very proud of him.
He looked up at me and said, ¨I knew you could do it, you just needed a little push from me.¨ I rolled my eyes at him as I saw Sadie start to approach me.
¨Wow, I never thought you would actually go through with that,¨ said Sadie.
¨Well, I did and I won, so enjoy the 12 year old lunch table next week!¨ The next words that came out of her mouth were ones I never imagined hearing.
Sadie said, ¨That was pretty impressive, and looking at the trail from here, I´m not sure if I could have done it.¨
¨Thanks Sadie, that means a lot,¨ I replied knowing that she never accepts defeat and it was probably hard for her to say.
I met back up with Johnny and we skied down to the bottom of the mountain. I guess he’s not as annoying of a brother as I thought and it’s probably good to keep him around every so often. Before going back up the mountain we pinky promised not to put each other into any other life threatening bets or to let our parents learn of our mischief. But most importantly, we promised that while we would not always get along, we had ¨Rumor.¨