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Snow on the Mountain

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    Maya watched as the shepherd boy rode his snowboard down the mountains, chasing his runaway llamas. Huh, she thought. That looks fun.

    It didn’t look as fun from the top of the mountain. It actually looked pretty scary. There were big rocks and large patches of ice everywhere, and the hills seemed endless. Maya almost considered heading back to the village, but then she heard the boy whoop and laugh. She could see him, further down the mountain, riding on the bunting near the village. An elder was chasing after him, but he didn’t seem to care. He backflipped off the structure and gave the elder a mock salute before speeding out of sight. Oh, she so had to try that.

    Her first attempt at snowboarding didn’t go so well. Neither did her next, or the one after that, or the next one, but each time she got a little bit better. After a couple weeks of practice, Maya tried to grind on a bunting, like she had seen the boy do. When she got to the end she tried a flip, but didn’t quite make it all the way around. She sat in the snow for a bit before tucking the snowboard under her arm and climbing back up the mountain. 

    When she finally got the flip down, she cheered and laughed and spent the rest of the day doing backflips on her board. She even managed to do a double backflip on one particularly steep drop. In her excitement, however, Maya missed the wooden sign warning her of danger up ahead. She didn’t notice the chasm until too late, and though she was close, she missed the other side by a few feet, barely managing to grab ahold of a ledge a few feet down the cliffside. Her board fell down, down, down into the dark canyon, and after a couple seconds she could hear it clattering on the rocky floor, even though she couldn’t see where it had landed. The elation she had felt while speeding down the slopes quickly morphed into ice cold fear. 

    “Someone help!” She cried. 

    She tried to lift herself up to safety, but she couldn’t find a good place to hold onto, and if she was being honest, her upper body strength was somewhat lacking.

    “Help!” She shouted again, terror and desperation clawing their way into her voice.

    Suddenly the boy appeared at the top of the cliff, peering over the edge. He smiled brightly at her and stuck out his hand. 

    “Grab on!” He said. He seemed to be holding onto a tether with his other hand. 

    Maya grabbed his hand and he dragged her up. They both collapsed onto the snow. 

    “My name’s Alto,” the boy told her as she started to get up

    “Maya,” she replied. “Thanks for the save.”

 

    And that was the start of it. It wasn’t everyday that Alto’s llamas escaped, but when they did, Maya was always there to help. In their free time, the two of them explored the mountains. They goaded the elders into chasing them, and then escaped by jumping over chasms that the elders were wise enough to avoid. They spent hours and hours, every spare moment, perfecting tricks. 

    Alto may have been good at flips, but Maya was better. Much, much better. What she lacked in speed she made up for in tight, quick flips. She’d done double and even triple backflips, and flips so close to the ground that her hat nearly brushed the snow. Some days she felt she spent more time in the air than on the ground. There were few things more exhilarating than the chilly mountain air licking at her face, the snow getting caught in her braids, and landing cleanly after a particularly difficult trick. 

 

    Maya and Alto were resting by the llama pen, each sipping from bottles of Inca Kola, exhausted from a long day of chasing down some particularly crafty llamas, when a boy approached them. Maya had seen him in the village before, how could she not when he was so big? He stood a good foot and a half taller than Maya, and he was built strong and sturdy. 

    “Uh, hi,” he said, blushing a bit and rubbing his neck. “I - I’m Paz. Can you - Do you think you can teach me how to snowboard like you guys?”

    Paz was a natural. Though he usually started out slow, once he got the feel for the slope he was unstoppable. He didn’t get tripped up by rocks like Maya did, though he did avoid flips most of the time. (“They kinda scare me” he’d admitted sheepishly one time when they were resting.) Paz also brought the best food, always warm no matter how long they’d been outside, and he gave the best hugs. 

 

    The eccentric girl who lived just outside the village also like snowboarding, apparently. Her name was Izel, and she was one of the weirdest people Maya had ever met. Her hair always looked like she had a finger stuck in an electrical outlet, and she wore a backpack that had an antenna sticking out of the top and made the occasional beep or whir. When she was excited she spoke far too fast for anyone to possibly understand what she was saying, and even when she spoke normally, she used so much jargon it was hard to figure out exactly what she meant. She knew where all the largest canyons and the steepest slopes were. She drank four cups of coffee, at least, a day. At any given time she was working on at least six different projects. Rocket boots and wingsuits, anything to increase the thrill of the ride. It seemed like her whole life was dedicated to the adrenaline rush. Izel, to the surprise of no one, very quickly became one of Maya’s closest friends. 

 

    “Maya! Maya! You’ve got to come see this!” Alto yelled, grabbing her arm and pulling her towards the edge of the village, near the llama pen. Someone was snowboarding down some gentle hills nearby. Maya was about to ask Alto what all the fuss was about, but then she took a closer look. She gasped and laughed incredulously, because that wasn’t a person on the snowboard, it was a llama.  

    “Oh my god,” she said between laughs and gasping breaths. “How?”

    Alto looked like he still couldn’t believe it himself. 

    “I don’t- I don’t know, Felipe just…” Alto waved his hands in the direction of the llama on the snowboard, at a loss for words. “...he took my scarf too,” he said, sounding defeated. 

    “Whatchy’all lookin’ at?” came a voice right behind them, making Maya jump.

    “Izel! Have you seen? Have you seen Alto’s llama, Felipe, he’s snowboarding and he stole Alto’s scarf and this is the greatest thing to ever happen oh my god-”

    “Of course I’ve seen, Maya mía, I taught him myself.”

    Maya and Alto gaped at her.

    “You mean? You did this?” Alto asked. “Why?”

    Izel laughed. “I thought it’d be funny. ‘S pretty funny.”

    “Dude, you taught a llama to snowboard. That’s so freaking cool!” Maya yelled. “Alto, tell Izel how awesome that is!”

    Alto looked distressed.

    “Alto, what’s wrong?”

    “How are we supposed to catch them now? They’ll all start snowboarding and then-” he gestured to the hills where Felipe had been. “-Poof! No more llamas.”

    Izel and Maya exchanged a look and Maya had to hold back a laugh. 

    “There, there, Alto, it’ll be alright,” said Izel while patting his head. “I haven’t taught him any tricks.”

    She threw her snowboard onto the ground and jumped on.

    “Yet.”

    With a wave she was off, her prototype rocket boots spraying snow behind her, her whoop of joy echoing around the mountains. 

 

    Luckily for Alto, Izel didn’t train any llamas other than Felipe. Unfortunately, Izel and Maya kept making fun of him, complementing the llama for its quote-unquote “superior” snowboarding skills. 

    “Ah, Felipe, you’re already faster than Alto,” Maya would say when Alto came into earshot. 

    “Felipe, my dear student, Alto has much to learn from you” Izel said when Alto walked by. 

    At least Paz never made fun of him. Paz was a good friend, unlike some people he knew. After a week of ceaseless teasing, Paz threatened to stop bringing his cooking for Maya and Izel unless they stopped making fun of Alto. Maya stopped right away, but it took another week for Izel to finally cave. 

    “You’re the best Paz, has anyone ever told you that?” Alto told him one night as the group was sitting around a campfire. 

    “Alto, you just told me that like five minutes ago!” Paz said with a laugh.

    “It’s still true. You’re the best.”

    “Aw, Alto, what about me?” Maya whined. “I thought I was your favorite!”

    “Nope,” said Alto, popping the ‘p’. “Paz isn’t a bully.”

    “Don’t worry, Maya mía, you’re my favorite,” said Izel. She leaned closer to Maya conspiratorially. “Besides, we’re clearly better than they are,” she told her in an unnecessarily loud whisper. 

    Paz put a hand to his chest. “Wow Izel, I’m so hurt. I guess I can’t bring you any more treats.”

    The smile dropped off Izel’s face in an instant. 

    “Don’t you dare, Paz, I’ll kill you and everyone you’ve ever cared about, I swear to god don’t even think about it. I- I’ll-” She was cut off by Maya forcibly covering her mouth with her hand. 

    “Shh, it’s okay, Paz is only joking, you don’t have to get all murder-y,” Maya whispered soothingly, stroking Izel’s head like a puppy. 

    “What did we agree on?” Maya asked the other girl.

    Izel hung her head and mumbled something under her breath.

    “What was that?” Asked Alto.

    “...No death threatening friends,” Izel said sadly. 

    “Very good,” laughed Paz. “Now who wants some hot chocolate?”

    The moon hung low in the sky, giving the snow around them a soft glow. It was quiet in the way that nature is, with the sounds of the wind and the birds and crackling campfire. Paz was asleep and Alto was dozing off, both hidden under mountains of blankets. Maya sat by the fire, a mug of hot chocolate in hand, drooping eyes, and a small smile playing on her lips. Izel was tinkering, from what she could tell. Izel always did say the best ideas came to her at night. That, or she was sleep-working. Either option seemed equally plausible. Maya looked out on the slopes as she drifted off to sleep, and she thought of the friends she had made, and she thought of all the laughs they’d had and competitions they’d done, and she thought she’d never been more happy in her life.