The Halloween Project 2022 - Story 5: Silent Snow -The Three Peaks of Lavaredo
Annie hammered her nearly frozen fist on the large metal door, the sound muffled by her climbing glove within her ski mitten. She snatched both from her hand and banged again. A crisper tone rang within. Snow flew in horizontal gusts. Breathing was getting harder. Annie tried again. The hallway beyond seemed to echo with reverberation. She looked left and right to the large stucco walls fading into blinding snow. Here in the Dolomites, high in the Italian Alps in Belluno she and Kimmy had lost their way. Now Kimmy lay 100 yards behind with a broken ankle.
A latch turned, a key and another key, the metal door creaking on hinges rusted by time. A crack widened and opposite, a nun’s face lined by a million prayers offered a stern eye.
“My friend is hurt! We need help!” Annie blurted. The nun shook her head and raised a single finger. Approaching steps clicked in the hallway. Taller, younger, but not young, this nun stepped forward, shoulders square.
“What is the matter?” she asked in English, accented yet perfect.
“My friend is just down a ways,” gesturing backward into the blowing, white maelstrom, “I think her ankle’s broken!”
“No, there is no help here. Hike down to the village, just 2 miles,” the door began to close.
“Wait please! We can’t make it! It’s too far in this snowstorm…and her ankle! We were climbing and this blizzard hit so fast. We couldn’t see anything and we free climb! We were on one of the Peaks and got confused. Kimmy fell the last dozen feet. Her ankle is…well, it has to be broken.”
The door stopped, frozen. An open palm, raised quickly, halted Annie.
“I’m sorry? Excuse me, what?” Annie questioned.
Slowly now, more distinct, “Which peak…were you climbing?”
“Cima Piccola. Little Peak,” Annie offered.
“Thank God,” the nun replied, and added, “I am Sister Rosalia, I am the abbess here at our convent. I will get some sisters and we will retrieve your friend.”
Three hours later Annie and Kimmy were resting on two Spartan cots like novitiates in training. They wore woven fabric smocks as the nuns dried out their climbing gear and clothes. Kimmy’s ankle, now wrapped and raised on a pillow, throbbed. Annie had given her three Advils but the pain still rose and ebbed. Sister Rosalia entered.
“Girls, I am happy to say that you are safe here, but I am sad to say that your stay will be extended. Storms such as this can last for two or three days. No one from the village would dare to venture out and you will need some help getting your friend back down the mountain. There will be a few days passing before you can leave.”
Annie and Kimmy simply looked at each other. After several years climbing together they knew the reality of mountain storms. They both smiled and nodded their heads. Sister Rosalia turned to go.
“Sister, could I ask a question?” it was Kimmy, “Why do the other sisters never talk? All the time they were helping me with my ankle, no one said a word?”
“They have taken a vow,” she said directly.
“You mean like poverty, chastity and obedience?” Kimmy asked, Annie tried not to laugh..
“No. A very different vow. We are an ancient order, begun long before records were ever kept. Our vow is to the three great peaks. Cima Piccola, Cima Grande, Cima Ovest.
“Yes, Little, Big and Western. They are amazing. We were planning on climbing all three,” Annie announced
The air left the room.
Rosalia looked at them both. “You must not. You will never,” she gestured to Kimmy’s ankle.
“You cannot. You should not. Never,” her voice trailed off. She turned to go.
“Sister? One last question,” Kimmy asked. Rosalia stopped and turned.
“Your vow? The one that you and the sisters take?”
“I explained. To the three peaks. Their strength, their age, and their wisdom. Our vow is simple, ‘Silenzio. Silenzio. Silenzio.’” She turned to go.
“But Sister, you speak,” it was a statement.
A pause and a slight droop to one shoulder. Rosalia’s head bowed. A shallow breath, taken hastily to whisper the words:
“Someone must,” and she left the room.
The storm lasted two full days and nights. On the third a crystal blue sky etched the three peaks in the distance. Annie donned her warmest clothes, carried a backpack full of equipment and set off, tossing to Kimmy, “I’ll be back long before dark.”
“Be careful. And have fun,” Kimmy replied.
The nuns and Rosalia busied to the tasks of the convent. Food was cleaned and cooked. Wash was done. All in silence. Kimmy hobbling with a makeshift crutch attempted to talk with the sisters, but all simply looked away. One opened her mouth as if to say something, but quickly snapped her jaw shut.
Sunset dropped fast and Annie returned; tired, flushed and ecstatic. Rosalia hovered near the door when she entered. Annie went straight to Kimmy sitting in a kind of community room, leg propped on a chair. Two sisters sat a bit off, knitting.
“I did it!” Annie exclaimed, grabbing her friends arms.
“No way! That’s awesome! What was it like?” Kimmy asked.
“What did you do, if I may ask?” it was Sister Rosalia.
“I climbed Cima Grande! Despite the new snow. It was amazing.”
“Well,” began Rosalia, “At least you only climbed Piccolo and Grande, but not all three. Everything should be fine.”
“But I did,” Annie offered excitedly, “I did all three peaks!”
“But the other day you said that you had only climbed Cima Piccolo.”
“When the storm hit, yes. But the day before we both climbed Western Peak. We just didn’t mention it,” Annie explained.
“No. No, no, no, no, NO!” Rosalia shouted. She turned and yelled down the hallway. The nuns sitting nearby dropped their knitting and came closer. Three more sisters scurried into the room. Rosalia spoke, first in Italian, then in German. The sisters grabbed both girls from behind, restraining them.
“What the hell!!!!” Kimmy screamed, Annie yelling, “Let us go!! Let us go!!” They were tied to stout wooden chairs with coarse, braided rope. Rosalia sat down across from them.
“For 700 years we have guarded the Peaks, the Cimas. They want silence. They need silence. And they do not need strangers crawling all over them. Locals respect that. They climb one or two, but not all three. Guides discourage climbers. And sometimes, sometimes when things go wrong, all three are climbed. And terrible things happen. So we, here, in the convent, we pray. In silence. In our hearts and minds. Always in silence. Like the Peaks. She snapped and gestured with her hand. Three sisters gathered next to Rosalia and when she nodded they opened their mouths wide. The blunted ends of shorn tongues barely extended to the edges of each mouth. Dark maws revealed half tongues or worse.
“Oh sweet Jesus! My god! What the hell is this!” Annie exclaimed.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god, please let us go!? We didn’t do anything!”
“But you did,” Rosalia offered. “And we must make it right.” She stood and approached the girls. “And now you must stay. For a long time.” From the folds of her black draped habit she produced a pair of shears to clip wool from a sheep.
“Don’t do this!!!”Annie screamed. Kimmy wailed beside her.
“You don’t have to do this! You speak sister! You speak!”
Rosalia looked down on them as she hefted the large clippers.
“Because I sewed my tongue back on.”