Bernhardt or Yeti

by Matthew Salesses

The figure was either Bernhardt or a yeti. I had been tracking it for two days, ever since Bernhardt left me only my tent and took off with everything else. I had told him we had to turn back, my face peeling still from the first week of sunburn, the blistering white of the snow. He had seemed to agree. I had reminded him of the three shapes we had seen each of the last five nights, a hundred feet above us on the side of the mountain.

Now I could feel my stomach cold and small. The figure stared at me. Then it darted too quickly over the snow. We had heard tales of the yeti waiting travelers out and eating their frozen bodies, and Bernhardt had laughed, but it was the natives' eyes as he laughed that left me unsure.

Bernhardt, if the figure was not a yeti, could be playing on my fears. I couldn't think of a reason why he would, but I wanted to kill him and so could imagine he wanted to kill me, though I had the justification.

I followed the tracks—they were a man's tracks. Leading nowhere but deeper into the range.


I could hear a howling riding on the howling of the wind. We had met natives on the high passes. That was the other hope, other than killing him. I looked up the mountain and could see nothing, but I could feel I was being watched. I boiled snow, and ate some snow, the raw cold scraping the inside of my mouth.

Then I saw the figure—it was moving toward me. The sun was going down and I had to pitch the tent soon, or I wouldn't be able to see anything. The figure moved and blended into the darkening white, appearing and disappearing easily.

In the night, I could feel the skin on my fingers cracking and opening. I could feel not being able to feel; that was the strange thing. I tried to be silent and unafraid. I thought about Bernhardt's mustache. I would pull it off his lip before I killed him. I didn't want to fall asleep, but sleep lured, especially over hunger. Never waking up might be fine if it didn't mean Bernhardt would get what he wanted. There were sounds in the range. Every night there were sounds. I had imagined the mountains quieter.

Out there, the yetis were circling. I knew, this time without looking, that they were up on the mountainside. I knew something I could only know by being completely uncertain.

At some point, in my sleep, I felt the mountain shift with an avalanche or a rock slide. I dreamed of Bernhardt with his big laugh.

When I woke, my fingertips were dead. The first two knuckles on three fingers wouldn't bend. I pictured Bernhardt's mustache white with snow, my hands around his neck. I remembered his red whiskey face in London and "starting over." There was something different about the cold that morning. I played with the idea that I didn't believe that he didn't believe in yetis, before I left my blanket.

I opened the tent flap to a crevasse directly in front of me. I thought at first that the yetis had shifted me to the edge in the night. A joke? A fire was burning—I could feel the warmth. Whatever was there, it was either Bernhardt or a yeti.

The tent had only one opening. I had to pull up the edge in the back and crawl under. Something grunted outside. I dug my dead fingers under the canvas; the hunger stabbed at my stomach. I didn't feel anything touching me until it reached my wrist. All I wanted to know was what was out there.

Matthew Salesses is the author of a forthcoming novella, The Last Repatriate (Flatmancrooked), and two prose chapbooks, Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) and We Will Take What We Can Get (Publishing Genius). His stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, Witness, American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, and others. He writes and edits for The Good Man Project Magazine. Web: