If You Can't Take the Heat, Don't Hire a Yeti
When they kicked Yeti out of his commune, he flipped off his former followers, grabbed their statue of Vishnu, and without looking back, hopped through the crackling portal widening behind him. Clumps of singed white hair fell burning as he jumped. His last gift to his betrayers--hair flaming with the scent of licorice and chewed tobacco wrapped in yak liver.
• • •
It had been too hot in the Himalayas. Wet, dank clumps of hair crowded his body with mildew, and when Yeti fashioned a knife and took it to his fur, Anuja, the vegetable grower, called a meeting about their leader's erratic behavior.
"It's too hot," Yeti said when they questioned him.
"No buts," Yeti said. "I must shave. Final word."
"We don't have anyone else," Anuja said.
"But we can all be the same," Yeti said, holding out his thick, dark hands, his talons the only whitened part of his body. He cringed when he looked at them. Anuja took Yeti's outstretched hand and folded his fingers against his palm. Her skin cooled him, but she shook her head and removed her hand when he tried to hold on.
"That isn't the way. We aren't the same. We all have duties."
Their council nodded. All of them, dark skinned, stood out amongst the snow. Yeti did not. But he wanted to be among them, not their leader.
"It is not to be," Anuja said.
Yeti followed the council members' eyes to the white hair already pricking through his skin, like the bean sprouts Anuja planted every cycle. He winced. No matter what he did, the hair grew back over night.
"Anuja, please. I am just like you." Yeti grasped for her once more, but she turned and ushered the council away into the dimming afternoon light.
Yeti collapsed on a rock and fingered his razor, brittle like eroded stone. As Anuja retreated, he dragged the blade across his skin. His white fluff fluttered away in the soft wind, toward the village. Suddenly, he howled. A long, low, left-behind wail. But then he stood and knew himself. The abominable snowman gone. A hairless Yeti. A homeless Yeti.
• • •
The night before the Makara Sankranti, in front of the evening fire, Anuja formalized sanctions against Yeti. Of course they would punish him before the sun began its journey. Always with the sun and the connection to the land. Anuja made sure they followed the old ways, even when he had organized their home, built up their walls, and protected them from the outside world.
"You can leave or you can be the creature you were meant to be," Anuja said, spreading her hand out for Yeti to look at his home, his people one last time. "You could have prevented this."
He shook his head, eyes cast down at the pebbles around his feet. They looked so similar -- gray and round and thrumming with the thread of togetherness. No strength but that.
And here Anuja was, the thread to all of this. When she insisted on spearheading the ways of the old, he hadn't minded. She knew how to work the land, how to coax barley and potatoes from the ground and into their bellies.
Yeti loved vegetables. Secretly, Yeti loved Anuja. That was his downfall. Too much attention to the way her hair fell into her eyes, and not enough to the way she bowed to karma, to the order of things. She offered the antidote, yet she refused to ease his suffering.
It didn't matter that he towered over them, it didn't matter that where his fur had always made him white, they were always dark. It didn't matter that the hills stretched out, covered in a cold white dust that shrunk every year. The village blurred into a fuzzy white patch, the melting snow his only focus.
Beyond the snow, other hills stretched down the mountain, dotted with yaks, cattle, sheep, a bounty of vulnerable flesh his people tended and rarely ate. He, their protector. But he was too hot.
And so he grabbed the statue of Vishnu and fled into one of the portals that had opened up for him for years, his new patches of hair burning off in flaming shreds at Anuja's feet.
• • •
He'd only hopped through the portal once before, and he'd found himself burning, flecks of electricity shooting from his fingers, vibrating beneath his skin. This time, his skull shook, his teeth clattered, nearly shattering from the jolt. He dropped the statue of Vishnu, which shattered. He stood on a mountain, snow, heavenly snow, blinding him. His hairless body trembled, pimples popping up like lumpy blisters on his skin. Drifts of snow blew up into his nose, burrowed into his ears and stung his eyes. All he heard was snow.
But then Yeti collapsed, and the snow melted beneath him. The sun appeared, its rays penetrating the very thing he worshipped, and the comforting cold evaporated. This mountain was no different from home--promises of cold snatched away by the piggy sun. He stared at the space he'd traveled through, but the portal was gone. Of course it would vanish as soon as he took it up on its offer.
All his life, that portal. When Yeti got tired of it, he threw things into it so it would go away. It didn't matter what—food scraps, soiled loincloths, rocks, snowballs, and even one time, a goat.
Sometimes it popped up when the other villagers surrounded him, but no one ever noticed it. When their scraps overflowed in the compost heaps and they somehow disappeared, Anuja would smile at him and thank him for caring for them.
Only now, on the other side of the world, he worried the portal would pop up back at the commune and one of those traitors would see it and come after him.
Yes, they would come, begging him to grow his hair back so he could scare off the snow leopards, so he could keep the compost heap from overflowing. Yeti began his downward descent, his feet occasionally crunching through onion skins.
• • •
Despite the trees, the sun tore through and blinded him, made his body slippery with sweat, and Yeti tripped over vines and roots sticking out of the ground, barely catching himself from falling and bashing his head. Each step he took melted the snow beneath him. Cedar and fir trees towered over him, higher than at his home in the Himalayas, and when he tired, he climbed up and made his bed in the branching trunks, digging his claws into the soft, mossy bark. Craning his neck up, Yeti glared at the sun, warned it to leave him alone. But it didn't.
He travelled for a long time, climbing down, down, down, passing through layers of huckleberry and sword fern that jabbed his legs. He crunched over talus slopes, the pads of his feet at times aching against the sharp rocks, but he wouldn't allow himself to stop, not even when he'd drawn blood.
Behind him, a portal sucked open, slapping him on the rump with a bolt of electricity. Yeti jumped, whips of pain radiating across his glutes. The air around the portal rippled. Around him, the alder and maple trees quaked, the ground thrusting them up and sucking them back down.
Don't go, the portal seemed to say, but Yeti only stepped across the convulsing ground and ignored it. A slap of pain erupted against his backside again. Perhaps you're not listening, came the rippling air. He swiped the buzzing noise like a fly, but it continued.
"I'm listening," Yeti said, then ripped up a sapling, little red berries and pinecones zinging through the air, and lobbed it through the portal.
As the portal winked away, a vibration rumbled from above, knocking him off his feet. He plucked himself back up and sucked in his breath as piles of white snow surfed down, down, down, straight for him. He knew he should run. His legs twitched, ready, aching for survival.
But Yeti only watched, the sweeping white froth a wink of the Himalayas as they once were, when he kept his hair shaggy and clean. When he could nurse the heat within, never worrying about it spilling over. And here it came for him, the snow, his former paramour. Only when it hit him, it didn't smother him. It melted.
Wetness dripped down Yeti's cheeks, but he ignored it. He kept walking, ready to flee the mountain for good. But when he got to the city, he found himself coughing beside dilapidated white shacks and crumbling brick buildings with boarded up windows, surrounded by shredded wire fencing. The air closed in on him here, even worse than in the mountains, and layers of his skin peeled away beneath the angry glare of the sun. The fence wires stabbed into the air, a warning. Yeti wondered if he could shave using the sharp points of the fence.
He fingered the wire, and bent down, rubbing his chin against it, but it only stabbed him, drawing blood instead of taking off any of his hair. From the blackened roadside, a giant white truck roared by and honked three times.
"Put some clothes on, monkey retard!" a guy screamed, flipping him off.
Yeti began to return the motion, but blood from his wound fell onto his hand. Occasionally cars swerved down the road, honking and shouting at him, but Yeti didn't care, and sank down on his haunches against a creosote-soaked telephone pole. If I was a rap musician, this would be easier, Yeti thought. He'd heard of them from Asim, one of the kids in the commune. They liked women and gold and funny teeth that made it easier for gnashing things in their mouths. Anuja hadn't approved on account of the greed factor, so Yeti didn't either, except for just this once. No doubt they could stop the sun. Maybe shine the gold back on it, give it a taste of its own medicine.
A wrinkled flyer fluttered on the pole, its caresses against his shoulder soft like Anuja's. Yeti closed his eyes, dreamed of Anuja worshipping the sun, begging it for its warmth, to coax her vegetables from the ground. His stomach churned.
He ripped the flyer from the pole and glared at it. The letters looked like gibberish to him, but giant masked figures curled their fingers, beckoning. A cool wind blew against Yeti's face. All masks, all muscle. They were together, bonded by the secrets buried beneath that second skin.
• • •
Late that afternoon, he found their run-down brick building, its windows boarded up by warped, rotting wood. His heart thumped to the rhythm of the grunts and howls, bodies smashing against cement. He found a way in by ripping through cracks in one of the boarded-up windows, but as soon as he had climbed through, someone caught him by the ear and sent him crashing to the ground.
Then she was on him, all gold and purple, her body sparkling and warm. She was smaller than he, but stout, her spandex outfit gleaming. They rolled and tumbled, her elbows driving dents into his stomach. She grabbed at his skin, pinching and slapping at him until he cried "Uncle!" or "Theek chhaina!" in Nepali. She nearly brought tears to his eyes.
The wrestler stopped, and stalked away, leaving Yeti's chest heaving. He hadn't fought so hard since the time a snow leopard interrupted his bathroom time, and she was only one woman. But before Yeti got his breath back, the lady placed a chair in the middle of the room, took a few steps back, then sprinted and jumped from it, flying straight at Yeti and tackling him back to the ground. He screamed, his back hitting hard concrete. When she stopped he was breathless. He lay back on the stained concrete and blinked up at the exposed beams, some elaborate effort to create a cave out of synthetic materials. Then the wrestler stood over him. Glitter sparkled from her lips.
"No interrupting the luchadors!" the woman yelled, hands on her hips.
Yeti barely heard her as he tried to breathe. Honey and patchouli floated into his nostrils, but the scent was cloying and filled him with nausea. When he didn't speak, the lady luchador nudged his side with her foot.
"Where are your clothes?" she asked.
Yeti shook his head, then coughed. "I need your help," he said.
The luchador stared at him, her spandex-clad head cocked. Her fingers played at her gold belt, which hugged her purple suit, which hugged her curves. Yeti began to sweat glistening drops. They beaded against a new pelt of chest hair. Damned stuff never stopped growing.
"Why should I help you? You killed my routine!" The lady luchador turned her back on him and called into another room in the building. "Eh, boys! Come get rid of this monster!"
"We've got to kill the sun. I'll pay you in potatoes." Yeti struggled to his feet, and when he finally stood, he towered over her. She gulped but took a step toward him.
"Why the hell you wanna kill the sun? What it do to you?"
Five spandex-clad luchadors crowded into the room behind her. They all stood shirtless, chests slick with oily residue. Yeti shuddered.
"It's too hot. Can't you see?" Yeti held out his gleaming arms.
The Lady Luchador stepped back from him and frowned, her red lips frowning.
"It's not the sun's fault, dummy. We need it to survive. It's more like global warming you wanna kill, but good luck with that."
"You want we should throw him out, Lena?" A luchador stepped forward, his muscles popping like veins, and grinded his fist into his palm.
"Wait, I can help you in your fights," Yeti said. When Lena didn't answer, he cocked his head. "What's global warming?"
"A myth," Lena said.
The manly luchador took a further step into the room.
"What's a myth?"
"It something that doesn't exist."
"What? No, you idiot, McDonald's exists. Like aliens or sasquatch."
Yeti frowned. "Sasquatch is my cousin."
Lena the Lady Luchador didn't say anything. Instead, she sat down on the stool, dropping her chin into her hands. As she leaned forward, her skin rippled in brilliant purple folds. Her wrestling mates came toward Yeti then, but he held his hands up, backing away as they came.
"I need power. It's the heat. You can help me stop it. And then I can help you fight." Yeti took a step toward Lena, licking sweat from his lips.
Lena flicked her hand at the other luchadors. "Un momento, boys. We'll make a deal."
The men stomped from the room, grumbling. The light danced across their glittery masks.
"How do I get rid of it?" Yeti asked, sitting down in front of Lena. As he leaned toward her, her brown eyes pooled in the light, reminding him of Anuja. But the mask obscured the rest of her face, and he reminded himself that she was Lena the Luchador and Anuja was gone, probably forever.
"First of all, it's not too hot. You've got some funked up notions in your head. Ever heard of deodorant?" Lena stood and paced around the room. She bent down and rummaged through a duffel bag near the doorway, finally pulling out a small green container. She threw it at Yeti and instructed him to put it on.
Yeti pressed his finger against the substance's white powdery top, but it softened and began to burn.
"You put it on. Like this." Lena lifted her arm above her head and made a wiping motion with her other hand.
Yeti followed her lead, but the deodorant melted right off his body. Yeti stared at his feet, trying to ignore the liquid dripping from his armpits. "I don't think it's working," he said.
"Maybe you have a glandular disorder, you ever think of that?" Lena's lips bent into a sneer.
Yeti cocked his head. "Nothing's the matter with me. I'm not the one in a Super Commando Dhruva outfit, either."
"Super commando who? I am a luchador. You respect the luchador, or no deal."
"Fine," Yeti said, crossing his arms. "How bout you tell me how we stop the heat?"
Lena nodded. "Fine. It's thirty degrees and it's not cold enough for you. We could just get you a good waxing." She wrapped her cape around her spandex suit and sat down across from him.
Yeti licked the salt from his lips. He smiled.
• • •
He was squatting in a dilapidated building with a bunch of luchadors, and he was king. The next time a portal opened and rods of electricity snapped out into the air, it didn't shock, sting, or hurt him. The portal reached out to him, its limbs of electricity tingling his shoulder. Come home, it told him. Instead, Yeti ignored it and chucked a rickety stool over his shoulder and into the abyss.
The portal swallowed the stool and disappeared, leaving behind nothing but a spark of static electricity that rubbed into his smooth chest. Lena had taken him to her beauty salon, and they'd taken care of him, torn every last hair from his body. The waxer didn't quite know what to do with his nether regions, but she improvised as best she could. He hadn't even flinched when they yanked up the hair from his chest, and instead, he'd prayed to Brahma, thanking the creator for giving him the power to change his circumstances. Anuja should've known better. Karma came from hard work, from willingness to bend the world into a vision, not from status quo. And Yeti's new look was certainly no status quo.
Yeti looked across the room, smiling as Lena's fellow luchadors threw her up so she could somersault into her teammate's chest. She soared through the air, a purpled marmot of the highest order. When she kicked the wrestler in the chest, Yeti broke into a sweat.
He wiped his brow, hoping it was a fluke. But no, even without hair, the room closed in on him. He thought it was Lena, her limber luchador moves taking hold of him, but even after he stumbled outside into the stinking city, the sweat remained. He glared into the golden sky as he dripped rivers into the ground. Then he swung back around and stomped into the building.
The luchadors lay on the ground in a writhing mass. Yeti leapt from the stool and soared onto their panting bodies, the air whooshing behind him. As he landed, a collective gasp rippled from beneath him. From beneath him Lena sighed, her breath soft, but too, too warm.
Fat, muscled arms grappled at him, but Yeti shoved them aside and hauled Lena up from the group.
"What the hell's wrong with you? We've got a match tomorrow!" She punched his chest, and he reeled back.
"Please, it's the wax. It stopped working. I mean, there's too much heat. It can't work."
Lena dropped to the ground and stretched her legs. For a moment she wouldn't speak. The other luchadors picked themselves up from the ground and crowded toward him.
"We have to kill it," he said, curling his hands into fists. "The sun. I want it to stop."
"You can't kill the sun. It's not its fault. Hell, even if it was, it's ninety-three million miles away. What kind of power you think you got to stop it?" Lena laughed.
Yeti screamed and threw up his hands, soaking the luchadors with sweat. They scrabbled away. Streams of Yeti moisture trickled behind them.
"You can't stop heat, numbnuts," Lena said. "About the only way you'll ever get climate change to knock it off is if we stop making stuff. Chances of that happening are zero, so stop complaining and go take a cold shower." Lena threw a towel at him, but he let it hit the floor.
An idea ticked through his head. "But what if we got rid of all the stuff?" he asked, rubbing his hands along his arm and flinging sweat to the floor. It puddled and ran down an uneven slope in the concrete, then disappeared into a crack.
"We can't get rid of all the stuff," Lena said. She twirled around and went back to her wrestling match, pummeling a guy to the floor.
Yeti ran into the melee and grabbed her by the arm. "Yeah, we can get rid of it! I promised I'd pay you, right? You get a bunch of your guys and we'll get rid of all the stuff. Then, no more heat, right?"
Lena peeled her mask up, revealing skin the color of almonds. A dark birthmark sat on her cheek like an island. More heat rolled through Yeti's body.
She shook her head. "We don't need money. We need publicity. People at our matches. Cheering for Los Luchadores."
"I can do that. I'll pay you in publicity. I'll be like my cousin in the woods. Sasquatch, you know. I'll be your warm-up act. Publicity and potatoes. You'll never go hungry again." Yeti wiped his palms on his hips.
Lena shrugged and turned to her teammates. They shrugged too and one of them curled his finger around his ear.
"Let's hurry up and do this shit," she said, taking Yeti by the elbow. They all walked outside.
• • •
They spent most of the day gathering trash. Yeti had Lena call more people in, as many as she could, and they went to the city landfill and waited. And waited. The wind caressed Yeti and his new followers, about fifty total, with the bittersweet scent of burnt metal, rotten oranges, and old Christmas trees. He'd told them that when the crackling portal popped open, they would need to stuff as much garbage into it in a coordinated effort.
"Like synchronized swimming?" somebody asked.
Yeti didn't know what that was, but he nodded yes, exactly like synchronized swimming.
The first portal popped up about an hour later, sending a burning wave of fire searing across Yeti's chest. He didn't let it stop him. Yeti raised his hand and when he lowered it, all fifty of them threw heaping armfuls of trash into the opening. Electricity flicked out and fondled their offerings before it all disappeared within the opening. When the portal disappeared, a small mountain of garbage had as well. Yeti grinned. It was getting cooler. He barely felt the burns from the portal. Now only small rivers trailed down his back. Definitely cooler. He glanced at Lena, who raised an eyebrow at him.
"Where does all this stuff go?" she asked, wedging her index finger beneath her gold belt.
Yeti shrugged. "I don't know. Away from here, right?" Then he raised his fist and screamed "Death to global warming!"
The others cheered and threw old boxes of Chinese takeout into the air. Noodles flapped out of the box, and briefly took flight on the thermals above the garbage heaps before collapsing back to the ground.
Yeti leaned in and gave Lena a full-mouthed kiss. She pulled away, wiping spit from her mouth, but smiled.
"Want to come to the match tomorrow? We'll let you suit up with us."
Another portal popped up and they did the routine all over again.
• • •
When a new mountain appeared in the Himalayas, Anuja stood up from her gardening, her hand crooked over her forehead. The peak glistened, black in the sun, and suddenly, Anuja couldn't stop sweating. Drops rolled from her torso.
Her family crowded with her and watched the black mass grow throughout the day. As it towered into the sky, Anuja thought of Yeti. She blew on her arms, but the heat stuck to her skin.
• • •
Yeti cleared the landfill after a day. He paid his followers, let them take pictures of him flexing his muscles in various poses, and waited to cool off. He did mostly, but couldn't help going back to find more garbage to throw into the portal. Sometimes little beads of sweat still crept up on him, and he wanted to get a leg up on any extra garbage people tried to leave behind. He would be the destroyer of crap, the maintainer of cool, the creator of connection. Besides, every time the portal burned him he wanted to burn it back.
While Yeti worked, Lena sniffed at him, told him he smelled like baby shit, and sauntered off when he refused to leave.
"Don't go," he tried to reason with her, but she pulled her mask down over her face and shook his giant hands from her torso.
"Got a match. We're done here," she said.
"But I'm paying you. I can't fight in a match until I take care of this." Yeti spread out his hands in a plea.
"You're paying in potatoes. We can't afford to lose this match."
"Potatoes are good. They're filling," Yeti said, but Lena shook her head and walked away from the landfill, the rest of her teammates in tow. Yeti continued shoveling garbage up, ready to heave it out of sight. And then the portal came, always on schedule, flickering beams of light at him. Yeti dodged a lightning bolt and let the heaving mass of quivering trash in his arms fly.
Before the portal closed for good, he grabbed up a fallen bottle of ketchup, stuffed it into the void, and dusted his hands. The portal flickered out of view, and Yeti turned and headed for the exit, ready to sweep Lena off her feet and battle with her to victory.
He hadn't got very far when a great, belching groan echoed, and suddenly, the portal popped back up, vomiting piles of trash back onto him. He tried to run, but the portal heaved and heaved. A red ketchup bottle surfed the tide and crested above him. The garbage wave caught him, clasped onto his ankles, and buried him up to his waist in oil sludge and broken, moist eggshells. Another load of fodder squashed him. It didn't hurt so much as it burned.
The portal whispered to him from somewhere he could not see. He would stay home, the leavings his kingdom. As he stood encased within his tower of garbage, he thought of Lena and hoped Sasquatch wouldn't eat her. He thought of Anuja, together with her people. The garbage kingdom rubbed its skin against his own, pouring its sweat onto his sweat. As bolts of fire licked his body, he closed his eyes and let the ocean sweep him away.