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Ran into this story from a twitter post from the author, but cannot seem to find it.

The point of view character was a wealthy frequent climber who was on the mountain in a group including his boss and a Sherpa. At some point during the climb, they meet another climber, a woman I believe, on their way up. The Sherpa is uneasy with her presence and advises them to stay clear. Later, conditions turn dangerous, leading the boss and the main character to separate from the group. When separated, they meet the woman again, who declares that they are dead and waits for the main character to leave the boss behind before munching on the boss, rather peacefully.

I don't quite recall what happened after. I believe the man and the Sherpa made it, with a possible mention of missing a few fingers due to the cold.

It focused on themes of gentrification of the climb and how the climbers don't belong there, exploiting the labour of Sherpas for their own thrill, which I recall thinking was weakened by the ambiguous origins of the monster, who also was described as merely using the mountain as a convenient hunting ground without having any ties to it.

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  • When did you read that Twitter post? Feb 23 at 21:31
  • sometime in the last.. three years?
    – OganM
    Feb 23 at 21:35
  • 1
    I've read this! Not sure if I can track down the title again though.
    – Shawn
    Feb 23 at 22:51

1 Answer 1

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This is "The Eight-Thousanders" by Jason Sanford. It was originally published in the September-October 2020 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.

The POV character, Keller, is on an expedition to climb Mount Everest with his venture capitalist boss, Ronnie Chait, and their Sherpa, Nyima.

Others are attempting to climb the mountain as well, and Keller stumbles upon a fallen, dying man during his group's ascent, but Ronnie insists that the man is too far gone, and that they need to leave him and move on if they're going to make the summit.

No one else had noticed the man. Or they’d ignored him like all the dead bodies we passed on Everest.

I waved for Ronnie Chait, my boss and our expedition’s leader. Ronnie stumbled over in his red high-tech coat and pants. He was attempting his fifth summit of Everest and his first without a supplemental oxygen system. Back at base camp other expedition leaders had grumbled about Ronnie leading people to the summit while not using oxygen. But no one dared confront Ronnie. He was one of the richest men in the world and known for both his love of mountain climbing and his hard-ass attitude toward business and life.

Ronnie knelt before the freezing man.

“He’s too far gone,” Ronnie said. “Must have been up here overnight.”

[...]

“Nothing to be done, Keller,” Ronnie said as he laid his hand on my shoulder. “We can’t help him. But staying here will keep us from reaching the summit.”

An unknown woman in a faded red parka shows up and and says she'll stay with the fallen man while Keller, Ronnie and Nyima continue their ascent. Nyima seems unnerved by the woman and urges Keller to get moving.

“I’ll stay with him,” a voice said above the hiss of my regulator.

A short woman stood beside Nyima. She wore a parka so faded the red was nearly pink. Her insulated pants and boots were black and also faded while mountain goggles covered the top of her face in one big rainbow-reflecting lens. An older-style rubber oxygen mask covered her mouth, nose and chin, ensuring no skin was exposed to the sun or the cold. But the line leading from the mask dangled loose, unattached to any oxygen canister.

“Truth,” the woman said. “I’ll stay. Continue your climb.”

Nyima stared at the woman through his icy goggles. His oxygen mask shivered as if he couldn’t gasp enough air. He muttered something in the Sherpa language before grabbing my arm and hustling me to the line of waiting climbers.

[...]

“Keep climbing, Keller,” Nyima yelled. “Just climb, damn it.”

They make it to the summit, but on the way back down, Keller and Ronnie fall behind Nyima and the rest of their group, and encounter the woman in the faded red parka again, who is now openly drinking blood from the neck of the man she stayed behind with.

The woman in the faded red coat stood before us on the mountain’s edge, right beside a sheer drop of a thousand meters or more. Her face and hands were no longer covered now that the sun was hidden by shadows. She cradled the frozen man in her arms like a child and bit into his neck. Red sprayed across the spindrift snow. The man didn’t move, either dead or so far gone he felt no pain.

The woman turned toward me and Ronnie and smiled, the blood on her lips and chin instantly freezing.

The woman (who subsequently introduces herself as 'Ferri') tells Keller and Ronnie that she waited for them and that they're already dead; not because she intends to kill them, but because of the harsh conditions of the environment itself, which have already killed several others.

“I waited for you two,” she said. “You’re already dead, you know.”

[...]

“Don’t worry—I won’t kill you. But you started your descent too late. The jet stream’s shifting. The storm and wind will hit before you reach camp.”

[...]

The woman stepped back to the rock overhang, allowing us room to pass. “You idiots call that the Rainbow Valley,” she said, pointing to the drop-off. “From all the dead climbers in their bright parkas and gear. For what it’s worth, I didn’t kill any of them.”

She follows Keller and Ronnie during their descent, neither helping nor hindering them. She explains that she dislikes killing people, but that she must feed, so she's regularly visited Everest during the last forty years in order to feed without killing.

“You from here?”

“No. From what you now call Italy, but centuries ago. I’ve been climbing this mountain for the last forty years.”

“Why?”

Ferri reached up and pushed against the tent fabric which the wind shoved down at our faces. “I mislike killing people. But I must feed. So many people die climbing this mountain that I can feed without killing. I come here every year or two.”

Keller eventually determines that Ronnie (who chose not bring any supplemental oxygen with him, due to his egotism) is slowing him down, and leaves him behind to ensure his own survival. Ferri tells Keller not to worry, and that she'll stay with Ronnie.

With my ice axe’s saw tool, I cut the rope between me and Ronnie and stepped away.

Ronnie grabbed the overhang, trying to stand, but was too weak. He glared at me from behind his snow goggles. His frostbitten lips opened, closed, opened again without saying anything.

“Don’t worry,” Ferri yelled, hopping down and sitting beside Ronnie. “I’ll stay with him.”

Ronnie pushed himself back into the small cave created by the overhang, as if trying to escape Ferri. She patted his leg.

I hiked on.

An hour later I cleared the jet stream and the worst of the storm.

Keller and Nyima make it back to their base camp, and while laid up in a medical tent, the frostbitten Keller is visited by Ferri, who is now wearing Ronnie's clothes and asks Keller whether climbing Everest was worth the injuries he sustained along the way.

The tent fell quiet as the doctor and nurses carried the severely injured climber to the first medivac. That’s when Ferri entered. She wore a brand-new red coat and snow pants, both too big for her body. Ronnie’s clothes.

Ferri walked among the other injured climbers, tasting the air over each person’s cot before stopping at mine. She leaned over so her tongue almost licked my right ear. She pointed at her new red coat.

“Ronnie stripped naked before the end,” she whispered. “So delirious from cold he thought he was burning up.”

I nodded, even though I didn’t want to know details like this.

Ferri sniffed my right eyeball. “You’re going to lose your nose. And half your fingers and toes. But you climbed Everest. Was it worth it?”

The term 'vampire' is never actually used in the story, but with her fangs and thirst for blood, her apparent aversion to sunlight, and her self-professed multi-century lifespan, Ferri appears to be something very similar, if not exactly that.

You can read the full story on Apex Magazine's site.

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    That's the one I was thinking of, though I read it here by way of sfsite. Got to be what OP is looking for.
    – Shawn
    Feb 23 at 23:26
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    Yup. The very site
    – OganM
    Feb 23 at 23:57
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    +1 good find and cool story. One missing bit of characterization is that Ferri, though perhaps cruel in her taunting, doesn't seem to be evil. It's almost like a cross between a vampire and an angel of death. She needs to feed but she chose not to kill, so she preys on climbers that die on their own, while providing some degree of solace to them, since she provides company in their final moments. She doesn't seem to actively kill them; she claims she renounced killing.
    – Andres F.
    Feb 24 at 0:15
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    Maybe she represents a jiāngshī. It is roughly the right part of the world, and she is described as "hopping." Alternately, in keeping with the psychopomp theme that you mentioned, perhaps she represents Charon ("Ferri" = "Ferry").
    – Adamant
    Feb 24 at 2:26
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    @Adamant I also thought of the Ferri = Charon connection! She claims she comes from Italy, which is closer to the Charon myth than China.
    – Andres F.
    Feb 24 at 6:09

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