Trial by Ice(10)
Author:Casey Calouette

    The chill was shocking in its intensity. He tightened his jacket and stumbled along the edge of the tent. There wasn’t a person in sight. He slid his way up towards the tent with the wounded and stood listening to the wind.

    Below him sat the barely visible tip of the stake attached to a tightened loop of coated wire. He squatted down next to the wall as if huddling from the cold and worked to remove it from the stake.

    “Why don’t you come inside?” Vito asked from around the corner.

    Berry froze. The loop was still locked into the stake in front of him. “Your stake worked loose.”

    “Oh?” Vito walked closer and squatted down. “Hmm, I’m going to check the rest.”

    Berry nodded and began to walk towards the other tent.

    “Thank you!” Vito called.

    Berry waved and found another stake to wiggle and work on in silence.

    The day went on like those before with wind punishing those outdoors while those inside listened to the incessant howls in dread of when they would have to go back out. The slabs of aluminum, once covers to the dropcap supplies, now made an ideal sledge. Each had gussets on the lid that acted as slight skis helping them track straight. The only downfall was they required weight at all times. When empty they flipped and acted as a giant sail.

    A slight break in the clouds and wind hit about mid afternoon and the work hastened even quicker. Supplies were piled nearby and the rocks were studded like a porcupine with the wedged sleds. The only concern was deflating the shelters and stowing them away.

    A dim black line appeared on the horizon. At first it looked like a shadow crawling until a dark wall of storm clouds began to loom. The boiling and reeling front edge crashed in and over itself like a shattered wave on a stony shore. In a few short minutes it was upon them with a howling roar. Outside of the tents was only a wall of white. Travel between tents was impossible.

    The men tried to move but all were driven back with mouths, eyes and nostrils packed with silty white crystals. The snow itself didn’t even have time to form proper flakes and instead was like chips of ice slammed against everything. It slowly seeped through the seals and against the flaps of the doors.

    The men sat and watched in wonder and awe as the violence only increased. The blasts they had felt days before ended in an hour or two. This storm just seemed to be getting started.

    “Spread out!” William shouted as the walls of the tent seemed to rise and buckle.

    The men scurried around the tent and slid near the walls. The fabric, a weave of materials without a definable grain, strained and popped as the loads shifted. The floor lifted in the center before setting back down in a quivering flutter. The domed shape generated enough lift to momentarily levitate the shelter.

    William huddled in his sleeping bag and watched the men around him. Most sat with eyes closed, though some huddled tight to those around them and watched the walls. Eduardo sat close to the reactor and watched it with an idle eye. The walls slapped against his back like an angry fish.

    “Do you think the sleds are still outside?” William called to Sebastien.

    “Maybe, we’ll see.” Sebastien replied with closed eyes.

    William watched him a moment and tried to see any enhancements. He’d heard of the Core Marines, but had never seen one up close.

    A sudden crack boomed over the wind. The men sat upright looking around fearfully. Eduardo leaped out of his sleeping bag and tapped on the control panel of the strider reactor.

    “One coil is out!”

    William slid along the floor over to the reactor. The floor shuddered under him.

    “The medical tent?”

    “No, no, the other,” Eduardo replied as he slammed his fingers down on the console.

    William rushed to the door flap and felt the wind pushing against the overlapping panels. Each blast strained the doors. Could he open it? If he did would the interior billow and pop?

    Crow came to his side and held the cable in his hands. “We can follow it out.”

    William nodded and grasped the slick black conductor. Tero came alongside and shed his sleeping bag. Kwesi ran up and began to tie a piece of electrical cord around his waist.

    “Like Kwesi!” William called. “Pass us some more cable!”

    Men scrambled and patted and odd handfuls of electrical conductor came up front. William collected it all and the group tied off. Spare jackets came up and the crew prepared as best they could. In the back of the room Grue and Berry were arguing, Sebastien stood near with a cocked head.

    “They’re already dead! Open that door and our tent goes too, you’ll kill us all!” Grue called out as he climbed over people to get to the door. His eyes were wide, filled with white. The corners of his mouth were flecked with spittle along his gray chapped lips.

    “We’ve got to look!” William shouted back.

    Kwesi grasped Grue by the hand and looked him in the eyes. “Man, if you were out you’d want someone to be a looking too!”

    Grue pulled his hand back as if stung and stared back before retreating back to Berry’s side. Anger seeped out of the pair.

    William turned to the door. Beyond it was a seething angry mass of wind and ice. He turned to the men behind him. “We follow the rope, go out, find the end and sweep while it’s taut. If you find something stop and slap the mans shoulder in front of you.” He looked at the Kwesi, Crow and Tero. “We bring em back.”

    He slid his mittened hand through the flap and felt the cold sear against it. With a slight hiss the door opened more, further than he wanted. Selim rushed to his side and pushed the bottom of the flap in preventing it from flailing open.

    It seemed to resist, to want to drive him inside, before he erupt throughed the door. It was like standing inside a bucket of white paint. He turned his head, opened his mouth, gagged and focused on breathing. He stumbled a few steps out before he tripped and fell.

    A stiff hand pushed and he felt for the electrical conductor. It led forward into the white. He stood and pushed his head downward fighting, gasping, to breath through the ice and wind. Drifts of ice had formed like sheets of concrete over the cable that they fought to free and continue.

    He dreaded finding a survivor and trying to get them back. They could barely stay upright themselves and he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. A slight tear in the knee of his pants had ripped wide open and the wind had numbed it into a leaden slab. He was shivering now and began to hunch further forward.

    The white had enveloped them all as they shambled into the maelstrom. Each could sense the other but could see nothing. A sudden wind slammed against them dropping them to the ground. William lost his grip on the cable and felt himself tugged only by the waist cord. The wind slammed hard, pushing him down, the only bearing he had was his waist pulling against the cable.

    He gasped, slid, and clawed his way back to the main cable and found a hand pulling him back in. He knelt and tried to catch his breath before standing and stumbling forward. He was grateful for Kwesi, though it made him even more aware of those caught in the open.

    Finally the moment came that he feared. The cable ended. Kwesi pushed up against his back and halted. William turned and began to swing sideways in an arc. Nothing felt the same, he had no bearings, nothing to guide him, just the tightness of the cable behind him. His footsteps shuffled further, it felt like he was moving upwards but he just couldn’t tell.

    The cable tugged and a hand slapped him heavily on the back. He turned slowly and crept forward until he ran into the other men. He leaned forward and felt the ground in front of him, patting gently on the drifts. There. A hard mass like a stone. He slid his face closer and tried to block the wind. All he could see was the whiteness.

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