"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 43 Thin Ice p492~501

They were still in their fourth week of travel. It felt as
if they’d been out there forever, the frozen landscape
around them seemingly endless, stretched into eternity.
The party had stopped briefly so Mason and Dunn could
check their position, hoping the numbers might make
everyone feel like they were accomplishing something
where they were. Still, after their figures, the numbers
didn’t show much, they would need to push even harder.
“Christ!” said Mason in disgust, “we’ve only gone 15
miles in two days.”
“I know Captain, but at least we’re moving in the right
direction. You got to remember sir this ain’t the North
woods we’re going through.”
“Yeah, I know Isaac but 15 miles is shit, all the sweat
were losing here I figure it’s gotta be more than that.”
Dunn rubbed his nose with the back of his mitten,
“Still, it’s better than fourteen,” he said with some
common sense logic.
Mason spit a glob of phlegm into the snow. “Yeah, well
maybe we can make up some extra miles today. Man, am
I tired.” He said wearily. “I’d forgotten how hard this
place could be.” He looked at the second mate and
grinned, “And I used to think pulling an oar with a whale
behind was hard.”
Dunn coughed and nodded. “Captain, pulling an oar
with a whale behind ya is hard,” he said, “this is just a
different kinda hard, that’s all.”
Mason looked at his second mate with some concern.
“You alright?”
“What, this cough? It ain’t nothing. Figure I picked up
a cold afore we left New Bedford.”
“You sure?” asked Mason.
Dunn nodded, “Yeah, when I was with the Inuit before
I was never sick. Hell, Captain I figure I’ll be over this in
a couple a days. It ain’t nothing.”
“Yeah, well, if ya feel worse you let me know, ok?”
“Yeah, Captain,” he sniffed, “no problem. Besides I got
an incentive at the next depot.”
“And what might that be, Isaac?”
The second mate smiled, “Two good bottles of whiskey.”
“Two?” asked Mason. “Don’t ya think that’s a bit
extravagant?”
Dunn shrugged, “Well ya know Captain, it’s a long
trip!”
Mason smiled. “That’ll be all good an’ well. Lord knows,
I could use a belt, how’s the rest of the supplies holding
out?”
Dunn shook his head “No problems, Captain. We got
more than enough, trust me, we ain’t gonna starve out
‘ere.”
“How are the dogs?”
“I always look at ‘em after we make camp. The Eskimo
dogs is good and I brought enough dog booties for the
ones with soft feet,” said Dunn. “We’ve been pretty
fortunate so far.”
Mason understood. On the return trip it would be
necessary to shoot some of the animals for food as needed
but to lose any of them now would pose problems for the
sledging party and a logistical nightmare. If they left any
frozen dog carcasses behind, it was doubtful they would
be where they were left on the return trip. Bears and
seals get hungry too.
“Well, Isaac let’s keep things running as smoothly as
we can, there are enough problems out here as is.”
“Yes, sir,” said Dunn turning to see Hollister
approaching them.
“Captain, Isaac, how do things look?”
“Well,” said Mason, “as Mr. Dunn has commented, we
are moving in the right direction.”
Hollister grunted, “Well, that’s good news at least.”
“Sorry, you don’t have more to write about, Jack,” said
Mason.
Hollister waved the comment away, “Not a problem
Captain, that’s where imagination comes in handy.”
“Still,” said Dunn, “I be thinking you must really be
stretching it, Jack. I mean your descriptions of darkness
and snow will only go so far with your readers, I’m
guessing.”
Hollister laughed. “Well, the dogs make for some pretty
interesting copy Isaac.”
“Yeah,” said the second mate, “I can imagine.”
Goodman came up to the three men. “Captain,
everything is ready to go on your say so, sir.”
Mason nodded, “Thank you Goodman, we’ll be leaving
in ten minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” said the dog driver turning away.
“Oh…and Goodman,” said Mason. “We’ll put Michaels
up front awhile, let him give his dogs a good run.”
Goodman cocked his head to the side. “Ya think that’s
wise Captain, I mean Mike, he ain’t got much experience
up here’s ya know.”
Mason controlled his irritation with the dog driver who
was making a habit of questioning Mason’s decisions.
“None of us have much experience Goodman, Michaels
has the lead until we camp.”
“Yes, sir, I’m just…”
“Michaels has the lead Goodman,” said Mason in a tone
that was without a doubt, final.
“Yes, sir,” said Goodman. He knew better than to argue
with Mason, but he was content to know that he had
gotten under the Captain’s skin a little. He walked over
to inform Michaels of the Captain’s decision and give him
a chance to air his grievances to a sympathetic ear.
Damn him! Thought Mason, if he’d known Goodman
was going to be such a problem, he would have left the
son of a bitch back on the ship. Well, they were all in this
together, whether they liked it or not, still he was going
to have to deal with Goodman before things got worse.
Dunn disliked seeing Mason put in such a position.
“Excuse me sir,” he said and left Mason and Hollister to
follow the landsman. “Goodman!” he said, the dog driver
continued walking. “Goodman!” Dunn said in a louder
voice, “Stop right where you are!”
The man stopped and with bored resignation, turned to
face the mate who was none too happy. “What do you
want?” he asked as if he was being bothered.
Dunn stepped up. “Listen you arrogant little shit.
When the captain tells you to do something you do it,
understand?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, listen to the captain.”
Dunn grabbed him by the front of his parka. “There is
a lot at stake here, you fuck! So get your act together!”
Goodman twisted away from Dunn and nodded, “Yeah,
ok,” he sneered, “Mr. Dunn!” he turned and walked to his
sled.
Christ! thought Dunn, they should’ve left the son of a
bitch back at the ship.
Goodman walked up to Michaels, “Captain says you’re
gonna take the lead.”
Michaels smiled. “That’s great!” said the younger driver.
“Give my dogs a good run.”
“Yeah, whatever. Just be mindful of what you’re doing
Mike, this ain’t no forest trail.”
“Is something the matter Goodman?” asked Michaels,
noticing the hardness of his
companion’s voice.
The angry driver spat into the snow. “Ahh, fucking
Mason and Dunn, they think they know every fuckin’
thing!”
“I don’t know Goodman, they don’t seem like such bad
guys.”
“They’re assholes,” said Goodman.
Ten minutes later the sleds were on the way, moving
fast across the cold alien landscape. They were able to
make good time for they were fortunate that the ice the
dogs scrambled over, pulling their heavy loads, was
relatively smooth and it wasn’t long before Michaels had
a good lead on the party. He moved farther ahead,
enjoying the speed and open expanse before him. This
was living, at least he thought so. He was still thinking
that when a loud crack, a noise not unlike that of a rifle
shot, sounded out. Michaels being occupied with his
thoughts and speed and because of the dark as well, did
not notice that the ice farther ahead of him began to
crack open. The frozen platform which supported him
and the others was splitting rapidly. When Michaels
finally did see the oncoming disaster, he attempted to
check the dogs and skirt the open ice. The dogs, in their
fan arrangement, moved their mass to the right, causing
Michaels and the sled to veer hard to the left, breaking
into an area of thin ice and into the frigid waters below.
“Help me!” screamed the young man, “oh Jesus, help
me!” The dogs struggled on the slick ice to keep from
being pulled under by the weighted sled. The party,
seeing the disaster ahead, cracked their whips to get to
the unfortunate man as quick as they could.
“Mike, hold on we’re coming!” shouted Goodman.
The sleds reaching a safe and stable distance, we’re
stopped and turned over on their sides.
Goodman grabbing some coiled rope, trudged over to the
edge of the broken ice. “Mike!” he shouted, “hang on!”
Michaels struggled, his eyes showing primitive animal
fear as he pawed at the ice, his clothes soaked with sea
water making him sink faster as he struggled. “Help
me!” he cried. “Oh Christ Jesus, help me please!”
Mason and Dunn made it to where Goodman was
laying flat on the reaching out with hands shed of
mittens but anyone could see it was a useless gesture.
The heavy sled pushed the driver deeper and deeper into
the water and within minutes the man ceased struggling
and slipped under the cold dark waters.
Peter rushed to the tagline the dogs were attached to
and quickly and quickly sliced it releasing the animals
from the same fate that had befallen their unfortunate
master. With Wacha’s help he was able to control them.
All watched as the sled vanished into the abyss, gone
forever.
“What the fuck did you do?!” screamed Goodman. “You
fuckin’ savage, you killed him!”
Peter breathing heavily, shook his head. “No, he was
dead already. There was nothing we could do.”
“Bullshit!” yelled Goodman pulling out his knife. “You
killed him!”
Mason and Dunn stood up. One man was gone, they
didn’t need to lose anymore. “Goodman,” said Mason.
“Put the knife down, he’s right, he couldn’t be saved.”
“Convenient, captain!” sneered Goodman, “but you’re
the one that sent him ahead. This is just as much your
fault as that murdering Eskimo!”
Dunn stepped forward. “Goodman, listen, he’s dead.
There was nothing we could do to save him, there was
nothing we could do about it. If Peter hadn’t cut the dogs
loose, we would of lost them too.”
Goodman shook his head. “Michaels is dead and you’re
all responsible, all of you!” he began to back toward his
sled where his rifle was. “Maybe it’s time to even the
score!” he was so preoccupied with Mason, Dunn and
Peter that he didn’t hear Hollister behind him until it
was too late. A quick knock on the back of the head put
the belligerent man down like a sack of potatoes.
“Thanks Jack,” said Mason, leaning down to check
Goodman.
“He’ll be alright captain,” said the newspaperman.
“Something I learned from the bully boys on the south
side.”
“Damn good thing,” said the captain. “Dunn, what have
we lost?”
The second mate wiped his brow. “I’d have to check the
inventory but right off the top of my head I’d have to say
one sleeping bag, one rifle, a quarter of our medical
supplies, half of our provisions and some of the dog food.”
Hollister, though somewhat taken back by the men’s
casual attitude to the death of the driver, looked at Dunn.
“Half our provisions?”
“Yeah, well,” said Dunn, “The other sleds is carrying
the dog food, tents and ammunition plus all the other
shit we got.”
“Christ! I knew it! We’re gonna starve out here,” said
Hollister.
“Relax, Jack” said Mason. “If anything we can eat some
of the dog food, we got enough to get to the next depot,
we’ll be ok.” He looked at the dark swirling water that
had taken Michaels and his sled. “Damned sorry about
the kid. Goodman was right, I should’ve had someone
else take the lead, I should have done it.”
Dunn shook his head, doubt and lack of confidence
were a bad things in this place, it was one of the things
that got you killed. “It wouldn’t have made any difference
captain. If the ice wants ya its gonna get ya.”
“That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think Isaac?” said
Hollister.
Dunn looked at the newsman. “This is a harsh and
unforgiving place Jack, it would be a mistake to forget
that.”
Mason looked around and sighed. “Let’s get to some
safer ground, we’ll make camp and take stock of what we
got. Get some rest.”
“And figure out our next move?” asked Hollister.
Mason shook his head. “That part’s easy. We move on.”
The men nodded and without another word, walked
back to their sleds.

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