"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 49 If this be Hell p537~542

The wind had been snapping at their tent for the last
fifteen hours and those who were huddled inside listened
to its fury and tried to sink themselves in memories of
the past. Good or bad, it didn’t matter. It kept them
connected to something, it gave them a reason for being
where they were. Even with each other’s company, each
man in the tent felt very much alone.
In the small dim light of a lantern, Mason was busy
writing in his journal. It was for Mai-Ling and their
unborn child if anything should happen to him and the
way things were going, that idea didn’t seem so far
fetched. He stopped and blew some warm air into his
cupped hands to warm his fingers. He continued to write.
“…we are five days from the last depot we laid. Whoever
had killed Goodman and taken Wacha also looted our
supplies, I’m sure it wasn’t a bear. Obviously they know
our general direction. We made do with what we had, we
were able to salvage some canned goods and a bit of dog
food. As things are, we’re on minimum rations and I hope
the next depot is intact. It looks like we’ll be killing some
dogs earlier than expected. Too far from the SHY LADY
to go back, our only option is to move forward to the pole.
At this point I care little about the whale’s graveyard and
the incentives offered to me before. Being in this place
makes one realize what’s really important. Warmth and
food. I miss Mai-Ling, more now I think, than any other
time I’ve been away. She’s there and I’m here. I feel there
are things I should have told her, should have told her,
how important she is to me, are there words that can
really express that sentiment? Somehow “I love you” just
doesn’t seem to suffice. I wonder if I can ever find a way
to show her how much I do love her…” there was a cough
and Mason looked up. Peter was adjusting his position in
sleep, Dunn was yawning and Hollister was running his
finger against the wall of the tent. He returned to his
journal. “…ok, I should write about something else but
what? Regrets? I don’t think I have enough pages for that,
perhaps I should mention those which occupy my mind
the most. I regret not seeing my parents before they died,
I regret the tears my mother cried and the guilt my
father felt. I regret some of the pain and suffering that I
was responsible for in others but only some. Some people
asked for it and they got what they asked for. There were
times when the hurt was necessary but not all the time.”
He supposed that was as close to religion as he would
ever get. “I’ll write more when I can organize my
thoughts a little more clearly. I’m very tired and wish to
sleep.” He closed his journal and clutching it to his chest,
he brought his knees up and tried to make himself as
small as he could to conserve heat.
Hollister couldn’t sleep, not that that was unusual.
There was a writer, his name forgotten at the moment,
who suggested that hell was a cold, desolate place filled
with lost souls. The arctic convinced Hollister of that
truth. Was it necessary for him to be there? He thought
so. Nancy was right. After all these years, still felt guilty
for surviving the war in which so many other men had
died, so many good men. This was his penance to suffer
so but would it make any difference? No, not really. He
was beginning to see that now. The dead were dead and
nothing would change that, whether he was sitting in a
newspaper office in Chicago or freezing his ass off in the
arctic. Ahhhh, Pixie, he thought, you were right on so
many things, next time I’ll listen to you, if there was a
next time. This trip was certainly no walk in the park,
though he didn’t expect it to be. He was sorry about the
loss of Goodman and Michaels and hoped Wacha was still
alive, though he had his doubts on that. The question
that had been on everyone mind since they’d found
Goodman dead and Wacha missing, was who was after
them? What did they have that anyone would go to so
much trouble? It didn’t make sense, then again Hollister
knew that man was not a sensible creature. When he
thought about it, it didn’t make much sense for four men
to be sharing a small tent in a storm on unstable ice in
the middle of nowhere. He stretched his leg to avoid a
cramp he could feel coming on, his action pushing Peter
over some. The Eskimo said nothing and obligingly
moved. Hollister smiled. This whole time, he’d never
heard the Inuit complain or raise his voice in anger. He
accepted hardship as it came. The newspaperman
admired him.
He should have looked over his notes but he couldn’t
muster the energy. It was just easier to sit where he was.
He thought about his school days, long since past. His
best friends were Alexander Simon and Billy French.
They all had such big dreams and always talked about
their futures on the banks of an old stream with fishing
poles in hand. Alexander wanted to be a banker like his
father and live in a fancy house. Billy French wanted to
be a lawyer and go into politics. Those were such good
days, lazy days…but days like those never last. Captain
Alexander Simon, U.S. Army Volunteers, died of
dysentery in Andersonville. Billy didn’t die in the War
between the States, he survived but as a cripple. He lost
both legs as a sergeant serving with a Confederate
artillery battery. His dreams dashed, he took to the
bottle and in 1868, alone in an alley outside a third rate
saloon, he shot himself in the head. Hollister pulled the
reindeer sleeping bag closer to his body. Some memories
were too painful to keep.
Dunn wasn’t sleeping. His eyes were closed but he
wasn’t sleeping, he was listening to the wind. They were
probably further north than any human being had ever
been but he didn’t care about that. He didn’t believe in
the whales dying place but him being there saved his
sister and maybe him too. He’d made a decision,
something that he thought was right. He’d seen life and
knew he’d never be accepted by his father or brother, not
that it mattered. It wasn’t a relationship that he felt a
strong need to put any effort into. He always wondered
how his mother had put up with Pastor Joshua Dunn all
these years, then again she wasn’t a woman who needed
much in a relationship. She had a strong Christian faith,
a husband who provided for her and a son she was proud
of. Jabez was a strong leader in the church with a flock
that respected him. He knew his mother loved him but
he wasn’t his brother and never would be.
The arctic? Why did this cold place have such a hold on
him? It was a place that alienated him if such a thing
could be said. Offering a quiet peace the first time,
almost killing him the second time and now this third
trip, how would its final act come to be? What would
become of Isaac Dunn?
The air was getting stuffy. Dunn opened two upper tent
flaps, allowing some fresh air in and pushing the bad air
out. The new air was cold and flakes of snow fell inside.
Dunn closed the flaps and crawled deeper into his
sleeping bag. He wanted to sleep.
Peter felt the snowflakes on his cheek and opened his
eyes. Snow in the tent? Peter raised himself up on one
elbow. The others were asleep or at least appeared to be
so. He sat up and did his best to stretch but it was
difficult, the tent was crowded. Even so, he allowed
himself a few private moments which gave him the
illusion of being alone. He thought about his wife and
little Tah, he would be glad to see them again. This dying
place of the whales, Mason told him of, why was it so
important to them? To make this trip it must be but
why? He wished he could speak to Ahnah, maybe she
could give him some insight as to who might be chasing
them. Peter couldn’t shrug off the idea that somehow
Keelut was involved in all of this, it would be difficult to
think otherwise. There was a time, years before when
Peter could never conceive of a situation where Keelut
would want to hurt him or his family but that time was
long past. They could never be friends again, Peter began
to wonder if they really ever were.
He laid down and shifted to his left side. Sleep would
bring dreams and that’s what he wanted, to be in
familiar surroundings, to be with his family. He closed
his eyes and was soon with his wife and son, mother and
sister. The cold distant place with the howling wind that
he occupied with the others was soon forgotten.

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