Tattoo Book 6, part 2.19
Posted by harmony0stars on August 20, 2010
Was it the impact that startled her back to consciousness? A breath caused her to choke on the fine snow in which she’d landed. More snow was gently falling as she sat up. The crystals were so minute, they might as well have been dust. At least there was no wind, though it was cold enough with out it.
She coughed and sucked in air so sharp and dry it felt like knives in her throat. Phoenix? Glory prodded for him like a sore tooth, waiting for his response, but there was nothing. She was finally alone in her head. “Wonderful.” She coughed again. Absolute perfect timing. Wrapping her arms around herself, she sat back on her haunches and looked around. The mounds of snow reached her waist and sifted from her clothes with no sign of melting.
Only a few feet away, jagged rock stretched into the sky. It was a bleak world of black, white, and shades of gray. Glory staggered to her feet. She hadn’t exactly been dressed lightly, but neither had she been prepared for an arctic expedition. Already she couldn’t feel her fingers or toes, which was ironic considering how long Phoenix had kept her insensate.
The snow was deep but thankfully nearly weightless. She had a feeling it wouldn’t stay that way as the cold sapped her strength. At least the further she moved away from the crag at her back, the less snow there seemed to be. She found out why a moment later.
Glory stopped and covered her face as a gust of wind drove the snow into her eyes. When it finally let up, she let out a tiny cry of surprise and stepped back. No wonder the snow had petered out so much as she waded through it. She was within a foot of a drop that made the Grand Canyon seemed like a crack in the sidewalk. Shivering as much from the close call as from the cold, she took another step back and tripped over something hidden in the snow.
She landed on her butt and stared at the man lying curled up in the fetal position. “Aaron?” It couldn’t be, but there was no mistaking him. He was even wearing the same clothes.
Grabbing him by his shirt, she pulled him back from the edge. The snow made hauling him easier, but only just. However he’d gotten there, a few more inches and he would have gone over the side. Even if he wasn’t conscious, at least he was breathing. Glory scanned the rock as she dragged Aaron across the frozen plateau. Her eyes followed the crag upwards. At the very top of the mountain, there appeared to be a structure nearly obscured by the clouds and falling snow. It was a lot closer than the bottom of the mountain unless she felt like using Aaron as bobsled.
Still coughing in the dry air, she dragged Aaron towards the darkest part of the rock face, hoping there might be some shelter there. She didn’t think about stopping. It wasn’t an option. Every bit of her body hurt, but her hands might as well have been frozen solid. She only knew that she still had a hold of Aaron by the strain in her shoulders as she dragged him through the snow.
As she pulled Aaron into the darkness, she collapsed to her knees and crawled into the cave hidden by the shadows and light of the snowfield. She almost let herself rest there, but it was too cold to stay so close the entrance. Glory grabbed Aaron again and continued to pull him into the darkness. He was a lot harder to drag him without the snow to provide slippage. Snowblind and exhausted, Glory slowed and finally stopped moving, resting her head on the rock and waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. It wouldn’t do them any good if she pulled them over the edge of some hidden crevice after barely avoiding the cliff’s edge outside.
With a shudder, she forced her eyes open. Her cry of surprise died in her throat as she weakly fell back and away from the mummified man who lay where he had fallen. There was no way of telling how long ago he had died. The cold had leached every bit of moisture from his body until he was nothing more than a skeleton with a veneer of leathery flesh under his parka.
Glory stared at him a long time before the other bodies swam into focus. Apparently she was not the first person to take shelter in the cave. Her stomach lurched at the thought that entered her head, but she couldn’t afford to be finicky… and the men lying on the floor and against the far wall of the cave surely no longer needed the furs that held their bones together.
Holding her breath, despite the fact that the mummies could not possibly smell, Glory stripped the first man of his furry coat. Her fingers trembled over the leather ties, and it almost seemed like a miracle when she got the last one undone. Pulling the coat off the dead man’s back, she draped it on the ground next to Aaron and rolled him into it before tying the coat shut without bothering to suit him up properly. Stumbling with exhaustion, she went to the next nearest body. She barely felt it when she pulled the coat on, but it would take time for her body to produce enough heat to make a difference unless she could find something to burn.
Her eyes had adjusted to the dim cave enough that she found the remains of a fire almost immediately, but anything that might have burned had been used up long ago by the men who were now dry as cordwood themselves. She held an abandoned piece of flint and a pouch of tinder for several seconds before her mind fastened on the only thing in the cavern left to burn. She drew a ragged breath and went back to the first body. Silently apologizing to the man’s spirit, she stripped it and dragged it to the blackened rock. The corpse was surprisingly brittle, his limbs snapping easily. She tore some of his clothes into strips and draped it over the bones and desiccated flesh.
It took longer than she would have liked to get the fire going, but it wasn’t like she’d ever started a fire the old fashioned way before. When she was sure that it wasn’t going to go out, she crawled back to Aaron and pulled him closer. Glory would have liked nothing more than to lie down next to him to soak in the warmth of the flames. Instead, she lurched back to the second body, stripping it and breaking it up into kindling as well, all the while apologizing and thanking the spirits of the dead men for the resources that just might allow them to survive.
Glory didn’t stop until all the bodies, half a dozen in number, had been stripped and prepared for the fire. A rusty hand axe allowed her to hack up the torso, and she felt her body becoming warm again as she worked. Even then, she couldn’t rest however. If she fell asleep and the fire went out, they would be fuel for the next travelers to find the cave. She took the extra coats and wrapped them around Aaron’s legs and her own. Whoever the men had been, they’d left behind little but themselves. Beyond their clothes, which she tore into strips and fed to the fire whenever it seemed to be burning low, there was precious little left of the ill fated expedition.
to Book 6, part 2, page 20