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Going Numb

by Robin Laurinec 12 months ago in Short Story
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Tragedy in the Artic Circle

Benjamin could feel the cold wind whipping against the nylon side of the tent, and he pulled his blanket up closer around his ears. He listened to the howling for a few more moments, then nestled back down and attempted to fall back asleep. Beside him, Connor slept silently. Benjamin reached out a hand and gently brushed aside a strand of hair out of Connor's face. The young man stirred in his sleep and opened his eyes. They stared at each other for a few moments, then silently sat up and began packing up their wares.

They had been a part of a small crew to the Artic circle, on a scientific mission to study a new species of whales recently discovered in the icy abyss. But, despite the carefully laid blueprints and the multiple contingency plans, Mother Nature had decided to deal her own hand. Ice shelves just below the surface had torn a hole deep in the hull, causing the ship to sink in minutes. Over half the crew had gone down with the ship, along with all of the supplies except for three tents, one lifeboat, five sets of flint and steel fire starters, and water and food rations for a few weeks. Only seven people remained. They decided to split up into two sets of pairs and a group of three and spread out in search of any signs of civilization, with the agreement that if they hadn't found anything, they would regroup at the lifeboat to decide next steps.

That had been two weeks ago. Benjamin shoved a tin coffee pot into his bag and zipped it up. He was trying to keep his hopes up, but the horrible reality that he would freeze or starve to death before he made it back home was ever in the front of his mind. He glanced over at Connor. Connor was young, twenty years or so younger than Benjamin. A recent graduate with a degree in marine biology, this had been his first mission. And probably his last, Benjamin thought to himself. He quickly shook the thought from his mind. No, they were going to survive. They had to. There was no other option. Benjamin heard Connor cinch the rope tight against his backpack and swing it up on his shoulders. Connor nodded, and Benjamin unzipped the tent and stepped out into the freezing tundra. The tent came down quickly and soon the two were on their way.

Benjamin estimated that they were about less than a day's walk away from the lifeboat, although he couldn't really be sure. Out in this freezing environment, every minute felt like an hour. Benjamin's snow shoes slapped against the white powdery snow as the pair trudged on. After a few hours, they came upon a patch of trees and happily ducked amongst them. It was a welcomed break from the wind, and Benjamin plopped himself down in a large snowbank. Connor plopped down next to him and dug around in his bag. He drew out a piece of jerky, the last of their food.

"Do you want some?" he asked, holding the strip of meat out towards his partner. Benjamin shook his head.

"No, don't worry about me. I'm still fairly full. Besides," he said, bumping his shoulder playfully into Connor's small frame, "you need it more than I do!" The two laughed, and Connor put the strip in his mouth and tore a chunk off. Suddenly, there was a noise off to their left, like the snapping of a twig. Bejnamin leapt to his feet and whirled around. He reached into the small sheaf clasped onto his belt and pulled out the small hunting knife that he had brought with him for good luck.

"What was that?" Connor asked. His voice was shaky and his breaths were shallow and rapid.

"Shhh. I'm trying to listen." Another crack, this one louder. Now Connor was on his feet. They knew that there was the possibility of running into a bear so far north, which was the last thing that they needed. Benjamin nodded. "Come on. We should continue on and give whatever it is a wide birth to go around us."

"Ok." Connor said. Benjamin could hear he mock courage in his voice and smiled comfortingly.

"It's probably just a caribou, but it's best not to test our luck." Benjamin turned and forged ahead. Connor kept close to his heels, peering around him horrified. Benjamin glanced over his shoulder, then stopped. "Listen, we're going to be okay, all right? We are going to be--"

Suddenly, a form burst from the trees and barreled towards them. It was the shape of a man, and Benjamin squinted to make out his face.

"Gerald?" he gasped, surprised. The figure stopped a few feet away from them. Gerald's face was ragged, and his beard was flecked with blood. In his hand he clutched a bloodied machete. His eyes, wide and wild, flickered between Benjamin and Connor.

"Food!" he shrieked. He took a step towards them. Benjamin put a hand on Connor's shoulder and pulled him behind him.

"Gerald, what's happened? Where's John?"

"I'm... so... hungry," Gerald moaned, tightening his grip on his blade. With a quick moment, he lunged forward, clearing the space left between him and the pair. Benjamin shoved Connor out of the way and took the full brunt of the lunge. The two men collapsed into the snow and rolled around. Benjamin clamored on top of Gerald, and quickly punched downward.

"Connor run!" he shouted over his shoulder. He struck Gerald again, then boosted himself to his feet. He turned and plunged deeper into the forest. Several feet in front of him, he could make out Connor's form. His feet thudded against the ground, and his breath billowed in front of him. Soon the texture of the ground began to change, and the trees separated to reveal a small large frozen pond. He stopped and quickly glanced around. Behind him, he could hear Gerald catching up to him. Out on the ice, he could see Connor, slipping his way across.

"Connor, stop!" Benjamin shouted. Connor's arms wheeled as he froze in his tracks. He turned around and looked at the trail of cracks that echoed behind him, then up at Benjamin. His eyes were filled with terror. "Just stay there!" Benjamin shouted. He took a tentative step onto the ice, and began slowly making his way towards Connor.

"Benjamin, behind you!" Connor exclaimed. Benjamin wheeled around just as Gerald was coming up on him, knife held over his head. He plowed into him and the two of them crashed onto the ice.

The thin layer gave way, and the two of them plunged into the icy water below. Benjamin felt the knife slice through his upper arm, and he kicked out wildly. His foot made contact, and he felt the knife being wrenched from his arm. He swam upwards and collided with the ice. His hands thudded against it helplessly, and he looked around in panic for the hole to the surface. Seeing the small beam of light, he swam over it. His face broke the surface, and he gasped for air. Connor, kneeling at the edge of the hole, and reached out a hand. Benjamin reached up, and felt his fingers slide out of Connor's hand as he was pulled below the surface once more. He felt the blade enter his leg this time, and he thrashed around in pain. Looking down, he could see Gerald's eyes, pupils dilated into small specks of black. Benjamin felt a pressure on his back, and was hoisted out of the water. Connor heaved him up into the ice and pulled him away from the hole.

"You okay?" he gasped. Benjamin rolled over and began coughing out the water in his lungs. "Come on, we've got to go." Connor pulled Benjamin to his feet, and draped his arm over his shoulder. The two limped across the ice and onto more solid ground. A trail of blood oozed from Benjamin's leg. Connor was practically dragging him now, hoping to get as far away from the pond as possible. Benjamin collapsed on the ground and held his leg.

"I need to rest for a minute."

"There's no time for that, we need to--" Connor fell silent. Benjamin looked up and saw him frozen in place, a look of shock plastered onto his face. There was a horrible squish, and Connor fell to his knees. Standing behind him was Gerald, dripping wet. Without thinking, Benjamin stood up and quickly twisted the knife into Gerald's chest. Gerald gasped, then went limp and dropped into the snow. Benjamin yanked the knife out and plunged it back into his chest. Pushing the corpse aside, he sat up and clutched the knife to his chest.

"Ben..." Connor's voice was quiet and strained. Benjamin wheeled around. Connor's blood reddened the snow beneath him. His breaths were hollow and he stared up at the sky. Benjamin crawled over to him and scooped him up into his arms.

"Here," Benjamin said, loosening the straps of the backpack. "Let's get this off of you."

"I...I can't feel my legs," Connor gasped. Benjamin pressed his hand up against the leaking wound.

"You'll be okay. I promised to get you home didn't I?" The warm fluid flowed through Benjamin's fingers. "Oh God," he whispered. He looked around frantically for anything that could help as he stroked Connor's hair.

"I don't want to die," Connor breathed. He whimpered in pain and pulled himself closer to Benjamin's body. Benjamin continued running his hands through Connor's hair comfortingly. Tears streamed down Connor's face. Then, with one last gasp, his eyes went blank and his body sunk deeper into the snow.

Benjamin stared down at him for a moment, then gently placed Connor's body down on the ground. There was no time for a proper burial. The ground was too hard. By the time that he had a small mound built up over Connor's form, the snow had begun to fall harder. The life boat was only a few miles ahead, and he knew it would be a long shot to make it before nightfall. But what did he have to lose? he thought to himself. He knelt for a moment at the end of the mound, then, scooping up Connor's backpack, he stood up and disappeared into the snow swirling around him.

Short Story

About the author

Robin Laurinec

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