The Northern Yukon can be a God-forsaken, desolate place entirely unfit for human presence. The land aggressively fights off any intruders, whether by water, wind, or spiteful, creeping cold. Even the native Gwich’in peoples would migrate southward when the air got too angry.
I loved that shit. Unlike people, the great outdoors has the decency not to hide the fact that deep down, it’s an asshole.
It’s why people rarely visited. And in driving everyone away until I was entirely alone, I was able to shake off the rotten crust that forms around the edges of our lives, the byproduct of unfulfilled dreams and apathy.
I didn’t need to go to a church. Churches concentrated the problems, they didn’t purify them.
This trip, though, has proven more soul-cleansing than even I had signed up for. See, we become arrogant enough to believe that the world revolves around humans, and just assume that there’s a big white nothing where we decide not to step foot.
Remember that every random occurrence in your life is the Bigger World laughing at the notion that we are anywhere near the center of it.
The trip was a birthday present to myself. We all know what we want to be surprised with, so I gave everyone I knew the privilege of taking care of it myself.
The resort, if you could call it that, is just four cabins on the tip of a peninsula. It had a record of 1,913 straight days where the low temperature was never more than ten degrees above freezing. I took a plane to a bus to another plane to a car to a snowmobile to an outboard motor dingy just to get to the spot where I had to begin walking to get there.
Fifty years. Half a century. But when you’re walking entirely alone through the snow, and not even the birds challenge nature’s whiteout with either plumage or pitch, that’s when time becomes real.
We get so damn impatient waiting for the next demand, delivery or day off that we forget that time doesn’t get renewed. Counting down the days to whatever seems so important is nothing more than, quite literally, dying a little.
A few hours ago, my face was shoved so deeply into this fact that I can still taste it on my beard.
Jack, the owner, was the only other person at the resort. It was perfect.
I nodded at him as I passed by his cabin on my way to one of the nearby lakes. The weather was perfect for ice fishing, and this particular lake was small enough to have been frosted from tip to tip.
It was the ideal serving platter, really.
When the hole was cut, the line dropped, and my seat set, I eased myself down and took in the silence.
The ground and sky can be white at the same time, appalling both the sense of time and of space. The wind whipped around just lightly enough to stir up thoughts, give them life, and have them chase each other about while I watched.
With the passage of enough time, thought and sense become one.
I’m sure that’s where the First Nations peoples came up with the Waheela. It’s a pure white beast that can move seamlessly in and out of both the snow and the mind.
My thoughts seemed to take shape out there on the ice, and time started to make me sick.
I decided that I needed to leave.
I had hoped that my ill feelings would subside by the time I had packed everything.
You know that feeling that you’re being watched? There is at least comfort in the idea that you’re not alone, and you know what’s watching you.
Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel watched and to be utterly alone at the same time?
I started to jog.
With the near whiteout conditions, I was using my sense of hearing to balance almost as much as my vision.
When the wind (growls?) whipped from my right ear to my left, I almost lost my balance. The same sound then shot from behind me to in front of me with no corresponding visual, and left me only with the sensation of speed.
Just the wind.
But… the wind is an ocean. Not an object.
I was unable to move any faster.
I strained to hear the sound again amongst the buzzing wind.
And I realized that it was the wind. Or, more accurately, the wind was the sound.
We can feel wind. It can ruffle my beard.
There was no wind today. But there was a distant buzzing sound that had been registering in my subconscious for longer than I could remember. Now I realized that it was the distant noise of whatever had just brushed by.
It got nearer.
Buzz. Slash. Whoosh.
I nearly fell over. I was moving very slowly through the snow.
Then one touched me.
It was a graze, but it was aggressive enough to make me stumble. I nearly fell.
Then I was knocked back into the other direction, which balanced me out.
I dropped the fishing equipment and ran.
I could see shapes swirling around me. White fur on white snow on white sky flitted in and out of my vision at a speed that made a mockery of my attempted sprint.
The cold air burned my lungs. I ran faster.
I was in full survival mode, which meant not thinking too much. The little mental energy that I did have at my disposal was focused on one question:
What the fuck are these things?
I wanted an answer.
I needed an answer.
Then I got an answer, or at least part of one, and wished I hadn’t.
It flashed in the corner of my eye, just briefly enough so that it was more speculation than memory.
The thing was bigger and whiter than a polar bear. It ran as a fluid, bending to all manner of curvature and speed.
I think I saw its face. I don’t believe what I saw was just imagination.
I saw a snout. I saw tusks.
I know I saw the eyes, because they made the least sense of anything.
There were no pupils or irises. There was only red.
And I swear that they were illuminating their own light.
And I know that at least one of them was smiling.
They increased the frequency of their collisions with me as I pulled away from the lake and ran desperately toward safety. The knocks came from all directions, so they weren’t forcing me to take any path.
I saw the cabin. I thanked whatever deity was listening.
The thought began to brew in my mind that there might not be safety in the cabin, though – that there might not be safety anywhere.
I wasn’t thankful for the deity after that.
I could feel the tears freeze on my nose.
I ran faster.
The hits were getting aggressive now, and extremely painful. When one almost shattered my knee from the side, I collapsed.
Get up get up get up
I got up and ran again. If my leg had sustained major damage, I couldn’t feel it at the moment.
The red eyes flew across the white horizon. They left trails in the air as they slid past.
That’s when I really thought about dying for the first time. Would it be better to focus on a quick end instead of a fruitless hope for survival?
Isn’t the purpose of living a good life nothing more than to end up in a good death?
One hit me on the head so hard that I saw stars and then snow.
It took me several seconds to orient myself well enough to stand. During that time, the attacks ceased.
I finally got to my feet, found the cabin again, and shakily started to run. I was close. Very close.
The hits commenced with a vengeance.
They could end this any time they want.
The knowledge struck deep and held fast.
They’re playing with me.
I’ll be honest. I slowed down my run.
Nothing destroys inspiration faster than realizing how much the Bigger World is in control, and how little say we have in it.
I think they sensed my slowed pace, and that’s why they started slashing.
I could feel the harsh sting of a cruel gash across my face, the cutting cold coupling with the sinister slice.
They ripped open my jacket, making a mockery of my attempts to shield myself from the outside.
Cuts opened on my thighs, and I started to stumble. I pinwheeled my arms comically in an attempt to regain my balance, and that’s when one caught my hand.
Now there was heat as fiery agony rocketed through my body. My entire arm felt like it was aflame, and all I could think of was how to end the pain.
Looking around wildly, I realized where I was.
Jack’s cabin door was just steps away.
I forced myself to think of survival, to hold my hand aloft as I pushed forth the final sprint. I could see blood on the snow, and knew it was mine.
How badly does a person have to bleed before their own blood lands in front of them while running?
The vision of Jack’s door bounced in front of my outstretched left hand.
My head smashed into the wooden doorframe as my body was tossed like a rag doll.
If the cabin had not stopped me, I’m sure I would have flown the length of a house.
I lay in a heap on the ground, unable to move.
When I finally fluttered my eyelids open, I could see that my right hand had come to rest just inches from my face. A wave of nausea washed over and through me when I saw it.
My smallest finger was gone. The edges of the cut were serrated and torn; my hand was completely coated in crimson.
I wiggled my fingers to see if my hand was still alive. They danced feebly in response.
I turned to look into the face of my tormentors. I wondered how quick it would be.
They were gone. The silence had returned; only my thoughts flitted back and forth in the still air.
I got groggily to my feet, turned the knob, and stumbled into the room.
Jack looked up at me in surprise. He had clearly heard nothing of what had transpired outside.
I stumbled to a desk and threw my body against it, hoping that it would support my exhausted frame.
“We…. Get out of here. We need to now. And a doctor. They’re out there.” I gave up trying to be coherent and showed Jack my mutilated hand.
He ran a hand through his thinning hair, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.
“They chased me,” I finally articulated, as thought it would clarify things.
Jack opened his eyes. When he spoke, it was with a defeated sort of calm. “How far did they get this ti-”
I stared at him in response.
“How long were you chased?” he asked in a revision of his question.
I felt as though a lead weight had been dropped into my gut. “Right up to the door,” I said with sudden calm and control.
He nodded quickly with his head down. “It will take some time before we can get you to a doctor. Let’s get you cleaned up as best we can.”
He did not meet my gaze.
That’s what brings me to this point.
Living on the edge of what we see as reality requires survival skills. But Jack seemed too prepared to stitch me up.
Neither of us discussed the possibility of searching for my lost finger.
I’m typing this now, relying on the cabin’s spotty internet connection to rekindle at least one thread of human connection. That will have to do until tomorrow morning, which will be the first chance we get to leave this forgotten place.
I could make a big deal about what happened. I could choose not to spread the rehearsed story of a chainsaw accident.
But no one would believe me, so there’s no point.
Beyond that, though, two much more important truths loom large.
The first is that I am quite certain that they will not be found if they do not want to, so all searching would be moot.
The second is that they will find us when they decide that they want to.
And despite the control that we like to believe we have, there’s not a damn thing that any of us can do about it.