Is there a doctor in the house? This poor guy is freezing to death!
Here are the entries for the "Cold-As-Ice Hockey" writing challenge. Vote in the poll at the sidebar for the one that makes you reach for your hot cuppa and favorite blankie. Because of the number of entries, we'll let you vote for more than one.
Entry #1: White-bitten.
Everything seemed crystalline now, white-bitten, harsh and elemental. He could no longer feel his fingers or toes, knew the tips were blackening—a steady dark encroaching on the pale, lifeless flesh that crowned his limbs. Grey light, wind-whipped, laced with furious flakes, seeped into his mind through crusted lashes. Leaden legs breasted the drifts as though they would not accept capitulation, pulling him forward one laborious step at a time, a passenger in his own body. The warmth had begun to bloom in his chest, cloying harbinger. All white mind and gritted teeth, he rejected surrender and leaned into the gale. So far away, the treeline... shelter... so far.
Entry #2: Seeing White.
White. All Matt could see was white. Curled in a fetal position, wind keened through him, struck his bone marrow like knives. Crystals gathered on his eyelids, but he had no energy to strike them away. Matt heard bells. He stumbled to his feet, shambled in the deep drifts after the sound. After only a few steps, he collapsed. He drifted into sleep, jerked awake as heat coursed through his body. Matt tore off his parka. Stinging air hit his skin. Recognition hit. Hypothermia had set in. Sleep, and soon death, overtook him.
Entry #3: Glove on Fencepost.
His glove stuck to the fence post, ripping off a layer of leather when he pulled free. The wind leeched warmth from his exposed skin, stinging, hurting and then different, hot, blistering hot to make him sleepy. White swirled around him, easing him into a cocoon of forgetfulness. Nothing to see, but the dense wall of whiteness—no trees; no stars; no help and no light for him until the sun came up. He had come so far, surely he would be safe to sit down for just a moment? The white mound was soft and he scooped out a space for his body. So sleepy now. He would just shut his eyes for a moment.
Entry #4: Not a Bad Way to Go.
When he'd dug this cave, his hands could still move and ache, even with the waterproof mittens. Now the mittens kept him from thinking about his blackened fingers. He'd given up on exercise days ago—too weak and clumsy to stimulate blood flow. The pain and the shaking had left. He knew what it meant. It was time—possibly the last time. Hand over useless hand, he clawed over the packed white crystals to the mouth of the cave, pushing himself just to inch along. Finally, the white tunnel began to glow with surface light. He closed his eyes against the reflected glare; his burning thighs gave out. His wind-burned cheeks didn't feel any warmer as he sank to the floor, but the rest of him did. He pulled his legs to his chest. He was actually comfortable enough to sleep. Not a bad way to go.
Entry #5: Blood Clumping.
His blood began clumping in his veins, heart sluggish. Legs granite, arms tucked in close to his chest, the man dared not cry tears destined to still on his immobile cheeks. The wilderness enveloped him in indifference, a slight breeze blowing in the bleak, stinging night. He knew too well the land was a most apathetic mistress. She cared not for his life, not for his dreams. When he capitulated, returning to the inhospitable ground he laid on, the man would render his final tally.
Entry #6: Prayer for the Wolves.
Jake wrapped the tattered blanket around himself tighter to preserve as much warmth as he could. Tonight the mountain wolves were the least of his worries. Not even they could stand these conditions. The skin on his knuckles cracked, the blood hardening as it came in contact with the air. His whole body was tight, dry and papery fragile.
His lips fused together, he couldn’t open his mouth to scream for help. His joints were too stiff to move.
His eyes watered and a biting sensation shot through them as the moisture solidified. He tried to close his eyes against the pain, but the lack of lubricate caused his lids to fold in on themselves just as the night’s wind sent a vicious current whipping around him. A groan escaped him.
How much longer could he survive like this?
Jake clenched his cracked fists and prayed for the wolves.
Entry #7: Tundra Sky.
Karl watched the tundra sky staring down at him, the perfect black dotted with perfectly white stars. He remembered that he should get up, get moving. Then he remembered that the last time he had tried to get up he had discovered that he couldn’t move anymore – his hands and feet were already too dead from frostbite to support the rest of him. They would shatter if he moved. That was all right. His teeth had stopped chattering, and he felt peaceful. He remembered how in Grade 4 he had studied the Antarctic explorers. The men had written in their diaries that dying this way was nothing to fear. They said it was like going to sleep. Karl did feel sleepy. He watched the tundra sky staring down at him. He remembered to get up. He remembered he couldn’t. The sky had stars in it. He closed his eyes.
Entry #8: No feeling.
Jake couldn't feel his feet. Or his hands. They had finally stopped hurting. He almost felt warmer. So sleepy. He wasn't supposed to sleep, but he couldn't remember why. So confused. Why was he lying down in the white fluff? Must have fallen. He should get back up, but his stiff joints wouldn't cooperate. Why was he here? Hunting, that was it. A Christmas trip into the high Sierra. Bob broke his leg. Phone didn't work. Had to get help. Trudged through deep drifts for hours. Too sweaty, too tired. The sweat hadn't stayed warm. Stumbled and fell. Had to get up, had to keep going. But it would be so much warmer if he slept. Maybe just a short rest. He let his eyelids droop.
Entry #9: The End Was Here.
The end was coming. He could feel it. In one of life’s great ironies, dying on the tundra strangely felt like slowly burning to death, as human nerve endings can’t differentiate between extreme temperatures. But his skin had long ago passed the stage of blistering pain. Now, each step across the wasteland took more effort, his muscles refusing to work properly. He’d never make it to the promised warmth of the substation. Was he even going in the right direction anymore? He couldn’t tell. The relentless wind had cemented his tear-streaked eyelashes together. But he had no choice except to keep trying, pushing himself upright with every stagger into the deep powder. His breath seared his lungs as he gasped, open-mouthed, unable to draw air through his crusted nostrils. Another step – a stumble to his hands and knees. His last. The end was here.
Entry #10: Afraid to Shatter.
He was stiff. Afraid to fall. Afraid he’d shatter. Like glass thrown against the pavement. Except there was no road ahead. Only an opaque sky that fell to the ground in crisp white layers crunching beneath his feet and burning his soaked-through soles to the bone. A solid blast pierced him to the core and embraced his insides within its deceptive warmth. A siren’s call echoed in his mind, whispering like the towering pines that dizzily swayed overhead: You’re weary, take shelter from the storm. Rest. Lie down within the scattered wreathes of powder, shimmering like clouds dusted by a thousand diamonds. So beautiful. So inviting. Maybe for just a moment he could share in the radiance. He was tired. Too tired. He sank into the pristine oblivion and let the cunning maiden, wrapped in her blanket of white, lull him into eternal sleep.
Entry #11: Hand-Cranked Movies.
He sits, drowsy and heavy-lidded, watching the deer move closer as they browse on tufts of brown grass barely breaking the heavy, white cover. Thoughts come in slow motion like an old movie cranked by hand. He holds up his right hand, the tips of his fingers an aching grey, and puts them to his lips to let the warm air glide over them, hoping they will stop hurting soon. There are no sounds near, no civilized sounds. He knows his perceptions are dulled, tempting him down the giving-up path. He can’t care anymore. He just wants sleep, gentle sleep, to show him the way home.
Entry #12: Blank Landscape.
Andrew leaned back against the tree. It was too small, shaking with his every movement, sprinkling white powder over him, making gentle mounds across his shoulders and head. Mounds he couldn’t find the energy to push off. He should have chosen a larger tree; a more solid one. Maybe a tree that kept had enough leaves to provide some small protection from the wind, though that wasn’t really the biggest threat right then.
The real threat was exhaustion. He knew it. He should still be walking, but he couldn't seem to convince himself to stand back up. The danger fluttered across the front of his mind, but it really didn’t matter as much as it should. One more hill. One more valley. One more step. He hadn’t been lost too long, he could still make it. All he had to do was stand.
Stand up. Walk.
And he would.
Entry #13: George and Tilly
George stamped along the tracks. The pale light was fading fast. He trudged on, knowing Tilly was right, he should never have left. The wind whistled through his layers of clothes. George stumbled, striking his knees on the jagged ruts he'd followed for hours with dwindling hope. Thick brown scrub-grass poked through the rubble crust of the track's edge. He rolled over and sat, taking advantage of the spiky insulation. So this was the end. He pulled his arms around his knees. Tilly used to talk about dying like this, said the last thing you remembered was sleepy contentment. George pursed his cracked lips in an attempt to whistle, but no sound came. He hummed a sad tune that Tilly sometimes played. Maybe Tilly was playing that fiddle now in front of the campfire, a mug of whiskey next to him. George smiled at the thought and closed his eyes.
Entry #14: Seductive Lethargy
A seductive lethargy was seeping through his bones. “Must stay awake,” the man whispered to himself through cracked lips, fumbling for a match with stiff, unresponsive fingers. He barely noticed as the biting wind tore into his thin protective awning. The canvas ripped away, a ragged flag fluttering in the desolate landscape marking the narrow trench he had scraped out of the hard earth hours earlier. The man lay curled like a foetus around the empty shell of an oil lamp, which had long since guttered into darkness. White flakes whirled around him, softly settling in the shallow hole, dusting his hair and eyelashes. He knew the matches must be in his pocket, but his hands were no longer sensitive to touch. He could no longer remember why he had wanted them. Light.... warmth... it no longer seemed important. His mind drifted.