Frostbite

We got off the snowmobile, first me, then Jake. The exposed top half of my face was red and still stung from the ripping wind of the ride.

All around us it was flat, flat and clear and empty and white. Lake Wanahago could have been the ocean frozen over after the coming of the Second Ice Age; the horizon was but a blank wall of infinite white in all directions.

“Jake, what the hell, man? We’re in the middle of nowhere!” I said over the howling wind. “I told ya it was,” Jake hollered back, fussing with the gear from the back of the vehicle. “Go have a look inside, make sure the hole hasn’t frozen over any.” He motioned toward the ice hut with his head.

I opened the padlock on the door and stepped inside. I peered down at the hole in the ice.

I heard the metal slam of the door as Jake entered from behind me. “Nah, looks like it’s fi-” My sentence was cut short by excruciating pain exploding in the back of my head. I collapsed to my knees onto the ice of the hut floor.

I turned and he stood above me with rage in his eyes, in his hand a crowbar, the weapon that had delivered the blow.

“Jake, what the fu-” “Didn’t ya think I’d figure it out, ya stupid fuck?” he spat the words at me. “Ya left yer goddamn wallet under the bed. If you’re gonna go ’round banging another man’s wife at least you could have the brains not leave any evidence behind.”

I stared up at him. The ice was hard and cold against my back, even through the down of my snorkel jacket.

“Get up,” he said. Slowly, cautiously, I got up from my knees to a standing position, holding my hands up for good measure. “Your clothes!” I stared at him, not understanding, and he waved the crowbar at me. “Give me your clothes.” “Jake…” “Give me your goddamn clothes or I’ll bash your fucking head in.”

Reluctantly I complied, stripping awkwardly in the cold air, and keeping an eye on the crowbar Jake held all the while. Finally I handed the pile of my clothes over to him. I stood in the ice hut, naked save for my long johns and boots.

Before I could so much as move I watched him pitch the bundle into the hole. I called out but it was already too late – my clothes soaked up the icy water, then sank into the depths of the lake.

Jake smiled wickedly at my face dropping. “I’m a sporting man,” he said. “Figure I’ll give ya chance. It’s -34 out there and 20 miles back to town, and you know as well as I do there ain’t another soul between us and there. Think you’ll be able to make it back before the frostbite gets ya?”

The chill on my skin was joined by a cold creeping through my insides.

Jake laughed. “Well, you can just think about fucking my beautiful wife to keep ya warm,” he said. “Which reminds me, I think it’s high time I go for a talk with the ol’ missus too, I reckon.”

I tried to duck, but the second blow from the crowbar caught me on the side of the head, much harder than the first. When I came to I was lying outside the locked door of the hut in the snow, my skin burning with cold, my ears ringing with the high-pitched roar of the snowmobile engine receding into the distant white.

I stood up and began to walk. The snow blew all around.

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