Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Iced


A previous 24-hour writing contest submission.

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Marty headed out the back door with Hershey’s leash and collar.
“I’ll get your dog,” he shouted to Jess as the storm door screeched and slammed behind him in protest to the metal-warping cold.
The temperature had dropped more than seventy degrees since a frontal passage the day before. Half a foot of rain flooded and then flash-froze the acreage behind the farmhouse. Hidden beneath a silent sheet of endless blue glass, fallow fields kicked up glare from the waning January sun.
“Just perfect,” Marty said in a disgusted burst of steamy breath.
The river was over its banks, indistinguishable from the ice-covered land, but rushing beneath its solid surface was a torrent of muddy water, overflowing Wilke’s dam about a hundred yards upstream.
Marty walked cautiously over the rapidly thickening new ice. Thunderous cracks echoed beneath his feet as the shifting surface settled and groaned. He glanced at the growing logjam building behind the dam. Broken branches from yesterday’s storm and mounting ice floes combined in a powerful trail mix of inertial mass.
“That won’t hold for long,” he muttered, nervously continuing his search for the dog.
“HERSHEY!” he called angrily as he neared the perimeter of their property, thickly wooded where the farm’s fields ended abruptly. He pocketed the dog’s wireless collar and pulled his red plaid coat up against his neck. He felt the cold steel of his hunting knife against his ribs despite an intervening flannel shirt, strapped in a leather sheath under his down vest. He knew to layer in this weather, and to be prepared.
“Global warming, my ass,” he shook his head and continued on.

It had been over an hour since Marty left to search for the dog. Neighbors had grown used to Hershey’s frequent escapes and usually called Jess before Marty found out, but the phones and power had been out since the storm.
“I should have put the collar on,” Jess said to herself, and knew Marty was angry at this latest oversight. Given the expense of an invisible fence, he insisted she could at least remember to use the damn thing.
“Besides, that’s for city dogs” he protested.
Hershey was intended to be an outdoor dog, a hunting companion, but Jess pampered him, trained the instincts out of him, and now she worried about his ability to survive in the frigid cold.
The glaring sun stood in stark contrast to the darkness of the house. As sunset neared, Jess fumbled with the heavy fireplace tongs and awkwardly positioning another large log on the fire, another point of contention between the country husband and city wife. He always kept the house so cold. She reluctantly put on her parka and boots and went outside.
“Nose hair cold,” she gasped at the stinging air and began to breath through her mouth.
Jess stepped onto the ice, which stretched to the horizon. She shielded her eyes, searching.
         “MARTY! HERSHEY!” she yelled as loudly as she could, shivering violently as the distance between her and the farmhouse grew.
There was no response, just the sound of the dam in the distance, and the cracking of the ice under her feet.
As the sun dipped below the perimeter of trees, the shifting light revealed a large shape in the distance, laying motionless on the surface of the ice. She dared not run, but quickened her pace, straining to see.
Several dozen short steps, frenzied to find her husband and dog, frantic to get out of the numbing cold, Jess stopped and tensed.
“Marty!” she yelled as she skidded the remaining yards toward Marty’s red plaid coat.
A light snow began as darkness fell. Jess dropped to her knees, her lips trembling. The ice around the coat was red and glistening. A dog howled in the distance, and then another.
Desperately clawing with unfeeling hands at the frozen coat, she peeled it from the ice and looked beneath.
Jess sobbed uncontrollably on her hands and knees, no longer aware of the piercing pain and electric cold.
“Oh, Hershey!” she cried, vomiting on the ice and wildly glancing around her for help or for some kind of explanation.
“Marty?” she whimpered, pleaded.
Through a cascade of tears that froze almost instantly on her lashes, Jess spotted several shapes moving in a circle around her, closing the distance between the edge of the woods in a carefully orchestrated attack on her and the lifeless shape of her butchered, beloved dog. She screamed.

Marty washed congealed blood from the polished blade of his bowie knife in the kitchen sink. He heard Jess scream. Putting a kettle on the stove to boil, he glanced at the clock, and then at the leash and collar on the table. Night was falling. Wolves were howling. He knew it wouldn’t be long before Wilke’s dam burst under the pressure of the logjam. A cleansing rush of ice and frigid water would soon scour the land. All that was left unfinished would be swept away to nourish the land, the crops and the birds that fed in springtime.

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