I am fascinated by desolation. Don’t know why.
Throw in ice and snow and I’m fascinated by that desolation even more.
H. P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness is one of my favorite stories of his, so I’m sure there’s some influence there…though, as I remember it, there is little similarity between the two….
I grew up in snow and cold. Maybe I’m still trying to thaw out those harsh Adirondack winters from my marrow, but snowscaped desolation utterly fascinates me.
Are we really alone in all that desolation?
This story has never been published.
The Ice Gods
© F. P. Dorchak, 1992
I am surrounded by white.
Where am I?
It’s so cold….
I remember pain. I remember…I don’t quite know what I remember…but I can’t move. My arms, they hurt. White hurt. I hear howling—a lonely, empty howling. The wind.
I’m so alone.
Eyes. I must try to open my eyes…I have to get to the top.
I move…hear crunching….
I’ve opened my eyes, and wished I hadn’t.
I’m lying on the side of a wind-swept and snow-covered mountain. All I can see is blinding white. I move my hands about me—and feel the snow crunch. It sounds like wicked Styrofoam. It’s so cold.
How did I get here? What am I doing here (besides hurting)?
I feel like I’ve been thrown thousands of feet. Craning my neck (and gasping at the snow that hungrily rushes down my back) I see cliffs of white and silver above. I look off to my right, my up-and-behind-me-right, and see a bundle jutting out from the snow. It’s covered in the hellish stuff. I cannot make out what it is.
How I hate white.
It’s getting late, or so I fathom from the setting sun as it ducks behind the jagged peaks above. I have to get there…the peaks, I mean…don’t know why, just that I must.
The bundle behind me is a pack…mine I assume, considering I’m the only one I see. I’m scared…but know I can survive. I seem to remember doing this before….
The pack has everything I need—food, flashlights, tools—a fire-starting kit, ice saws, and a tent. As I root around my body I find an ice pick and one snowshoe. I struggle to all fours. A few yards above me I find the other one. But still, not another soul. No explanations. Barely…I get to my feet.
I head upward.
It’s grown dark, and…like I’ve said before…I’m scared. But as I sit in my tent against this ice outcropping and watch the fading sun, I look at the deep, lonely blues that eerily crawl across the deserted snowscape. I’m overcome by emotion as I enjoy its unparalleled magnificence. If only I had some way to catch these wondrous images forever! Such raw being. Such intense desolation. I listen to the ice crack and thunder, and it echoes deep within me. Cries out to me….
No, I really mean it—it actually cries out my name….
Okay…you think me crazy…ice boulders crying out my name—then you surely won’t believe this.
I left camp at first light and traveled for what seemed a lifetime. I came upon another boulder…and as I did, thought I spied the image of a man upon it…frozen, disfigured. The form lay with its back against the boulder, and what would be its left arm, outstretched…its head twisted sideways. As I came closer I grew fascinated by the image. I could not take my eyes from it. Then other images, mental ones, began to crowd my mind. At first they screamed past too fast to grasp—not unlike the lonely and hollow wind that is my constant companion (for the wind has never let up since I regained consciousness and neither has the blowing snow). I worried about snow blindness, but found—much to my disbelief—goggles. I had kicked them up during my passage through the snowfields. There truly must be ice gods watching o’er me, for surely nothing else here survives….
But the images. They are cold and monstrous….I remember something about others…a terrible and brutal accident of some enormity. We were…we were ascending this mountain and something ghastly occurred….
Where is everyone?
Why is it I alone survive?
So I approached this image and found it was more than just light and snow—it was a man—or had been. He was obviously dead. I couldn’t recognize his face for his features were brutally deformed and frozen. Into the rock.
I passed the man and continued upward.
I awaken the following morning to find myself in a cold sweat. Not a good thing for one in my position. I recall hatred from my fellow climbers. I’m not sure why just yet. It hadn’t always been like that, the hatred, but had come about suddenly. I think…I think it was something I—I—did.
I feel dread.
It rips through me like this infernal wind.
The cracking sounds from the mountain top were much closer last night. Banging at my back door. I recalled images of pain. Faces of torment. And screams. Of a fight with my fellows.
My fingers look funny.
Nothing much to tell today, except that I seem to have traveled in circles.
I know this because I again found the frozen man. Only this time he was more frozen. I-I mean to say that—y-you must bear with me, now, for I feel my mind beginning to seize—but I could swear that he had gone into the boulder he was frozen against. Into it, I say! When I first saw him he was against the rock. This time h-he was as if sunken into it, a-at the waist.
I’m not crazy.
Then why am I talking to myself?
Oh, the d-deep, frigid-b-blue of the snow and ice is s-s-so grand! The thunder of the ice boulders d-deafening!
The Ice Gods came to me in my dreams last night.
They told me not to w-worry about my images. They told me I’m lonely and confused in my s-snowbound s-s-solitude. They also told me not to be afraid.
They would g-guide me.
I recall…f-fighting with my companions.
One of them had fallen into a crevasse. We were arguing over whether to go after him, because he had gone silent and hadn’t answered our calls. They wanted me to g-go, but I was…afraid. I might not have made it b-back, I reasoned. They didn’t listen.
I have come upon a snowshoe. There’s a foot in it.
The Ice Gods told me to take the foot.
I’m near the mountain top.
I still do not know why it is I f-feel I have to make this trek…but I’m driven. No—
I feel it is the Ice Gods who beckon…and I’m not all that f-frightened anymore. The Ice Gods protect me. They told me my f-fingers were against me, that I should do something about them or I might not make it.
So I took my ice pick to them.
The g-ground shudders from the thunder of the splitting ice above. I have trouble s-sleeping. I miss my f-fingers…though I keep them wrapped with me…like the f-foot.
The Ice Gods t-told me—
That I’m almost there.
I’m out of f-food, so I used the f-f-foot. At first I hadn’t removed the toenails and h-had a hard time chewing. I learn quickly.
I don’t like t-toenails.
A funny thing happened to me tonight, I went to crack my knuckles, and—
The men had wanted me rescue that g-guy…but I refused. He’s probably dead, I reasoned, so why waste the energy? They cursed me. One struck me and threw down a rope, then began to go down himself. He wouldn’t listen to r-reason. Said I had gone snow-blind in the head. I said he’d gone snow-blind in the h-head. We’d only been out there…I don’t know how long, I don’t remember. All I remember is the white.
I rub my arms…the pain is all but gone.
It feels g-good to be here. V-very, very g-good.
My toes feel funny now, too, but I’m not going to look at them. I know what the Ice Gods will say and I don’t want to m-miss my t-toes.
A terrible thing happened t-today. I came across another body.
Where do they come from?
I didn’t recognize it, either. Its clothing didn’t look familiar. Must not have c-come from my p-party—
Was I the leader? Leading an ascent? But I seem to remember already being t-there—and seeing something.
S-something that sent us back.
I feel it has to do with the crevasse. With that man. In it. And the man who had g-gone down for him. The one who’d h-hit me.
I didn’t like that. He wouldn’t listen to reason. He had to stay down there. Had to, I t-told him. But he wouldn’t listen…so I c-cut his rope. The others around me went crazy.
I remember now.
They went crazy and tried to k-kill me. But the Ice Gods, they were my f-friends. They didn’t let the others k-kill me.
Only I saw reason.
It all comes back to me, n-now.
I know my reason for the climb. I have to get there.
I don’t have much time.
I n-no longer f-feel my toes and my other fingers are st-st-stiff. The Ice Gods are anxious to see me and I mustn’t d-dis-a-p-p-point them. They’ve helped me so f-f-far.
Tonight I eat my f-fingers. Tomorrow—
Tomorrow I meet the Ice Gods.
The white Ice Gods of thunder.
I left my tent, pack, and s-snowshoes behind. They’d only slow me down.
All I need are my c-crampons. It’s all ice now. I have my Ice Gods to g-guide me. T-that’s what t-they d-do….
The going was more d-difficult without my other fingers, and the loss of f-feeling in my t-toes…but I p-pushed. A little p-pain is a good thing, even if n-numb. I’m so high now there’s little o-oxygen. My lungs b-burn.
I recall the f-fight.
The remaining two men’d looked at me in amazement as I c-cut the one loose. We’d heard him scream all the way d-down. Heard him scream at the b-bottom. He hadn’t been alone down there. There was something with him. The others had attacked me with their picks. I blocked some of the swings, and remember the hurt in my arms. I managed to throw one down, but had to fight off the other with my own p-pick. My back to the downed man, I heard a scream, and my opponent dropped his attack, his face b-blank and white as the snow. I took the opportunity to bury my pick deep into his n-neck. He clutched at it as he collapsed. I must have pierced his vocal cords, because he made no n-noise as he went down, except for that f-funny, hissing…g-gurgle. After I saw him to the ground (and put my foot on his shoulder to rip free my pick), I turned around. That was when I s-s-saw them.
I’m really n-numb now, but it’s okay….
The sight is f-f-fantastic.
I thought the frigid b-blue of where I’d been was b-beautiful…but it holds n-nothing to what is before me. The Ice Gods are p-pleased, and so am I.
I have c-come h-h-home.
The others wanted to f-flee. They’d been up here with me and had fled in t-terror. That was why the one fell into the crevasse. Been c-careless. Ran without c-checking his s-steps. S-stupid man. And the others? They’d had to d-die because they had seen what I now s-see. They should have wanted to come b-back…l-like m-me.
This is so unbelievably b-beautiful. Jagged ice c-crystals everywhere, and each one with a body f-frozen within it. All sorts of bodies…from different t-times…d-different p-places. All frozen into ice boulders and c-crystals. All asleep and p-peaceful. All waiting for me to join them.
And I will.
Just as s-soon as I see the setting sun and hear the c-crack of t-thunder….
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