othing. He licks the edge of the pickaxe again. Still nothing. He brushes the snow off and gets back to his feet. Takes his time because it takes longer now. Even as the days dry up like raisins toward the end of the year, everything takes longer. And it hurts. Standing, walking, existing. It all hurts.
He stamps his feet to get the blood moving, then grabs the chain and gives it a yank. The toothless beast at the other end moans, but with another hard pull it finally lumbers to its feet, breathing hard. The coast is only a short march now. Stagger is more like it. He misses the dogs, but they’d needed to eat. One by one, and then they’d burned the sled for firewood. They haven’t been warm since.
The wind is picking up, blowing snow, his breath forming crystals in his moustache and beard. He’ll have to be careful. Not stop again. Not for the frostbite. He’s had so much of that his skin is like rawhide, but he has to watch out for chasms. The ice is cracking up more and more, chunks drifting off. Soon there’ll be nothing left.
He promised to be at the landing by sundown. Sundown being a relative term having nothing to do with light and dark. Everything is black as coal, as pitch. Blacker even. Has been for weeks, would be for weeks more.
But a few dozen steps are all he can manage. He drops the chain and the beast behind him settles gratefully to the ground with a thump and a groan. Out of habit or hope, he tosses his pickaxe in the air and lets it fall, point first in the ice. Maybe this time. He jerks it out and licks the edge. Still nothing. No whiff of menthol to tell him Dig, dig here.
He gives the chain a yank. Then another. Then another. But it doesn’t move. It lies there: a giant mound of white fur. He keeps yanking, but it’s just another useless motion. Like breathing. He lets the chain go.
It’s hard to tell the fur from all the snow around it. Already it’s been covered up. Once, it had been so wild and feared. Then he broke and tamed it. Now, it’s just another lump.
He turns back. The journey has to go on. You can’t stop it. Like the year, hurtling toward an end. As it went on after the peppermint mine played out, and the elves went on strike, and Walmart bought the whole operation up and then shut it down. You just have to put one foot in front of the other.
But underneath his feet, there’s a crunching and snapping. Like the bones of a giant. He falls back on his ass, lines spidering out through the ice, water leaping up through the cracks.
He digs in with his cleats, pushing himself back from the edge.
He’s reached the coast.
Then, a bubble of light shows through the blowing snow. For a minute he thinks, This is it. A red light in the sky. Blinking. He almost shouts. Wahoo. He almost believes.
Things won’t have to change. They’ll reverse. His friends will undie. The water will refreeze. The drills will rise and the oil rigs will retreat.
But then there’s the slow, spinning sound of rotors above him to tell him there's no magic. It just goes on. Life. The helicopter descends. It’s relentless.
He sticks the pickaxe in the ice to show them where to land. He buries it deep so it can’t be pulled up. Then he rubs his hands together and blows into them. He just needs a little feeling in his fingers so he can work a pen. So he can sign the contract.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.