he roar of the rotor fills him, like the slow, sick revolution of his soul. His body’s numb. Not from the cold but from skipping across the world like a small stone. Skip from west coast to east, skip over the Atlantic to London, skip on to Oslo, skip to Svalbard, skip skip skipping nowhere, to the very edge of the map.
He rubs the frost from the window and peers down. Water and ice and something else: the dark hulking forms of the rigs anchored off the coast. He’d left a heatwave in L.A. and already heat was part of his past, like innocence and good cheer. For the past three days, they’ve been stuck at the ice station waiting for the storm to clear, crouched by the radio, drinking schnapps and eating from cold cans of spaghettios. This morning he’d been ripped from his tent by the pilot and stuffed in the helicopter, both of them still drunk from the night before.
The pilot shouts something at him in Norwegian. Too much to hope for a crash: sudden heat and fiery end. The helicopter descends toward a bald white expanse. Below a figure waves them down.
He feels inside his parka to make sure the papers are still there. Four sheets versus several thousand miles.
The pilot is shouting at him again. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand anything. But as he leans closer, the pilot reaches past him, swinging the door open and shoving him hard into empty space.
It’s maybe eight feet, but it feels like Alice’s rabbit hole. Tumbling through cold, smelling cold, tasting it, the cold sinking into his pores, down into his soul.
He never thought he’d come back. But here he is.
He opens his eyes to see the Prospector towering over him. Hs fiery beard and moustache so white with age, or frost, he almost looks like his old boss.
He opens his mouth to say something but the wind is howling, the storm closing in again with shards of ice blowing in from the sea. The Prospector pulls him to his feet and they stumble toward a mound of snow. A dark hole is cut into it. A cave.
They fall through the opening together, into darkness. The floor is sticky. It’s warm. Hot, even. The feeling creeps back into his body.
He rolls onto his back, the Prospector beside him. His chest burns. He can’t catch his breath.
The Prospector pokes him in his side. “You got fat.”
“You got skinny.” He pokes back.
“It goes both ways.”
They lie in silence for a while, like old friends or people who used to know each other.
“You bring it?”
He pulls out the papers. He can’t read anything in the dark, but he remembers the gist. “Seven figures.”
“It’s worth more.”
“That’s what they’re offering. It’s good money. Silver and gold, right?”
“I don’t want it.”
He remembers the message. Was it only last week? The satellite service and lag so bad he could hardly recognize the voice. “You asked me for help. You told me to organize a sale.”
“I changed my mind.”
“I came seven thousand kilometers! I cancelled patients!” His shouts don’t echo. The cave just eats up the sound. “Where the hell are we?”
A smell reaches him. A stink. He pulls off a glove and touches the floor. Sticky and hot.
He staggers to his feet and pushes back through the opening. The ice has turned into a steady snowfall, but the wind’s died down. He sees the red slash of the cave opening. The snow stained in front of it, the blood already freezing black.
He brushes some of the snow on the mound away, showing the white fur of his old friend. He reaches into his parka and touches the large tooth hung from a strap around his neck. His first patient.
The Prospector stands beside him. “I still need your help.”
The Prospector doesn't answer. He tugs his toque down low over his eyes and pulls his pick out of the ice. He turns and walks off into the wastes. He doesn’t look back. He doesn’t have to. They both know the way home.
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.