Once dried, Jessica re-dressed and they wrapped her foot as best they could. She would still be cold, but at least she was alive and would likely keep all her extremities. Marcus remembered when he was a boy, meeting a farmer named Al who’d lost lost fingers to the cold and other accidents. He remembered the farmer describing the aches and pains or just tingling that would sometimes occur in the fingers that were no longer there. It still gave him a shiver almost a century later- though he’d gotten better at hiding it.
He remembered the story he old man told him, saying that as a younger man he’d played the guitar until he’d lost the tips of a finger or two in a threshing accident. At that point he’d switched to the accordion, until he lost fingers to the cold. When he couldn’t play the accordion anymore, he switched to the hammer dulcimer. By the time Marcus met the old man, the only instrument he could play anymore was the Harmonica.
He admired the stubborness and tenacity of the old man. He unwillingness to let any accident or fate prevent him from partaking in his love of music.
With any luck, this Jessica would be alright. Of course, they weren’t out of the woods yet and the shadows already stretched long over the land. But at least the girl was hydrated and responsive. Marcus had melted some water for her from the snow and given it to her. It was a mercy she hadn’t hit her head on a rock or broken her neck with a fall like that.
Remembering what he’d seen in terms of destruction of the branches and the dislodged trees on the way down the ravine reminded him about her story of being chased by wolves. It was such an obvious prevarication that it almost didn’t seem worth asking about.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Now that the immediate danger was past, there was the very real problem of what to do to get the girl back to the road and the relative safety of his truck. It had been a 10 minute walk, plus some odd switchbacks, but that was with snowshoes and the girl only had one of those left. Plus, she’d be hopping on one foot. That wouldn’t do.
Marcus realized he’d left his phone in the truck. The damn thing barely got reception anyway, but still. Minor chance was worth more than no chance.
“Jessica, you got a phone?”
“Yeah, I…” she grabbed her pants and went through the pockets. “Yeah, I’ve got it.”
“Great. You got reception?”
“No.” It figured. They probably had the same carrier.
“Well, we’re going to have to figure out how to get you out of here. I don’t have time to be bringing firewood all night and I don’t want to risk you going into shock or dying of exposure. Lemme see your ankle.” It was swollen, purple and angry.”
The whine of a small gas engine became more apparent as it approached the ridge above them and then from up top a voice cried out, “Hey, Marcus, you okay?” Christ. That was all he needed. That darned Amos was here, and he’d probably want to… wait.
“Down here Amos.”
“No, but there’s a girl who is. Heard a scream. She’s got a busted up ankle and we have no reception here. Help me get her to the truck.”
“Sounds good” Sounds good? Marcus had never heard Amos say so little at one time. The engine whirred to life in that fly-buzz register that snowmobiles seem to share with squadrons of mosquitos.
A few minutes later, there was Amos dismounting his snowmobile and digging under the seat for his spare helmet. Well, for once the man’s insistence on doing everything by the book might be of use.
“What’re you doing here?”
“Snowmobiling and I saw your truck with the emergency lights on and the door open on the side of the road. Then I saw tracks and thought… “hey! If marcus is running in the woods, either he’s in trouble or someone else is.’ And then…”
“Good job.” Said Marcus. “I’m sure you have more you want tell me about it, but let it wait until we get her back to town and in some clothes.”
Amos seemed to just notice the girl next to them covered only in an old saddle blanket. He reddened. Internally, Marcus face-palmed. Amos had to be what, 55? 65? And here he was blushing like little kid. This provoked a similar reaction in Jessica, who up till now had been too concerned about survival to worry about propriety.
“Alright children, let’s get back to the truck. Amos, keys are in the ignition, so start it up and make sure she stays warm. I’ll be there when I can and will put out the fire.”
They fumbled their way on to the snow mobile, with Jessica’s feet still in Marcus’s mittens. The heels hung out a bit and looked silly, but at least it wouldn’t take long to get back, he thought as they rode off toward the truck.
Marcus took one of his snowshoes and used it as a shovel to extinguish the fire, using the tail of it to stir in the ashes and make sure it was completely out. He’d seen what could happen if a fire went underground, or cinders whipped up and wouldn’t leave anything to chance.
Afterward, he put the snowshoes back on, clenched and unclenched his now-chilly fingers and and started back to the truck at a brisk trot.