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Raymond Pelletier hated jobs like this. He pulled his parka tightly across his body and tried to turn his back to the wind that whipped stray flakes into his clothes. He didn’t hate the cold as much as he feared it. He brushed away a memory of locking himself outside in a blizzard when he was younger and almost freezing to death. He paused a moment for his partner to catch up to him. His partner was a greenhorn and liked to try and joke his way through conflicts and life. Raymond Pelletier had been a search-and-rescue operative for fifteen years and the part he hated the most about it was recovering the frozen bodies.
Cross-country skiers had seen something sticking out of the snow earlier today and they reported it to the local authorities, who in turn, reported in to Raymond. He knew that this was his partner’s first time in corpse recovery. His partner was wet-behind-the-ears and cocky. It was a dangerous combination. He insisted on his co-workers calling him ‘Iceman’ like the character in the movie Top Gun. He insisted so much that no one managed to learn his real name. Ray hoped that this might be an educational and humbling experience, but he doubted it.
They had been hiking for the better part of the day, looking for the body. The snow had been falling around them since they started out along the path. Ray’s trained eyes scanned the massive white landscape before him and deftly located the body. ‘Iceman’ was the first to reach it due to sheer virtue of youth. He stood over the corpse and shouted, “Ho-lee shit! I think this guy was raped by the abominable snowman.”
Ray drew close enough to the frozen corpse to make sense of his partner’s asinine comment. The body was a Caucasian male, approximately thirty-years-old. He was lying in the prone from with one arm bent upwards like he had died trying to give God the finger. He had been stripped of his shirt and his pants were around his ankles. It was not the most dignified position to die in.
Ray’s partner suggested, “Should we put an A.P.B. out on Frosty. I never did like him. In the movies, he seemed a little too friendly. I bet we wouldn’t have this problem if someone had just given him a snow blower-”
"You’re an idjit, you know that?”
‘Iceman’ countered, “Why would he be practically naked then? He didn’t strip on his own!”
Ray spoke as if he were talking to a child, an especially slow child, “Listen good because I’m only going to explain this once…”
Tamsen groggily opened his eyes. It was the cold sensation sweeping its way through his clothes that forced him to wake up. He blearily remembered drifting off on the plane ride. He hadn’t had much sleep the night before. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked over at the source of the cold air. He didn’t see the giant gaping hole in the side of the plane, which was directly in front of his eyes because he was more focused on the passenger next to him.
The woman next to him was looking at him with her head tilted at a weird angle. The head sagged, but her open glassy eyes met his stare. On her neck there was an odd protuberance that Tamsen quickly realized was due to the fact that her spine had been snapped. She was dead and her dead-eye stare had been locked onto his unconscious form while he had been knocked out.
He shrieked and tried to free himself, but something held him to his seat. In his terror, he attributed this to being locked in her death grip. To his panic-addled mind, she had ensnared him and was pulling him towards a hellish death. He struggled and screamed before a pair of rough hands grabbed him and pulled hard. He came free from the seat’s buckle with a metallic pop! and a powerful hand delivered a slap to knock some sense into him. He was knocked out of his reverie and became aware that he was in the wreckage of a plane and surrounded on all sides by the dead.
When he was asked questions by the other two, he gave simple answers. He only gave his first name. He didn’t like the look of the boy. The young man looked like he was twenty or so years old. He had a darker complexion. That wasn’t one of the reasons Tamsen didn’t like him. It was the sideways glances he kept throwing to him and Jim that made him wary. Tamsen lent a hand in constructing the barricade that kept the elements out of the plane, but he had already decided that he wasn’t going to stay here.
Tamsen saw the plane as a place of death. They were surrounded by the dead, who would very soon begin to rot and make them sick. His best option was to leave and look for help. He made his intentions to leave apparent to the other two survivors, but Jim was opposed to the idea. Tamsen snapped at them that he wouldn’t stay in this tomb for any longer. He grabbed some food and water for the trip and fashioned a coat for himself out of the clothes of the deceased passengers. He left the two as he left towards his perceived salvation.
The first thing he became aware of when he stepped outside was the cold. The make-shift jacket he had made for himself out of the other passenger’s clothes did its job and shielded him from the wind. His fingertips and face were exposed, but he tucked his hands into his pants as he walked and kept his back to the wind. He knew that if he could find a town or installation that he would be saved and maybe even hailed as a hero when he directed rescue to the wreckage.
Tamsen began walking in the direction that was in a decline. He assumed that he had a better chance of finding help if he went downhill. He silently prayed that he wasn’t walking down into a valley that butted up to a cliff. Every now and then, he withdrew his hands from his pants and rubbed them together to generate heat. The snow was picking up, but he could see the path in front of him. He just had to keep moving downhill and he would be in the clear.
After a few minutes, Tamsen began to shiver. He was prepared for this. He rubbed his arms against his chest and began to warm up. He continued down the path he had chosen. With each step, his foot sank into the snow up to his ankles. It didn’t take long for his feet to begin to get cold. He was wearing sneakers after all. He continued walking and silently prayed that his exertions would warm up his extremities and he resumed his march.
It wasn’t until he went for a drink that he began to realize how cold it really was. The water had begun to crystallize. He had only been outside the plane for an hour or so. That meant that it had to be at least below thirty-two degrees if not lower. He took a swig of water and winced as the icy water traveled down his throat. It felt like had he swallowed a razor blade. Tamsen took the water bottle and tucked it under his armpit to prevent it from freezing completely.
What seemed like an hour later, Tamsen decided to eat the bag of chips he had taken with him. He reasoned that it would be better to eat them now as he was getting tired of constantly looking down at his hands to make sure the chips were still there since his fingers had gone numb a while ago. A smile played across his lips when he thought of trying to eat with his chattering teeth. It would be so much easier! He would just move the chips towards his chattering mouth and they would grind the food for him. Easy peasy!
His hopes began to dissolve like a sand castle in a rising tide as he struggled to open the bag. His numb fingers were making even the most simplest of tasks seem insurmountable. He couldn’t tell if he had the bag in-between his fingers and sometimes when he tried to pull it open, it would slip out of his grasp. Tamsen finally managed of a firm grasp on the bag and pulled. The opening of the bag was akin to an explosion that sent chip shrapnel everywhere. It wasn’t until he saw a large portion of the chips blow away in the wind that he realized that the wind had picked up. A storm was coming.
Tamsen wanted to turn back then and there, but something had goaded him onwards. He realized a portion of his reasoning was based in his pride and another had its foundation built upon his shame. He didn’t want to have to slink back to the wreckage with his metaphorical tail between his legs. He wanted to be the hero that saved the survivors of the tragic plane crash. It was those two thoughts that drove him onwards and into the embrace of the reaper.
His mental faculties were the next thing to go. He began to have difficulty thinking straight. His mind was playing tricks on him and time seemed distorted. He thought he saw things in the falling snow. He saw human-esque figures shifting behind the veil of snow. If he had been thinking clearly, he would have turned around and returned to the plane before the blizzard got any worse. He continued his death march down the slope as the snow picked up and the temperature dropped even lower.
The snow picked up and began to fall so heavily that Tamsen was unable to see five feet in front of him. He rubbed at his extremities, but it wasn’t as effective as before at warming him up. The wind tore at him and ripped through his clothes. Buffets of wind blew him back. He lowered his face towards his chest and plowed through the storm. He had to be getting close to finding help.
It was hard to move when the frigid weather had completely numbed his extremities. He stumbled when his feet caught on each other. He corrected himself before he could face-plant in the snow. Tamsen angled his head down and watched his feet. It kept the wind out of his face and helped him move forward. The snow continued to fall in sheets and he continued to shiver.
Tamsen didn’t know how long he had been walking in a daze, but he knew what snapped him out of it. He saw footprints in the snow. His heart leapt for joy and he began to follow the tracks. His heart hammered out a joyful cadence as he followed the path of his savior. That ecstatic intonation faltered as the snow prints became sloppy and began to weave and drunkenly sway back and forth. It wasn’t until Tamsen stopped and put his foot into the snow print that everything clicked into place and he roared in frustration. His foot fit exactly in the print. He had been following his own trail and must have gotten turned around in the storm.
It was then that all hope flew from him and he broke out into a run. He had to find help. He had to come across help now or he would die out here. He stomped his way through the snow. He managed at that frenetic pace for a few minutes before he had to stop and catch his breath. He doubled over and drew the frigid air into his lungs for a few moments. Each breath he drew in felt like needles sticking into his lungs. Around him, the snow continued its merciless assault.
Tamsen rubbed at the sweat that had begun to form on his brow. He didn’t want to imagine it freezing to him and sealing his eyes shut. He wiped his face and the back of his neck. It wasn’t until he cleaned the last bit of sweat from his exposed skin that he was overcome with an odd realization. He felt warm, more than that, he actually felt hot.
Something was wrong here. It was pouring snow around him and the wind was whipping at his exposed skin, but he felt like he was burning up. Did he have a fever? Tamsen put the back of his hand to his forehead and quickly withdrew it. It was hot to the touch, like pressing your hand against a boiling pot of water. His skin grew hotter and hotter. It felt like he was boiling from the inside out! He had to drop his core temperature quick!
Tamsen tore at the strips of clothing he had wrapped around his hands to protect him from the cold. The sensation of heat kept building within him. He unzipped his jacket next and shucked it off. He felt like he would catch fire any second. He slid his shirt over his head and dropped it on the ground next to his jacket. The cold air felt surprisingly comfortable to his bare skin. He continued to tromp through the steadily building snow, leaving behind his jacket, make-shift hand bindings, and shirt.
The feeling of burning faded away as Tamsen continued to walk. The wind actually felt refreshing on his skin. The snow fell around him and the flakes that battered up against him felt soft to the touch. His mind relayed that it would feel even better if he was wearing even less. He had the thought that there was something wrong with all of this, but he couldn’t process it in his mind. He undid the buckle of his pants and let them fall around his ankles. It was invigorating. He was revitalized.
He tried to kick off his pants, but his shoes were in the way. He would take those off after he got his pants off. The thought that something was terribly wrong rattled around in Tamsen’s head like a moth in a lampshade, but it was an insubstantial and unobtainable thing. Maybe his head would clear up once he got the rest of his clothes off? Maybe everything would click in place when he felt the wind caressing the entirety of his being?
He struggled with his pants for a few minutes before he fell forward into the snow. The ground was surprisingly soft. More than soft, it actually felt warm. It was like lying in a comfortable bed. The snow acted as a blanket that would eventually envelope him. He would like nothing more than to burrow into the ground and curl up. The thought pleased him. He liked the idea of a nap. It was a pleasant sensation. He would drift off for a few minutes and wake up re-energized. That gnawing thought that he had in the back of his mind drifted further and further away from his grasp.
Tamsen closed his eyes and muttered, “So warm…”
He drifted off.
Raymond Pelletier continued, “It’s called paradoxical undressing. Once hypothermia sets in, it takes a terrible toll on your brain. Mainly your hypothalamus-”
Raymond sighed and continued, “It’s the part of your brain that regulates your temperature. The cold can actually induce the hypothalamus to-”
‘Iceman’ interrupted, “So you’re saying he did this to himself?”
“Shitty. Well, let’s get him down off this mountain.”
Raymond asked the obvious, “Where’d he come from? We have to go and see where he came from. There could be other people stranded somewhere.”
The two began their march up the mountain after marking the frozen man’s body with orange flags. They had barely traveled half a mile before they came across the wreckage. The man had obviously come from here. Raymond heaved a heavy sigh. He really did hate jobs like this. The frozen man could have probably turned around and made it to safety in a few minutes. He radioed in for more help. They had to search the plane for any more survivors.
Written by EmpyrealInvective