Published by Andrew Joyce on April 7th 2016
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It is 1896 in the Yukon Territory, Canada. The largest gold strike in the annals of human history has just been made; however, word of the discovery will not reach the outside world for another year. By happenstance, a fifty-nine-year-old Huck Finn and his lady friend, Molly Lee, are on hand, but they are not interested in gold. They have come to that neck of the woods seeking adventure. Someone should have warned them, "Be careful what you wish for." When disaster strikes, they volunteer to save the day by making an arduous six hundred mile journey by dog sled in the depths of a Yukon winter. They race against time, nature, and man. With the temperature hovering around seventy degrees below zero, they must fight every day if they are to live to see the next. On the frozen trail, they are put upon by murderers, hungry wolves, and hostile Indians, but those adversaries have nothing over the weather. At seventy below, your spit freezes a foot from your face. Your cheeks burn-your skin turns purple and black as it dies from the cold. You are in constant danger of losing fingers and toes to frostbite. It is into this world that Huck and Molly race. They cannot stop. They cannot turn back. They can only go on. Lives hang in the balance-including theirs.
Here’s an excerpt:
So far it has been an exceptionally harsh winter. The extreme cold has driven the great herds of caribou farther south in search of food. And there never were very many moose in that stretch of Alaska. The wolves that live in the vicinity are hungry and not too particular from whence they get their next meal.
The pack is made up of five adults—two males and three females—and a male pup of one year. It is he who has discovered the prey. He had been playing and wandered a little too far afield when he suddenly sensed something new, a scent he had never encountered before. His instincts told him that he should inform his family right away.
He joyfully runs back to the adults, barking his good news. The alpha male stands from his bed in the snow and raises his muzzle into the air. His nose twitches a few times and he senses the game . . . as the pup had. Unlike the pup, he knows what they are. He has encountered their species before. They go about on only two legs; they are slow moving, but at the same time, they are very dangerous. However, deprivation dictates that he start the hunt. He does not have to bark out his commands. He starts off in the direction of the two-legged prey and his pack obediently follows. They move in unison, intent on their purpose, except for the pup. He dances and prances around the others, letting them know that it was he who had found the prey. It is because of him that their long night of hunger has come to an end.
• • • •
Huck had one bullet left in his long gun and he was itching to put it to use for two reasons. They were getting mighty hungry. A few times before, he had gone days without eating, and it was funny . . . after a while, the pain ceased. So it wasn’t as much about him being hungry; he had three other people that he was responsible for. Plus, he thought it foolish to be carrying a rifle with only one cartridge in it. Best use it up getting something to eat and then leave the gun by the side of the trail. Besides, he still had his Colt and its six bullets if a gun was needed down trail. If he saw any game, no matter how small, he’d put that last .44 cartridge to good use. Until then, he would tread onward carrying an almost-empty gun.
They walked in silence, each following an inner rhythm that kept them going. Huck lifted one snowshoe-branch and placed it on the two-foot-deep virgin snow in front of him. Then he put his full weight on it, and in the process compressed the snow in one small area. He would then repeat the maneuver with his other foot. It was mechanical—one step after another, bringing him further into an infinity of white. After a mile, he did not have to think about what he was doing. He was only a machine—a snow-compressing machine—nothing more. His entire life consisted of putting one foot in front of the other.
Bright stayed near Huck.
Molly followed Huck’s trail. She was careful to step where he had stepped, lest the snow entrap her and cause her to fall down. She could not chance that, not holding John. Her forward movement was slower than Huck’s. After a while, she was a good fifty yards behind him.
Jass put one foot down, and using the crutches to lift his full body-weight, he swung his leg forward, being careful not to let the crutches slip on the compacted snow. The only thing that kept him moving forward were thoughts of his family. After five hundred miles, he was so close to home—and to realizing his and Mae’s dream—that in spite of the crutches and the agonizing pain in his arms, he couldn’t help but smile. But his progress was even slower than Molly’s. He was one hundred yards behind her and a good one hundred fifty behind Huck.
They were stretched out in a long line, moving slowly. Lost in their own thoughts, they never noticed the wolves coming up behind them.
• • • •
The alpha male is the first to crest the rise. He looks down upon his prey. It is foolish of them to be so spread out. If they had been caribou, he would have already been bounding down the slope, leading his pack to the slaughter. But he knows the two-legs can be sly, and they can kill from afar. He will watch them for a time to assess their vulnerabilities, as any leader would.
The other adults come up from behind and join him on the precipice. Though they are hungry, they will await the alpha’s decision on when to attack. That is the way of the hunter. There are no verbal commands. Each member of the pack knows its job. The females, who are lighter and faster, will herd the prey toward the bigger, stronger males, who will then take the prey down. It is dangerous work. Last winter, the pack lost two of its number—both males. One bled to death, after having been gored by the antler of an elk as the pack struggled to bring him down. The other had his jaw broken by the hoof of a thrashing moose; as a result, he could not feed himself and, after a few days, went off to die.
The pup will stay out of it. He will watch his family deal with the prey and thus learn the way of the wolf. In his third year, he will join in the hunt.
• • • •
Molly called out to Huck, “We’ve been at this for four hours and we’ve made seven miles best as I can figure. Can we stop for a while? I have to feed the baby and a warm fire won’t hurt us none.”
Even though she was fifty yards back, Huck heard every word she spoke. The Great Silence hung over them and amplified all sound. Wordlessly, Huck pointed to a strand of pines off to the left and headed in that direction. Molly and Jass veered off trail and followed in his tracks. As ever, it was slow going. It took a good fifteen minutes for them to reach the trees.
Once they had a fire going and had thawed out a bit, Huck put forth that he was going out to hunt something up. “We can’t live on flour and sugar for very long and still keep the fire of life burning within us. We have to feed that fire with meat if we’re gonna cover these last miles.”
He had no complaints from his fellow sojourners. Jass was heating up water for John’s corn mush while Molly changed the baby’s shirt-diaper. “I sure wish we had our pot back. These small cups don’t hold enough water for me to do a decent job cleaning these shirts.”
Huck looked over to Jass. “You think we have it tough?”
Jass laughed out loud. “Something tells me Mae will have me washing diapers in the very near future.”
Huck chuckled and picked up his Winchester. “Wish me luck.” He made ten steps out of camp, following the tracks they had made on their way in, when Bright let out with a low growl and bared his teeth. Huck looked around to see what was bothering the dog. Glancing over his right shoulder, he saw the wolves above them, up on the rise.