Numb Basin


It was late into the evening on a cold wintry lake. Winds and snowfall hurried to bury the ice road that beset ahead. A thick mist tailed as he drove his truck through the pallid sight like a current jetting through deadened water, snow pummeling against the swishing window wipers. The four-foot high edges were rounding out and in no time the road that could host two lanes caved in to nothing more than a convenient rut for the wandering downfall. Aware of the conditions and having rode down the route a great deal, his pace didn’t let up even as the tires would crash against hardened drifts causing sudden jerks. He knew that it had been worse. What an ungodly day it must have been.

He had just delivered several packages to a small hamlet that could only be reached by an ice road. It took him longer to arrive than planned. He was halted by an elderly women in her grim cabin. One who he knew and spoke with every time he came by. One who only spoke Dene words, much like his own grandmother. She was a nice old lady who was always surrounded by her grandchildren. He was still unfamiliar with most of the Denesuline words she spoke, his native language. Edza was the only word he could make out from her babble. Cold. On any other day he would listen and visit, however he insisted his departure, his mind weighed by worry. He waved off and left the isolated community.

He thought about the moments he shared with his girlfriend days before, looking over to her long black hair as they drove through a quiet town late that morning. Her soft nose pointed down towards where her cellphone rested between her thighs. Her fingers pressed against the screen busily. She wasn’t usually as quiet. He purposely cleared his throat and tapped his fingers loudly against the steering wheel as to gain her attention. Her gaze was still unmoved. Eyes were fixed on reading whatever message or post that was returned, staring and smiling. A type of smile he hadn’t seen in a while. He asked her what she was so busy with and with that an argument ensued for the remaining ride home. He couldn’t remember their words, only the frustration in their expressions and how she couldn’t look into his eyes, the way her jaw line shifted when she explained herself then she said nothing at all. Barren tones of radio covered the aching silence like a carpet over rusty nails.

She sent one more text and sat with her hair covering half of her face as she rested her chin on knuckles. And for days after that, they shared conversations sparingly. He refused to listen to her, and she refused to fight. He focused his days looking after his ill grandmother. Her ailed body too weak to carry out most normal functions. Getting her up from the couch. Seating her carefully on the stool. Cooking and feeding.

During while, his girlfriend had been at her parents or wherever else. Places he would rather not know. He would only see his girl in the evening when she would come home to sleep next to him. Laying thousands of kilometers away could have felt just as close, as if her presence and stare a polarizing force to depart.

He watched the heavy snowfall crash into the window like tunneling vortex, a guilt encasing him, similar to the way someone would realize they forgot to lock up their house or feed their dog. Maybe he was wrong about it all. The assumptions. If she wanted anything else she wouldn’t have been at his side, even as he resented her. He sped up, realizing he was still quiet a ways away from home, ways away from her, and ways away from giving her an apology.

Too long on the hazardous road, not enough sleep. His eyes fought to stay open, weary from a sleepless night. The white in front of him became flashes of darkness. A comforting dark that promised serenity. His eyes closed shut. A violent jolt woke him from his slumber. In a short instance of unconsciousness, his truck lost control and barged into a snow drift as tall as the hood of the truck and his forehead hit the top of the steering wheel.

The vehicle was motionless in the snow, the muffled engine idling below the powder. Radio static. His head rested on the steering wheel, unconscious. The wind howled and the snowfall brought on its encumbrance as if nothing happened.

She was sitting on top a boulder about the size of a small bus in the middle of the woods. She beckoned him to climb up. He took her hand and crawled up to met her at the top, seemingly taller than the green trees that surrounded them. A ray of sun peeked over the fringe of green as he pulled her in and she pulled him in. They looked in each others eyes, smiling. And their expressions faded as they brought their heads in forth at a tilt. As their lips locked, sunlight pierced between their joined dark, contrasted figures and its citrus glow erupted like the splitting of clouds in the sky as they parted to look at each other, her hands resting over his shoulders as his lay at her waist.

He remembered every thing clearly in that moment. The chirping and bleating and whistling of birds and rodents from the treeline. Her sweet face, the green of the trees, the blue of the sky. The way she hung her head slightly, forcing him to stare into her brown eyes, into the warmth of her soul. Her fragrance, one he couldn’t place, familiar and comforting and angelic. An aroma of everything he would ever need.

She ran ahead of him through a small beach and removed her sandals and walked hurriedly to dip her toes in a clear blue pool in the middle of the forest. He noticed her begin to peel off her top and slip off her shorts and until she was naked in the water. He looked around. Only trees and wild. She looked back at him as she dipped herself in and smiled invitingly, backpedaling towards the middle. He took off his clothes and stood hesitantly before the water. She waved him in. He took a step and submerged completely, like walking off a diving board, and his entirety was stung from the sharp cold.

He abruptly woke to the sight of his breath freezing mid-air. He felt his hands shaking uncontrollably beneath him. He lifted his bruised forehead from the steering wheel and looked about the cold cab. He wiped away frost from the window and discovered he was near buried. The wind whistled loudly through the cracks. He turned the key and the engine spat and jogged before starting. He cleared the frost from the gauges and saw that the gas was just above empty and by that thought maybe he was out for an hour or so. If he was out for any longer, he may have never awoke. He knew that all too well.

He swore and punched his dashed board until his breathing grew heavy and his knuckles sore.

The door was blocked by the surrounding barricade of snow. He pushed until it slowly peered open and he was able to squeeze out of the vehicle. He walked far enough away from the truck to see that it was moments away from becoming his frozen coffin, almost completely buried. There was noway he was getting anywhere. He took a shovel from the box and began to dig just outside the driver-side doorway where the wind blew right over truck’s cab. With the doorway clear, he jumped in the cab and looked through his storage departments for anything he could find of use. A box of matches. Extra gloves and a pair of hide mitts. Old packages of broken up saltine crackers. A flashlight. And a pile of sweaters and extra snow pants and greasy old gloves. Some rope and select tools.

He dropped his head on the steering wheel, feeling the swelling on his forehead push against his skull. He thought of how great it would be to have a trucker’s radio and how stupid it was that he didn’t but there wasn’t much point in sitting around thinking of what he could have done. He stared at the vents. Streams of freezing air. The gas gauge was sitting right on the empty line, temporary comfort soon to fade when the gas would. Perhaps it would last until rescuers would arrive but that was a chance he would have to wage for his life. He turned off the ignition and got out of the vehicle and shone his flashlight down both directions where the road would have been, but the snowstorm had devoured its existence. From afar, it looked as if the truck had been placed arbitrarily in the cold desert by an act of God. There was no leaving. Not by tires, not by feet…not mortally.

He needed to get back home. If not for his own life, he needed to for her. The woman who lived in his heart. He needed to hear her voice again. The cold sung on the lake a deathly bellow. But he was not afraid of the fear that arose within. He seen storms before and he had survived them all. He’d walked through snow storms drunk, battered and bruised. Fell through ice in the later days of winter. Fought off an angry, old wolf with an ice pick. Heartbreak. Loneliness. Seen the deaths of family and friends. And although the deathly bellows sung, the fear within him sung clamorous, for without it he would welcome death’s music in grandeur. It can’t be on this night. Not for his own life, but for her.

His shoveled and tossed the snow overhead, enough to stay above the pace of the relentless blizzard. Hours later a small area outside the driver door was cleared out. He took a handful of tools from behind the seat. He rummaged through every crevice inside the cab for a tarp or something until he thought to check the box. He removed the piling snow and clawed his way to the iron, his hands sifting through until his fingers caught a grip of what felt like a sheet of some sort and tugged it out. Canvas.

Later he threw the sheet above the gap from the open driver door to the cab hood and secured it using rope. With the excess canvas, he pegged it down so that the sheet lay out against the side of the truck like some makeshift lean-to. As he finished, he crawled under the cover to ensure it was as robust from the inside as it was out. He patted the inner lining and thought to himself that it’d take a tree to fall over to take it down. He grabbed all the extra clothing and whatever else he could find and placed it out underneath the shelter as a floor. It was as much comfort as he was going to get, although he could still feel the overwhelming cold creep up his skin.

He jacked up the truck enough to pry out the rear tire from its frozen mound. He placed it near the entrance of the canvas enough so to crawl in through. He dipped a long, greasy rag into the gas tank until it was drenched in the musky fluid. He slipped off his gloves and put them between his teeth as he twisted the cloth so that gas would trickle over one side of the rubber. He took a book of matches out from his chest pocket and he slid a match against the striker and put the miniscule flame against the gas. The flame burst for a moment before dying down to shallow a height. It took only a few moments before the cold rubber caught aflame and burned lightly in the frigid cold.

He crawled further back into the canvas and watched the flames grow below the emitting thick, black smoke. Inevitable darkness crept as he sat nibbling away at the package of stale and tasteless crackers and thought about the elderly woman. Edza, she said. He could see the distraught look in her eyes now that he put his mind to it. She wanted him to stay until the storm would clear, her fingers pointed at a steaming pot of some sort of soup. It could have been just a broth of old scraps and bones meant for dogs, he would still eat it now.

The flames danced in the wind and faded to black as his eyes lids came to a unhurried close, as if to purge the despair in his heart and mind. A few hours had passed before his eyes burst open. Disappointment on his face as soon as he saw the continued storm. There was a sun somewhere beyond the violent grayness. It might have been six am but he wasn’t sure. He threw off the bits of clothes piled above him and crawled out of the shelter. His body felt weak and sensitive to the cold, the long, sharp gusts of frigid air sinking into his ail bones as he looked to the smoking embers of his exhausted fire. With a harsh, gruff cough berthing from his heavy lungs and through his sore throat, mucous oozed from his nostrils and he wiped away and spit his phlegm towards it and swore.

The truck was seamless underneath a foot or so of snow. He took his shovel and cleared it out so that it wouldn’t go unnoticed to rescue, pushing through maturing illness within, his sluggish movement. He dug out an area and pulled another tire from the truck and threw it into the embers and soon its black smoke blew into the distance. About an hour later, he was depleted, a heavy sweat pouring down his face. He crawled through the shelter and into the cab to look about the lake.

He sat and wondered how long it would take before rescue would come, if they ever would. Heavy eyelids flickered open and closed, open and closed. In the white distance, he saw a giant plow cutting through the incredible height of snow as simply as a utility knife cutting through packing tape and the height of the plow truck was too great for the flying powder to crash against the windows where two men sat, one young the other older and stoic, whom both looked about critically in search for him and once they saw him the younger man would open his door and help him get into the cab where he would remove his gloves and rub them briskly in the stream of warm air plowing from the vents, and they told him that his grandmother and girlfriend were worried sick about him, turning around to where, in no time at all, they arrived to the sight of his tiny town in the distance. And then he saw his girlfriend, the tip of her finger over his nose as they lay in bed smiling silently at each other. They whispered their affection to each other as the sunshine came in between. Then she screamed, her voice piercing like echoing sirens and gunfire.

He awoke in a violent shiver hours later. He looked around and wondered where he was. He repeated his grandmother’s name, shouting, crying, and looking around ceaselessly as if he heard her voice come from every direction. He got out of the cab and ripped the canvas down like she was simply hiding behind it, begging for her help. But there was nobody. He felt his skin burning up beneath his clothes.

Panicking and irate, he threw off his jacket and sweaters until he was standing shirtless in the blank, white world, his shrieking voice faint in the bellowing storm. He began to walk through the deep of the snow and, short of a hundred meters away from his truck, the coarse and stiff top layer of sharp ice scraped against his stomach and hips until his flesh gradually peeled clean off and the blood rolled down his sides, a fringe of red left at the edge of his trail. He carried on bluntly.

He saw her in the distance and she saw him and they ran through the snow as if it wasn’t there. He laughed and smiled, moving as fast as he could. They wrapped their arms around each other and he told her how sorry he was for everything, for ignoring her, for assuming the worst of her. And she explained that it was her father she had been talking to. Her father whom would pay for their wedding in the next coming of spring with money he had been saving. The news was supposed to come as a surprise to him. She had told him this before, when he would walk out on her. “It’s okay, baby. . . it’s okay,” she whispered in his ear. He cried and smiled and his tears froze on his face and she enveloped him in her heat, so much so that he was no longer cold or burning up. He held everything he ever wanted. “I love you,” he said, and died in her arms.

The snowfall stopped. A sea of ivory surrounded him as he lay lifeless, his arms wrapped around a mound of coagulated snow. His eyes were open and unmoved, his skin blue and purple and peeling. Dashes of white flakes rolled across his face as he stared across the rippled pallid. The day was reluctant of conclusion, the sun piercing through the thick gray above. A whispering wind in the dead of winter. In the world where volcanoes rumbled and cows grazed and men stood patiently in suits among towering monuments build by great machinery and mountain ranges rose above heathens, existence was wrapped around minuscule flakes that glared like billions of diamonds scattered across the numb basin.


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