The White Wolf
The streaking ball of flame brightened the night sky. Like a bullet from Heaven, it plummeted toward the forest floor far below, and as the fireball disappeared into the carpet of green pines, a muffled thump echoed in the remote Yukon valley.
It was cold. Nighttime was always coldest in the unforgiving land. Even though it was Spring, the temperature was still barely above the freezing mark, and snow still spotted the mossy ground. Tall, lush, pine trees dug their roots deep into the bare rock and clung precariously to the slopes of the rolling mountainside. The forest slept; curled up tight in a warm hole or nest, the hardy creatures that lived in this harsh land knew to take shelter at night. It was more than just freezing to death from the biting cold, for savage predators took advantage of the poor light and prowled both the land and air in search of their next meal.
Barely anything noticed the little airplane crash-land in the tangle of thick pines. It would be several hours before the sun finally peeked over the horizon. As the fires died out, the wind sighed in relief and went back to biting at the heels of the unlucky animals caught out in the cold. It shrilled in happiness as it whistled through the pines that littered the valley slopes, giddy from chasing its own tail, up and down the sharp, shearing, mountain slopes. It reveled in the crisp, clear, cold air. For the wind knew the land is always darkest just before dawn. Time to play.
A cry of fright and pain echoed in the dark; a life is snuffed out to sustain another. The wheel turns and on it goes, for such is the way of life in the remote North.
The moon was hiding. In a land of magic and gods, even the spirit of the lesser light knew better than to shine this night. The tension in the air was as tight as a bowstring, and it ebbed over the crusted snow.
The howl of a wolf joined the shriek of the wind and suddenly the haunting howl was joined by another, and another. A pack of predators has discovered a pair of elk, and soon all in the valley knew that blood was going to be spilled before the sun would rise. The two had wandered away from the herd and found themselves in the small valley. They took shelter in what they thought was safety, and now found themselves running in fear through jagged rocks and twisting pine trees during the blackest of nights. One wrong move would spell disaster, but to slow down meant being shredded alive by the snapping teeth of the fierce wolves.
The dark night delighted in the pain, and flexed its frosty muscles across the land. Ice popped, and trees quaked as the rumble shook the valley into submission. The wolves went silent, as did the dying elk. A deathly silence settled over the land, and the wind sang in delight. For those curled up in fear and cold, the sun couldn't rise fast enough.
Throbbing pain shot through Eric's head. His hand shot up instinctively to feel his forehead and face, and he blinked hard to chase away the small dancing lights on the periphery of his vision. His fingers immediately became warm and sticky, and Eric knew it was blood. He blinked again, but couldn't see anything for the inky blackness that smothered him. Groaning as he tried to sit up, he remembered the crash; a ball of streaking fire. The screams! The impact! Eric groaned again as his body was wracked in pain from the impact of the small aircraft hitting the mountainside.
He was lucky to be alive! When the engine suddenly burst into flame, the small airplane dove out of the sky like a lead balloon! The last thing he heard was the screams of his children.
His children! Eric fumbled in the dark trying to feel for the seat belt release so he could escape the pinning seat. His mind went numb as he moaned in pain from the pulse that raced across his forehead. He had to stop moving to prevent himself from passing out. In the dark, he strained to listen.
The silence was deafening. Outside, the wind howled as it rattled the broken frame of the light aircraft. The wings were folded and broken, and a trail of metal parts lay strewn behind the wreckage. The creaking cries of dying metal and the hiss of snow sublimating on the smoking engine echoed in the dark. Eric could hear his own pulse booming in his ears, and he held his breath trying to hear any sign of his children in the seats behind him.
The small quiet gasp made his heart jump. A shot of adrenaline flooded his body and he reached around to unbuckle the belt. His fingers fumbled with the plastic button, and he grunted in frustration. During the crash his seat had wedged itself tight against the console between him and the pilot, and the buckle left barely any room for his fingers. To make matters worse, he couldn't feel his fingertips from the cold. In desperation, he jammed his fingers into the tiny crack and suppressed the urge to scream in pain.
A metallic click was heard in the dark and Eric felt his body slide in the leather seat. The small plane was lying on its side, and he suddenly found himself sitting on the side window. He took a deep breath now that he was free from the constraining seat-belt and he steadied himself. The dazed man swallowed hard and realized his throat was parched. How long had he been unconscious? Eric had no idea, and reached for his forehead again to check to see how bad the bleeding was. He cleared his throat in a growl, and swallowed again. “Hey”, he whispered hoarsely, “Are you guys there?”
There was a quiet groan, and Eric immediately recognized his daughter's voice. He slowly twisted around in the dark, feeling his way with numb hands. Broken glass crackled and crunched under his weight as he shifted, and a sudden snap beneath him caused the window to cave in. Eric sank into the cavity of the broken window, and ice cold snow rushed up to soak his pants.
“Dad?”, a frightened whisper called out in the dark. More urgently, the voice of the young teenage boy called again, “Dad?! Where are you?” He began to sob quietly.
Eric grabbed the leather airplane seat and pulled himself out of the wet snow. “Chris?”, he grunted with concern, trying his best to be comforting to the young man, “Hey champ. Are you OK?” His hand gripped the seat tightly and Eric pulled himself toward his two children in the backseat of the airplane.
There was a gasp and Christopher sobbed “No!”, and he burst into a pitched groan. “My stomach and my leg hurts, dad”, he whined. He was gasping for air as he began to cry and groan in pain. “I'm scared”, he whispered between sobs.
Eric could feel his heart wrenching as he heard the pain in his son's voice. “Ssh”, he cooed, “It'll be OK”, as giant tears welled up in his eyes. It was still absolutely pitch black in the cockpit of the small bush-plane, so Eric had to feel his way around. He pulled himself forward to reach back to find his children, when his hand brushed the pilot's jacket. He was shocked at first, but recovered quickly. “Dan”, he hissed tensely, “You OK buddy?” He reached over and started to gently shake the man's shoulder. “Dan”, he repeated, “Are you...” He stopped in midsentance as he realized his hand was awash in sticky, cold blood. In revulsion he instinctively pulled his hand away as he gasped aloud.
Christopher cried, “What dad? What is it?”
Eric knew the man was dead. He shivered from the grisly thought, but he didn't want to panic his children any more than they already were. Swallowing the lump of fear in his throat he quietly wiped his hand on the dead man's sleeve. “Um, it was nothing, Chris. Everything's fine”, he lied. He tried to change the subject, “Is Kelly OK? Can you check please?”, he asked.
“Dad”, a small young girl's voice called out, “I'm cold”.
Eric sighed in relief. “OK guys”, he muttered, “Listen to me. The airplane has crashed, but we're going to be alright”.
Kelly started crying. “I wanna go home”, she bawled in the pitch dark, “I want mom!”
Agony rolled over Eric like a mighty storm wave crashing against the shore. His chest buckled and he gasped for air as he nearly bit his tongue off from clamping his teeth together so quickly. He gagged from hearing the painful sobs of his little girl, and was helpless as giant, salty tears rolled unchecked down his cheeks. They stung in the bitter cold of the Yukon winter storm and he blinked hard to force them from his eyes. In the dark he could hear his son trying softly to calm his sister. His mind reeled from shock and sheer panic as the gravity of the situation was becoming clear in the cold, dark; his family was going to die quickly if he didn't do something quickly!
Forcing himself to breath calmly, Eric forced his numb fingers to examine the interior of the cockpit. Feeling his way in the dark, he found the middle of the airplane's seat. With a sudden boost of adrenaline, he pulled himself up and reached toward his children. His hands bumped into a thin leg, and he grasped his daughter's calf with encouragement, “It's OK baby. Daddy's here”, he soothed. “Hey champ!”, he added, reaching over to pat his son on the leg, “Everything is going to be...” He stopped in midsentance.
Blood. His fingers pulled away from his son's leg feeling wet and sticky. “Dad”, Christopher's voice called out, a note of panic and pain in his voice, “My leg hurts”.
Swallowing hard, Eric tried his best to sound brave. “It's um. It's going to be alright Christopher”, he stammered, “Let me, um. Can I feel it to see how bad it is?”
“What's wrong dad?”, Kelly shrieked. She started panting heavily as panic tore through the young girl, hyperventilating in the frigid cockpit.
“Kelly”, her father urged, “Calm down sweetheart. Chris just has an injury on his leg..” He wiped off his fingers on the leather seat of the plane and reached out to try and comfort his daughter. “Honey, we need to calm down”.
Chris couldn't feel his leg. The shock of the crash landing was making it hard to concentrate, but the throbbing in his leg had stopped and become numb. He knew there was something extremely wrong with his leg, but he didn't want to admit to anyone, including himself, that it was as bad as it was. “There's something sticking out of my leg”, he gulped, trying to explain the extent of his injury.
“Something sticking out?”, echoed Eric, trying to think of what that might possibly be. How bad, and how big? How much blood has the child lost? He cleared his throat and gravely asked, “How big is it? Can I see?” He felt his son's leg in the dark.
“Mmhhmm”, was the only reply from the young boy.
His fingers climbed up the pant-leg, and back to the spot where he had felt the blood. In the dark his fingers bumped something hard and sharp. In horror, Eric frantically pawed at the object, as Christopher began to whimper. “Dad”, he sobbed, “That hurts”.
It was a jagged piece of metal sticking out of Christopher's leg! The sheer enormity of the situation made Eric swoon. His hand recoiled in instinctive defence, and he accidentally brushed his own face with the blood that stained his fingers. “Um, OK champ?”, he muttered in shock, “We're going to , um. We're going to get you out of there and fixed up”. His voice broke and he stopped talking.
“OK dad”, Christopher whimpered. He was growing cold and his teeth began to chatter.
Eric cleared his throat, “Listen. Is there a flashlight back there guys?”, he asked in desperation, “It should be there beside the first aid kit”.
“Where?”, called Kelly timidly. She was shivering, and her body was cramping from the tight seat belt. There was a large lump in her throat, and she swallowed hard. “Where?”, she repeated a little bit louder.
“Sweetheart, behind your seat”, Eric explained slowly, trying to sound calm, “There's a small metal box. Beside that is a flashlight clipped to the wall”. He paused and listened to her strain in the dark. “Can you reach it?”, he asked.
“No”, huffed Kelly. She twisted in her seat again, but due to the way the plane was lying on the ground, she was pinned by the seat-belt. Gravity did the rest, and try as she might there was simply no way the young girl could press the release button hard enough to counter her own weight on the hasp. She was helpless, and called out, “Dad, I can't get out of my seat-belt. I'm stuck”.
“What? Hang on”, grunted Eric. It suddenly occurred to him that both of this children were strapped in tight and hanging by their waist. He didn't know what to do; if he released their belts, they would fall just like he did. Christopher had a major injury and a sudden jolt could have serious repercussions! Eric thought hard about what to do. Thinking out loud, he called, “Chris, is there any way you can help Kelly?”
There was no answer.
The wind whistled with glee as its icy breath sucked the last drop of heat from the metal beast. Sensing a faint bit of warmth within the heart of the wreak it licked the twisted metal with its icy tongue. The powerful spirit knew this oddity didn't belong within the icy realm of the North, and it scraped its mighty claws along the broken hull. The sliver of heat remained, however, and the wind shrieked in anger.
It was only a matter time. The unrelenting wind killed all within its path, and not even the mighty pine or the towering mountain could stand undaunted in the face of such ageless power! In the end, everything withered and crumbled before the might of the Canadian North wind. While many brave adventurers have cursed the invisible killer, the wind is certainly not a good entity, nor is it evil; it simply is.
To Be Continued...