By Jaren J.
Trudging through snow was hard enough without dragging your friend behind you, but Millie always liked a challenge. Had her friend, Dalmar, not broken both his legs in a nasty fall, they would have reached the greener pastures just outside the thawing edge of the frozen North by now. Instead, Millie now found herself hours behind schedule and freezing to death for it, caught up in a blizzard and hauling extra weight behind her in the torn cloth remains of her favorite tent.
“When we get to Northern Pastures,” she began, stopping mid-sentence, breathing heavily with exertion. “You’ll be owing me a drink or two.”
No response came from the cloth bundle behind her, so Millie continued rattling on to herself as some form of entertainment, all the while never missing a step, keeping pace. After all, they had no time to lose, with a quick glance upward, Millie saw the sun passing its pinnacle, beginning its long and lonely fall back to the horizon.
After a time, Millie stopped talking. She never was a fan of her voice. Her sisters were always able to sing a wonderful, lilting tune, but Millie had the voice of a dying rabbit, and her old age had not helped in the slightest. The only thing she had to her name anymore was a strong physique, having worked hard in a lumber mill most of her life. It seemed that skill was a little more useful now than a singing voice.
There came a clattering noise some space after she had stopped her squawking, a quiet clattering she almost missed in the howling wind and blinding snow. Staying still where she stood, she turned slowly, not wanting to upset whatever animal, creature, or spirit may be behind her. About half-way around, she heard it again. It was coming from the cloth. It came from Dalmar.
With a sigh of relief, Millie set down her end of the bag, the clattering of – no doubt – Dalmar’s teeth coming to an end. “Cold are we?” she chided, approaching her friend. “Don’t you worry, now. We’re almost there.” She lied. Reaching into the bag, Millie tightened Dalmar’s large, fur coat tight, so tight she could have sworn he had lost half his body weight in transit. “There, much better.”
She returned once more to her end, but stopped as she reached for the brown cloth. Millie hadn’t noticed before, but her gloves had become riddled with holes. She hadn’t noticed because some time ago, her hands had turned pale, colorless as the flesh and blood failed to maintain much heat. Now, staring at appendages of such wild shades of blue and purple that she swore no human-being had ever carried such a painting on their hands before, an odd sense of pride began swelling up in her, despite knowing this meant her hands were beyond frostbitten.
“We must hurry, eh, Dalmar?” she jovially stated, cackling as only an old lady could. She was always optimistic. It kept life interesting, and made death even more so.
Removing the useless fur-lined mittens, she retrieved the tent’s end and continued on dragging. Wandering ever deeper into the endless white of snow. She wasn’t lost, mind you, she had made this exact expedition a thousand times in the past. Every so often, Millie passed a long since cut tree stump or rock that stood out in the snow, landmarks she knew all too well, better than people, even better than the man she carried behind her. In her travels, she had seen every angle, face, and blemish of every season the dead things of the North had to offer.
With each crunching step, Millie reflected on Dalmar, curious about the fact that she knew the stale and lifeless North better than she knew her once lively friend. Dalmar was quite some years her senior, but equally as spry, much to Millie’s astonishment. With every year she had tacked onto her, the more and more the village-folk of Northern Pastures wanted her to settle down and live a quieter and less active life among the village elders. They wanted her, at least as far as she saw it, to lie down and face death with relaxation, with ease. No one ever asked Millie what Millie wanted.
Millie wanted to keep swinging her axe, pushing her saw, and tossing wooden slats and logs, right to the very end. If it came to it, she wanted to be kicking and screaming as death ejected her from life. She wanted to flail her arms in rebellion against the gravitational descent into the seemingly inky black pits of the afterlife.
Dalmar wanted the same. Millie had watched him do it; flail and fight the inevitable death that others declared was coming for them in their age. She reasoned that was why they had gotten along so well. That was even the reason Millie came to the harsh snows of the North so often, why she had begged Dalmar to join her in facing the most death-like and monochromatic place in the world. Death was something to fight, and they fought it.
“What was that?” Millie asked, once more stopping in the snow, losing precious time.
Dalmar had mumbled something. She was sure of it.
“Why, of course! Your hands are easily as cold as mine!” She had remembered Dalmar’s gloves had torn when he held fast to the edge of the cliff-side he had unfortunately tumbled down some moments after.
Once more returning to Dalmar’s end of the tent, Millie crouched at his side and grabbed his hands. With a quick and warning-less tug, she pulled them clean off his arms with a sickening pop! Withdrawing them from the bundle of cloth in which Dalmar so peacefully resided, Millie wasted no time casting them aside, losing them in a drift of powdery, windswept snow.
“There!” Millie grinned. “‘And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off’ or so the good book says. Much better. They can’t be too cold if they aren’t there anymore, right?”
Peering ahead, Millie noted the sun’s glow nearing the tell-tale solid white of the edge of the world amidst the swarming tones of gray and…brown! Hopping to her feet, Millie strained her snow-light blinded vision to see the tiny fountains of weathered grass that looked like ants in the distance, the beginning of the miraculously short transition between the frigid North, and its more temperate cousin.
“Almost there, Dalmar. Just an hour or so longer.” Millie said softly. “We’re moving into the thaw.”
Running to the tent’s stretching end, Millie began pulling Dalmar with more force than before, desperate to reach the grasslands.
In just under an hour, panting and out of breath, Millie set the nearly severed end of the tent down on grass triumphantly, frost-eaten hands on her hips. “At long last, we have arrived, dear Dalmar.” His clattering bones were the only reply, but Millie took it as a happy clattering.
Strutting like a peacock, Millie took her end and unwrapped the tent from around Dalmar as she walked, pulling the fabric apart like a human zipper along a body bag. Taking the shovel that lay beside him, Millie planted it firmly in the not nearly as permafrosted soil before reaching for his skull. Grabbing it firmly by the jawbone, Millie pulled Dalmar’s skull from its neck joint. “We’ll bury all your bones here to keep you warm and come back for them after we – oh, sorry – I warm my hands,” she reasoned, placing a finger on his recently cleaned forehead.
“But I think you’re coming with me,” she wistfully stated, cackling as only an old lady could.