Karl woke with the dawn, the habit ingrained over the years. Quickly rising he shivered at the touch of the cold stone floor. It seemed sticky. His feet were freezing to the floor. The cabin was usually cold in the mornings but this was unheard of. He shuffled to the stove. Yep, still warm. He opened the damper, stirred the coals awake and stoked the firebox. The splits started to flare to life as he slammed the door and opened the airway. He would have heat soon. He used the thundermug, filled the cast iron water boiler at the back of the stove then went back to bed and dove under the down comforters to warm up for a few minutes. This was a deeper freeze than normal. He could see his breath in the chilly morning air.
This close to International Falls he expected the winters to be harsh, but expected the cabin he'd built mostly covered by gravel, sand and dirt to a depth of four feet to be somewhat more moderated than this year had proven. The five foot passage between inner and outer doors certainly helped. The summers were nicely cool inside, despite the outside temperatures reaching triple digits at times. The brutal extremes of a deep alberta clipper would cause rubber and plastic to burst, glass to burst as well as nails, screws and bolts to pull from structures. Oil became a solid at seventy below. He wondered what the thermometer would say outside. Well, he'd have to find out when he emptied the thundermug, anyway. Last night the temperature had taken a precipitous dive past anything he'd seen in seventeen years in the area.
Time to get dressed for outside. He needed firewood and to dump the thundermug.
Goose down underwear
Wool Socks--two pair
Wool bibs and shirt-jac
Hooded canvas anorak
snow pac boots
cold air mask
Shouldering aside the massive outer wood and steel door he stepped outside. The air seemed to be instantly sucked from his lungs. Brushing the hoarfrost from the thermometer made his eyes widen in amazement--ninety four degrees below zero. He had to work fast and beware his fingers. He dashed out the nightsoil and dragged four seventy-five pound bags of coal into the entryway, then went back for more. After the second load, he slammed the outer door and quickly made his way within, to stand over his bed and peel down to his underware as quicly as possible. He'd made it with just blisters on his fingers and feet. He coughed hard until the steaming water on the stove rehydrated his lungs and sinuses. Soon, he'd have to get the coal bags situated in the entryway and venture outside again to get starter wood. There was no real way of knowing how much fuel reserve was in the LP bulk tank, but he was pretty frugal with it. Later he would start the generator and see what was happening in the outside world.
Karl had come to the US as a 7-year old refugee from the brownshirts in Germany, with the rest of his family. Heinz, his older brother was dead these few years ago. Inga, Irma, Frida were gone, Little Charli, his younger sister still sent him Christmas cards, and he to her. Mama and Papa were gone years ago. He had had his farm just a few miles from theirs near Wausau Wisconsin, happy with his wife Bea on their dairy farm, until the doctors had screwed up her treatments. Poor Bea had had years of troubles with Plantar warts digging thru her feet, but it was better than the blackening flesh and gangrene that took her life in the hospital after their treatement went bad. Poor Bea. God in heaven, she is missed. Let all that is merciful let her fly in heaven rather than trudge upon the soil. The judge had come down on the hospital like an old testament Moses after it was proved that they knew it could happen and let nobody know. Karl had a twelve million dollar settlement and the state prison was a little more full. The loss of Bea took the heart out of him. He didn't want to farm anymore. He sold off the dairy operation and wondered where to go.
He remembered reading O Henry for a college course. Alaska was too far away. He decided on Northern Minnesota. Karl rented a house until his place was done--a twenty-by-thirty foot earth-sheltered cabin made out of concrete, stone and logs--then furnished it, stocked it and moved in, to lock the world away. He sometimes missed his cows. He never missed the damned chickens. Maybe next year, a dog. Something to pet and hold. Something to love him back.
Karl dressed for outside again, and tucked two instant heaters into his shirt pockets, then donned canvas over-mitts with heater packs in them before shouldering aside the heavy outer- door again. Closing it behind him, he took the scraper in hand and cleared the door lower sash to keep the freezing water vapor from trapping him inside, locked in by his own breath.
He heard a plane. The cold and deafening silence made sounds travel enormous distances, but this sounded odd- laboring. Peering around, sheltering his eyes with a mittened hand, he saw a twin-engine plane twisting, drifting, dropping lower and lower. Then--it crashed. It wasn't far, maybe a half mile. He could make it and back. Maybe someone was alive. They came in pretty slow.
He quickly found a couple of snow suits, candy bars, several tear-open warmers and the heavy plastic deer toboggan he'd bought to harvest his fall kills, along with its rope, and a four foot stick to hold it off his heels. Bundling the clothes and a tarp in the toboggan he took off for the crash site, the snow squeaking madly beneath his boots. He had to pause occasionally to let any sweat dry to keep himself safe--sweat will kill at very low temperatures.
He paused to eat two candy bars that he'd kept warm in his shirt pocket, then locate the crash. The scent of gas flavored the icy air. He plucked a bit of fuzz from his facemask and loosed it, checking the wind, then followed the vapors upwind. Within minutes he had found the plane. It was on its side, both wings ripped off The pilot's cabin was a mess, speared by two trees There was a long gash down the belly of the fuselage, probably caused by a rock. He pulled and bent the nearly severed panels away far enough to crawl inside the plane's belly. Luggage was everywhere, tossed about. There was a square access panel leading to the passenger cabin. He pulled his was through it, tugging as the anorak he wore caught and pulled against the opening. He pulled his way into the cabin and came face to face with a hugely obese man that had been impaled by one of the trees that had come thru the wall from the cockpit. Well, that's one. The body was in a charcoal grey business suit and had a diamond ring on every finger. A big diamond ring. Karl kept looking. There was a body crumpled up on the floor at the rear of the cabin. It was definitely a woman. She had long black hair and coffee-and-cream coloration. She wasn't wearing much--just something like a robe. She was alive--her breath was fogging the air. He had to get her covered. She could have broken bones. She could have been tossed against the ceiling. Karl gently palpitated her arms, legs and ribs, checking for alignment of her back and neck. Everything seemed alright. He wrapped her in his outer anorak to keep her off the cold metal as well as cover her. Quickly he made his way back out for his toboggan. He dressed her in a snowmobile suit, tore open both spare heaters and stuffed them into her chest pockets, wrapped her in a blanket and strapped the entire package into the toboggan. Quickly looking about the cargo area of the plane once more before leaving, he noticed one locked case that appeared much stronger than the rest. In a snap decision he roped it to the toboggan and started home.
His two little fingers and four toes were solid and white by the time he got inside with his patient. He knew that he had to get all his ducks in a row before they thawed. He put her into his bed, filled the water reservior (thank God for an internal well!) and filled the stove's coal bunker, then made sure to put two bags next to the stove. he wouldn't be moving very easily for a while. He drank his fill of water and lay down next to his charge before exhaustion took him.
Karl woke to a burning in his hands and feet. The skin was coming off in sheets from his hands, feet and face. He gingerly crawled out of bed, groaning at the feeling yet knowing that it definitely could be worse--the nerves were not dead. He slathered A&D ointment over the frostbite and put on cotton socks on one end and white cotton goves on the other.
Then he had time to spare for his charge. She was sleeping regularly, seemingly unharmed. She was very pretty, with high cheekbones, a high forehead, slender nose and 'beestung' lips. He mused at her beauty, wondering where she came from, what sort of life she had coming from a plane in the middle of winter, travelling companion to someone dressed like a a mob boss. "I wish you could speak. You're mysterious and lovely."
She started in her sleep, then swallowed and sighed. He lay back down beside her and lay an arm over her as if to comfort her. She clasped his arm in her sleep and pressed it between her breasts. She sighed and fell deeper into slumber. He inhaled the sweet smell of her hair at the nape of her neck and gently fell asleep beside her.
.... There is more of this story ...