Friday, 20 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty

The wind howls past them, blowing the snow off the nearby trees and making it hard to move forward. James can hardly feel any part of his body. He wonders if he’s even moving. If he’s even breathing. If maybe he actually died in the avalanche and this is his hell. If this is his punishment for all those years of holding so much hatred and anger in his heart. For going out at night and beating people up as though he could transfer his pain to them, as though hurting them would take away some of his hurt.

He wonders if maybe, just maybe, he deserves it.

Alexander’s teeth are chattering. He pushes himself closer to James and squeezes his eyes closed.

No, James thinks, trying to walk faster. This can’t be hell if Alexander is here.

“Michael!” he yells over the snow. “He needs warmth! He needs shelter! He needs--”

“I know, J!” Michael yells back. He lost his cane in the avalanche and is struggling to keep up. “I know! We might have to build another snow trench until this wind dies down!”

James feels sick at the thought of putting Alexander back into an icy hole, but he can’t see any other option. They can’t stay out in the wind.

“Fine!” he yells, looking around for a good area. “We better do it now because I don’t think…” He lets the sentence hang.

Oh my God.

He shuffles forward, blinking the snow out of his eyes, terrified that he is hallucinating.

It can’t…It can’t be…

“MICHAEL!!” he screams, too afraid to take his eyes off it to turn around to face him. “MICHAEL!! DO YOU SEE IT?? CAN YOU SEE IT??”

“See what?” Michael yells back. He’s already on his knees digging the trench.

“THERE!” James screams. “OVER THERE! IT’S A…”


James whips around to face him. “It’s really there, right?!” he yells. “You can see it, right?!”

Michael squints into the distance in disbelief. “COME ON!” he screams, awkwardly trying to run. “COME ON! WE MUST BE BACK AT THE SKI LODGE! COME ON!”

James doesn’t need to be told twice. He runs off into the distance, so desperate to get Alexander to the warm safety of the lodge that he temporarily forgets Michael can’t move quickly. He stops and turns back, running towards him.

“GO!!” Michael screams, gripping his thigh. “GET ALEXANDER TO THE LODGE! I’LL CATCH UP!!”

James hesitates, but Alexander’s continuous whimpering is enough to convince him. He turns back and sprints towards the lodge, holding Alexander as steadily as possible.

“I’ve got you, buddy,” he breathes, trying to run even faster. “I’ve got you. You’ll be safe in a minute. I’ve got you.”

The cabin grows nearer. James looks around for more cabins or signs of people, but there aren’t any. It stands alone. As he gets closer, he sees why. They aren’t back at the ski lodge. The cabin is small and isolated, probably belonging to the Colorado Parks and Recreation and used by the park rangers passing through the area. Part of the cabin is buried under snow, seeming to have caught the tail end of an avalanche. The hope that was building in James’ heart evaporates.

We aren’t safe yet.

Still, he thinks, continuing to run. There’s probably a phone in there. Blankets. Food. Dry clothes. A generator. Enough to keep us alive until help arrives.

Enough to keep Alexander alive.

He slows down as he approaches the door. He looks over his shoulder. Michael is still a few hundred feet away. He turns back to the cabin. Snow comes halfway up the door, blocking the path. He leans over and bangs on the door as hard as he can.


There’s no answer.

He tries the door. It’s locked. He bangs again.



His limbs feel like they are made out of jelly but he finds the strength to shuffle back and kick the door. It opens in one hit. The snow from the entrance slides into the doorway. He steps over it and hurries inside.

“Hello??” he calls again, looking around. The cabin only has one room, and it’s empty. But there is a bed. With blankets. He rushes over to it and puts Alexander down beside it.

“Can you stand on your own?” he asks. Alexander nods. His lips are still blue. James lets him go and begins to take off his wet clothes. Alexander starts to cry as soon as the sling is off.

“I’m sorry, buddy,” James whispers, almost crying himself. “I’m sorry. But you can’t stay in these wet clothes. We have to get you dry and warm.”

Alexander nods, but he can’t stop crying. James tries not to show his fear. Alexander’s arm is almost double the size it should be, and, in stark contrast to the rest of him, burning hot. Once James has taken off all of Alexander’s top layers, he grabs a dishtowel from the nearby sink and makes a new sling. It seems to help the pain. He removes Alexander’s pants, socks and shoes, trying not to panic at the sight of Alexander’s red and purple mottled skin. He lifts him into the bed and covers him with every blanket he can find.

“It’s going to be okay,” he whispers, brushing back Alexander’s hair. “It’s going to be alright.” Alexander closes his eyes, still shivering.

“J,” Michael says breathlessly, coming inside and closing the door. “Did you…”

He stops, looking around. James is crouched beside the bed, watching Alexander.

“Is there a phone?” Michael asks, rubbing his thigh.

“I haven’t checked yet,” James says, not taking his eyes off Alexander. Waiting for him to warm up. Waiting for the colour to return to his cheeks.

Michael stares at him. He’s still wearing his soaking clothes.

“You’ve got to get out of those clothes, J,” Michael says, searching for dry clothes. There’s a jacket, a pair of gloves, and a bomber hat hanging on a hook on the wall. “You can’t stay like that. You’ll get hypothermia.”

“He’s not warming up,” James says, staring at Alexander. “The blankets aren’t helping. He’s not warming up.”

Michael pulls the jacket and hat off the hook on the wall. He spreads the jacket over Alexander and pulls the hat over his head and ears.

“Keep his head covered,” he says, pulling the blankets up around Alexander’s chin. “And his ears.”

“Body heat,” James says suddenly, standing up. “Body heat. That’s the best way to warm someone up, right? By sharing your body heat.” He whips off his soaking clothes and tosses them into the corner with the others. He’s about to get into the bed when he stops, turning to Michael.

“My skin is freezing,” he says, looking down at his own mottled skin and realising for the first time that he is shivering. “You do it. You weren’t in the water.”

“That’s exactly why you need to do it,” Michael says. “You’ll warm each other up. You need to warm up, too.”

James doesn’t argue, knowing Michael is right. He gets into the bed. Alexander immediately burrows into his arms.

“It’s okay, buddy,” James says, tangling their limbs together in an effort to maximise the skin-on-skin contact. “It’s okay.”

“My arm hurts,” Alexander whispers. James rests his cheek on the top of his head.

“I know, buddy. I know. Someone will be coming to get us soon. We’ll take you to the doctor and get you an awesome cast. Any colour that you want.”

“I want to go home,” Alexander whimpers, pushing himself impossibly closer to James. “Daddy, I want to go home.”

James wants to cry.

Or maybe he does.

“We will, buddy,” he says softly. “We’ll be home before you know it.”

Alexander rests his head in the crook of James’ neck and closes his eyes. His shivering slows down and then stops entirely. After a few more minutes, he is snoring.

James looks up at Michael, who is searching in the cupboards with one hand and clutching his thigh with the other.

“Is there a phone?” 

Michael shakes his head. 

James swallows. “What…What are we going to do?”

Michael turns to face him. There’s fear in his eyes.

“Honestly, brother…I don’t know.”