Another piece of timber falls from the ceiling, shattering on the ground beside Michael.
“Oh God!” Michael screams, stumbling backwards. “The cabin’s falling apart!”
James doesn’t hear him. He manages to control his trembling fingers long enough to press them against Alexander’s neck.
He can’t find a pulse.
Alexander doesn’t have one.
James covers Alexander’s mouth with his, breathing his air into his lungs.
I need you.
He places his hands over Alexander’s chest, beating his heart for him. An image of Alexander lying on the ice with Michael doing the same flashes in his mind, clouding his vision.
I’m sorry, buddy. I’ve caused you so much pain.
This is my fault.
It was supposed to be me.
It should be me.
He blinks past the tears and leans forward, breathing into Alexander’s lungs once again.
I need you.
There’s a loud crash above him. He doesn’t stop to see what caused it.
I need you.
I can’t lose you.
He pushes his hands against Alexander’s chest. Against his heart.
Some small part of his brain registers a voice he does not recognise saying a name he does not know. He looks up in time to see a woman unhook herself from a harness attached to a rope that is dangling through a hole in the ceiling.
“Where is Charlie?!” she demands.
“Who?” Michael asks, staring at her incredulously.
“The park ranger! He’s supposed to be here! Where is he?”
James doesn’t hear any more of their conversation.
Beat, he commands Alexander’s heart, staring at his eyes, waiting for them to open. Beat, goddammit.
“Robert!” the woman yells, cutting through the white noise in James’ head. “We need help down here! We need the defib!”
Large flurries of snow blow into the cabin through the hole in the roof. A moment later there’s another voice inside the cabin.
“He’s not here. The kid needs help. Go!”
“Sir?” A man stands behind James. “Sir, I’m a paramedic. Move back. Let me help the boy.”
James doesn’t respond.
“Sir! Let me help! I can help!” He puts his hand on James’ shoulder. James shoves him away and puts his hands back over Alexander’s heart.
I need you.
I can’t do this without you.
“James!” Michael yells. More snow falls through the ceiling. “James, move! Let him help! Let them help!” Michael grabs him from behind, pulling him away.
“HE NEEDS ME! HE NEEDS ME!! ALEXANDER!! ALEXANDER!!” James twists away from Michael hard enough to pop his shoulder out of place for the third time. He screams and pulls away harder, feeling the muscles stretch and snap under his thrashing.
“J! JAMES! CALM DOWN! LOOK! THEY ARE HELPING HIM! LOOK!”
James stops thrashing long enough to look up. The man is crouching by a small machine. Alexander’s sweater is torn open and there are two gel pads on his chest. The machine beeps.
Alexander’s body jerks. The machine beeps again.
“No pulse,” the man says, shaking his head. “I’m increasing the power.” He presses a few buttons. The machine beeps.
Alexander’s body jerks even harder. The man stares at him.
“Come on,” he mutters. “Come on.”
Please, James prays silently. Please.
Alexander eyelids flutter.
He takes a tiny breath in.
The man pulls a stethoscope from a bag beside him and places it on Alexander’s chest, listening.
“He’s back,” he says after a moment, looking over at the woman. “He’s back, but he has unequal breath sounds. We gotta get him on the chopper. We gotta get them all out. We won’t be able to fly through this storm much longer, and if we stay here…”
The cabin shakes.
“Take him up,” the woman says. She turns to James and Michael. James is no longer struggling.
“Where is Charlie? Have you seen him? Is he okay??”
“He’s…He’s dead,” Michael says, letting go of James. “The place was empty when we arrived. My brother found his body up by the trees. Apparently looked like he’d passed out in the snow.” He leaves out the part where his body was eaten by bears or wolves.
The woman pales. “Okay,” she says, running her hand over her face. “Okay. We have to go. The storm wasn’t this bad when we flew in, and if we stay here for much longer we won’t be able to fly out. Can you stand?”
“Alexander,” James mumbles, finally making his brain work. “Alexander…”
“Is that the little boy?”
Michael nods. The woman looks at James.
“Alexander is okay. My partner restarted his heart. But we have to go. Now.”
James watches Alexander disappear through the hole in the roof. His ears register the sound of helicopter blades whirring through the air above them.
“Come on!” the woman says as another flurry of snow is dumped into the cabin. “We have to go!”
James stands up. His left arm dangles limply by his side. He knows it should hurt, but he can’t feel it. He can’t feel anything except terror. He allows himself to be hooked into the harness and pulled out of the cabin through the hole in the ceiling. When he gets to the top he sees Alexander strapped to a gurney inside the helicopter about a hundred feet away. The paramedic is pushing a tube down his throat. James lunges forward, slipping down the edge of the cabin roof. Someone reaches out and grabs him, steadying him.
“Easy there, bud!” the man who stopped him falling yells, helping him regain his balance. “Take it easy! Can you get to the chopper on your own?”
James manages to nod. The man unhooks him from the harness and lowers the rope back into the cabin for Michael and the woman. James runs across the snow towards the helicopter as fast as his weak legs can carry him.
“Alexander!” he screams as he reaches the helicopter. “Alexander!”
The paramedic looks up at him. He’s holding what looks like a balloon attached to the tube in Alexander’s throat. He’s squeezing it rhythmically. Breathing for him.
“Get in!” the paramedic yells above the noise of the helicopter. “We need to get out of here!”
James clambers inside. The paramedic’s eyes fall on his dislocated shoulder.
“Jesus Christ! What happened to you guys out here??”
James doesn’t answer. He falls to his knees beside Alexander and drops his head onto his chest.
“Wake up, buddy,” he sobs, clinging to him. “Wake up.”
“Sir, you need to back up. Sir!”
Michael and the woman reach the helicopter. The woman helps Michael inside. His face is contorted in pain and he is gripping his thigh with both hands.
“Keisha!” the paramedic yells. “Get this guy in a seat!”
She is beside James in a second. She wraps her hand around his arm, trying to pull him away. He cries out in pain, though he’s not sure if it’s the pain of her tugging on his dislocated arm or the pain of being pulled away from Alexander.
“Careful!” the paramedic yells. “His arm is dislocated!”
She stops and looks down at James shoulder. “Shit!” she yells. “Shit! I’m sorry!” She tries to pull James to his feet by his other arm.
“DON’T TOUCH ME!!” he roars, throwing himself over Alexander. “DON’T YOU TOUCH ME!!”
“James!” Michael stands beside the woman, clutching his leg. “You have to sit in a seat so we can get out of here! You have to let them help!”
James stares at him like he can’t understand what he is saying.
“We need to get to the hospital! You have to sit down so we can go!”
James blinks rapidly. His tears seem to freeze as soon as they leave his eyes.
“Come on,” Michael yells, taking his hand. “Let me help you.”
James stands up unsteadily. The man from the rooftop pulls himself into the helicopter, shaking the snow off his clothes and closing the door. “Alright!” he yells to the pilot. “Let’s go!”
The pilot nods. “Buckle up! It’s going to be a rough ride!”
Michael helps James into a seat. “J!” he yells. “Put your seatbelt on!”
James doesn’t move. He watches Alexander’s chest rise and fall with every squeeze of the balloon. He feels lightheaded.
“James!” Michael yells. “James!!” After a moment he gives up and puts James’ seatbelt on for him before sliding into a seat of his own. The woman puts James’ arm into a sling and sits down beside him, putting on her seatbelt, too.
“Okay!” the pilot yells. “Here we go!!”
The helicopter rises slowly, swaying violently as the wind pushes and pulls it back towards the ground.
“We just gotta get higher! Hold on!!”
James’ stomach lurches as the pilot pulls up, breaking away from the snow that has already started to bury the base of the helicopter.
“How did you find us?” Michael yells to the woman. She turns to him.
“We were looking for Charlie! He missed several of his check-ins and when we tried to contact him, the line was disconnected! This was his last known whereabouts!”
Michael looks at her sympathetically. “I’m sorry!” he yells. “We would have helped him if we could, but he was already gone!”
The woman nods. “It’s okay! I’m just glad we got to you three before it was too late! We saw the avalanche hit! We didn’t expect to find the cabin still standing when we landed!”
Michael looks over at James. He looks like he is going to be sick or pass out. Or both. “Thank you!” he yells, turning back to the woman. “Thank you!”
She tries to smile. “Thank me when we’re safe on the ground!”
“Alexander,” James whispers, reaching for his seatbelt.
“He’s okay!” Michael yells, taking his hand. “We’re on our way to the hospital. He’ll be okay, J!”
James grips Michael’s hand. “He was dead,” he says, too quiet to be heard over the wind and the helicopter blades. “He was gone. He was gone, Michael.”
Michael can’t hear what he is saying, but he grips his hand just the same. “He’ll be okay!” he repeats, holding onto the side of his seat as the helicopter rocks forcefully. “He’ll be alright!”
Please be alright, James whispers inside his head, unable to take his eyes off the rise and fall of Alexander’s chest. Please be okay. You have to be okay. I need you.
I need you.
Stay with me.
I need you.