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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Saturday story - 'Tooth-walker'

TOOTH-WALKER
Nik Morton
 

Co-pilot Erica screamed as the arctic gyr-falcon chased the great skua into our Skylane’s windshield. My ears buzzed with the tortured shrieking of the dying birds and the raucous blast of polar air. Flying plexi-glass shards had lacerated my face and the onrushing wind wrenched me back as the Cessna nose-dived towards the vastness of Labrador.

Over my shoulder, Quinn and Gurney were swearing. Even as I strained at the stick and gradually levelled off the crash-dive, I stayed very conscious of Gurney’s Ruger revolver at my sweating temple.

The sea’s wave-crests leaped up frighteningly close as we skimmed above the surface. An ice floe loomed ahead, stretching almost to the horizon.

But I couldn’t get sufficient height. The aircraft was keeling to starboard.

‘Brace yourselves!’ I yelled.

We hit, ripping off the starboard wheel. The plane slewed round, crunching flat-bellied onto the iced surface, and slithered fifteen hundred breakneck feet before its shattered single propeller thudded viciously into an outcrop of solid ice.

When I regained consciousness, I was shivering. Bitterly cold. My cut face stung insistently. I jerked round in the pilot’s seat and realised that Quinn and Gurney had gone – and so had Erica. To compound my misery, my leather flying jacket had been pulled off me. They’d left me to freeze to death.

How the hell had I got into this mess?  Hazily, through my still foggy thoughts, the last few hours returned.

Erica and I had been waiting at Gander for two top-paying passengers destined for Fort George when we spotted two mechanics in green overalls hurrying across the snowed-covered runway. They gestured to be allowed onboard.

They certainly didn’t fit the description of our clients. I unstrapped and edged along the fuselage and opened the hatch.

The shorter one with curly blond hair thrust a .357 magnum revolver at my chest. ‘You may have heard of us. I’m Lee Gurney and this here’s my buddy, Dan Quinn,’ he said. His tall companion grinned.

Their prison breakout had been reported earlier on the radio. Apparently, they’d been jailed for an armed jewel robbery.

‘We need your services,’ said Quinn. It appeared they wanted me to land them on the Hudson Strait five nautical miles from Akpatok Island. Gurney’s thick lips curled derisively as I pointed out that the Strait was frozen over. ‘True enough,’ he said. ‘We’ve an important transaction to make.’

‘Do I leave you there?’
 
‘Yes – after we destroy your radio, of course.’
 
It seemed as though they’d had everything planned – except for the crash. They must have panicked, because they left the radio intact.
 
They had a rendezvous to keep, possibly with the buyers for their stolen gems. Head throbbing, I scrambled out of the frigid cockpit seat and unpacked the emergency gear. The pilot’s survival suit barely warmed me. My main concern was Erica. Once outside, I noted signs in the snow. She’d struggled and put up a bit of a fight. They’d probably taken her along as a hostage.
 
The snow was firm and crisp and presented me with a fairly easy trail to follow. Until I lost it, thanks to the fresh biting wind that seemed to howl out of nowhere.
 
Next instant, thin ice splintered and cracked under my feet and I sank to my armpits. I let out a yell of pain as the freezing brine shocked my system. My hands scrabbled at the edge but each time I found any purchase, the ice collapsed. I had to get out – and fast. My lifespan was reduced to minutes now.

Panic gnawed at my nerve-endings. Trying to stay calm, I spread my weight across the edge of ice. It cracked. I heaved. It shattered under me. My legs already felt numb. I didn’t know how long I’d have the strength to pull myself out, if I got the chance. I tried again. This time it held me for a few seconds before giving way. Third time lucky, I located a portion of thick ice that held my weight and, although exhausted, I heaved. Gasping for breath – which hurt, the air was so cold – I fell dripping onto firm pack ice.
 
I shivered uncontrollably with reaction and the numbing cold. My teeth chattered and my limbs shook. I rolled in the snow to soak up the water. Then, against all logic, I undressed and wrung out my vest and briefs. My knees, feet and hands were already an alarming shade of blue.

Four years out here had at least taught me the rudiments of survival. I’d let the outer layer of clothes freeze on me, providing insulation of sorts. My body-heat would dry my underwear. I dressed with as much speed as my violently shaking limbs could muster.
 
Fully clothed again, I shambled up a snow dune for a better view of the area.
 
An arctic hare jumped into its burrow. And, just beyond, I spotted a body. I recognised Erica’s green jacket. My heart lurched and I fearfully trod down the other side of the snowy slope. I broke into an aching ungainly trot, her name on chapped lips. My breath issued in great misty gasps. Sweat covered my cut face and hands and subconsciously I feared that my outpourings would freeze.
 
Blood patches round the corpse set my heart into overdrive. My throat was dry as I approached.
 
Barely recognisable, Quinn’s pallid features stared disbelievingly into oblivion. I’d seen men wounded by polar bears and Quinn’s wounds didn’t fit. He’d been gored by a predator with tusks. Although I was relieved to find it was him and not Erica, I felt sick at the sight. Somehow, I managed to keep my last meal down.
 
Steeling myself, I hurriedly divested Quinn of his pullover, gloves and Erica’s fur-lined jacket and put them on under my crisp frozen outer jacket.
 
I followed the tracks. Thankfully, there were no bloodstains. Then, not far away, I came upon a shallow depression where lay the bulky carcass of a cow walrus. Three bullet holes glistened in its huge grotesque skull. Its hide glistened and smelled vile.
 
Uninvited, visions of Erica being savaged by the hideous ‘tooth-walker’ sprang starkly to mind.

They hadn’t got far. By the rim of the ice floe, Gurney backed away from a bellowing bull walrus. He fired once at its massive bulk but it seemed to have no effect.
 
The creature’s tusks were about three feet long, capable of hauling him out of the water or disembowelling a seal or human. Great angry welts streamed across the hunchback animal’s tough thick blubbery hide – doubtless caused when fighting other males.

Walrus - Wikipedia commons
 
Erica was lying behind the wounded bull, red hair strewn on the snow. I stumbled up to her and switched my clothing and put the green jacket on her.
 
At that moment, the bull’s giant hind flippers – measuring three feet across – propelled its two tons amazingly fast. Its muscular lips curled back, bristling, and the blood-stained tusks lashed out.
 
Gurney fired twice, point-blank into its beady little eyes.
 
The hulk faltered, greasy skin quivering all over, then it convulsed and floundered like a stricken ship. Almost graceful, it slithered into the sea, discolouring the water red as it went.
 
I rushed Gurney. But the crunching snow betrayed me. He swivelled round and my heart seemed to stop as he aimed. I reckoned he only had one shot left, but that’s all it took to stop me. I wasn’t going to make it. I threw myself headlong forward, chest and stomach hitting the ice. I tobogganed over the snow-covered ice. His shot went wild and then I cannonaded into his shins.
 
Wailing with surprise, he overbalanced and fell backwards into the sea.
 
I grabbed for his flailing hand but the swirling water bubbled emptily. There was a bumping noise beneath the frozen surface at my feet. As though he was futilely banging his head against the impenetrable ice.
 
Presently, he floated into view, face down. I managed to fish him out. The state of him suggested that the bull walrus hadn’t been quite dead.
 
Inside Gurney’s pockets I discovered a large hide pouch brimming with sapphires.

***
 
‘There’s a US experimental station sending us a seaplane,’ I told Erica as I switched off the Cessna radio.
 
We were in a deep snowy hollow I’d prepared next to the crashed plane. I’d rigged a tarpaulin cover, but allowed ventilation to offset the CO2 from the hissing primus. Moisture dribbled down the shiny walls. One of the plane’s wings afforded shelter from the wind.
 
A bed of lifejackets beckoned.
 
‘You know,’ I said, ‘there’s probably a hefty reward for these gems.’
 
‘Well, I reckon we’ve earned it!’ Erica shivered. ‘The Yanks better hurry – the reward’ll be no good to us if we freeze to death!’

I kissed her. ‘I don’t think we’ll be cold, Erica…’
 
***
 
Previously published in New Coastal Press, 2010.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014.
 
***
 
More exotic tales can be found in
Spanish Eye
 
Spanish Eye, which can be purchased post-free world-wide from here
and the Spanish Eye e-book bought from Amazon com here
or bought from Amazon co uk here
Blood of the Dragon Trees
 
and the Blood of the Dragon Trees e-book bought from Amazon com here
 
or bought from Amazon co uk here

2 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

Oh, that's a good un! Tight, tight writing.

Nik said...

Thanks for that, Paul. Appreciated. Yes, a magazine of this type has a limited word-count/space so every word has to count.