By Duane Hewitt
Copyright 2016 Duane Hewitt. All Rights Reserved.
The wind was fierce; relentless – and it blew nonstop; a wickedly persistent force that felt vindictive; almost evil. And it hurt, because along with the wind came those sharp granules of ice and snow that were like shards of glass when they hit you. The energy of the wind fluctuated but it never ceased. At 50 to 60 mph, it hurt; but it was when it picked up to 80 and 90 mph, with those wretched gusts topping 120 mph that each man was ready to burrow into the ground. And the wind just kept blowing, blowing, and blowing.
“My hands are going numb,” called out one of the men over the howl, “I guess this will teach us a thing or two about being better prepared.”
“That wind is making me crazy,” commented one of the others over the din of wind.
The man’s statement seemed to be punctuated by a heavy gust that nearly knocked two of them over.
“We better just keep going,” said someone.
They walked on, pushing against a mighty force that felt like a wall; that same wall of air would periodically change directions and hit them from behind like a bulldozer.
“Damn this!” blurted another.
One of the men tried using his cellphone, but no calls were going through due to the remote area.
None of them was prepared for the bad weather. The whole idea was to take the day – roughly a 10 to 12 hour day – to fly into the region as part of an in-and-out preliminary assessment for a hydro generation station: Nothing more. The four men were engineers conducting the first informal step of the survey. One of them had even visited the region several years ago for trout fishing.
“There’s no beauty like it on earth,” he had said. “During the warmer season, it’s like a piece of heaven. Nothing else even comes close – and it’s totally untouched; pure in the purest sense.”
But this was pure insanity. They had chartered a flight into the region just north of Great Bear Lake having started out from Big Trout Lodge on the southwest tip of the lake. The ski-plane they’d chartered was in good condition, and the pilot had made countless other flights into the area. But then something happened when they were cruising at 1,500 feet and preparing to land on the shoreline. They got slammed down hard – real hard. At first the four men thought the pilot had been knocked out. Then they realized he was dead. And the plane didn’t have a working radio. Only two of them brought cellphones. They had water, Thermoses of coffee, and a day’s worth of lunch and snacks each, but that was it. With the exception of the dead pilot, it was a blessing that they were all okay despite a few bumps and bruises, and frayed nerves.
Then a series of misfortunes ensued. First, the wind started up. This was then followed by bits of blowing snow. From there, difficulties just seemed to escalate. The two cellphones they had didn’t work, presumably because of the remote location. So, after waiting around the aircraft for a couple of hours, they decided to start walking and try to find help. That was five hours ago – it was now approaching 2 o’clock in the afternoon. In the meantime, those first few bits of snow had turned into a snow squall – and it was blinding and cold.
There was nothing they could do but keep going; keep trying, endure the wrath of nature; find shelter and get help. Each man felt this was all so crazy that any of them should be in such a situation.
Now, the gravel roadway they’d been following was starting to disappear under the blizzard. As they climbed a small crest of the roadway, one man slipped and went down.
“Damn this!” he said.
The nearest man helped him to his feet.
“How long do we keep going?” asked that same man, “and what if we don’t find anyone – or locate shelter for that matter.”
“Then,” answered the senior man, who was also the lead engineer, “we return to the plane. What else can we do?”
A sudden gust of wind, blowing through the trees, hit each man full force.
“It’s getting colder,” said the man who had recently fallen. “If the temperature plummets, we could find ourselves in big trouble.”
None of the men had the proper clothing. They wore light-to-medium weight jackets and, other than heavy outdoor cotton clothing and jeans, very little else. Each man fortunately had light gloves, and they all carried small satchels with bottles of water and a few food items for the day out.
The surrounding pine, spruce, and birch were showing the effects of the weather. Most of the trees had been stripped bare, an indication of the high winds. Now, with the incoming snow and increasing squalls, the trees were developing a whitened appearance that accentuated their bareness. And through those trees, the growing gusts were sounding like something akin to a fast-moving freight train.
“This is getting ridiculous,” hollered out one of the men over the maelstrom.
“It’s like rushing water,” said another, but the sound was becoming too fierce for him to be heard.
They pushed onward, seemingly forever against the onslaught of wind. They were probably still on the roadway, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to see. There was no way to tell if they were still on the road or not, but wherever they were walking, it was at least clear of trees and bushes – so far.
An hour and 20 minutes later, one of the men spoke up.
“Nothing!” he shouted over the tumult that hammered away at them relentlessly. “We haven’t found anything. We could end up freezing out here! – And in four to five hours it’ll start getting dark. Then what are we going to do!”
Each of the four men stopped. They immediately came together.
“To hell with this,” said someone as the wind carried off his words.
“We could die out here,” said the senior engineer over the sound of rushing air that was like that of a freight train. “Shall we take votes? We could go back to the plane. If we’re stuck out here tonight, it’ll give us some cover. Otherwise… we could freeze.”
With the onslaught of wind hammering away, it seemed like the only decision available to them. It was agreed that they turn and head back. But they’d been walking for hours and there was no way to retrace their steps. Considering the territory they had covered, finding their way back was not as easy as it might have seemed. Nevertheless, it was mutually agreed to head back to the downed aircraft.
Immediately upon turning to go, the wind caught every man off balance. They would now be walking directly into a relentless flurry as it howled, blew, and maintained its unremitting non-stop torment.
“God help us!” cried out one of the men against the bombardment. “It’s getting worse!”
That it was. The wind only barely yielded periodically through its cruel intention to strike harder and harder with the next series of gusts that carried across the roadway and through the trees.
“It’s like the goddamn tundra,” hollered one of them.
“Yes!” concurred another. “We’re within the Arctic Circle here.”
It was true; this particular region north of Great Bear Lake was within the Arctic Circle – but no one heard that man speak over the scream and snap or the sting of bitter wind.
They continued, doing their best to march on against a beast that was determined to conquer them. Step after painful step they pushed on. If they had left earlier footprints, those tracks were obliterated. And, with every step and every effort, the wind seemed ever so determined to beat them. It blew straight down on them and then it swirled to send shudders of cold through their modest clothing. They persisted, so the wind picked up, increasing the volume of noise like an avalanche of sound that would defeat the insignificant humans.
Sometime later, one of the men felt he couldn’t take it anymore.
“My face feels like its freezing,” he screamed out at the top of his lungs, just to be heard over the monstrous force that showed no remorse; no mercy.
“We must be close!” screamed back the senior engineer. “We must keep going.”
“Can we find some protection in the trees?” asked someone.
“If we stop, what then?!” came the response. “We’re close – wrap your jacket around your head and neck for a while.”
But the wind would not allow the man to protect himself in this way – and so the man just got colder as the wind blew at him dispassionately – or worse, vindictively.
Twenty-minutes later, one made a telling statement, hollered as best as he could above the noise that constantly escalated:
“It’s alive!” said the man. “The goddamned wind – it’s alive!”
“What?” was the response over the deafening noise, “What did you say?”
“I said it’s alive, the wind… the goddamned wind is alive!”
This time, every man heard but no one dared to comment.
“We’re going to die!” screamed the man as a brutal blast of air threw him down. “If we don’t freeze, we’re all going to die from hunger or this god-forsaken wind!”
Meanwhile, the wind howled it’s relentless, hateful campaign against the puny men.
“We have to keep going!” someone screamed.
“I said we’re not going to make it! We need to find protection!”
As if reading their thoughts, the wind created a whirlwind to surround them. They couldn’t move. There was no way to proceed and no way to retreat. It was like being in the middle of a tornado.
“Aargh!” screamed a man. “What does it want? What! What are we supposed to do?”
“It’s getting stronger!” screamed another – but his words could barely be heard over the scream of the wind.
“Keep going!” said someone. But that man could not be heard.
And the wind kept blowing and blowing and blowing…
The men fought to keep going. Then, just when they were coming over a slight rise, at the tip of the lake, they caught a glimpse of the downed aircraft.
“Look!” someone said. And in that same instant, the plane, on its side on what was now a freezing shoreline was lifted and thrown over like a toy. Just as suddenly, it was sent toppling, as if a giant had violently thrown it down the shoreline, out of sight.
And the wind accelerated, making it sound like a jet engine.
“We’re going to die!” someone screamed.
One man was then picked up, spinning rapidly, while emitting a scream that merged with the ear-piercing wind. He disappeared violently, straight up, spinning impossibly fast, as he flew apart.
Another man was then thrown with such force backward that he was dashed into the tree line 40 yards away, pulverizing his body.
One of the remaining engineers tried to shout “lie down flat!” but the wind would have none of it. He was flattened by a force that expelled every ounce of air out of his body and was then just as rapidly tossed across the newly formed ice of the lake. He seemed to skid forever on the brutal abrasive ice of the massive lake that was like a hateful, wicked ocean.
The older man, the senior engineer, fell over and then crouched and waited. He waited some more. The wind howled. It screamed. It spun around him with an anger that was like a pathological frenzy. He – that last surviving man – muttered, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I’ll go away. I won’t come back. Let me live! Please, please, please…”
The wind hesitated – then stopped. It simply died down. There was no more snow. The clouds dispersed. In mere moments, there was barely a breeze. A ray of light broke through from the setting yellow-and-orange colored sun, in what remained of the early part of the evening. Shortly, the sky was full of stars – brilliant and dazzling in their perfection.
Five days later, that sole surviving engineer was back in the Vancouver head office. He had suffered exposure but he had been found and lived. Later, recounting the experience while writing his report, he sat back from his desk. A small tear slid down his cheek. After detailing the events that led to the deaths of his associates, he concluded his paper with a short paragraph stating that no development should be made in that region of Great Bear Lake and the vast natural, beautiful expanse that surrounded it. Weeks later he resigned.
“And, for this reason,” he wrote in his letter of resignation, “I will dedicate the remainder of my life to the preservation of this beautiful natural heritage that must be protected at all costs.”
Copyright 2016 Duane Hewitt. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this work may be copied or transmitted by any means whatsoever without the prior written approval of the author. Duane Hewitt asserts his rights as the author to this work and its plot, themes and characters, under International Copyright and Intellectual Property Laws.