In our last issue we printed the winning entry of our winter story contest, The Green Scarf, by Edward Hayes.
George Elliott Clarke, East End resident, award-winning poet, and poet laureate for the City of Toronto, contributed an opening sentence, which was to start each of the entries.
Due to the high quality of the entries, we have decided to award a second-place prize – a $25 credit at The Great Escape Bookstore – and print another entry from one of our talented readers.
by Dan Gagnon-King
The searing brilliance of the snow seemed a shadow of the sun. For a moment, the hunger and prickling cold were forgotten, surrendered to the beauty of the Canadian North. The eroded mountains were brown and sprinkled with white, complementing the symphony of forest winds whistling between the rocks and trees. It cut through Martin’s layers like a knife. He reminded himself for the hundredth time that he should have dressed for the weather.
His plane had scraped its belly over the top of a hill after a separate issue had taken the engines. Martin woke hanging, held in by his seat belt, with a small puddle of his blood pooling beneath him from the gash across his forehead. The rest played out like an Oscar-worthy film, where Martin starred as the lone survivor trying to find his way. The problem was that Martin was no Tom Hanks, this was no desert island, and this certainly was no movie. The chill of a second gust brought him back to reality.
Martin had never been one to fear death. In fact, he feared flying more than death. He chuckled at the almost ironic thought. His friends had assured him that he had a better chance of dying from an unbalanced soda machine than a plane crash.
I don’t even drink soda, he thought to himself. Perhaps he should have asked his friends for a more relevant statistic.
It was difficult to tell where he was. He knew he was on the plane for roughly nine hours, out from his quaint home in the heart of Thunder Bay, heading to Whitehorse. It was supposed to be a journey of isolated self discovery, accompanied by a small army of tourists and a healthy legion of trained guides. He had craved a certain solitude, and he supposed that he had finally achieved it at the expense of the 30 other passengers and potentially his own life as well.
Martin pondered for a moment, twiddling his frozen thumbs beneath the pulled sleeves of his cotton sweater. He had been walking south for about 30 minutes. He tried to picture a map. It hurt to think too hard. Perhaps the gash across his forehead was deeper than he thought. He assumed that he was on the border just between Yukon and British Columbia.
It was easy to think about climbing the mountain and trying to find a town or a building, and to jump if there was nothing to be seen. It was easy to just give up. Martin was not an ignorant man, despite his lack of preparedness for the weather; he knew his chances for survival were slim, and anything would beat slowly becoming a popsicle.
However, Martin had already discovered something about himself on his journey. He was a survivor.
It could have been luck that he was the only person to survive the crash, there was nothing special about him. He had been sitting quietly in his seat despite the wide man to his left attempting a siege on his armrest for most of the flight. He kept his belt on when the sign lit up. He was kind to the attendants. Maybe that was it. Maybe that’s all it took. Maybe that little shred of human decency had kept him alive. He may lose a couple fingers and a few toes in the process, but there was no way he was going to give up now. Fate was on his side.
He slipped between the mountains into a valley filled with white-capped trees. He no longer had any feeling in his extremities, and his fingers were looking blue. The sun was setting. Martin could feel the temperature dropping by the minute as sunlight began to fade in a onslaught of pink and orange. He continued to trample clumsily between the pines, grasping the sticky sap-dripped trunks for balance.
His energy from earlier was dissipating. He feared his legs would give out at any moment, and he’d fall into the snow and be left in the woods. Maybe he would become a light snack for a local bear. He wasn’t sure if they enjoyed popsicles.
In the distance he heard a faint hum. It was a familiar sound. A car?
He shambled forward, stumbling into a few trees as he went. He hit his wound a time or two on hanging branches. He had lost feeling in his head so there was no pain, but the steady trickle of fresh blood into his eyes was a stinging burden.
He reached the road. The car he heard was far off in the distance now, nothing but red brake lights on the horizon. Martin waved frantically with the shred of energy he had left. The car disappeared over the treeline to the west. He collapsed.
Martin watched the stars with icy eyes. They were beautiful on such a clear night. He wished they didn’t have to be so far. He reached up with a blackening hand, trying hopelessly to feel the warmth of the thousands of suns lying just beyond his grasp, across the vast cushion of space.
As a pair of headlights crept up over the horizon to the east, Martin felt a comforting warmth form in the back of his throat. It spread through his head and down into his chest, then through his arms and legs. It was at that moment that he realized he no longer felt anything. The car drew closer. It was slowing down. Martin’s life flashed before his eyes. He saw his friends. He saw his parents. He was a child and an adult at once, happy and sad, angry and calm, agitated and patient. He was everything and nothing.
He smiled and shut his eyes as the car stopped and the stars faded into darkness.