When Emily rose from the icy depths the tents were gone. Smoldering remnants of her beloved camp surrounded her. Disorderly black ash replaced her once pristine lab and temporary home. The pungent odor of fuel burned her nose and throat.
“Mike! Susan! Roberto!”
Her eyes watered as she scanned for her friends past wafts of smoke. After spending almost a year together in this frozen wasteland she hadn’t considered them just co-workers for a long time.
She lifted a thin piece of sheet metal on the edge of the blackened devastation. Her eyes swelled and her stomach churned. Susan’s bright red boots were the only recognizable feature on the charred body in front of her. She fell to her knees and sat back on her heels trying to swallow the hard knot in her throat.
There was nothing left of her camp. Remembering her supplies were just delivered two days ago, she knew there would be no help coming to her for another month. She was on her own.
Emily stood up. Her eyes examined the rubble for anything that might be of use to her. She managed to find the remnants of the camp radio. Unlike its owner Mike’s coat was untouched so she zipped it shut over her scuba suit. She needed something other than flippers on her feet though. Acid bubbled up to the back of her mouth as she recalled Susan’s singed red boots.
She never visited any of the other camps. She only knew they existed from speaking with the pilot, James, who brought her supplies. He was supposed to take her home next month. She remembered him telling her of another camp less than fifty miles east. If she could make it there, she’d find help.
She had no food or water, but somehow having her knife on her hip gave her comfort. As she trudged along through the thick snow her thoughts raced. She tried to shirk off the panic by calculating in her head the last ice measurements she took. All the numbers in the world couldn’t seem to keep the fear inducing questions from springing back to her mind though.
The sunshine was constant and she found it difficult to know what time of day it was. How long had she been walking? While time escaped her the cold lashed against her face, splitting her pursed lips.
Her body begged for rest. She sat down on the arctic powder shivering. She pulled her knees to her chest resting her head on them. Burning relief washed over her eyes when she closed them. When she finally raised her head again, the fur trim on Mike’s hood danced throwing dusty flakes on her lap. Ice painted her lashes silver making it difficult to see anything but the dazzling white converging on her. But she rose up and stumbled on.
Ducking against the brisk air’s punishment, she looked down as she trudged on. She stopped abruptly at the sight of footprints partially erased by the ravenous wind. She turned full circle squinting in search of another human being.
The wind mocked her with a response. She followed the prints convinced they would lead her to the savior she couldn’t see.
Emily surrendered to disbelief at the second set of fading footprints. She stared at them looking toward the direction they were leading her. One set mimicked another appearing to be the same in size and shape. Her breath halted and her heart sank as she placed Susan’s boot on top of one of the impressions. Hysteria enveloped her entirety as she matched the boots to the other set of prints as well. Tears would burn her cheeks if the wind hadn’t already stolen them.
Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. Her defeat gave way to euphoria as she glanced down. Her body tensed and her violent shivers forced her to her knees. Crawling on the ice, she peered forward into the vastness. She thought she saw smoke swirling from a chimney surrounded by bright yellow and orange tents. Her mind continued with tricks when she heard feet crunching against the snow that lay ahead. She was ready for her rescuers. With warm thoughts of home her heavy eyelids closed as she laid face-down on the snow-covered ice beneath her.