Out In The Cold
“Fuck it” he mumbled.
He hadn’t seen the sun for seven days. What was left of his tattered uniform was pulled tightly across his exposed skin to fight off the penetrating chill. His tunic wrapped around his head so only his cold, distant eyes pierced the mass of light gray cloth. The man hardly bothered to lift his head, to look out from under his makeshift hood, and then it was only to recheck his bearings, to make sure he hadn’t strayed.
He never did.
Fear of frostbite stopped nagging him days ago. The only moisture in the bitter wasteland worthy of freezing was tightly bound in thirteen silver heated flasks tied across his mid section (there had more when he started). But the fact of the matter was that he was cold, very cold.
He stumbled forward like a downed tree. His palms hit the gritty surface of the arctic tundra, scraping them raw. He looked up at his destination, the distant, constant glow; the beam that provided minimal light and no heat. Laying his head back on the frozen ground he tried to sleep knowing it was his only salvation. That and his destination, the endless beam extending from the desolate horizon far into the infinite sky.
Thoughts of his son swam through his mind. He wasn’t sure (the man hadn’t been sure about anything for some time now) but it seemed almost like... seven years since he had last seen him. The thought only encouraged him to sleep and dream. Right before he did he looked at the stars; two of them, moving, slowly, and searching... for...
He had to reach his son before the Ascension. That much he did know. As he drifted off to sleep with a dull pain in his heart his words echoed over the empty plains.
“I wonder what his name was...”
The boy sat abruptly up in his bed with a cold shiver. He’d been having the dreams more often lately. The man in the desert. Who is he? the boy thought. He sat at his desk, flipped on a light and wrote everything down as he remembered it. He paused and thought about the past couple. He now had quite a few pages filled with the details of the dreams. The first few entries were very vague because he hadn’t thought to write them down till after the fourth had occurred and he realized they were all connected.
The man had started out in a jeep of some kind. The boy hadn’t recognized it and later tried to look it up in a car book at the library without results. The weather in his dreams had been hot then, but by the third dream the weather had grown cold enough for snow to fall. The jeep had died and the man had continued on foot. It had to be below freezing and when the boy awoke he could feel it as if he’d been there, was that frostbite on his cheek? No, he rubbed his eyes and it was gone. But it felt so real.
The boy finished looking over the papers, then hid them at the bottom of his desk drawer. He did not want anyone to know about his dreams, not yet. He looked at his clock. 3:57. He had a few hours before school. He got a drink of water and went back to bed.
The man sat up slowly, pulled one of the warm flasks from his belt and drank the water inside. The warmth spread through him and he smiled. He finished the flask greedily then dropped it on the ground. He had left a trail of several such empty flasks. He hadn’t thought much of them, but they were providing an excellent trail for the men following him.
They had once called him “Sergeant,” they had once called him “Sir.” They had once looked up to him with respect. Now they were hot on his trail with orders to kill. Their confusion grew as they found the next empty flask. They had picked up the first couple to examine them but now left them where they fell.
“Maybe he wants us to find him.” Private Johnson spoke softly, not letting too much heat escape him. When the temperatures had fallen they too had abandoned their stalled vehicle.
“He’s just losing it.” Corporal Jennings said. “You remember how he was acting there towards the end. He was edgy, he wasn’t all there. Kept talking about his son. He never even had a son.”
“He could have had a son.” Private West spoke. Seeing the abandoned water flask half buried in snow made West shutter. Not from the cold, but from the thought of what had happened to his former commander.
“Sergeant Myhr never had a son.” The Corporal spoke. They all shut up as they trekked onward.
Warren Myhr sat looking at his map and realized he was fifteen miles from Dakota Territory. Once there he hoped to lose the men following him. At first he thought he had escaped Chimerain unnoticed. But as time passed he knew he was being followed and he knew who it was. He knew how this system worked; he’d been in it long enough. He knew whom they would have sent.
Dakota Territory was a jungle; it was also the end of his map. No one knew what horrors lay in wait in the unknown maw of trees. Several exploration parties attempted to chart the untamed land, but no one who had ever stepped foot in the jungle had survived to tell their tale. Myhr knew this. He also knew he had no other choice. Somewhere beyond the jungle was the beam of light... and his son. There was no way around it. He had to move on.
He stood, stretched and continued walking. The frozen ground crunched underneath his feet and the sky thundered about him. It was going to be a long fifteen miles...
“Warren! Warren, get up you’re going to be late for school!” Deborah Myhr, Warren’s mom, came running into the room shouting.
Warren was out of bed and in his jeans before his mom could stop fussing. With the sudden waking he could not remember what he had just dreamed. He hoped it was nothing important.
Downstairs, Deborah was waiting with his jacket and a warm Pop-Tart.
“It’s cold out there today, Warren. Snow.” She held his breakfast while he put his jacket on. That done, she handed it to him. “Missed your bus, car’s snowed in. Gonna have to run today.”
Warren looked at his mom as if she were joking. “You know I’m going to be late.”
“Just hurry, I don’t think Mrs. Malone will mind if you’re a few minutes late. I’ve already called ahead.”
Warren kissed his mom on her cheek and was out the door. He was not running, however. Knowing it would be faster to cut through the woods than take the cleared roads, he set off. The snow was up to his knees and running would have been a waste of energy, so he walked slowly while he ate his Pop-Tart, taking in the crisp clean air of the morning. He liked it up here in the mountains, away from everything. Most kids at school complained that there was nothing to do in town and all wanted to move to the city. Warren figured they just didn’t have any imagination.
As he crossed the frozen creek, he heard voices.
“Hey, look, it’s a frickin’ school boy.” the first voice mocked.
“Gonna go do some learnin’, school boy?” the second bellowed.
Warren did not need to turn around to know who it was. He’d known those voices for a long time. It was Robert and Timothy, the two older boys that every middle school kid feared. They had quit school after eighth grade. They would have been sophomores in high school now, had they stayed in. Warren slowly walked until he was on the other side of the frozen creek. It was not quite a river but still pretty deep and never froze all the way through. Warren spotted a large rock down by his feet the size of a small bowling ball and turned around to face them. It was very easy to distinguish one from the other. Tim was very tall and lanky. He dirty blond hair was long and unkempt and his face marked by acne scars. Robert was a little bit shorter and a whole lot wider. His short dark black hair matched the darkness in his eyes.
“What do you want?” Warren stated simply. He was one of the few kids his age who did not fear the bullies. He had the smarts to outwit them. He had always been smart.
“Not much.” Robert said as they approached the creek from the side Warren had just been on.
“Just yer lunch money.” Timothy laughed with a wide-eyed, maniacal look.
Robert was the tougher of the two bullies but he was slow, Timothy on the other hand, although he appeared weak, was wild and unpredictable. No one was sure who the leader of the pair was.
“Sorry, boys, I’m packin’ a lunch today.” Warren lied.
“Oh, that’s too bad. Guess we’re gonna hafta pound yer head in.” Robert said.
Warren picked up the rock. “Just try it, assholes.”
“You threaten us, boy?” Timothy screamed. “You think you can scare us with a fucking rock?”
“I think a lot of things.” Warren smiled calmly.
Without words, the two charged. They lost their footing on the frozen creek and began to slip. As they reached the middle Warren threw the rock, it hit with a loud crack and ice flew everywhere. A huge hole opened in the creek and swallowed the two bullies.
“Later boys.” Warren said as he wiped the dirt and snow from his hands and made his way to school.
“You’re dead, you hear me? Dead!” he heard one of them yell as they splashed in the frozen water. Warren smiled triumphantly.
Myhr stopped and listened. He heard the sounds of a chopper off in the distance. He realized that the stars he’d seen in the sky earlier hadn’t been stars at all, but the search lights from the chopper. They were getting close. He looked around and spotted a large rock some way off. It was quite a ways, but it looked like his only opportunity to hide. He looked up into the dark sky and spotted the chopper. It was too close. He glanced back at the rock.
Fifty, seventy feet at the most.
He took a breath and ran. As the rock grew closer so did the chopper, but Myhr’s eyes never wavered from the rock. He didn’t see the large light shining on the ground, just missing each time it went past. He did not need to look to know the chopper was right on top of him. He could hear it. Above the roar of the building wind and the crunching of his feet, he could hear it.
As the large roaring beast swooped down, movement was picked up on its scope.
“Could be a marmot.” The navigator spoke.
“Alan, there hasn’t been life out in these wastelands since before the first Ascension.” The pilot replied.
“So you think it’s him?” Alan was a short man with a receding hairline. Back in the suburbs of Chimerain, he had a wife, two daughters and a son.
“We’re gonna find out. Mark those coordinates.” The pilot’s name was Bob. Bob had been a pilot for seven years. He was a rather homely fellow who’d never been lucky with the ladies. He had made the military his mistress and gave her everything.
“I dunno, you have to admit what he’s tryin’ to do is pretty cool.” Alan was secretly against the Ascension. Many people throughout The New Americas had come to this conclusion. They had done so because of Myhr.
“By God! Alan! Do you want to be charged with treason! Do you want to be hung?” Bob exclaimed as he landed the chopper.
“Look, I’m just sayin’”
“Well, don’t say any more, okay? Mandate states than any crazy talk like that needs to be reported.”
“So you think, just rounding up everyone who has a different opinion should locked away? That’s no way to deal with this. The government needs to not be afraid to hear what everyone has to say.”
“I swear to god, Alan, if you don’t shut up right now!” He took a deep breath. “Look, he’s probably not out here anyway, Let’s just get this sweep done and head home.”
Myhr reached the large rock and hid himself behind it before the chopper touched down. He just hoped the men inside hadn’t seen where he’d gone. He closed his eyes and listened.
“You sure this is the spot?” Bob asked as their feet crunched on the frozen surface.
“That’s what the map says.” Alan said looking at his hand held computer. “He should be within our sight.” Frost was already beginning to build on the small screen. Alan’s gloved hands were ineffective in wiping the frost away.
“Let me see that!” Bob yanked the device from Alan’s hands. He looked closely at it then looked up again. He spotted the rock.
“What about that over there?”
Alan looked where his partner was pointing. “That’s just a rock, Bob.”
“I know it’s a rock, idiot! Maybe he’s hiding!” The wind was picking up and it was getting harder to see. “Let’s go check it out.”
“You sure you want to do that?” Alan asked. “The winds pickin’ up pretty bad. Maybe we ought to wait it out in the chopper.
“Just let me check behind that rock then we’ll be off, two seconds.”
“Alright, I’m going back, you got your head set on?”
Alan returned to the cabin of the chopper and turned on the main engine. He put on his headset and spoke into it. “Bob, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear.”
“Computers reading fifteen mile an hour winds and rising, you’d better hurry up.”
“Just hold on a second. I’m almost there. Get her ready for take off.”
Alan set the switches and waited. A few seconds passed without a sound. He tried to look out through the cabin window but the blowing snow had made it impossible to see.
“Hey!” he heard through the speakers, which was almost all static now.
“Bob, you there, Bob?”
“Bob, come back, Bob.”
“Sorry....” static covered most of the garbled voice. “Snow... ...cking up... ..ardly he... you.”
“Better hurry back, we’re probably not going to be able to take off in this wind, it’s up to twenty three miles per hour.”
“I’m com... couldn’t fi....” more static.
“Fine, now hurry up.” Alan sat back. When someone finally boarded the chopper it was not Bob.
Alan saw Myhr and pulled his gun. Myhr had already dawn a bead on Alan’s head. Alan put his gun down. “Where’s Bob?”
“Who are you?”
“Warren Myhr!” Mrs. Malone called out. Warren had not been late to class after all, but it had been close.
“Here!” Warren called back.
“Tell me the rest!” The girl sitting behind him, Bea Collins, whispered.
Warren turned towards Bea, his heart skipping a beat when it landed on her smile. “You should have seen it. Those two oafs splashing around in the water... ah, man. It was quite a sight.”
“Warren, do you have something you want to share with the rest of the class?” Mrs. Malone asked.
“No, ma’am.” Warren’s cheeks turned red and he sunk down in his seat.
“Then please be quiet. You’d be surprised but there are other students in this room who would like to learn something.”
“Sorry.” Warren mumbled.
“I wish I could have been there.” Bea whispered, her soft voice in his ear made him grin and blush. Bea had shoulder length light brown hair that she always kept in pigtails. Her soft features made her very pleasant to look at, at least as far as Warren was concerned. Her hazel eyes reflected the kindness in her heart.
Later that day at lunch, Warren and Bea sat at there usual spot. Warren was being curiously quiet.
“Warren, what’s wrong?” Bea polished off her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and wiped her hand on her pants. “You’ve hardly touched your burrito.”
“I dunno. I mean here we are. Seventh grade. I’m twelve. Less than a year and I’ll be a teenager. There are so many thing’s I haven’t done yet.”
“Please, Warren. Do you know how stupid you sound? You’re having your midlife crisis before you’ve even learned to drive. You’ve go to stop talking like this, I’ve never seen you so down. What’s been bothering you?”
Warren looked up from his coagulating burrito and into her eyes, the eyes that had stolen his heart in fifth grade when she moved to this small town in Southern California.
“Really…” he took a bite of his food to stall telling her. When he finished chomping the beans and cheese he took a sip of his soda then said, “My dad. I just wish I knew who he was. You know I never met him. My mom tells me he went away before I was born, but not because he didn’t love her or because he couldn’t stand being a dad. Mom says he was so excited about becoming a dad. He always used to talk about taking me to ball games, and playing catch with me, and stuff like that. That’s what she says. I’ve asked her if she has any photos, but she always changes the subject or comes up with some excuse why not to look for them. If she’s not in a good mood she’ll even yell at me for bringing him up. My mom’s not a very happy person. I come home sometimes and she’s in her room crying. I ask her what’s wrong and she tells me she’s had a bad day at work. But what do I know right? I’m just a stupid kid.”
“Warren, you are not stupid. You’ve got to be one of the smartest kids I know. I mean you get straight A’s in all your classes without hardly trying. You know how to deal with bullies. I swear you’re smarter and more mature than most the adults I know.”
“Yeah, I get good grades and all but what does that matter really? If I never came to school again would it matter at all? The only thing that really seems to matter to me is finding my dad. Then there’s the dreams.” Warren’s eyes widened when he realized what he’d just said. He’d given away his secret.
“What dreams?” Bea placed her arm on his shoulder.
Myhr stood shielding his eyes as the chopper took off. Alan and he had talked about his quest and Myhr was relieved to learn that there were some who still met monthly to discuss the Ascension. Planning how they could prevent it or at the very least prepare for it. But their numbers were growing smaller. Some had given up the fight while others were caught and imprisoned. Chimerain was not a safe place to be if you sided with Myhr.
The first time the Deliverer came down he spoke of a wondrous place beyond and of a coming Ascension, he said he would depart this world and take all believers with him. And he did, taking over half the world’s population with him. Those left behind became separated into two groups: those in despair because they were not “chosen,” and those who distrusted the Deliverer and grieved for the loved ones believed dead. Chaos reigned for some time after that. That was six hundred years before Myhr was born.
Now the mysterious Deliverer had returned and was speaking of an Ascension that would include the whole of Earth’s inhabitants. While most fell prey to his words, Myhr, among others, knew there was a dark truth behind the so-called Deliverer. But could he be stopped? Could the second Ascension be prevented?
Myhr watched as the chopper disappear over the horizon, returning to Chimerain, his home. Part of him wished he could return with Alan, but what did he have to go home to. His wife was...
Best not to think about that.
Alan offered him a ride as far as the Dakota Territory, but Myhr declined. He knew what he had to do and he had to do it alone. He looked ahead of him to where the storm had moved on.
Myhr checked his coordinates and continued on. He looked up once to make sure the beam of light was still visible. He knew he was getting closer but somehow the beam seemed smaller.
“We must be getting closer,” Corporal Jennings said as they came upon the pilot’s dead body. One single bullet had been fired. The blood that had dripped from the hole in the body’s head was frozen.
“Who was he?” Private West asked.
Private Johnson bent down and flipped through the identifying papers. “Says his name was Pilot Bob Frances. Pilot... we saw that chopper about half an hour ago...”
“Think maybe that was Myhr?” West suggested.
“Of course not!” Jennings said sternly, “Myhr wouldn’t turn back. Not after this long. Maybe he killed this pilot but for whatever reason he allowed the navigator to live. Put a message out to base. Tell them who we’ve found and have them to interrogate the navigator when he arrives home.” Jennings looked up to the beam of light and questioned his actions, if only momentarily. He remembered Myhr trying to tell him about it a couple months earlier, tried telling him the truth, but Jennings hadn’t listened. Now as they followed him the beam revealed itself to them.
“What’s so special about that place, Myhr?” Jennings said to himself. “What are you looking for?” The men all looked up at Jennings, but none answered.
Warren finished telling Bea the story of his dreams and looked her in the eye for the first time since he started, sure she would be laughing at him. But she was smiling gently. “What do you think it means?” he asked.
“Maybe nothing at all. But maybe it does mean something. Maybe you’ve just been thinking about your dad too much. At any rate, I don’t think you’re crazy and I still think you’re a great guy and I still want to go out with you tonight. That is if you’re still up to it.”
Warren had totally forgotten about his date, if you could call that, with Bea. His mom was taking them bowling. “Yeah, of course I’m still up for tonight. I’ll roll that turkey yet!”
“You keep dreaming!” A bell interrupted their moment. “Oh, time to get back to class.”
She stood to walk away and he took her hand. She turned and looked into his eyes, waiting, knowing he wanted to say something. They stood there for a moment sharing the silence as other children rushed to their classrooms around them.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Just... thank you.” He smiled. “Thanks for everything.” He kissed her on the cheek, dropped her hand, and ran off.
She blushed and chased after him.