"There are strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold; the arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold;"
-Robert W. Service (The Cremation of Sam McGee)
He stood examining the landscape around him. Vast and white- it stretched for miles. On days like today with the sky as white as the snow around him, he couldn't tell where the terra firma ended and the sky began.
He shifted slightly, feeling his lashes beginning to frost,. Ah, the wonders of Cryology. It was so cold, that it didn't even feel cold, exposed epidermis was numb within seconds of stepping out the door. He'd always thought those tales of people freezing to death from having gone outside improperly clothed were fictional, that nobody could really be that idiotic, but now he could believe it. He himself had been tempted to just step out for a breath of air without putting on the layers and layers of winter clothing necessary. They were cumbersome and heavy, the scarf wrapped around his face smelled funny and tickled his nose every time he breathed, rubbed raw his chin every time he turned his head. He longed to take off the scarf and leave it tied to something, a spot of colour in the frozen whiteness but, without it, his lungs would burn and it would feel like a thousand icicles were stabbing their way down his trachea. Even with the scarf, he could feel the tingle in his lungs starting. His goatee would now be white, and when it thawed, it would send rivulets of water down his neck.
He took a few steps forward, listening to the crunch the snow-ice combination made under his boots. Guaranteed to fifty below, but he could feel his toes stiffening in them. His lower phalanges would be white when he went inside, unless he moved around a bit, got the blood flowing to his extremities. When he was little, he had longed to see snow, to go sledding, make a snowman, win a snowball fight through the use of a miniature trebuchet.
This was not the precipitation of Calvin and Hobbes though. This snow was fine and granular, and sifted through his gloved fingers like sugar or salt, not sticking to anything. The moisture sucked out somewhere in the atmosphere, during the water cycle. It was stable enough to walk on once it packed down and a crust formed, every step would break through the top layer, and leave edges almost sharp enough to cause lacerations. He had found a soft spot on their first day and gone in up to his knee. Despite his long underwear, his pants, and his thick insulated snow pants, the edge of the crust had left an angry red line on his leg.
Lesson one learned; The snow underfoot could not be trusted.
Their first storm had taught them the second. Sight is an unreliable sense . Light acted differently in this climate. Sometimes it filtered through the snow and the wind, and other times it failed completely, clinging to it's source stubbornly. He'd read that in the actual winter months, it was worse, with the seemingly eternal darkness. It was technically summer now, at least back in Pasadena; Penny would be at the beach with her friends working on her tan, coming home smelling like coconut oil and leaving a trail of sand up the stairs behind her. It was interesting how memories seemed sharper out in the cold. While he never forgot anything, the clarity was unusual even for him. Another sign it was getting time to go back inside, his mind retreating into the past instead of focusing on his actions. That was how people got hurt up here. All the guidebooks said so.
What the guidebooks didn't say, was that after a while, one craved the silence that was outside. No longer hearing the thrum of the generator, just the pure, unadulterated silence. The whispering noise of the wind blowing the fresh snow around. The bite of the harsh air on exposed cheeks made one feel alive, able to do anything, walk for miles.
Lesson number three: Don't trust the mind. Wander off here, and no one will ever, ever, find you.
He'd had an email from Mee-maw this morning. She seemed well, things were tolerable, life was ticking along nicely without him. He wished his research was progressing more. So far all he had proved was that string theory was difficult to prove, and he'd known that at home.
It was getting more difficult to move his fingers, his hands were slow to respond to the commands his brain issued. He could no longer feel his toes, or tell if he was wiggling them, His nose had ceased tingling, probably he was in the first stages of congelatio. If he closed his eyes now, his lashes would freeze together, and he wouldn't be able to see at all.
As much as he relished this chance to be here, as exhilarated as he felt every time he stepped out the door of the research station, he longed for the heat of Texas. He made his way back to the heavy steel door and pushed his way inside, then turned to push the door shut again, reluctantly.