The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reporter

A reporter travels to the Norwegian Arctic to cover an unusual sled race with the undead leading the living into unknown territory.

 

Noel—fiftyish, lanky, with fawn eyes and skin windburned to a sunset glow—is my translator. He meets me on the iced tarmac, shakes my hand, and hands me a rifle before opening his mouth.

“For the polar bears,” he yells over the Arctic winds, and leans in to yell a tad more conspiratorially, “and I’ll only say this once—I won’t repeat it and you don’t repeat it around town either. But also in case one of the racers—you know—comes for you.” He straightens his back again. “It’s for self-protection.”

“Motherfucker,” I say. “I thought you were supposed to be my protection.”

 

I did get my own damn self into this.

The scene: It’s a late, 105-degree July afternoon. El Paso, Texas, which to my father seemed like a good place to settle after a harrowing, bullets-whizzing-by-your-ear, losing-toes-to-frostbite escape from totalitarian Bulgaria. That’s the kind of experience that will put someone off winter permanently. But it’s also the kind of story that will make their daughter choose a gig in extreme-weather sports.

So: El Paso, Texas. The sun has come down to bang on my door and peek through the thick wooden slabs of the blinds like a red-eyed debt collector. A couple of flies hover, uninspired, in the lung-blistering air over my desk. Power is out, therefore AC’s out. Laptop, long drained of charge, is off and not coming back until I hear the blessed sound of the AC click and chirp and—ah, the whoosh of a tepid breeze.

I am on my phone, researching winter vacations I’ll never be able to afford and watching its battery, which is bullshit even on a good day, visibly inch down toward eight percent.

Underboob sweat be damned, I tuck the T-shirt under the girls for the sake of self-respect before I call Lorena, editor-in-chief of Adrenaline Review Quarterly. She’s the type one puts on pants and a bra even for a phone call. Our dealings always start with me pitching what become the most popular articles her magazine ever publishes and end with her lawyer saying not to talk to the police until she’s arrived. Mutually beneficial, I call it. Lorena calls it “The minute cost outweighs clicks, I’m dropping your ass.”

“Hey, duckie, I was just about to get in touch with you. You hear about Artie? No? He fell out. No, literally.” She giggles maliciously, yet disarmingly for a woman approaching deep adulthood. “He slipped out of his harness trying to zip-line his way to Kathmandu. He’s all right. Just out of commission for a full year, at the very least, and I have pages to fill. You better have a killer pitch.”

If you count being able to pay my heating and health insurance this winter as better, then yes, I’d very much better.

“This extreme race in the Arctic.”

“Oh? The Arctic? Power’s out in Texas again?”

“Norway. It’s called the Icebound,” I plow on. “It’s on the cusp of becoming a thing, not much coverage yet. A very Nordic affair, but it’s mad trending. There are only amateur photos online—all dark and blurry—but it’s starting to draw fans and tourists, some midrange Instagrammers too. Two kinds of racers. Word is, it’s getting some big-name sponsors this year. It’s just the time to get in on the action.”

I hold my breath; let her dangle for a few beats. A lesser freelancer would have overplayed, but I just lean back in my sweat-slicked office chair and purr, “Pays-per-click, Lorena.”

What would you do in her place?

“All right,” she says.

I push my luck. “All expenses paid.”

“Flights and food at least; I’ll loan you a tent. You said big sponsors? How big?” Her own keyboard is chattering, no doubt she’s doing due-dil. “And behave. No one’s coming all the way to Norway to bail you out—”

Then, “Hmm,” she says, like someone just surprised her with an enemy’s head on a silver tray.

“What hmm?”

“Just—these two kinds of racers . . . It’ll sell like gangbusters. Sure, all expenses paid. Have fun, duckie, and get me an interview.”

We hang up and I settle deeper into the perspiration forming a puddle on the seat, to research what exactly I’ve just sold her.

Two minutes later, my phone battery dies.

 

It is a universal truth—and folks, you’ll want to note this down—that the usefulness of an article on the internet is directly related to its author’s journey along the Dunning-Kruger curve. And in this case, most of the material I found came from the kind of people who would pay crazy money—hell, travel crazy distances—to take poorly lit photos of themselves doing headstands on prehistoric blocks of ice, with small, indistinguishable shadows—presumably the racers on their sleds—dotting the snow in the far background.

Those posts ended in a violent storm of hashtags: #aurora #datsunsettho #northernmostmichelinstar #glacieryoga #revenantrace #glacieryogawithrevenants. Yet nothing about #michelinrestaurantownerfuckedoffsouth or #icehurtsyall or #waitwhatwasthat or even #basicrevenantfactstho.

And so, Longyearbyen, largest settlement on Svalbard.

The Icebound Race is in the pure literal frozen ice-hell of the Norwegian Arctic. You know, the kind of Norway which is all the way out to Europe and then all the way up to a town where the ratio of polar bears to people decidedly favors the bears. It’s also much colder than you’d imagine when you’re baking like an insect in the hot Texan sun.

The cozy northernmost-Michelin-starred restaurant I had planned to spend all of Lorena’s hard-hustled money in? Closed for . . . until the owner feels like it. Noel tells me the unpredictability is supposed to add charm to the place, but I remain stubbornly uncharmed.

The all-paid expenses thus turn out to be ten days’ worth of all the meat and raw fish I can eat until I get to sink my teeth into the mouth-watering contents of my plastic box of airplane food on the flight home.

 

A cell phone is quickly useless in this weather, so when we get to my wee, lovingly wood-paneled hotel room, Noel hooks me up with a satellite phone for emergencies and a bottle of spirits for general use. I take the duty-free bourbon out of my backpack and we sit on the bed to toast and soak in the sweet smell of the cedarwood burning in the fireplace downstairs.

Noel has been coming to Longyearbyen regularly since moving to Svalbard from the UK in the ’90s. Back then, he says, it was a very different thing—just a bunch of locals, turned strange by the long night, taking their kick-sleds out for a lap around the town once a year—harmless enough. Except each year, the laps got longer. And each year, the race started later.

“I stopped soon after we began racing during revenant season,” Noel says. “Aged out of it too quickly.”

“Revenant season being when they’re out? The zombies?”

“The revenants.” Noel punctuates with his glass. “Yeah, it’s when they come out. Never at the same exact time, but reliably—I’d say about late October, early November. It starts when the land winds pick up—the ones that erode the dry topsoil and uncover the bodies. That’s why they outlawed all burials on the island few decades ago. Still, the ground being frozen hard here, we have hundreds of years of shallow graves all around us. And now, with the climate—you know, erosion is speeding up.

“We’re also noticing revenants in more modern clothing too. Somehow they are getting here from the mainland. No idea how.

“These days the government gets GPS trackers on them as soon as they’re detected—the ones who start circling human settlements are taken to ‘The Hotel,’” he laughs. “Remind me to show you tomorrow. So we have the tagging and online maps and forecasts. And, I suppose, the race to help with transportation. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, now we have a small industry around them, but back then you just had to watch out for yourself.

“Those early races, though. It’s the kind of thing to do when you’re young,” he says, and sniffs the bourbon in his glass before taking a long sip. “You’re out in the tundra—endless fields of snow and wind—racing with your mates. It’s cold—this Arctic chill, and it soaks through to your bones. Your fingers tingle. Your pits itch uncomfortably and smell of adrenaline. And there’s this coppery taste in your mouth like you licked a battery.”

His face opens as he speaks and his breath tightens.

“And—just there! A tall figure walks out into the middle of the track and waits for you in the blue air. Someone fallen from his sled. Or—doesn’t it look a bit too much like your neighbor, the one with the heavy cough who they took to the mainland last spring? Stands a bit like him too—he always leaned a little crooked to the left. You can’t really see faces so well in the dark, just a tall shape in your path, but there’s also this hum in your lungs—you know? Same feeling when you’re hunting, say, a wild boar, and this two-hundred-kilo storm of muscle and tusks turns abruptly and charges at you.” He inhales deeply. “That feeling.”

“I’m not really a hunter,” I say.

“You’ll see when you do the race. It’s still proper exciting even though we’ll be far behind the revenants.”

I empty my glass.

“But how did it become the Icebound? How did people go from ‘Yeah, let’s all get on sleds and chase each other around some hungry undead corpses’ to—uh—‘Let’s get the hungry undead corpses on sleds and send them off at high speeds’?”

“Reason other than poke-the-bear, bread-and-circuses kind of thing?” he asks, reaching over me to get the bottle.

He refills for both of us and we sit for a while nodding and sipping our drinks. His eyes are glassy.

“If I had to guess,” he ventures, “once the government started tracking the revenants and we figured out that they will instinctively head in one direction—always up toward the North Pole—it was inevitable for some bored, rat-arsed bugger in some pub here to one day yell at his mates, ‘Hei, folkens, hey, listen. What if we put one on a sled? Taking bets here. How fast do you think . . .”

 

I dream some sultry, cedar-smoked dreams all through the next day, or whatever period of twilight passes for a day here, and wake up just as the disembodied giggles and renditions of ’80s pop hits blasting out of the nearby pub announce that night had fallen long ago. I put on my parka and heavy boots, pick up the rifle, and go downstairs where the hotel owner hands me a thermos of hot coffee and sends me off into town to look for Noel and food. Preferably both at the same time.

I find Noel at the pub. A glowing topaz shot of cognac greets me as soon as I sit down. It’s like he knows me better than I know myself. We follow up with an Italian-style pizza and a few Guinesses each. “Creamiest heads this side of the North Sea,” he states with an air of authority and a smile crowned with a thin foam mustache. He paws at his upper lip and leans over, his eyes wet, unfocused, and a bit bloodshot. “Ever seen a revenant before?”

“No. Online there’s only a bunch of super blurry pictures.”

“Wanna meet ’em?”

“The racers? Now?”

“Sure. I can arrange for an interview. The handlers are there, getting them ready for tomorrow.”

Now, in my many years of making questionable choices, I have learned to spot your classic Bad Idea, especially when it comes grinning at you from behind a cloud of sour beer breath.

Still—we all have that one friend who always says, “I know, but . . .” And the “but” is always more compelling than any reason you can throw at them? Tonight I’m that friend. The gal who got an interview with a revenant! That gal gets two cents more per word. That gal’s heating is on all winter. That gal buys quality tampons—the silk-lined ones!

And this is how you get to watch me, a tasty morsel, going all, “Why Noel, I thought you’d never ask.”

While Noel is finishing his beer, he assures me the race stops are perfectly safe—the racers are fed very well there.

“They’re fully taken care of. They’re kind of celebrities, even. If you want to interview them, the safest time is right now. Today. Tomorrow is going to be madness,” he says, sliding the check over to my side of the table, “Don’t forget to keep the receipt so you can expense it. Thanks for the drinks.”

 

I’m somewhat morbidly disappointed to find out that there’s no zombie hotel. The racers are housed outside of town.

And me—one minute I’m in the shuttle driving us to the glacier—snuggled, sluggish and Guinness-warm in my parka—and the next Noel is outside, standing on a moonlit, iced path in the snow, waving at me to join him. I jump out and the cold punches me in the nose so hard my eyes water. Snow flurries batter my face. Noel waits for me in front of something which, on a night like this, is not so much a cave entrance but darkness carved into the giant icy bones of a mountain. I wrestle the parka hood down over my eyes and follow him inside.

Powerful LED lights activate the second we walk through the mouth of the cave. The walls are smooth and fluid. Our steps echo back at us from random directions.

My blood pulses like fingers drumming over my temples and I take a deep breath to calm myself, but my lungs catch in the cold. I burp a muted, sour little memento of the pub and behind it suddenly arrives a smell like that of a broken refrigerator left in the summer heat.

 

No heads turn when we walk out into the ancient air of the ice chamber.

Why would they? Caught in a column of light from one of the massive projectors mounted high up in the ceiling, we are flies. Mites. Two little motes floating down the metal stairs bolted onto the walls of the chamber with all the bravado they fail to feel despite the Guinness. On the ground below us, giant wasps roil and chase each other and, as we descend, resolve into the shadows of the handlers.

The crews are packing food, shuttling gear and supplies, tightening straps, polishing and waxing sled runners, testing equipment, and running checklists. Voices are light but from watching their almost myopic focus, I can tell each one is keenly aware of what is happening in their peripheral vision at any given time.

“Walk normally,” Noel instructs me.

“What?

“Just keep a casual gait so you don’t alarm the crews. They have enough to think about.”

And having said exactly the thing to say when you want someone to forget how walking is done, Noel takes off a bit stiffly—my very own Scouse Virgil. I soften my limbs, brighten my expression into the one I use when I am trying to convince a bouncer that I am not here to be trouble, and follow.

I look for the revenants through the blur of moving bodies but don’t see anything unusual—until Noel points out the large, upright boxes. Most are pine—traditional, he explains as we make our way through the crowd—but the more prominent teams have theirs custom-made out of composite materials and plastered with a galaxy of big-name logos: Adidas, Salomon, Nike, SAS, Lufthansa.

Each box is well lit and large enough for a human body. Each box does, in fact, contain a body.

The revenants.

Each stands alone—a grim, life-sized action figure—under a dour fluorescent fixture mounted on the inside of the box. The lighting isn’t helping. It only deepens the shadows falling in angles that should be impossible on a human face, so the first thing you see are the eyes—pale, opaque, and unblinking. Stone.

I’ve seen eyes of the dead before—occupational hazard—but these give me a physical distress, like I’m witnessing the desecration of something meaningful. Behind these I sense some terrible inorganic intent, an unavoidable trajectory—like a meteor headed for you.

“Where are the restraints?” I whisper sideways to Noel.

“The teams find restraints undignified. But see there?” He signals with his eyes up at a constellation of industrial-looking blocks embedded in the ceiling. “Magnets. The whole cave’s rigged with motion sensors. If anything moves faster than usual—the way an attacking revenant does—the magnets turn on. Confuses them long enough to be handled safely. That’s another reason to walk deliberately around here. Sensors get tripped by accident at least once or twice a season, and it’s a pain in the arse to account for all personnel and racers afterwards.”

He navigates me through the shifting labyrinth of bodies, living and returned, to a resin box big enough to accommodate a heavy old wooden chair. In it, a revenant is seated, long arms propped on the armrests. He is flanked by three handlers. Noel asks something in a language that is not Norwegian (I find out later it’s Icelandic), and the lead handler nods and looks to the revenant.

We move in closer but not too close. Noel looks at me. I flip through the questions prepared in my notepad, but they are all suddenly too theatrical. So for some reason I hope will make sense to me at a later time, I ask, “Where do you come from?” Noel translates.

The revenant’s head is leaning sharply over and almost behind his left shoulder. The meat of his mouth has retreated long ago, and his teeth are exposed. His jaw is tight. He looks exactly like a frozen body someone dug up and dressed in a leftover canary-yellow karting suit with carmine chevron stripes on the chest. This moment—this whole thing—feels like someone is playing a very sick, very expensive joke on me, and I’m scrolling through my mental book of clever privileged assholes, when from behind the teeth, a hollow, distant voice reaches out to stroke the hairs on the back of my exposed neck.

“I am here now.”

“Why do you race?”

“It is inevitable.”

The lead handler, watching from the other side of the box with a bright, apple-cheeked face, adds in softly accented English, “All the revenants instinctively head north, to the pole. The race just helps with the safety.”

“Their safety or human safety?” I ask.

“Both,” the handler answers, still brightly. “What we feed them doesn’t have neighbors with firearms.”

Noel had warned me about the humor. You work with the undead long enough, your jokes turn a bit—off, he’d said.

“And how do you prepare for the race?” I ask the revenant.

“I come here.” The voice startles me again. It sounds so impossibly far away. From beyond the chamber, beyond the glacier. Maybe all the way from the snowy grave he climbed out of.

“In the meantime, he receives regular massages with tea tree oil and embalming fluid to discourage deterioration of his general physical state,” the handler pipes in again from the side, like a blond imp in a fever dream, which all this is overwhelmingly starting to feel like. He points at a range of lotion bottles with some strange sparkly logo.

I turn back to the revenant, “Does winning mean anything to you?”

He doesn’t answer.

“What draws you to the North Pole?”

“It is inevitable.”

“Why are you back from the dead?”

He doesn’t answer. I try another angle.

“Why are you here?”

For a minute, he doesn’t answer, and when he does, I don’t need Noel’s translation.

“It is inevitable.”

While Noel interprets, I look at the revenant. His head is cocked to the side, mouth stretched wide in something I would never mistake for a smile. His opaque, milky eyes don’t reflect any light or movement.

I close my own puffy eyelids tight and open them again. Everyone’s still around, though it feels like they shouldn’t be. Behind our immediate mise-en-scène, people still dart around as if on invisible, taut strings. I recognize what I’m feeling: depersonalization. Standing in the shadow of the revenant’s faraway voice, I feel as if the other sounds around us are straining through into a dream, where it’s just me and him. Behind him—a giant white field with an open grave; behind me—the weeping icy walls. My chest tightens. My breath bucks against it, trying to get out. I want to bail too.

Instead I step back and turn to Noel, summoning his human voice to ground me.

“What happens to them after the race?”

“We’re still trying to find out. The tracker signals all drop out after a while—just long enough for us to be sure they’re past the human settlements on their way north. The pings sometimes converge, at different spots every year, and the army sends specialist teams—I joined on couple of those missions. No revenants, no trackers, just ghost signals on the receiver. Pretty much—”

Suddenly I know what it looks like when one of them focuses on you. Like a metal bolt to a magnet, the dead eyes lock onto Noel’s arm, which has jutted out too close to the chair. The head pivots in our direction and its teeth open.

I grab Noel in a bear hug—teeth snap above my hand, so close I feel a sting where they tear out the small hairs on my skin—and pull him away. Still looking us, the revenant stands up and takes two steps forward and the smell hits me, but it’s not the one I expect—the smell of decay. This one is a gust of cold light inside my rib cage, the first smell of frost on a cold autumn afternoon, of a fresh kill in the snow. I blink and there’s a woman—a woman with dark hair and a sweater—a dress?—made of woolen knots with threads sticking out of them, standing in the middle of the parka-clad mess of handlers. And in the seconds before Noel and I are surrounded by the living and expelled from the cave, I see the way she steps sharply behind the revenant, and the way he falls back in his armchair. And I’m pretty sure she is what I am smelling: first frost, fresh kill.

“It might’ve been the beers,” Noel—shaken, radiating brick-red embarrassment—tells me on the ride to the hotel. “Could be something about the smell of yeast or hops that throws their senses into feeding mode.” I ask him who the woman in the knotted dress is. “I didn’t see anything but the revenant,” he says, trying to laugh. “That was . . . Oh, man, that was close.”

We don’t say anything more on the way back. Later at night, when I dream, I dream of sables hunting in the snow, of blood, of a panicked animal dying alone.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I do have a survival instinct. I got it from my father, who managed to escape the old country by snaking under a kilometer of razor wire and throwing himself over concrete walls twice his height as he was shot at by fellow officers armed with Kalashnikovs. He made it, though his twin brother didn’t.

“I had been right there,” he’d repeat with the same disbelief every time he told the story, “where he was hit. That same spot, a second earlier.” And he’d instruct me, cryptically, “Learn from me.”

I was never sure what I was supposed to learn but I grew up obsessed with what it was that made the difference—one zag instead of a zig and I wouldn’t exist. Snap. Just like that.

One zig instead of a zag and the bullet that felled my uncle would have chipped a concrete wall instead. And I’d be working in a tech startup or in marketing, because I wouldn’t have had to grow up with the horrible sentence: “I had been right there, a second earlier.”

But zigs were zigged and zags were zagged and here I am, seeking out experiences on the edge of survival that I can package into marketable epiphanies for eight cents a word.

So yes, I could have just run away. I watched myself doing it, exactly like I watch every decision I make a moment before I make it—with my meta self-awareness, that internal self-narration those of us who belong to more than one world have. I saw myself jump out of the way and saw the revenant’s teeth sink into Noel’s arm. And I saw myself living the rest of my life with that horrible sentence.

I had been right there a second ago.

I decided I didn’t want to live like that.

It’s a different form of survival.

 

Day One of the Race

By the time Noel drops off the signed liability waivers and comes back with the drinks, the first sleds have already lined up at the start. He hands me a paper cup filled with warm, rich mulled wine with a shipwreck’s worth of sliced almonds and raisins floating inside.

“Big crowd,” I say.

“It’s never been like this.” He shakes his head. “Last year it was more crew than spectators.”

We are in a large open area right outside the city. Newly built—early this year, says Noel—and bright as day thanks to a ring of giant stadium lights. Two rows of glowing plexiglass columns with sponsor logos line the sides of the track and coil over the hills in the waiting night.

This is the main event. The revenants are being lined up. The crews run checks on the sleds. The lead handlers give their final instructions and step back to take in the scene. Dozens of racers stand behind the start line, each on a fierce steel-and-titanium sled, staring at the bright stadium lights that mask the darkness beyond the town. The crowd at the sidelines, a few thousand strong, waves flags and aims phones.

Behind the line, revenants grip the sled handlebars.

The breath of the living fogs the air.

Sideline cheers! Thumbs-up from the handlers. A man in a black parka raises his hand and fires a green flare into a dizzying snowy sky. Standing on the runners, each revenant kicks against the packed snow and the sleds shoot off into the white lights.

Like that: One shot from a gun, one kick—and the bullets are on their way to a target somewhere in time. Somewhere inevitable.

Their shadows stretch behind, lagging for a few seconds, then thin out and disappear.

The crowd cheers a while before it regroups around the human racers who will start in two groups, a few hours after the revenants. This is always the messier start, Noel tells me. People hesitate to go first, in case some revenants are delayed or blown off course. Still, everyone wants the endorphin rush, that feeling of running with the bulls—the possibility that the bull will turn around and charge at you.

“Does anyone try to catch up or overtake the revenants?” I ask.

“Humans sometimes disappear during the race. It’s an open secret. It’s not unlikely that some of them could have been . . . unwise enough to try to actually win. Organizers won’t let you start if you’re open about it, but you can see it in some people’s faces. I can, at least.”

“No one this year, though?”

“I can’t think about it this year. Right now I need to focus on helping you make it past the finish line.”

 

The human sleds are a motley bunch. Some of them are all sponsored-up and professional and leave together two hours after the revenants, on the dot. The leftovers look less . . . sponsored, unless there are corporations out there called “Gentlemen Prefer Blonde Ales” or “I Can’t Drive Now—I’m Piste” or even “Girl Powder.” And of course, there is a #hannasyoga and a #runswithrevenants because no place is safe from hashtags.

We start with them.

Six p.m. I should be exhausted, battling a monster jet lag, but no—I’m completely wired. I have seriously underestimated the excitement that swells when you step up on the sled.

The crowd yells encouragements in more languages than there are racers. One of my fellow sledders nips back, clearly in response to some joke from his supporters. I grin at Noel, who is sitting behind me in the sled, wrapped up in dog-hair-covered woolen blankets; grab on tightly to the handlebars; and my head sways.

I’m standing on the crest of a wave. Like foam in front of me, huskies, hitched two-by-two, bear up with their haunches taut, their tails wagging in anticipation, their eyes bright and human.

I’m on a chariot on the stage of a theater, lit by the beam of a projector.

I am standing in a dark office, alone, under a struggling fluorescent light.

I’m the smallest, snuggest, parka-clad Matryoshka doll in a series of dolls nested in a time collapsed—daylight inside a vast night inside the day that should have been.

All of these are true for a single moment.

I shake unreality off when the black-parka man raises the gun to the sky—slower than it appeared from the sidelines, slow enough for me to see a dark-haired woman behind him looking directly at me, and to see how everyone around her is pointedly not noticing her—and fires. The green flare hisses and cracks above our heads. The sleds creak as the snow releases its hold on the waxed runners. The front teams take off fast and disappear beyond the lights. Several minutes later, the rest of us manage to get a hundred feet past the starting line, wait out the traffic jam, and gather speed sluggishly and with surprising difficulty.

 

The line of sleds before us is quickly swallowed by the dark and the snow. Just like that, we are alone.

We mush the rest of the night and through the next day, which amounts to no more than an hour of incandescent blue light flooding the snowy fields and drowning quietly in the inky horizon, before it is night again.

The only excitement comes, cold-eyed and frozen-faced, on board a kick-sled that zips past us. It doesn’t stop, thankfully, but Noel grips his rifle and it’s a long while before he lets go.

“They were supposed to be way ahead of us,” I say.

“Supposed to be. Sometimes magnetic storms disrupt their senses. Just prepare yourself mentally, because you’ll need to shoot them if they come for you.”

Over and over, I force myself to imagine a face resolving in the darkness in front of me and falling, pinned back by a bullet. Once or twice, lulled by the whooshing heartbeat of our sled, I slip into a lucid dream, and the face is both strange and strangely familiar.

We stop to eat and feed the huskies and sleep, then take off into the night again.

 

Day Two of the Race

I wake up and leave the tent just in time to see the last few minutes of brightness on the horizon. We hitch the huskies again and take off into the blue air.

I’ve seen countless documentaries about traveling in the Arctic, but no one talks about the strange thoughts that flow when all you can see is an immense white field unfolding, unfolding, unfolding—

First, without any external stimulation, the brain begins to vomit random thoughts.

I wonder how this race would work out in Texas.

Note: Research if there have been possible revenant sightings in Texas. Or anywhere in the South.

I could kill for some Blue Nile takeaway right now. Oh, or dim sum.

Wonder what my dad was thinking during his escape. Definitely not about food—he couldn’t eat until three days after crossing the border. Nerves and the fear of those fake borders set up to fool people into surrendering to an execution squad.

I am too spoiled.

How would it feel to be on the run from your own state?

The white field swallows all and opens wider . . .

The wind howls and my ears begin to scream, but I have no more random thoughts to silence the screaming with, so I begin to peel off and portion out thoughts that are true pieces of me.

Would I have zigged or zagged?

What if the wind had slammed me into the big rock at Fox Glacier instead of sucking me upward? Could I have cushioned myself without losing consciousness?

And what if I had jumped back to the pavement when I heard the horn in Hungary? I’d have been the first one in the path of the blue BMW.

Turkey during the earthquake, Nepal, the Dominican Republic, the unlicensed local helicopter rescue from an oil rig in the Caspian Sea.

How am I still around?

How did all those decisions get me here in one piece?

The field swallows all, indifferent.

I see the dogs running in front of me, but the sled is not moving and the field is still unfolding, unfolding, unfolding until it covers the entire world in a blanket of snow and swallows all of us.

 

When we stop to eat and feed the huskies, Noel tells me a story about a hero of his, an explorer who built a special ship that could be frozen into the ice sheet and drift with the ice until it reached the North Pole.

“What do you think the revenants do when they get there?” I ask him.

“The North Pole? I don’t know. Look for the thing that’s inevitable to them, whatever it is. We do get reports from oil rigs and research stations, more and more sightings every year—single revenants floating on blocks of ice, wandering by the polar stations, walking through the glaciers. But by summer, when the exploration ships get close, the revenants are gone. Probably somewhere at the bottom of the ocean.”

He shrugs and opens a bag.

“How about you? What is inevitable to you?” I ask as he throws pieces of frozen meat to the huskies.

“You mean outside the obvious—taxes, death, a bit of après-résurrection sled racing?” He stops to think for a minute. “What else can be inevitable to humans? It must be something we chase, mustn’t it?”

“Like a thing that will eventually turn around to gore you?”

Noel doesn’t answer. He is staring at the dogs, whose snouts are sniffing something under the snow’s surface.

 

We haven’t seen a single sled in more than a day.

We are seemingly following the trails and markers left by the other mushers, but we must have zagged when the others zigged and missed the first rest stop. Both experienced hikers, we accept we’re lost. We unhitch the huskies and Noel calls the emergency service.

I watch him as he says something in Norwegian and waits for an answer. He repeats, slower. Again. His face folds. He looks at me, confused, and shrugs. Shaking his head, he hands me the satellite phone. His eyes are glazed over as if he is doing calculus in his head.

“I must be more tired than I realized. Her answers are making no sense to me.”

“Hello?” I say into the phone.

“Hello, we’re lost,” the voice from the phone says urgently.

“We are lost. Who is this?” I ask.

“—Hello, who is this? We’re lost. Come meet us.”

I hang up and call the emergency service number stickered on the back of the phone.

“Hei,” the voice answers.

“Hi,” I say.

“Are you coming?”

I hang up.

In the dark, in the distance, something zips past us, but it’s so far that we can’t see if it’s pulled by dogs—or even if it’s a sled—so we don’t call out for help.

 

Absinthe light ignites over the sky like brushfire and the world takes on a green tinge.

We stop so the dogs can rest and Noel and I can get some sleep. The weather is mild and the tent is sturdy, so we light up some coal in the portable stove and stare at the embers.

Noel sleeps the deep sleep of the grave while I, tired and tense, fall in and out of strange dreams of a submarine frozen in the ice, of strange military friends play-aiming Kalashnikovs at me, of footsteps outside the tent and huskies whining.

 

Noel sits up, folds his sleeping bag, puts on his boots and parka, and unzips the tent door decisively, either ready to brave the cold or very much needing to relieve his bladder. I close my eyes in the warmth of my bag for just one minute. And just one more—Noel howls. I crawl over to the entrance, still in my sleeping bag, and poke my head out. “The dogs!” Noel screeches. “The dogs have gotten loose and run away.”

 

I try the emergency number again.

“Hei.”

“Hello, is this the Norwegian Rescue Service?”

“Yes, it is. Do you need assistance?”

“Oh, thank God. Yes, we got lost and we just lost our dogs too.”

“Don’t worry,” she says. “I have your dogs. Are you coming yet?”

 

A kick-sled shushes right past us and we stop.

“I thought they were all supposed to be way ahead of us by now?”

There is a whine in my voice I’m too tired to fight.

Noel ignores me. The eye of his rifle is scanning the night behind me.

The snow is so soft. Easier to sleep in than wade though. My knees buckle under me. Noel lifts me by my upper arm, roughly, and screams, “We’regoingnow,” in my face from a thousand miles away. We grab the handlebars of the sled again, one each, and push. My feet slip and I fall, face-first, but get up again and lean my whole body against the creaking frame. And push.

We are walking but the field in front of us unfolds, flat and white and infinite.

 

A sled lies on its side, half-buried in the snow. Alone. No trace of life or violence around it.

We push on.

 

Clouds cover the moon and we make our fire at the foot of a mountain crowned by a huge glacier. Noel recognizes the area—we are just a day’s walk away from the coastal village, which is the second stop on the race path, with more than enough food and fuel for the fire. We’ll sleep here. Noel perks up and tells me he has family in the area—his sister married a local and so he moved here to be close to his only family. I want to ask him about his inevitable thing but now is not the time—maybe I’ll call him sometime in summer to ask.

 

Day Three of the Race

We are still talking and tossing coals in the stove when I hear soft crunching in the snow behind me.

I turn around and—that smell again, of the first snow in autumn, of pale lilacs and cooling blood—I can just make out a shape approaching. She steps in, still covered in her ugly dress. The uneven threads sticking out of the knots tremble like whiskers. Under the dress, her feet are bare. Something is so strange about them that my brain trips—it can’t understand what’s off. Like it knows there should be feet there, it sees there are feet there, but at the same time, there is something else. A potential of something almost concrete, almost recognizable.

Her hair is glittery with snow and her face, now that I can see it for longer than a breath, is astonishing in a way that makes me yearn for something.

Not in the warm way that hisses in my chest when I am attracted to a person.

More in the way a base jumper yearns for the jump. In the way that tells me that if she touches me I will die but I still want her to touch me. I ache for something irrevocably beyond my reach. Beyond fatality. Something inevitable on the other side of death.

Her eyes are dark and full. Her lips are blue and the space where they meet is the black of old blood.

She waves me closer and leans as if to whisper, and I notice Noel. He is looking at me, wide-eyed and shaking his head silently—no, no. He turns to the fire, and stares at it with such intensity that I do the same. For a few minutes, the silence runs its cold fingers along my back, but we don’t move until we hear the crunching of someone retreating.

After long time has passed, Noel turns to me.

“Did you see her hands and feet?” he asks.

“Her feet,” I say.

“Did you notice how one minute they pointed forward and next time you looked, they were pointing backwards?”

 

This time I fall asleep so quickly and deeply that when I hear Noel move about the tent, I assume it’s time to get up. I look at my watch, uncomprehending.

“One more minute,” I slur, and sink into the grace of my dreamless sleep again.

I wake up alone. I rub my eyes and look at my watch—can’t be time to get up. I strain to hear what’s happening outside but there’s no sound. Even the wind has died. I put on my boots and parka and crawl out of the tent. Noel’s footsteps have already been half-erased.

“Noel,” I shout, “if you’re taking a leak, yell. Otherwise I’m coming after you.”

Noel’s tracks lead away from our little camp, toward the mountain.

 

I follow the footsteps to the base of a small ridge. A glass-smooth wall of ice juts straight out above it and I don’t see Noel until I climb all the way up and we are face-to-face.

The ice surface is gently dusted with frost. He is on the other side of it—right in front of me. He’s looking out, at something that is not me, with eyes so full of animal fear that cold, oily sweat runs down my armpits. His mouth is half open and I watch it stretch grotesquely into a scream that fogs my vision even if I don’t hear it. His body jerks violently, as if pulled back by something invisible, and he turns and starts to walk away into the waiting depths of the glacier.

I turn too.

A woman in a shapeless woolen dress is standing on the edge behind me. Her lips open over a tongue the violent color of a fresh bruise and I stumble backward. Disoriented, I slip through the surface of the ice. For one terrible moment, I see two worlds, one of the Arctic night and another—sudden and bright as a nuclear explosion.

 

Whatever it is I’m breathing, it smells of a thunderstorm—of electricity and ozone and, for the first time in days, raw earth. It is saturated with light and the faint whale song of ice advancing against ice. When I move my head, the light refracts off invisible cracks in the air and fiery jewel worms etch themselves on the inside of my eyelids.

I turn around to see where I entered. Something absurdly commonplace lies on the ground: my satellite phone. Behind it is a fluid, dark shape—the Arctic night waiting for me outside.

So close.

But I choose to follow Noel instead.

 

Like a parent’s hand at my back, a strong current pushes me forward.

The smooth, hard surface under my feet drinks in all light and shows nothing, no markers of how far I’ve walked in the past hours.

I turn around—the air in my peripheral vision expanding so violently that my eyes feel like they are going to pop—searching for the place where I entered. It’s as if I haven’t moved a step. I see the phone—still ten steps or so away. I can still see its matte plastic and the bright numbers on its rubber buttons. The current is pushing at my chest now, so brutally I have to fight it to stay in place, but the phone is there, as real and clear as the lines on my palm, or the acid sloshing in my stomach.

My head sways. I hesitate and take a step back toward the phone and the comforting night behind it—but again I turn and follow Noel.

 

It’s so bright here, Noel.

Right now I’d rather talk to you instead of my imaginary readership. I hope you don’t mind. It’s just a bit of running commentary—my meta-awareness. It keeps me outside of my head, monitoring myself so I can stay in control.

My shadow keeps disappearing. For a minute it walks—a fluttering charcoal flame by my side—and the next minute it’s advancing on the horizon. Sometimes I’ll see it almost catch up with you, but it’ll walk up into the great icy sky instead, growing immense as it climbs until its feet reach above me and I lose track of which one of us is the object and which the shadow.

I see you walking in the distance, but I can’t get any closer, even if I run. The ice in front of me unfolds and the distance between us grows: flat, pale, and infinite.

 

The revenants are here. Whenever I turn around to look at that fucking phone, I see them enter; some in clothes stained with grave dirt, some in their Kevlar suits. They move on, fixated on something far ahead—bullets on their way to the target.

Someone’s shadow flees past me. I turn around just in time to dive left—

jump right—

out of the way of a revenant with long stringy hair. Undead Rapunzel is focused on something other than me, but my stomach still drops. My vision blurs and splits. My eyes pop, finally, and the world slides off like a loose lens from them. The revenant passes by my left and my right side at the same time. Between me—I swear she does. I turn to look to the side, half expecting to see myself standing there, but there is nothing.

I am lost, Noel. I can’t see you in the distance anymore. Only the revenant walking away.

I follow her.

Her shape remains clear and detailed but my peripheral vision balloons again and more pressure builds over my eyes. Warm bile sears my stomach and chunks of the beef stew you rehydrated for our last meal tickle the back of my throat.

I turn around to stare at the phone and breathe through my mouth until the nausea passes—

And somehow, at the same time, I’m still walking. I stumble and throw up, contaminating the smooth, pale, infinite surface of the ice—

 

The blood in the footsteps in front of me is very old. It’s how I know it’s not yours.

The sound of blood will always be my grandmother’s voice and her knitting needles ticking like rosary beads.

“They brought him to me all muddy and bloody; already stiff. Made me wash him before they took his body. The officer said if he saw me cry they’d execute the rest of us, and so he stood and watched me the whole time, without lifting one greasy finger, just eating what was left over from the banitza I had packed for you only few hours before. I washed the dirt from his body and the blood off his face; I combed his hair gently over his forehead. He was born with a full head of hair, you know? You both were. Dressed him in his best clothes. And his best underwear and socks too, like I used to tell you two when you were kids, because you never know when—”

You never know when what, I wanted to ask, but didn’t get the chance because my father suddenly noticed me even though I had been in the room the whole time, and yelled that this wasn’t something a five-year-old should be listening to—

The footsteps aren’t yours either, Noel. No human foot can leave an erosion like this in the hard ice—a hole deep and ancient and barefoot-shaped, sweating beads of black blood. Hers are the only footprints here, as if she is the only one who truly exists in this place. Neither I nor the revenants seem to leave so much as a scratch on the surface of the ice.

 

The air darkens as if a giant storm cloud has swept over the land and the smell of ghostly lilacs soaks the air. Beyond the horizon, a pod of giant whales swims up into the sky. Under them, something large and oval floats in the ice currents.

More and more revenants stream past in the distance. I stop to reassess my path and a revenant bumps into me. I turn aside—

aside—

to let him through and the bodies surround me.

 

I duck left—

right—

and my vision splits again. Again. Again. The world slides off from my eyes—my now hundred eyes—again. Arms reach for me—for one of me—from under a gray stone face. I zig and somehow, at the same time—

I zag—

I duck—

I run—

I thrash and choke on my own blood—

I walk—

I scream—

I fall under the weight of a body—

I run—

I run—

I run—

I run back to the entrance.

I pick up the ringing phone and answer it—

 

How do I understand what’s happening? Have you had one of those moments when you realize someone has a completely different recollection of a moment from you, Noel?

Easiest explanation is—one of the people is lying. Another—the theory of narrative identity, which proposes that we piece together stories in our lives to form a consistent idea of who we are. If some moment, another person’s statement or our own behavior, threatens the coherence of that identity, the moment is “reconciled away”—ignored or twisted to fit our internal propaganda.

Before I went to university, we went to visit my grandmother every summer.

One day, my father and I went to the little kvartalen magazin, which had sprouted in the cracks of the dictatorship and was, despite all economic odds, still in business. It was noon, when the Thracian sun was at its most violent. The store had a single customer—a pensioner in an old-fashioned suit and hat. When he saw us, his face opened in a grimace which wasn’t really a smile but a well-practiced pretense at one. He greeted my father, who recoiled but returned the hello.

“How’s it going?” the old man asked. “I hear you’re living in the States now. Lucky!”

“Lucky,” my father said.

“See how it is here now? Lots of things to buy but little, little money. How much better things were in the old days, eh?”

He continued chattering with a glib tone and cold eyes while we got and paid for our groceries and waited for them to be bagged. When we tried to leave, he stepped in front of the faded plastic strip curtain of the entrance, barring our way out.

“You know this thing with your brother—don’t worry, I got there before he died. I sat with him. I can tell you what he said. His very last words.”

“Excuse me,” my father said, and shoved aggressively past, but the old man grabbed at me and leaned over so close I could smell his musty breath.

“Girl,” the man said. “Do you wanna know a secret? Your uncle’s very last words? I haven’t told anyone.”

Tears—from embarrassment or confusion, I still don’t know—burst out of my eyes and father pulled my arm free from the old man.

“Don’t touch my daughter,” he hissed, and pushed me out ahead of him.

On our way back to the house, I asked him.

“Was that the guy who shot—”

“It’s him. And he’s lying.”

“But don’t you wanna hear—”

“You have to learn that sometimes people make stuff up,” my father said. “I was right there. I saw my brother die. I didn’t abandon him to die alone. It’s the worst fate for anyone—abandoned to die. I wouldn’t have left if he’d still been alive.”

I believed him then. He really believed what he was saying.

Like I said—there are different ways of surviving.

 

But what if you yourself have two different recollections of the same moment?

When I told her about the man from the store, my grandmother’s entire body shook.

“No,” she spat with violence in her voice I’d never heard before. “Stay away from him. He keeps trying me too. Every time I go out—‘Let me tell you,’ or ‘Why don’t you want to know?’ Whatever your uncle said, it is haunting him and he needs to unload it. No. May he choke on those words and die with them on his lips. I may never know what my son said—this is my own curse but it’s his too—may he choke on those words. May they burrow in his lungs and drown him. It’s what I tell him. Lately, I go out every day to wait for him and when I see him I say, ‘You will choke on my son’s dying words.’”

Then she cried and her tears were an odd kind—with traces of blood in them. But I also remember she didn’t cry because she had run out of tears years ago. That’s the weird thing—I clearly remember both outcomes.

 

I saw the man once more, a few years later. He was shockingly emaciated but his face was somehow lucent with bloat, as if something was rotting inside him. His eyes were glossed over, almost glowing in the purple dusk. He walked past me, not recognizing me without my context—my father. I turned around. He moved slowly, awkwardly, twisting his body like a monitor lizard, calling for someone. His dog, I assumed. I opened my mouth to call after him, but remembered I didn’t know his name. So, instead, I turned away.

Later, when I told her, my grandmother—who has always believed in vampiri and karakondjuli—crossed herself, and said not knowing his name had saved me. She was right. As soon as I had turned away from the man, I had seen his face again, this time on a fresh, not-yet-bleached necrologue—an obituary—glued to the iron lamppost.

And I know she was right because in another memory, I didn’t turn away but followed him instead, over the cobbled streets under the yellow lights, until night fell and he disappeared into the old cemetery and I ran home.

 

“You will die here,” the woman says on the phone, and she’s telling the truth.

I’m already dying. A few of me—the one who zigged instead of zagging, the one who turned around instead of running, the one who walked past the ringing phone and into the dirt-stained chest of a revenant emerging from the entrance—I watch them fall down as the waiting darkness steps in and closes around them.

I will die here. It’s inevitable.

But before I do, I can still do something.

I’ll be there for you, Noel.

 

By the time I reach you in the shadow of the floating structure, you can’t see me. You don’t seem to see anything.

The structure, a wide-bottomed ship, hangs over you like a giant Google Maps pin. Here it is, the inevitable, it screams.

Noel. Noel—I call for you. For a moment I deceive myself you can be saved.

But you stand, hunched over and silent, swaying awkwardly in the ice currents which meet here, under the giant ship, singing in their high-voltage cable voices. Spittle is foaming in the corners of your mouth. Your eyes are unblinking and raw.

It doesn’t look like it’ll be long for you now. But I’m here, with you—until—

More of me reach the shadow, revenants at our heels. We surround you.

—and the world folds. The edges of the ice tilt over and snap into each other, revealing a sudden reality. A vast darkness hiding behind the singing air. The ship above us—which to my thousand pairs of eyes was a grid of thousand ships—collapses into a single structure that looks like a potential of something. Almost concrete, almost recognizable.

I still see you and the revenants—a reedy four-dimensional tableau of imminent doom. I see the beeline of your path here and the revenants’ straight trajectories.

And, finally, her too. Fully.

Her form snaps into view out of light shards and deep shadows, out of the revenants’ frozen disembodied grins and the grave dirt on their clothes, out of your blood and mine. Her dress is the beeline of your path here and the revenants’ straight trajectories and countless more knotted strings.

“It’s inevitable,” she says, still through the phone. I drop it because I don’t need it to hear her.

 

She is all around us. She is everything here, literally, and her voice is the whale song of ice advancing against ice but to my thousand pairs of ears the patterns form words. Every one of me is looking at her; a thousand pairs of eyes seeing her for what she is. You can’t see her the way I do, Noel, but imagine the way a zoetrope works: a flat disk, covered in a progression of moments—let’s say the movements of a horse—begins to spin. The shapes fly faster, get blurrier, until the momentum tips and suddenly a horse is galloping in front of your eyes. Now imagine if instead of a thousand moments there were a thousand viewpoints snapping into one.

She is a glacier that’s not a glacier. A world that walks among humans.

Not a world, the currents sing—a universe.

Old

Older than your own

I stand still, inside one of those moments in which you have no idea—no precedent—of how to feel but simply know your life has irreparably changed. Regrettably—regrettably?—I’m lucid. No friendly feeling of disassociation to soften the shock. My teeth crunch with something gritty and acidic. My extremities tingle. Sweat trickles down my armpits and the insides of my thighs. I smell blood, lilacs, and bone. It entices and mildly repulses me at the same time. I feel myself swaying lightly in the currents, but otherwise I’m fully present. I’m here. This is happening to me. I don’t know what to—

“Why are you here?” I ask.

Searing pain stabs my shoulder. I spin around—all thousand of me spin around, seeing nothing but her, even as we feel the revenant’s teeth tear through the muscle and tendons of one of us. I’m not sure if this is meant to be her answer.  If so, fair enough. It was a lazy question.

Another stab—an abdomen is torn apart and a flash of blinding pain in the kidneys makes me fold over. I don’t have much time.

“What do you want?” I ask her. I don’t expect an answer.

I get one anyway.

You’re here, she says. Stay.

The word is not really an order or a plea. It’s—an end state.

I look around for her face. I can’t find it. I try to recall why I found it so astonishing or even a single detail of what it looked like. A revenant in a gray suit painted in bright, fresh blood walks by and disappears into something—some blind spot—right in front of me.

“Why should I stay?” I ask, watching a second and a third revenant, both in racing suits, disappear into the exact same spot. All of me turn to look at the spot from a thousand viewpoints and the world clicks out and into view again. The perspective has shifted. Without even switching direction, a handful of revenants disappear into the spot, which now appears to be in a completely different location. We all turn to focus directly on it and the world clicks again. A pain stabs at me again. The screams go on—that me still had enough energy to fight for a very long time.

That’s not how you find the entrance, she says. Take a step. Make a choice.

            “What choices are the revenants making?”

The only part remaining in them is drawn to the inevitable. For you living people, it’s the choices you make that bring you closer. Some of you make it.

            “Some versions of us?”

Some combinations of choices. The rest are loose threads.

            “What’s at the entrance?” I ask over the rising cries and blinding pain as more and more revenants tear into the fraying threads of me on their way to her.

Certainty, she says. Finally, a certainty about which choices were right. A certainty about who you are supposed to be. And after the point of certainty, it’s your choice.

            Reality skips around me. There are too few of us to see her clearly. It’s almost impossible to focus on the right spot.

            “What about the revenants?”

The revenants are just fuel. You’ll be a spark.

 

I can stay here, Noel. Full and plump with life and meaning. Beyond inevitability—

Pain stings me and blind spots corrode my peripheral vision. The revenants are tearing into us on their way to you, Noel.

All you have to do is run, she says. In any direction. Make a choice. The last bullet is coming and you are in the way. Make a choice, run. Find

I look at you, Noel. You are getting transparent, rice paper–like.

The revenants are quickly overpowering the last of us. Her world unfolds like a puzzle box and her form settles into the electricity-scented landscape.

The currents sing urgently, and I don’t need a translator to understand what they are saying.

Run!

Only one of me is left alive. If I just run, left, right—I can start again. I can get to the entrance.

What do you think, Noel? You can’t even see me right now. You don’t even know I’m here. You won’t know I’m gone.

Left or right. Who is the inevitable one?

The last revenant shambles toward us—me and you right behind me.

 

If I’d expected him to be my old canary-yellow-clad friend from the cave—the good ol’ Chekhov’s revenant—in some grace of poetic symmetry, I would have been disappointed. But I am not. In real life you have to make your own poetic symmetry.

So I turn to you, Noel.

“Motherfucker,” I say, “you were supposed to be my protection.”

I fight. Really hard. So the pain explodes into my body long before the night arrives.

 

A woman in a shapeless woolen dress is standing on the edge behind me. Her lips open over a tongue the violent color of a fresh bruise and I stumble backward and turn and lose my footing and crash downhill. I break into a desperate run back to the tent, where I zip myself up inside and into my sleeping bag.

 

I push the sled east. Behind me, a snowstorm in pursuit thrashes against the two lines the sled leaves. In front of me, as impossible as it seems to the rational part of my brain, are fresh sled tracks. I’ve somehow turned around and need to head into the storm or wait it out.

Inside the night, inside the tent, inside the storm, I dream. I dream as soon as I sit down, maybe even before, that’s how empty I am.

In my dream, Noel and I are pushing the sled through a freshly plowed field. Waves of rusted barbed wire and surgically sharp razor wire surge at us. We kick up and the sled takes off. I lean, gripping the handlebars, to take a turn and look at Noel, but he shakes his head—no—and falls off the side onto the field. I can’t see anyone behind us but I know he will be shot.

Another field—the sled rocks and zigs and zags out of my control and I turn to Noel and he is my uncle who tells me he is getting off here.

At the edge of the field stands a woman in a matted mink coat. I turn back to my uncle who is also Noel but he is halfway to her. I scream after him until I lose my voice. And then I am in the sled, alone, picking at the leg of a perfectly roasted chicken resting on the handlebars. I tear the flesh from the bone with my bare hands and feed it to the huskies, who whine and dance and eat and shit as they gallop ahead, but the field retains nothing and the sled does not budge.

Riding beside me, the woman in the matted coat leans over—in my sleep I smell the old blood and cold stars on her breath—and tells me the how to extrapolate the formula of survival from chaos variables of the universe, but I forget it when I wake up.

 

The storm passes. I call for help. The rescue center tells me they’ve dispatched teams to look for me.

I crouch by the sled and sink into the white field. Somehow, the storm hasn’t erased my tracks—I see two parallel lines at the edge of the field and for a second, I imagine I am the one riding on the sled coming toward me. My brain knows it needs to be alert before I understand why.

It’s a kick-sled.

Ears ringing, I take out my rifle, aim, shoot, and miss the revenant’s head. My hands are shaking. My eyes are blurry. I blink and take three deep breaths. I aim again. With my second shot he falls back. He gets up and heads for me.

Three.

Four.

He falls and gets up.

Five.

I’m out of bullets.

I take off running, heading east toward the coast where the rescue teams will be coming from. A small hill covered in snow lies in my way.

I zig.

 

“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reporter” copyright © 2022 by Daniela Tomova
Art copyright © 2022 by Goñi Montes

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