Tanana

                                                                                                               By

                                                                                                     Jordan Thomas

 

Tom was a giant cliché of a man, always had been-and had he been self-aware enough, would have known that he always would be. He was a front-running, fair-weather fan and friend whose inner glow centered directly upon his root chakra with no hope of elevation in this lifetime. Tom chased cultural trends up and down the pages of the latest issue of whatever “Be Like This” magazine the beautiful people of the world were reading at the time and followed them straight into the goliath shopping malls that checkered the Puget Sound region of Western Washington.

   There were no direct and discernable reasons for his behavior. His parents were moderate, modern, middle-of-the-road politically-and quite boring. His father never pushed him to be a great athlete, his mother never wanted him to dress like a girl and his uncles were always very good about keeping their hands out of his trousers.

   Well-fed and well-groomed, with a fine glaze of moisturizer over his tanning bed complexion; Tom was good looking enough to get laid, but ordinary enough to keep him from attempting the reality television career he secretly dreamt of. His product infused receding hair hadn’t yet crossed the all-important temple line and his brown eyes were spaced with proper symmetry. In fact this hopeless consumer culture poseur could have, unbeknownst to him, turned a head or two with only a fraction of effort he employed on a daily basis.  

   If one were to study his life it’d be hard to find a traceable cause for Tom’s shallowness except that when he was ten or so he began to really take stock in what was cool and what was not.

   Money was always cool, always had been and to Tom always would be. But, it wasn’t the be all and end all of the human experience. There were clothes and hairstyles to be fawned over. And there was winning. Winning was the fertile ground that all other things cool grew from. He had once tried to impress this up on his father when he was caught cheating on a math test in the seventh grade. The idea that Tom should work to gain the top student status was lost on him. He knew he couldn’t be a top athlete due to his average size and lack of both talent and determination. School work, however, was easy to cheat on, with the exception he wasn’t particularly good at that either and kept getting caught to the point that anything over a C grade caliber assignment turned in by him would receive immediate scrutiny from his teachers.

   This brings us to the things Tom felt to be uncool. Hard work was at the very top of the list, being a loner was another. Dirtiness, inconvenience and ugliness were all he despised and to be avoided at all costs. Never to spend a moment in awkwardness was his life goal, never to be embarrassed or laughed at, but instead to be the one laughing at the others. Laughing at others was by far the most superior defense against being laughed at. It was proactive and caught people off guard. He knew that the majority of people were brought up to never attack another person with the understanding that it was rude and cruel. This was Tom’s bread and butter.  Everyone wanted to be with a winner and it was far easier to bring the others around him down than it was for Tom to elevate himself. This philosophy worked well for him, because he never desired the top spot amongst the popular herd. He simply wanted to be a part of it without having to make any of the strides necessary to become well respected. Tom was very content to simply be invited to the parties and spend his time talking trash about everyone else. He found that role also gave him unprecedented access to the coolest thing in life, young girls.

   Always fixated on young girls, his tastes never seemed to evolve past the time he hit puberty and began noticing the budding beauties around him. They were sweet, whimsical, beautiful, full of life and easy to talk to. They appreciated his clothes and willingness to join in on the dehumanizing “rip sessions” directed at whatever poor leper of an underdeveloped or impoverish young lady hadn’t made the cut to join their clique. In turn, Tom appreciated their slender bodies, piquing sexual appetites and inability to think for themselves.

   After Tom was reluctantly forced out of high school and grew bored with hanging out at college cafeterias while the others were in class, he began frequenting clubs and other hip night spots where he might encounter new people to both cling to and dehumanize. He had a system for scouting out the girls he preferred. He knew that the bouncers of the clubs would allow any female in regardless of age and often went out of their way to overlook major discrepancies between the legal drinking age and the actual age of the female patron. The easiest way to spot an underage girl in a bar was to pay attention to the ones that looked nervous and lost in this new world of loud music, pulsating lights and primped competition.

   Tom’s track record at the club was fair to midline, but he was in the game constantly and could always find a level of deniability when his advances were refused. The girl was a prude, or a bitch, or he wasn’t really all that interested anyway and would have tried harder had the girl been more to his liking. Regardless of his success rate he continued to frequent the same types of clubs as they popped up around the city and he got to know the other club rats that popped up with them.

   Weekend after weekend he roamed the circuit, all the while paying for his good times with a simple job at a retail store specializing in designer clothes.

   Never a good worker by any means, Tom did just enough to get by and keep whoever was positioned over him happy. He worked and lived for the gossip of the day and the action, lights and perfume of the weekend. Tom had no further ambitions, but wound up the store’s manager by default one day, more out of seniority than any particular drive to achieve. He was thirty-five now and the entirety of his twenties and early thirties had been spent chasing material pleasures with no thought to the future or any greater achievement. He didn’t want to be store manager. It required work and his feelings on that institution hadn’t changed in the fifteen years he’d been with the company. However, it was work that he knew how to do mostly through the osmosis process of spending day after day working within the same system with the same business model for the same company. Eventually, the higher-ups just gave him the reigns, because they knew he’d never leave or ask to be promoted.

   With the new position came new money and that was always cool. He could now afford to pay for the girls he liked if he ever went too long without being able to lure one into bed of his own devices, and such stints were becoming more and more common since he hit the magical thirty. Thirty, he’d found held a magical power over teenage girls. It was the line that didn’t get crossed. The difference between twenty-nine years, three hundred and sixty-four days and thirty years was the difference between her getting into his car; or calling for a ride home.

   Simply lying and telling prospects he was in his late twenties had worked for a while, as there was no reason to disbelieve him. However, as thirty-five crept closer, so the questions came and then the calling outs. Those were the most embarrassing moments of Tom’s life and they made him tentative to approach younger women at all for awhile. Nothing was more traumatic than embarrassment in a public place, and nothing more embarrassing than a nineteen year old calling you a liar at the top of her buxom lungs. It was hard to cover one’s motivations for lying to a nineteen year old girl and Tom had never been the type to be open about his infatuation, even though he spent all his tranquil moments justifying it to himself. He was image conscious and any blemish on that image-regardless of how ridiculous-was unbearable to him.

   It was likely this newfound tentativeness that encouraged him to approach the weird chick that walked into his favorite college haunt one Saturday night just after he had ignored his thirty-sixth birthday. She was homely and without make-up but still attractive. It was strange to him indeed. She wore off-brand jeans and tennis shoes that looked like they came from some discount bin, at some discount store, in a discount city. Her brown hair was long and curled slightly at the ends, but left no impression of any product infiltration. This simple girl was scanning the club with a look of skeptical curiosity beaming out of her big brown eyes, never once giving any relevance to how out-of-place she might appear.

   Instantly intrigued, Tom figured this girl couldn’t have been older than nineteen and had she bothered to partake in half the beauty rituals the average club attendee underwent she’d have turned every head in the place. There was also something about the simplicity of her that made him think she would be grateful for the attention of one dressed as well as he. Perhaps she’d ignore the obvious age difference and even if she didn’t would at least be polite and discrete in her rejection.

   “Would you like to see a magic trick?” He inquired with a coy drawl. This was an all time favorite pick-up trick of his. He’d read it in a book a long time ago and found it successful as an ice breaker. One hundred percent of the time.

   “No” was the flat response when the mystery girl turned to see her suitor.

   “Ninety-nine percent of the time” Tom thought to himself as she turned back away from him. It was no problem; he’d read every pick-up hand book on the market and practiced the techniques religiously. He felt himself well prepared to deal with a difficult prospect.

   “Well, maybe I could buy you a drink? You obviously aren’t concerned about your appearance, so knocking back a couple shouldn’t be a problem.” He stumbled over the sentences, trying so hard to give off the cocky/funny vibe he had read was so successful with women.

   She turned back to him and let out a highly audible scoff. “Why the hell would I waste my time drinking with an overly made-up, prissy little plastic wannabe Ken Doll like you? You’re old enough to be my father, which I’d overlook if you were at all good looking and/or interesting!”

   Every eye in the place gravitated to them. The heat was beginning to rise on Tom’s forehead. This scene was playing out far too often and now it was happening with a homely, Wonder Bread-looking chick that didn’t even wear foundation. Reputations were lost in such moments and the majority of the older crowd he’d come up with had moved on to wine tastings and family life. He was in danger of losing all status he had in this scene and that was a fate worse than death. He had to either flip this on her or calm her down.

   For all his faults, Tom did know he wasn’t that bright. And this one seemed to be one of those girls who read a lot and listened to weird music from other countries. He also didn’t have much to rip on her about since she wasn’t trying to be anything more than she was. Usually, it was easy to talk trash about the girls who came through because you could simply ridicule their attempts at fashion and mock whatever celebrity they were trying to look like that night. He had to woo her. Somehow he had to come back from this and get her to come have a drink with him in order to save face.

   “Hey, I’m sorry. I’m nervous. I’m not used to meeting new people. Please, let me buy you a drink to make up for it?” He delivered in a smooth, even tone-like a politician lubing up a caucus of taxpayers, eyes shining with sincerity. It was a skill he’d learned to fake early in life. Make people believe you’re remorseful, and they’ll not only forgive you but they’ll spend a little extra time to get to know you just to convince themselves that the original insult wasn’t actually true to any degree.

   She eyed Tom with suspicion and for a second he thought she could actually see through him. It had worked; the apology might not have made him attractive, but it had made him more interesting.  “Are you going to sit there and try and talk to me while I drink it?”

   The quip stung a little, but compared to what could have been it seemed like successful damage control. “I promise I won’t talk about any plastic Ken doll stuff.” He reeled off the line with palms in the air.

   She cracked a smile. To his amazement, she actually cracked a smile. This was going better than he’d ever imagined.

   The next four hours was a blur to Tom. For the most part he kept his mouth shut and listened to the amazing thoughts, feelings and experiences related to him by this young woman. Her name was Spring and her parents were just as you’d imagine parents with a daughter named Spring being. They were long haired ex-hippies, with a fever for alleviating all the pain from the world. In Spring, they’d instilled a love of learning and new experiences. Which Tom was to find out was why she’d stopped in to this little college nightclub on a random Saturday night. She just wanted to see how the “Plastic People” lived. She quickly apologized and reprimanded herself for passing judgment of those she didn’t know and continued to dazzle him with tales of hitchhiking and backpacking adventures, summer concert stories and a mad philosophy of the world that Tom himself was too scared to try to understand.

   The conversation went till the bar closed and continued as he walked her to her beat-up little Volkswagen. Somehow, he knew she’d be driving a Volkswagen. She was talking about some damn Buddhist thing he didn’t understand as he watched her get into the little hooptie as if there wasn’t a bit of shame in her. He marveled at her for a moment and thought to himself that there must be a lot of freedom in not caring what other people thought of you. It was obvious she had no intention of sleeping with him that night and he honestly didn’t know if he could shut his brain off long enough to fuck at this point. He decided to go for the kiss and get the phone number after-so as not to leave any doubts about his attraction. Tom knelt down in between the open door and her seat and looked her in the eyes. This moment he felt may have been the first “real one” he’d ever mustered.

   He leaned in for a kiss, but wound up face-to-face with a paperback book she was holding out for him. He opened his eyes and took the book from its smiling keeper. “Into the Wild” was the title. It was thin and didn’t appear to be too daunting a read. Spring scribbled her phone number on the back and grabbed the door handle.

   “It totally changed my life. Read it and give me a call.” And she closed the door.

                                                                                ********************

   Never a big reader; Tom in fact couldn’t remember digesting a book since high school that wasn’t about picking-up women and newspaper articles were out of the question. He would read magazines to get his daily dose of pop culture, but the idea of digesting anything literary or biographical seemed like a supernova of time waste. No time for fairy tales, he rationalized; he was living life one bar at a time. This was a different thing though. This was about getting into a young girl’s pants, that’s what he told himself although part of him was curious about the power of this book to actually change a person’s existence. He had heard little rants like these before, all came from some fruity recent convert to some author’s personality cult. He’d seen good friends of his beat each other’s brains out in back-alley fistfights trying to grab hold of some divine understanding spoken in a Chuck Palahniuk novel. So, he remained a skeptic as to the book’s overall power, but he still wanted to get between Spring’s thighs.

   The book was cracked Sunday morning without any of the proper new book rituals an experienced reader partakes before giving themselves over to an author. He just sat at his kitchen table in his jammies with a bowl of cookie crisp and a cup of coffee. He figured he’d dip his toe in to test the language and the first page was sort of interesting so he kept going. Three pages in he realized that he was going to have to decide whether to commit himself to this book or run away now. It was the thought of Spring’s perfectly groomed pussy that kept him going, as it would any man doing something he hates. He committed and continued on.

   Monday morning came and Tom called in sick to work. He used the generic sick voice on his assistant manager, even though he knew she’d know he was full of shit. He had fallen asleep the night before while reading the story of a pampered East Coast kid going by the name Alexander Supertramp, who gave up everything to venture out in the Alaskan wilderness and live off the land. It blew Tom’s fucking mind. He had to finish, he had to find out how it ended.

   At exactly eleven a.m., Tom put down the book and stared into the white-washed void of his living room wall. An hour and half went by and he was still there, thinking. It wasn’t a habit he had ever been into. Never had it been said that his internal well ran deep and never had Tom troubled himself pondering the vast unknowns of the world. He was one to take things at face value and if an answer wasn’t immediately on the surface, he’d attach the first semi-logical explanation and continue on with his material existence. To do anything otherwise would have been pointless in Tom’s estimation, he neither felt himself capable of finding any complex answers, nor did he care enough about a subject that refused to reveal itself fully to him. Today, though. Today was different.

   “He died.” Tom was on his feet now and moving. A rush of jittery energy was coursing through him, his thoughts racing, unable to center on one cohesive understanding in the mess of new ideas and realizations that gushed into his consciousness. Tom repeated the phrase over and over hoping that comprehension would come with repetition.

   “He died. He died. That idiot starved to death in the middle of the fucking woods.” Tom couldn’t grasp it. Spring had told him the book would change his life and the rush and confusion of his dormant brain synapses firing once again convinced him that she might be right, but to what end? If this was change, than what was the end result? It felt like the start of an amusement park ride slowly drawing into a dark tunnel.

   “I don’t need to think about it. I read it. That’s all that matters. That’s all that Spring will care about. Fuck it, dude died. Who cares?” And he picked up the phone.

   Tom was an old pro at getting a girl off the phone and into a one-on-one meeting. The key was to tantalize the subject with the promise of an interesting dialogue, but never to go into detail over the phone. Tom thought it ironic in the moment between the second and third ring that all he really had to do in this situation was be honest. What women could resist the sight of a man in mid-epiphany?

   “I can’t believe I used a sick day for a fucking book.” he scoffed at himself, just before the image of young Alexander Supertramp, half-emaciated, sitting beside his dilapidated van flashed in his mind.

   Tom lurched just a bit as if a cramp had hit him in the stomach with the speed of a bad memory. “Hello?” The voice on the other end was a deep masculine baritone croaking out of hibernation. Tom stammered and stuttered, this wasn’t Spring.

   “Playa training kick in!” he commanded himself, as if calling on superpowers to transform a secret identity into a hero.

   “Spring there?” Calculations rolled through his mind as he managed the question without gasping. “Who is this guy? He’s too young to be her father. He’s my age. He could be her brother. Why didn’t Alexander Supertramp follow the river instead of trying to cross?”

   “She’s in the shower. Who’s this?” The question was posed as an order and the tone of voice rang with suspicion.

   “Just a friend, s-she gave me this book, “Into the Wild”, I just wanted to thank her.” Tom’s playa training had left him. His voice cracked and his mind went blank except for the image of Alexander Supertramp. He winced, but couldn’t bring himself to hang up the phone. He needed to know about Spring. He’d read this goddamn book for her with the expectation that it’d be enough to get close to her. Now there was a ghost in his head and a man on the line.

   “Great book. Changed my life.” The voice on the other end rumbled. “We’re getting married at that bus next spring. I’ll tell her you called.”

   Click. Tom dropped the phone onto the couch and took a seat next to it. He saw in his mind’s eye a retro tuxedo wearing Alexander Supertramp holding Spring’s hand in front of the van. Draped in a light flower pattern gown and holding a bouquet of daffodils, she was the picture of happiness and mad enlightenment.

   A grainy home movie played itself out in his imagination. She was smiling at the man that was everything he was not. He was the madman messiah of the Arctic frontier who’d shunned everything Tom held most dear to sacrifice himself to nature. Her treasure would be for him and no one else. This made Tom fall in love with her.

   Love, like thought, was not something Tom had ever held in high esteem. He spoke of it on rare occasions, mostly playing lip service to the emotion for the sake of establishing trust with a future conquest, or to hide the appalling fact that he himself had never experienced it before. He knew love stories made women creamy down below, but the idea was a foreign one to him-even in the “easy-come-easy-go” of childhood romances. He had just never loved anyone and didn’t understand the people who did, until now.

   The formula for creating value in Tom’s mind was to limit availability while providing high level of appeal. If a car were easily assessable and affordable, it was not worth driving. Though he didn’t feel the same way towards women, he’d always been perfectly happy to test-drive any women willing, so long as he had no intention of ever buying and was not investing much of his time or money into the thing. The interest of an outside party was a factor contributing to the raised value of an item or person. To Tom, it worked as a qualifier. If he himself could not easily perceive value in a woman he was associated with, then the interest she spurred in one of his male counterparts would do well enough to make her worth pursuing.

   Tom crept down the concrete stairs from his top floor apartment into the late August, Northwest evening. A bug eyed, sleep-deprived wreck of a man. He was, as all unrequited lovers are, miserable. He’d called into work again due to his inability to concentrate and the deep-seeded fear that everything he was feeling could be witnessed like an exhibited sculpture in a glass case.

   The magic hour sun sagged closer to the horizon as Tom took in his surroundings. He’d been on this street countless times in the years he’d occupied his designer one-room bachelor pad, he’d just never noticed how beautiful it was. He crinkled his eyes as he took in the trees, the playground, all cars parked up the sidewalk and in the numbered spaces at the base of the building. There was nothing out of the ordinary here, but it fed an emotional fire in Tom that was growing beyond control.

  

   “I’ve been missing everything. The world is so beautiful and I’ve been closed off to it, because I was too shallow, too scared to embrace something real in my life.” Tom twisted those words and feelings around inside him for the next two hours as he ambled through the neighborhood he’d lived in for years and had never stopped to behold. If only Spring could see what was going on inside of him right now, if only she could see he was changing. But how could she see he was different when he was wearing these high priced, designer clothes and shoes? How could she feel the change in him if she ran her hands over his smooth, lotioned face? Would the musk of his cologne interfere with her ability to sense the real Tom trying to get out?

   The Salvation Army building had little customer traffic at the time Tom stood before the front window and took in the sight of his reflection. He knew what he had to do to get what he wanted out of life, he had to change everything and it started with a new wardrobe. He did a quick scan of the area to make sure nobody he knew was watching and stepped through the door.

   Two hours later Tom came out of the Salvation Army wearing an old army jacket and ratty blue jeans with a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars to walk on. He had a duffle bag slung over his shoulder and the posed demeanor of a wandering hobo waiting to bug someone for their change. He’d already qualified himself for the role earlier by phoning in his resignation while trying on a heavy wool sweater that still held the slight linger of cigarette smoke. When pressed for a reason, he simply responded in a smug tone that he’d risen above the trappings of a commercial life and was pushing on to Alaska to test himself against the elements.

                                                                                ********************

   Patches of grey hair peppered Tom’s new, stubbled face look. He’d been keenly aware of them since they first came in and had become religious about shaving twice a day, once before he left the house as part of his hour long morning shower routine and then again at lunch with a portable electric. He knew deep down that grey facial hair would be a deal breaker for any girl under the age of twenty-five and wasn’t about to be caught slipping on the day a willing prospect walked into his store or bumped into him at a coffee shop. He rubbed his partial beard and smiled as the airplane touched down at Fairbanks International Airport.

   He had made an internet transaction on a cabin along the Tanana river with five acres of land, “But thousands more that nobody will gripe about you using” as said by the seller. He had thought long and hard about the book and about Spring and came to the conclusion that he didn’t need to actually starve himself to death in the middle of the woods to earn her love. If he were to simply live in the cabin over the course of the winter, grow a thick beard and return with stories of the Great Wide Open, she’d see him as a rugged, philosophic adventurer she’d always craved.

   The fantasy became bigger and brighter as he plotted to crash her wedding come the post-winter thaw. He didn’t want to ask her directly when her marriage was, so he decided to keep tabs for a marriage license at the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. Finding the location of the bus he figured to be easy enough as there were many internet references from a legion of fans of the book. He’d bide his time, grow the beard and when he saw that marriage license granted he’d journey out to the bus and complicate her life in most dramatic fashion. This would be his reward for answering the call of the wild.

   The Call of the Wild. As stated earlier, Tom was a big pile of slushy cliché scooped into a human package. The actual call that he was hearing was quite real to him though. It was a song and it had been coming every night in his sleep sung by either Spring or Alexander Supertramp. It was a beautiful, slow, ethereal melody that throbbed of pain and hope of a better tomorrow. The lyrics blurred in lucidity, but Tom always got the impression that he was being beckoned to this place just below the Arctic Circle where the lights danced in the sky and life persevered in subzero temperatures.

   As the days passed the song became clearer and one word at a time crystallized in his mind until finally the first Phrase of the chorus was born.

   “I am your home.”

   Although the rest of the words were indecipherable, that part of the melody repeated itself three times throughout the piece. The end of the third chorus had served Tom better than any alarm clock he’d ever owned and he awoke almost instantly and on time as the final notes faded away.

   “I am your home.” Tom yawned the lyric to himself as he wiped a crust out of his waking eyes and stepped off the airplane onto the tarmac of Fairbanks International Airport. Late September had brought a crisp cold to the air and the clear sky above featured a shimmering, green and purple Aurora Borealis. He took his first breaths of Alaska and marveled at the strange energy the top of the world seemed to exude. He lingered next to the plane long after the rest of the passengers had hustled inside to the shelter of the gate. He was changing.

   The car that Tom wanted was a pick-up truck. He had no particular need of one and the city of Fairbanks was littered with coupes, sedans and sports cars, all of which would have better suited the old him. The old Tom however was beginning to give way to the new Tom. Powerful, masculine and self-sufficient in his mind, Tom had developed a bit of a chest out swagger. He had yet to do anything that would merit such an exaggerated posture even to the most Neanderthal peacock walkers that haunted every corner bar and diner, yet he continued to practice his new stride as he chased a chronically unimpressed used car salesman across his lot while looking for the truck that best announced his presence to the world.

   The end result was a massive, black, one ton Ford F350 dually with a sprayed-on bed liner and an interest rate that would’ve driven any practical man to walk off the lot. Fortunately for the chronically- unimpressed used car salesman, Tom had never been practical with money in cases where his self-image might suffer and he was even less inclined to be that way now with the excitement of his change prodding him forward.

   Tom gunned the engine for the first time as the truck’s new owner and felt its thunderous power at his disposal. A smile formed across his lips as he pondered whether his commitment to winning Spring’s heart should be allowed to prevent his using this new piece of machinery to attract a new piece of ass.

   A knock at the window broke him out of the lopsided debate. His salesman was standing just outside the driver’s side window with nary an expression on his face. Tom lowered the window expecting he’d forgotten to sign some simple piece of paperwork or warranty agreement, but the salesman simply gestured toward the front of the vehicle.

   “Just reminding you that your truck is winterized, that’s important up here. Um, yeah. That’s all.” And he turned and started back to his little sales shack in the middle of the lot.

   Tom raised the window and shook his head with a smirk. “Winterized? Whatever that means” he said as he threw his new metal codpiece into gear and rumbled off the lot.

   Vowing not to leave the confines of his awaiting cabin for the duration of the winter, Tom loaded his truck with provisions from the local bulk warehouse store and set out to find his new home. After three hours of bombing up and down deserted forest roads looking for his new home, the fuel gauge began to drift close to empty. Tom had seen plenty of photos of Alaska on the Internet as he was researching his new home, but never had he imagined just how big and wide open the terrain actually was. After the first couple hours of wrong turns and faulty hunches he had driven the last thirty minutes down a single dirt road straight into the heart of woodland. He was sure the road was correct, the sign at the edge of the highway read, “Love Lane” and that was the street his cabin was supposed to be on.

   “Lane? This isn’t a lane, it’s a dirt freeway!” he quipped to himself as he made note of the ever falling fuel needle. If he turned back now, he could make it back to the tiny highway service station with the adjoining tavern that advertised itself as being open till five a.m. Much further and getting out of the woods with wheels underneath him would become a crapshoot. The road bent almost to a ninety degree angle and as Tom came out of the turn the full panoramic view of the mighty Tanana River came into view.

   A slight gasp escaped Tom’s open mouth. The water flowed past banks that stretched a hundred yards between each other. A tiny wooden cabin with a small chimney and a front porch nested in the bare branched trees, covered in the autumn colored remains of their vegetation. Tom pulled up near a three- foot pole erected in front of the cabin with an electrical outlet at its end, flung open the door and ran out to admire his new domain.

   The fledgling sourdough turned in a one eighty circle up and down the river taking it all in. Not another house, car or human soul in sight. His grin was ear-to-ear. This was real, not some put on act based upon a refried cliché. The beating of Tom’s heart was out of pure excitement and passion for the first time he could remember. He was a wilderness kind of guy, after all. His mouth formed an O as he took deep rapid breathes and then pushed out a wild roar of primordial bliss. He was free of the trappings of society and its consumer culture at last.

   There had been an ongoing internal debate during the drive to the cabin whether or not to stay faithful to Spring. Tom felt that a noble man that they make movies about would have been content to live like a hermit till the thaw and then take the object of his desire as his reward. However, there was the fact that Spring was most likely not saving herself for him at this moment and here he was with a nice secluded cabin in the middle of the woods and a big truck. Nothing could be more romantic and there would be no neighbors to hear pounding the walls in protest to his loud moans of erotic bliss.

   He passed his truck on his way to the porch and glanced over at the electrical outlet propped up on the pole in front of his bumper. Analyzed it as he arrived at the front door and inserted his key into the lock.

   “Weird place to hang an outlet” Tom pondered as he unlocked the door.

   The main living area of the cabin was tight, but with adequate space for its sink, refrigerator and small desk Tom was sure he’d only use as a periodical sex aid or to simply stash clutter he had no better place for.  Tom walked through, not unimpressed with his new digs. There was something fascinating about the simplicity of it all, as if he was discovering an option in life that he’d never been previously aware of. A small toyo stove on the wall behind the desk had kept the cabin at a comfortable temperature and gave Tom the comfort of knowing that he’d never get too cold during the long winter months ahead.

   There was some hesitation in Tom as he came to the opening to the adjoining bedroom. Wild West-style saloon doors separated the rooms and blocked the view from the main living area. This is where Tom would be sleeping and hiding away from the dreaded winter close at hand and he was a bit nervous to see it. With a deep breath he pushed through the saloon doors and into his new bedroom.

   He let out the slightest of groans as he took in the sight of the thin twin sized mattress lying on a waist high bunk. On the other side of the room a compact shower with a water pump leading out to a small five gallon bucket gave Tom a glimpse of what his “one-hour morning shower ritual” was about to be reduced to. He sat on his new bunk and stared at the shower half grateful that he had even that and half frightened of the consequences an interruption to his routine would incur.

   “Doesn’t matter, does it?” the question was posed to himself and reality of the answer was hard to argue with. There was no one out here to smell him if he’d chosen to give up the practice of cleansing altogether. He wanted to run back to his truck and drive right back to the airport, but the thought of it made his toes bunch up as if they were trying to dig into the floor to brace him. This was what he’d chosen and he’d chosen it for a reason. If poor Alexander Supertramp could starve to death in the middle of the woods he could surely survive in this heated cabin for a winter. Surviving without female company however was a different story.

   Horror stories of the male to female ratio in Alaska buzzed through Tom’s mind all the while he drove back down the dirt freeway toward civilization.  What if he couldn’t find an attractive woman that wasn’t already spoken for? Would he try to steal one away from another man? He’d done this before, of course-many times in the past. But there was anonymity to the city that he suspected wouldn’t be present here where he was without a doubt a new face and an outsider. The thought a potential physical confrontation with some crazy man of the tundra deflated his chest, but the counter thought of spending an entire winter alone in that cabin with neither, sex or someone to talk to gave him the courage to try anything, whatever the outcome.

   The sun had vanished behind the thick of endless trees over an hour ago. Some part of Tom was unnerved by the abject darkness of the forest and the other part thrilled with the adventure of the unknown that was ahead of him. He was certain he’d be able to find his way back to the cabin even in the darkness of the night.

   “I am your home.”

   The song that had formerly only played in his dream state was in an instant fully audible after Tom had pressed the power button on his truck’s stereo.  The reaction wasn’t what one would normally think in this situation. In the movies the listener slams on the brakes and stares bug-eyed at the offending stereo in the middle of the road as if the electrical device would suddenly adopt the facial expressions of a human. Not this time.

   The song was half over before Tom even realized what it was. For at least two minutes, he drove in a highway hypnosis state not being able to differentiate between this physical reality and the dream world in which he’d heard the song so many times. It was the gas station tavern that snapped him out of it and when he did snap out of it, it was more of a slow realization. So slow that he once again was unable to place any of the lyrics to the song other than the fading chorus.

   “I am your home.”

   Tom maneuvered his new truck alongside the gas pumps in the middle of the parking lot. Three other vehicles occupied the limited space in front of the tavern. An old pick-up, a rusty van and a vintage Harley Davidson whose condition neutralized any prestige its brand name could have inspired. He set the gear shift to park. Then he stared bug-eyed at his stereo as if expecting it to adopt human facial features. A Led Zeppelin song powered out of the speakers now and Tom sat motionless for a moment while letting the lyrics pass over him. What had just happened? Was this a popular song that he’d never heard of? If so, why was it being played in front of Led Zeppelin-which only haunted rock and classic rock stations?

   Dizzy and a little ill, he wanted to go back to the cabin but wanted out of that truck even more. He forced his door open and crumbled out onto the gravel of the faint lit parking lot. His center of gravity felt as if it had started at his ankles as soon as he made contact with the ground and shot toward his head as he pulled himself upright. He figured he would appear drunk to anyone who might have caught a glimpse of him in that moment and to him that was an acceptable reason to appear less than in control. He steadied himself against his new rolling fortress and took in the sight of the gas station tavern.

   It was a convenient theme to employ for a tiny filling station in the middle of nowhere. That its identity seemed to encourage drunken driving did strike Tom as funny at the same time left him with a the sinking feeling that the practice was not out of the ordinary in this place despite the legendary treachery of the roads in the winter. The gas pumps were old enough to be cool again and the entrance to the tavern lead through a vintage Fifties-era station house that pulled off the look without giving the impression that it was trying to.

   A few deep breaths of cool air and Tom had come to remember his reasons for being here. He needed to get laid. He looked at the vehicles in the parking lot and rolled his eyes. Not a chance any girl worth his seed would be here in this place. He was hesitantto crawl back into the cab of his truck, however- and this kept him outside long enough to hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of tiny footsteps on gravel coming toward him from the shadowy regions just bordering stations lighting circumference.

   “A bear!” the notion popped into his mind and had the steps been heavier and further apart it might not have been such a ridiculous thought.

   Breathless against his truck, he prepared to dive back into the driver’s seat when the exterior shadow stretched into the aura of the station’s canopy lights and became the slight, waifish figure of a young native woman.

   “Woman?” Tom caught himself thinking, justifying. The term was in doubt by her youthful appearance. Girl might be more appropriate, but he was in the middle of Alaska. The age of consent was sixteen. A fact he’d researched and reveled in as he planned his trip. Tom was sure not going to allow some concocted moralistic code of ethics to ruin his natural urge. The jackpot had just happened by on this lonely road all by herself.

   “Playa training, kick in.” He muttered to himself as he stepped out from behind the truck and watched the slender girl swank past without so much as recognizing his existence. Her long black hair flowed down her back, stopping just short of the one-hundred-and-eighty degree arch in the rump of her black jeans. Her stride stimulated her ample breasts into a jiggle just noticeable through the top of her half zipped brown leather jacket.

   “You are my home.” It was spoken without comprehension by the horny scavenger as he started toward the mysterious sex machine slipping through the night. Had he thought of what he’d just said, he might have ignored the throbbing ache in his loins and drove away. But he didn’t and in those few moments his natural lust grew into a pounding animal desire he’d never known. Sex was never this exciting with anyone and he hadn’t even seen her naked yet. He was lost in it. His breath was short and his posture erect. He stalked his fixation with a smooth, natural swagger that before he’d only been able to fake.

   “Come with me!” Tom stopped just yards away from the native girl who halted and performed a slow pivot to face him. There was a small part of Tom’s consciousness that wondered what the hell he was doing. He’d never read that pick-up line in any book and hadn’t even considered using a direct order before. It felt as if something altogether foreign was controlling his actions and instead of being freaked out, he was enjoying it.

   The girl said nothing. Their lines of vision clicked onto the same plane as one another’s and they held contact for what seemed like minutes before she smiled and started toward him.

   A tiny amount of saliva formed at the corner of his mouth and he scowled to keep it from further developing. She strutted right past him and he held his gaze on her as she crossed to the passenger side door of his truck and got into the cab.

   She said nothing throughout the drive to the cabin. Tom’s mind flooded with a plethora of cheesy pick-up lines and compliments he could throw at her to soften her up for the seduction. The only words he could muster came just as he pulled off the main road and started down the dirt freeway into the woods leading to the cabin.

   “You know what we’re going to do, right?” even stated as a question, it sounded like a command when it was verbalized. Tom didn’t know if he was more unnerved by his lack of control over his own speech or the expressionless face of his companion gazing out the windshield at the beams of the truck’s headlights. It was like she had done this before on the same road, countless times before. It was as if she was going home.

   Out of the truck and heading for the front door of the cabin before Tom could so much as turn the truck’s engine off, she moved up the porch as if completing a programmed task. Tom watched for a moment as she lingered at the front door waiting for him. She was looking out at the Tanana as if it were a far off memory of some childhood long lost. The part of his consciousness that wasn’t under the influence of her sexual spell was slipping from him. He began to feel as if he wasn’t so much inside his own body so much as he was a tourist along for the ride.

   There was no romance in the hours that passed, no boundaries respected, feelings of intimacy or words exchanged. The end came as the cabin’s fogged windows began to glow with the rising sun’s light and both Tom and his mystery girl collapsed on opposite sides of his tiny twin mattress naked, gasping and covered in each other’s secretions.

                                                                                ********************

   Tom floated in an abyss of dark water. He could feel it moving all around him yet he remained in place staring up at a two foot hole in the ceiling above him. His senses were disabled to the cold, yet he held a vivid awareness of its death bite consuming him as he choked on the dirt taste of the water flooding his lungs. The glowing image of Alexander Supertramp looking down on him filled the hole above and the skeletal Christ figure’s cackle echoed through Tom’s imagination.

   A lurch upright in bed with a choked out cry of anguish sent a pool of saliva pouring out the corner of Tom’s mouth onto the bed sheets below him. His eyes cracked open as dry as a vodka hangover. He was breathing now. Deep panic breathes that rasped out a painful gratitude for the oxygen filling his lungs.

   The room was dark again. It only took a moment for him to figure out that the sun had come and gone for the day. His skin was covered in sweat that made its pores tighten and shiver. She was still there. Her tiny figure lying just to the side of him curled in a half fetal position waiting for his return. A dizzying feeling of motion sickness consumed him, as if he had lost all equilibrium and forced Tom to return to his laying position.

   Memories of the night before were fleeting. Tom pushed himself to recall as best he could, but they were like the lyrics of the song, faint and fading realities that passed through his fingers as he tried to grasp them. He felt her touch on his chest and her whispery breathes tickled his ear. Her hand stopped over his heart and she spoke for the first time.

   “I love you.”

   “I love you? I love you? I love you?” In all his conquests, throughout all his years picking up young women the words hadn’t ever crossed his ears. Many people Tom knew would sacrifice any and all Earthly pleasures to indulge in this one that came so easily all of a sudden. To Tom though, it inspired only terror. Not a terror of the typical ‘flight or fight’ variety, but a terror of imminent, unpreventable doom. How could she love him? Tom didn’t remember much from last night, but the pieces he did seemed more suitable to be used in a court case against him than for a justification of affection.

   After an hour his attempted slip out of bed was halted by the girl’s razor fingernails clawing into his chest and pulling him back into her. He tried again a few minutes later with the same result. Finally another full hour of silence later his terror gave way to anger and he lunged off the bed dragging her nails across his chest.

  They stared at each other in the darkness of that small room for a full minute. Tom didn’t need to look down at his chest to know he was bleeding. Three deep scratch marks crossed five inches of his chest from his heart to arm pit. Her charcoal eyes betrayed not a hint of remorse for the wounds. They only beckoned him back into bed. He let his eyes drift away from the endless blackness of her pupils and down to her teenage, Goddess body. It was everything he’d dreamed of and now all he wanted was to run from it. So he ran. Straight through the saloon divider, across his little living area and out the front door.

   Snow was rare in Seattle, but it did happen on occasion. Tom had always enjoyed not only the novelty of its presence, but the utter chaos it caused in the chronically ill-equipped city of his birth. But as he stood naked on the front porch of his new cabin and watching the thick globes of white precipitation cake itself across the visible landscape, he began to hate it with a passion reserved for the only the most unfortunate moments of his life. Even more troubling was the lapse in time he felt. How did this happen so fast? How long had he been asleep? A deep stabbing pain settled into his gut. A hunger pang the likes he’d never imagined much less experienced. He looked down at his withered body and felt the quiver of his atrophied muscles struggling to keep him upright as the cold burrowed into his flesh. He looked like Alexander Supertramp.

   She stood in front of the saloon doors with a pleading expression. “I love you. I love you.” She chimed in a tone of wanting and hopeful desperation.

   A shudder tore up Tom’s spine as soon as he heard the words. Every fiber in him wanted to run into the oblivion of the outside just to be away from her. He cast a glance over to his truck, now well buried under a thick drape of snow and stepped back inside.

   She was smiling now. Tom indulged himself the self-congratulatory notion that he must’ve fucked the little girl too well as he closed the door with his back. He had no intention of returning her affection. He didn’t even want to take his eyes off her. As soon as he could regain a sense of equilibrium he’d be planning on how to get her out of the cabin, but right now he was bone-rattling cold, hungry to the point of pain and so parched that the act of swallowing felt like two pieces of twenty grit sandpaper sliding across one another in the back of his throat.

   She stayed naked and the fact didn’t elude Tom that under normal conditions he might have truly welcomed her company in that state. It was the waking up a month after their initial meeting and the loss of memory that vexed him. He figured a month, though he wasn’t altogether sure. It had been long enough for his cell phone’s battery to die and Tom reminded himself as he sipped his bowl of hot soup to dig the charger out of the pile of luggage littering the living room around him.

   She sat across from him nameless and nude, watching with big brown eyes full of love and devotion. Tom shivered under a fresh bundle of clothes drawing in hot soup as fast as his throat would allow it to go down and here she was without so much as a goose bump to blemish her perfect amber skin.

   “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Tom began to cringe at the phrase he’d spent nights dreaming of hearing from a harem of teenage lovers. Were these the only words in the girl’s vocabulary?

   “What’s your name?” Tom finally commanded in a tone that shouldn’t have inspired her to smile but did anyway.

   She giggled and sang back to him, “I love you.”

   Tom leapt from his seat and flung his empty bowl across the room, shattering it across the wall. A chunk of noodle clung to his full beard as he rasped out his finger-pointed ultimatum. “You’re getting out of here now!”

   He charged the front door snatching the keys to his truck on the way out.

   “I love you!” slipped through the slamming door and into Tom’s ear as he stomped across the front porch toward the dormant truck. The cold was nothing he’d felt before. Every breath felt like Jack Frost raping his lungs. A glance toward a small round needle thermometer pinned on ten degrees Fahrenheit gave Tom a slap of reality to chew on as he began swiping large drifts of snow off the front of his truck with half panicked arm flails.

   This is what ten degrees felt like? He had read numerous times that this area of Alaska recorded temperatures up to forty degrees below zero on a routine basis. The thought of losing another fifty sent a wave of terror through him.

   “Death! This feels like death!” he spoke out loud to himself as he brushed the front bumper. Then he came to a sudden and screeching halt. A measure of extension cord coiled around the protruding front license plate stole his attention. He reached down pulled the end of the extension into view, pondered it for a moment and looked up at the funky electrical outlet staked on the post in front of the cabin. The words of his unimpressed salesmen began to echo in his memory.

   “Just reminding you that your truck is winterized, that’s important up here. Um, yeah. That’s all.”

   “Winterized?” Though he hadn’t been sure what the term entailed, it was quite certain to Tom that he was holding the answer in his hand. He wasn’t so unknowledgeable of vehicles that he couldn’t figure out the ill effects of ten degrees on even the most rugged off-road monster machine. He rose to his feet, threw the driver’s side door open and dove inside.

   The interior of the rig was as cold as the outside. Tom’s breath stuck to the windshield as he pushed the key into the ignition. “If there were a God in heaven” – he thought to himself as he turned the key. Click. Click. Click. Over and over again he turned the key hoping the next time something would change and his one feasible link to the world would resurrect itself against all odds. It was for naught. After several minutes of trying, Tom pushed open the door and stepped back out onto the snow covered ground.

   She stood on the front porch staring at him, her naked body still not giving up a single sign of cold. Forlorn eyes pierced his heart for a moment as he suspended his fear of her unnatural ability to endure the frigid temperatures around her.

   “I love you.” Simple and sweet with a touch of agony, it tore into Tom’s heart and pressed every panic button he’d ever held on stand-by for life’s actual calling. Here was his fantasy declaring her devotion to him and all he wanted was to run from it. The purity of this young girl in the fresh snow was evil to him. It was an evil that he felt wanted to consume him.

   “I don’t love you!” He bellowed as he charged the cabin.

   She didn’t move as he blew past her, disappeared into the cabin and slammed the door behind him. A loud click of the deadbolt lock engaging would’ve sent most naked young girls into a bit of tizzy. But not this one, this one just turned to the uncovered window and smiled.

   “I love you” she spoke as if she expected the words would eventually penetrate his soul and he’d open the door for her.

   On the other side of that door, Tom huddled close in a sitting position. The thoughts coming to him were not ones he’d have shared willingly with anyone in the world he’d known before. It was ten degrees outside. If this girl were human she’d be dead in a matter of hours. If she were of the more than human variety that he was beginning to suspect, she would not die at all. Either way he’d be safe here huddled against the door.

   It only took a couple of minutes before the first taps clicked against the window. The wooden wall filtered voice of the girl just audible over the thumping of Tom’s cranial pulse.

   “I love you.”

   The hopefulness in her voice had slipped and now creaked with fear. As if she were beginning to question her expectation that he’d open the door any moment, declare his love and carry her back into the warmth of their little bed to fall into a happily ever after hibernation.

   “She’s not human, she’s a monster. She’s not human, she’s a monster.” Tom’s mental mantra began to slip from his lips as he steeled his heart against the rapid ascending volume and tempo of the young girl’s window taps.

   “I love you!”

   There was no mistaking the shutter in her tear gargled voice. She was crying while she was freezing to death. Her taps turned to alternating open palm slaps against the frozen glass as her voice rose from trepidation to full on terror.

   “She’s not human, she’s a monster. She’s trying to trick you. She’s a monster. She’s a monster.” He barked his words now in attempt to beat back the cries clouding his thoughts. He clasped his hands over his ears and tucked himself into compacted fetal position against the door. “She’s a monster!”   

   Tom could tell the day by the lightening of the inside of his eyelids. He didn’t open them until long past the time they had gone dark again. He held his position with rigid, tight muscles, coiled and tense. His breathes were short and rapid soft, as if inhaling or exhaling too deep could set off a chain reaction that would uncoil the fragile fabric of reality itself. Finally, the pain in his contracted muscles forced him to extend his legs and draw in air as he whimpered a short sob of pain.

   Reality remained intact as Tom began to unfold himself into belly down position on the floor. He had to go outside eventually. There was no way to avoid it. He had provisions to last the duration of the winter, but simply looking out the window could reveal the sight he dreaded. His only hope of not being a cold-blooded murderer was that the girl he’d picked-up and molested would turn out to have been the monster he’d convinced himself she was the night before. Those thoughts began to unravel in his mind until the stupidity of the idea galvanized his mind past the feelings of bottomless pit falling. He couldn’t take it back, no matter how remorseful he felt-and if he were the type to be honest with his feelings he’d come clean with the fact that he was happy she was gone. No matter what lay on the outside of that door, he’d never have to hear her stupid little “I love you” again.

   It was rationale and biology that got Tom to his feet. With the weather below freezing outside and in the middle of the woods without a neighbor in sight, the odds of anyone having seen or even giving a shit about that girl were slim. It was doubtful that this logic would have been enough to push him to confront the unknown-had it not been for the raging pain of a full bladder stretching beyond any capacity he had ever known. The humor of him pissing his pants at the sight of a frozen girl made the corners of his lips retract just enough to be considered a smile, and with it he summoned the courage to open the door.

   She didn’t look the way he had envisioned. Somewhere in his anticipation, he had imagined a far more statuesque pose, a facial expression that while sad remained beautiful and perhaps a small frozen twinkle in her eyes. The romantic notion faded in an instant and Tom stood in the doorway halfway between warm and cold, studying her. The bottomless pit falling sensation returned to the point that he had to brace himself upright in the doorway with his hand.

   To understand Tom, it is important to know that on this first glimpse of the young girl he had used and allowed to die in subzero temperature, he felt sorry for himself. How could this be happening to him? He had ventured out into the wilderness to walk in the footsteps of Alexander Supertramp, the great messiah of the frozen North and now here he was, cold, suffering of a full bladder and having to carry the burden of the dead girl who had wrapped herself around the outer support post of his cabin’s porch in a last effort to anchor herself in the mortal world as her life froze out.

   Her expression was a grotesque, blue-lipped contortion of an overbite and her eyelids clamped shut blocking any potential twinkling that might have been present. She hugged the post as if it were a father, duty-bound to carry her away from danger.

   Tom broke his gaze from her and scanned the surrounding area. Not a soul in sight, nothing to disturb the smooth sheets of snow covering the surface of the world around him. He peered up at the snow covered Tanana as if he’d never considered the possibility that the Arctic had the power to halt running water. He remained transfixed on the river as he struggled to loosen his belt. No strength in him to leave the doorway and somewhere the irrational fear that the urine in his bladder could freeze, expand and kill him prompted him to endure the dick shrivel that was to come.

   The murder fraternity’s newest member shuddered and let out a gasping moan as the pressure from below his navel released in a steaming golden stream onto the porch. For a moment, he pondered the thought of a frostbitten cock. But the fear passed as the relief of an emptying piss sack set in and Tom began to let his thoughts turn to what he planned to do with this little corpse he had on his hands.

   The main problem with leaving her where she was, he thought, was that eventually she’d thaw. Same went with dragging her out into the woods. The ground was frozen, so he couldn’t bury her. He had no hope of getting his truck to start and no inclination to suffer the cold for the length of time it’d take to transport her to a remote enough area. Tom grunted out his last blast of kidney flush and stepped out onto the porch as he buckled himself back into his jeans. The river kept his attention. The river would hold her until spring and let her float away undetected. The plan formed almost instantaneously in his mind and strength began to return to Tom’s legs as soon as he checked off all possible contingencies and determined this method a sure way off the hook.

   Her buttocks and foot heels created a strangely tiered groove in the snow as Tom dragged her across by the hair toward the Tanana. Wrestling her from around the post hadn’t been the chore he’d initially thought it might. With an aggressive effort, he had managed to pry her locked limbs loose in a matter of minutes. This raised his spirits some, as he knew he had a chore ahead of him in digging a hole through the ice with only the tire iron from his new truck to aid.

   His first step onto the ice was delicate. He’d seen too many movies of people dropping through thin ice and had no intention of joining his little frozen cadaver in the sleep of death. All he had to do was to get her under this ice and he’d be free to live, work and play in the real world without the consequences of his “bad decision” hanging over him. It made him wonder how many people walked among “normal” society everyday with the mark of murder on their consciences. How many little grey-haired old ladies had killed their first husbands in fits of passionate rage, only to walk away clean and reestablish themselves with another? How many men in the typical football stadium knew what it was like to kill another man in cold blood? When Tom thought of the numbers it seemed impossible to discount the reality that every person at some time or another had shared the same oxygen with a killer.

   Cautious urgency was Tom’s mantra as he crossed the frozen Tanana towards its center. It was all too clear to him that if he fell through there was little to no chance of his survival. He was bundled to the gills in the heaviest clothes he had, but the frozen air still ripped down his throat every time he breathed. He had limited time to get this done and while the thin ice of early winter made the prospect of digging a hole large enough to fit a tiny body more plausible, it did nothing for his sense of security.

   His security deteriorated further once he had finished chipping out the pilot hole and found the ice to be just short of two feet thick. The thought of leaving her in the center of the river, letting the coming snow cover her and eventually having her wash away with the Springtime thaw held some appeal to him. It held less immediate risk, but the possibility that an animal would drag her out of the snow or that he’d receive an unwelcome visitor in the time before the snow fall was too much to venture. Truth was he didn’t want to see her body anymore. He wanted to begin the forgetting process and that wasn’t going to happen with a stiff corpse hanging around the river every morning when he woke up.

   It took two hours to widen the pilot hole to a foot and a half. Tom could no longer feel his toes or fingers as he chipped away the last snags of ice leading to the frozen black waters of the Tanana. All he could think of as he pulled the girl’s body toward her frozen tomb was getting back inside and enjoying a winter full of warmth and comfort. He thought about the possibility of maybe getting his truck running again and with that being able to venture back into town and starting all over again with a new young girl. He vowed to reward himself with a hot bowl of soup as he pushed the girl’s face into the water and forced the rest of her body in afterward. He thought of Spring and the way he planned to crash her wedding at the Supertramp van, all the while giving no reverence to the tears the jagged ice made into the girl’s flesh as he forced her under.

   She was gone. As quick as she had appeared out of the shadows of the gas station tavern, she disappeared under the ice sheet and out of Tom’s mind.

                                                                                ********************

   Drops of water formed and fell from the corner of the porch like Chinese torture. A full beard engulfed Tom’s face, but his clothes were intact and he remained well nourished from the provisions he’d stored. The April sun warmed the surface of his skin against the deep cold that radiated about him. This was the thaw that he’d waited five long months for. Blocks of ice floated around the river in front of his little cabin, growing smaller and smaller as the days went on. He had survived the winter in Alaska and though he felt on the edge of insanity, he held onto the sense of accomplishment and the hope that he’d soon be able to return to his old life being able to boast of his time in the wild Arctic.

   In December he’d gone to his wit’s end and made a push to get the truck started. Not being mechanically inclined, he failed and later decided to walk out to the main road and hitch a ride out into town before the most severe part of the winter locked him in place. This plan lasted about a mile down the dirt road before discomfort and laziness pushed him back into his little shelter and his endless cans of generic pasta that he had begun to loath.

   January brought the severe cold. Negative forty for almost two weeks in the middle of the month kept Tom swaddled in a blanket for the duration. It was an experience he’d never imagined and felt he’d never forget as long as he lived. The cold radiated up to three feet from the windows and defied the full throttle of the little toyo oil stove which he had begun to worship like a life-giving deity. The thought of a stove malfunction terrified him to the point of sleeplessness on several nights. Every abnormal click and clunk jarred him awake and pushed him to inspect every detail of its maintenance. By now he was cursing his decision not to bring a television or laptop computer. He grew so bored as to even wish for a book to read and even began to make little stories about himself and the women who would fall in love with him on incredible journeys to faraway places around the world.

   In February, he disconnected from the social networks on the internet that he’d thought of as his lifeline to the rest of the world for the previous few months. It all came from a series of mad tirades he had spewed across cyberspace from his little cellular phone when he’d ran out of things to talk about with the people on his “friends list”. Every day, he had checked in to these networks hoping for some piece of news or dramatic occurrences to keep him entertained through the slow passing hours of his imprisonment. One friend after another disappointed him with the trivial aspects of their day-to-day lives until he finally snapped and reprimanded them all in a week long diatribe of self-righteous indignation about their petty existences and how none of them could ever comprehend the enlightenment he was experiencing in his isolation in the woods. Further enraging him was the lack of interest his friends seemed to have in his reprimands. They ignored him for the most part and when they did respond it wasn’t to ask him for pieces of his grand new wisdom-but to laugh at the idiot who’d left his comfortable place in the world to live like Grizzly Adams in a place God had forgotten. So, finally Tom declared his friends too stupid to understand and disconnected to be alone with his thoughts.

   March proved unbearable to Tom. His thoughts hadn’t proved to offer much diversity due to his lifelong avoidance of complex topics, and the tease of spring’s arrival made the hours crawl ever slower. He had taken to rewriting scenes from past experiences with the power of hindsight to create more favorable outcomes for himself. Old dramas that had played out in the countless nightclubs he’d frequented became opportunities for him to leap onto a soapbox and subject a willing imaginary audience to his wisdom and ended with all in attendance agreeing that Tom was the most superior one of them all. Finally, he came to address the issue of the girl. The conversation was long winded, self-indulgent and didn’t end until he had adequately convinced the poor girl that it had been her own fault that she’d died such a terrible death on his doorstep. This conversation took place at least five times with little variances each time he pounded out the details in his mind. The last time, he spoke it out loud while standing on the river bank watching the thinning ice retreat back into its watery form.

   April came with its warmer sun and increased daylight. Tom began to take regular walks about the area around his cabin and even made it as far as the main road once only to turn back when no passing vehicles appeared after an hour or so of waiting. It didn’t matter to Tom at this point. He’d made it. He was the new Alexander Supertramp in his mind, only better. He’d lived. He decided that it was beneath him to beg salvation from another who hadn’t experienced the depths of life that he had in the past months and vowed to fix his own vehicle and drive out of the woods on his own, the mighty messiah of the tundra in roaring monster truck, ready to reap the rewards of his sacrifice.

   The reward was Spring. Five months of celibacy had driven the young granola queen in his mind from fantasy to myth. She was his prize and her betrothed became the evil oppressor which he must now conquer with his newfound powers. Tom studied each drop of falling water as it formed on the corner of the porch and each one seemed to beckon him to take action now. He saw himself roaring through the woods to Supertramp’s van in the middle of the wedding ceremony and as the minister asked for objections he’d explode from out behind a shroud of trees and challenge her inferior husband to a one on one battle to the death for her honor. All he had to do was get the truck running.

   A little internet research on his phone told him that the cord on his truck led to two tiny heating pads attached both to the oil pan and battery. In Tom’s logic, all he had to do was plug the cord into the outlet and wait for the battery and oil to thaw before he drove away. This proved useless over the past few months and Tom reasoned that it was due to faulty heating pads rather than simply a dead battery that could not be recharged simply by reheating. So, he decided to wait until the temperature was high enough to thaw those vital components without the need of a heating pad. To his disappointment he turned the key only to hear the same dreaded click of a starter trying to engage without power from a live battery.

   Tom slumped back into his seat and closed his eyes. How much longer would he have to wait for the thing to be warm enough? He pondered his options, and decided that he couldn’t wait any longer to rejoin the outside world. He would hoof it to the main road and wait as long as it took to hitch a ride into town. He figured he needed to check on the marriage license anyway and he could always rent a new truck once he was back in civilization. He took a deep breath and opened the door.

   “I am your home.”

   A tingle rose up his spine. Was he imagining the music coming from the speakers around him? Not wanting to look back at the stereo and not wanting to hear another note, he propelled himself out of the truck with more speed than he ever thought possible of himself.

   The volume from inside the truck exploded into a full speaker rattling boom and the song blared over Tom as he scrambled up to his feet. He stared at his truck for a hesitant moment, wanting to run, but unsure exactly where to go. Every follicle on his skin seemed to be standing at attention as he crept away from the truck toward the dirt road.

   Tom’s creeping stalled as the truck’s engine turned over and fired back to life with the roar of a bear coming out of hibernation. He didn’t turn to look. The crunching of the snow behind him was enough for him to tell his prize possession was moving without his help.

   “Run!” The thought filled Tom’s mind and his wobbling legs tripped over themselves as he attempted to execute the command. He slipped and bungled for about twenty yards before the sound of the truck approaching at full throttle from behind filled his ears. He turned just in time to take the corner of the charging dually’s front fender straight to his chest and flew off the side of the road into a deep snow bank.

   A blinding white light filled Tom’s mind. The sound of the world he knew had vanished and he felt himself drifting. In a moment, he saw himself standing naked in an open field of rolling hills flush with golden grass and warmed by the setting sun. He no longer felt the cold of Alaska and the terror of the truck had left him for an easy, relaxed sensation of well-being.

   “So, this is death.” he thought to himself. He continued to drift until his consciousness merged with the image of himself standing in the field. He peered down at his enlarged genitals and smiled. “This isn’t as bad as I thought.”

   He began to move through the field with a vigorous energy he had never known in life. There was no guilt, no shame, nothing to worry about except soaking in all the wonder that surrounded him. He saw her standing atop a hill in the distance. She was as naked and alive as he was-and she beckoned him with her fragile childlike smile. She still loved him and now in death he began to understand that he too finally could love her in return.

   Tom surmounted the hill with a glide that felt ungrounded by the force of gravity. This was freedom he never dared dream and his heart burst with love for the precious creature waiting for him with arms wide open. In a moment they were in each other’s embrace and a tear flowed out Tom’s eye. How could he have not felt this in life? How could he have ignored the magic of the feelings he had for this incredible woman in his arms? He looked down, deep into her big brown eyes and lifted her chin for a kiss.

   A surge of energy shot through him as their lips touched. It was better than every one-night stand he’d ever conned his way into. This was real. This was what love was. He breathed into her slowly, savoring every moment until he realized that he was no longer breathing on his own. She was sucking the breath out of him.

   Terror bounced Tom’s eyes open. He tried to pull away, but his lips stuck to the girl’s as if they’d grown together. He felt his lungs begin to deflate and the panic of suffocation overwhelmed him as his vision blurred into the blinding white light.

   The white light faded out as Tom twitched and struggled to free himself from the lip-lock the girl held over him. Gone were the rolling fields of golden grass and warm sun. Tom lay on his bed in the cabin with the girl on top of him.

   She wasn’t the youthful picture of beauty he’d seen in his vision. Her skin felt cold and damp against his. The smell of rot, river and rigor mortis filled the tiny room and turned his stomach as he pushed against her impossibly strong arms clamped around him. His eyes popped open and sight of her decayed, torn and mud-covered flesh pushed out the last of the wind remaining in his lungs.

   She released her grip, sat erect on top of him and smiled. A new life began to show in her and the decay of her skin began to revitalize before his eyes. Tom lay in a state of breathlessness and watched as the girl’s youthful appearance overtook the months of watery grave rot. The wounds from the ice healed before his eyes as he lay hypnotized by the transformation taking place in front him. The feeling of damp cold began to overtake him. The pulse that was a moment ago pounding in his panicked temple faded further and further away, until it was no longer detectable.

   She was as beautiful as the moment he first laid eyes on her and he reached out as she dismounted him only to see newly formed rot engulf his arms. Had he the breath, he would have moaned in anguish as he retrained his gaze from the spring-fresh babe standing over him to the degeneration of his own flesh. His consciousness began to fade as quickly as his breath and pulse had moments before. No longer in control of his own devices, his will was now the property of the home that beckoned for his arrival. He stood up from the bed and trudged forward behind the lead of the young girl who’d only ever declared her love for him and followed her out of the cabin.

   Tom didn’t even think enough to be terrified as he stepped past the girl to the edge of the Tanana. All he knew was that he was being called and needed to obey. He slipped into the slow moving water just past several blocks of freed ice and descended past his waist into the waiting Tanana. He belonged to her now. She was his home.

                                                                                                                                                                             END