Chusovaya

The sun began to set below the white peaks of the Ural Mountains, reflecting mercilessly off of the endless blanket of snow. Dimitri reached up and pulled the goggles down off his head and over his eyes, leaving only one hand gripped onto the reins. The sled hit a rock and veered to the right, almost throwing its passenger to the powdery carpet spread out on either side, but Dimitri regained his balance and held the reins back firmly in both hands. In front of him the six dogs, with their powerful legs pumping out a smooth rhythm, never even faltered, and Dimitri steered them towards the river bank.

The Chusovaya lay as still as glass, its mountain waters frozen to sheet crystal. Dimitri would usually cross it, had this three months past, but the big melt was on its way and he couldn’t be too careful, not with the month’s supplies strapped to the back of the sled. No, he’d travel a mile up-steam, cross at the bridge and be back home in their little wooden kitchen in no time, bouncing little Yuri on his knee while Petra cooked up a hearty broth, the dogs whining hungrily outside.

Half a mile up Dimitri’s goggles started to freeze. The sky had turned a deep red and a cold wind blew a frost chill from up-stream. The dogs began to get nervous; jumping and yelping, trying to nip each-other, pulling the sled off-track. Dimitri pulled up the reins and the sled skidded to a halt. He stepped off the sled to tend to the dogs and that’s when he saw it. Just a little way up, blocking the path no more than twenty metres away, lay an abandoned sled. Dimitri bent down to comfort his dogs, stroking each one at the tips of its ears, and commanded them to stay.

Dimitri inspected the sled. It’d been pulled by dogs alright, the reins were there, but there were no signs of any tracks leading away from it. The sled was pushed up against the side of a tree, like maybe it had crashed. It could have thrown its rider off, but that still didn’t explain the lack of dogs. Dimitri pushed the goggles up from his eyes and looked around. The wind had died down for a second and he could see a little more clearly, could see what looked like a body slumped on the ice about twenty five metres out on the frozen Chusovaya.

“Hey,” he shouted, cupping his hands around his mouth, “Hey there. Are you alright?” There was no reply.
“Hey, do you need some help?” he shouted. Again, no answer.

Dimitri looked back at his dogs, waiting patiently at his sled, then back out at the body on the lake.
“Fuck!” he muttered to himself, and looked back toward his sled. “Fuck!”

Dimitri ran back to collect the rope from the back of his sled. He tied one end around his waist, the other around a thick pine at the edge of the riverbank, and slowly edged out onto the frozen water. He worked his way slowly towards the prostate figure, taking deliberate, measured steps, spreading his weight out carefully on the fragile ice. The figure was lain on its side, its back towards Dimitri, and as he approached he could make out the heavy winter coat and thick-soled snow boots it was wearing, both the same colour as his.

“Hey there,” he called out as he approached, “If you can hear me then stay where you are. I’m going to get you back to the bank.” The figure still didn’t answer, and when Dimitri finally reached out to touch it, it was obvious why. The figure’s body was frozen rigid, its iced limbs solid as chilled rock.

“Poor bastard,” Dimitri said, “Musta been out here for days. Weird that I didn’t see him before.”

Dimitri shrugged it off and reached into the body’s coat pocket, feeling around for a wallet, for any kind of identification. Dimitri rolled the body gently onto its back, to get into the front pockets, and jumped back in horror, staring wide eyed at the face before him. That face, white as a sheet and frost bitten, but unmistakable, absolutely unmistakable as his own. It had the exact same proud nose and thick lips, the stubble patchy in the same place, the goggles pulled back onto the top of the head to reveal the same cool blue eyes, like artic pools in April. Dimitri staggered back, panting, his hands grasping at thin air, and tripped over onto the ice. He sat for a few seconds, unable to catch his breath as the sound of cracking ice intensified around him.

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Tim Waltho

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