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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Winter Too Short, Too Loud

Final Installment


When she awoke her husband was beside her in another wood place. It smelled good and light came in through an opening you could see through.
“Stay strong,” he said. “Things are going to get better.”
“What is this thing I am on?” she asked.
“It is called a bed. Isn’t it nice? It’s warm and soft.”
“Where am I?”
“You are in the Dillingham place. The trial is over.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you are going to die.”
 The Orthodox Priest man came into the wood place through an entrance. “Are you well?” he asked in her language. She could see another man behind the priest on the other side of the entrance sitting, watching.
She turned her head to see the priest, but did not know what to say. Turning back to her husband . . . he was gone again. The priest sat beside her and began to unwrap her bandaged head. For the first time, Anita realized that her head was wrapped in bandages. “Take this,” the priest said handing her a pill and a cup of water. She did not want to take it. He was one of the gusik people, but his voice was smooth and gentle. Most of the words she did not understand, but his smile was like a sunrise over the tundra on clear sky day when the ptarmigan came out of their snow caves. She sensed she could trust him and took the pill. He changed her bandages. She didn’t want to but soon she fell asleep.

When Anita awoke, she saw a half moon through the opening against a night sky. Feeling better, she got to her feet and walked to the opening and touched it. It was clear, cold and solid but she could see through it. Tapping on it with a finger, it made a small thumping sound. Stars in the sky were twinkling and the snow reflected the light of the moon. Two stray dogs ran across the tundra, stopped and looked back at her as if it was an invitation. Anita placed both hands on the opening, laid her cheek against the cold glass and closed her eyes. The land of ice melted before her and she saw a bear wading across the river. A caribou walked around her snare and her husband sat on the bank of the river, laughing, carving a stick. He was so happy. Always so happy, and he is still happy. She opened her eyes and cried.
 “What are you doing up?” a loud voice shouted. A man came through the entrance. He was big and had a hairy face and had a rifle in one hand. “Seems you’re well enough to hang now.” Anita stood firm like an esker of stone. Her tears stopped. Her eyes narrowed as she clenched her fist. The man rushed to her, grabbing her by the arm, pulling her to him. His smell was unbearable and his smile evil. Dragging her away from the window, he underestimated her strength. Anita swung her free fist into his groin. He doubled over. She raised her knee swift and fast into his face and then raised it again catching him again in the groin. The man fell heavily to the wood floor and the room shook. Anita acted quickly. Tearing off the flimsy cloth they had dressed her in, she found her skins in the corner and was half dressed when the Russian Orthodox Priest came in. Anita swept the rifle from the floor, held it by the barrel and raised it to use as a club.
“Hold,” the priest said gently, his hand open at the end of his stretched out arm. Anita held. Slowly she lowered the rifle. “You don’t even know how to use it do you?” he said. “When you caught the man in your caribou snare you didn’t mean it did you? But you left him hanging there and he froze to death. Isn’t that the way it happened?”  Anita nodded, but she didn’t understand completely; his Yup’ik was not good. She pieced the words snare and man and froze to death and worked on them as she continued dressing. “If you go, they will come for you,” he said. “I’ve convinced them you deserve another trial. We are waiting on a proper judge.” Anita walked toward the door. The priest moved and blocked her way. Anita stared at him. She did not want to kill him, but she must leave. Their stares connected. Anita’s brow wrinkled, her jaw flexed. The Priest finally gave a crooked smile and stepped aside.
The house she was being held in was on the edge of the town. Anita looked into the night sky and began walking across the tundra in the direction of her dugout wondering how long the darkness would last. The half moon was high in the sky, and she could see a distance toward the mountains. After a half an hour of walking, she began to feel faint, her head again hurting. Touching her hand to her bandaged head, it came away with stains of blood. She walked until she fell.
“Get up,” her husband said. He was dressed like the priest.
“Why are you dressed like that?”
“Get on the sled,” her husband said.
Anita looked at the sled pulled by dogs she did not know and pulled herself up onto it with her husband’s help and then passed out.
When she awoke she was lying on the snow not far from her dugout as the light of a gray day began from the east over the mountain. There were no tracks leading to or from where she lay. Before she could raise herself, Elena was at her side. “You must not stay here. You must go up river. Can you travel?”
“Where is the sled?” Anita said.
“What sled?”
“The sled that brought me here.”
“There is no sled. You walked here. I saw you coming, and I saw you fall. I was sent to watch for you I think. I had a dream that you were walking from Dillingham and were in trouble. I have been waiting all night.”
“Then you saw, Sammy, my husband, your brother.”
“No. You must be still hurt bad. Sammy is dead. You know that, don’t you?”
“But the tracks? There are no tracks.”
“It is snowing, of course there are no tracks.
 “My dogs,” Anita said.
“We will take care of your dogs until next winter. Now you must hide like only you know how where no one will know. There is one man you can trust who will help you stay up river until you get well. He is from another people south of Dillingham. He saw what they did to you.”

A week later, Anita watched the man called Alexie paddle his kayak back down the river leaving her instructions to go someplace even he would not know. As she walked into the mountains, her dog Alag by her side, she talked to Sammy who was as usual laughing about how funny the gusik man looked hanging frozen to death from Anita’s snare last summer. Anita laughed with him saying how the priest thought she didn’t mean to kill the man who killed Sammy. The bad man did look funny hanging there. Alag hid in the trees with her when the airplane flew over them making the noise one could hear from far away.
 


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