We’d decided to take up ice-sculpting. Sloan was not only good with a chainsaw, he could also handle the hedge-trimmer, and was forever shaping what he said were woodland creatures, imps and fawn and trolls. From behind they were convincing—Sloan was a butt man—face-on they could have been any damn thing.
We climbed the frozen waterfall, cursing each other for forgetting the rope. It was like climbing glass, and we shattered the wall with pick blows, gripped, reached higher, shattered some more. We were stealth, or most of us were—Gimble took a spill and fell seventeen feet before kissing the snow. His piercing caught in his collar and split his lip in two. He sat in the snow, catching blood in his hand; Sharkey, first top, shouted that the wolves would have his ass. He bayed at the sky, and laughed till he coughed, and hacked up phlegm and spat. Gimble moved out of range, flashed a gloved finger.
The rest of us up top, we loosened boulders and tipped them over the edge. All but one survived the drop. Getting back down took the rest of the morning.
We fuelled up the saws and got to work. Heavy first, the machines grew light with each slight of hand. The crust fell away from the boulders and they started to take shape. Visions flashed before us—cityscapes and famous faces, Rodins and puppy dogs. The ice shone back at us, sweated in the cold. The chains ripped through the day, accompanied by our exhortations—A tree! The mountains! Mother!
Riis, tongue protruding, pampered the ice; probed more than carved. Chippings scratched his face and stuck in his beard.
An hour passed before someone called a halt; we released the triggers and did a look-see. Abstract junk and dross. Sloan cursed his saw and went in search of chisels. He said the ice was suck, and railed against its impurities—the bugs, the small winged thing. Riis stamped crud from his boots and opened his pack. He took out a flask and raised it to his lips. We took him down and wrestled it away. The prize, half-distilled roots and dreck, was rank—we retched and drank, and retched and drank.
We ate the last of the jerky and lit up our smokes.
Sloan coaxed the ice with a file. We followed his lead; the filing sounded like a troubled beast. Gimble’s lip dripped black globules. One by one the shells began to show. Some larger, others not, a legion of ice turtles across the snow. Flippers retracted, their heads protruded; Sloan joked that his had blinked. Their mandibles looked strong enough to kill a man.
Snow arrived, wet and thick, and we packed away our tools. Soon we couldn’t see each other, and then our voices too were lost. We trudged back the way we’d come, or thought we did—when the sky calmed we saw that we were dispersed across the plain, our sculptures lost to sight. Someone checked a compass, called out and pointed south. We moved off as the day began to dim. The wind played tricks, carried what could have been turtle cries, but we didn’t stop and we didn’t look back.
Kevin O’Cuinn lives and loves and works and plays, in Frankfurt am Main. He is fiction editor at Word Riot. Links to his work can be found at Kevsville.