Parenting the Ice World

Michael C Pennington

Living Dead Press – End of Days: An Apocalyptic Anthology


Summer in Central Alaska, and the snow built up several inches since the night before. One major volcanic disaster in the Philippines and the ash cloud brought about a temperature drop around the world. This relentless change in the weather cycle during the past ten years resulted in a new mini-ice age.

The depth varied, but every year several more feet were added to the snow cover. The taller buildings stood as frozen shards encrusted with ice. The mounting ice pack hid more than just the buildings and roads’ of man’s civilization. There were the frozen bodies of the people trapped in the north. The inhabitants that lost the battle to stay alive as the bitter winters grew unbearable.

Four days ago, he left the safety of the hot springs. The skies were clear for his annual trip to the southeast to gather supplies. The unexpected weather front brought snow on the last night before he arrived at the shelter above Fairbanks.

He had stayed in the multilevel house on the hill many times in the past. A narrow, square sided tower stood up above the snow. To get inside, he climbed a knotted rope to gain the outer deck about ten feet up. The metal door on the side faced the hill, and a wrap around window let him view all the approaches and the valley. Deep below in the basement he could survive the colder nights. Maybe even a winter if he could find enough supplies and fuel to keep the place warm.

For the past two days at various times, Lars climbed the stairs to look out over the frozen city from the tower. He scanned the streets and buildings with his binoculars for smoke, but he saw no sign of anyone trying to stay warm. He also observed the dead city at night, and not once did he see a light from his hillside perch. As far as he could tell, he was the only person alive in his world.

However, this morning was different, for the snow stopped falling for a brief time. He stared for a full ninety seconds at the slight wisp of smoke that lifted up from behind the taller buildings in the central and older part of Fairbanks. He tried to take a bearing off the courthouse, once the newest building in the city. The silver glass sides were easy to spot from the northwest. But because of the distance he couldn’t pinpoint where the plume came from. He was determined to find the person or persons that built the fire no mater how dangerous.

Lars spent the rest of the morning on cross-country skis pulling a sled, forging downhill above the old course of the Steese highway. He could still picture the lay out of the small city in his mind. Well enough that his foraging had kept him alive each winter. By the end of summer, he would be transporting his precious salvage back to Chena Hot Springs, a natural source of heat that allowed a diligent man the chance to survive the coldest winters.

The tops of the tall streetlights were all that marked the path of the highway as he entered the city. The one and even the two-story residential houses that surrounded the city were well buried below the ice pack. The big home supply stores, grocery stores, and the malls were now completely covered in snow. Not that there was much to find in them anymore. Having been raided many times in the first year as thousands of desperate people struggled to stay alive. Then by attrition, their numbers were depleted to a few hundred in the next year, and then the dozen or so in the following few years. Each successive winter’s survivors leaving very little that was of any use.

The smoke disappeared within the first hour amongst the returning snowfall. However, he still hoped to find the fire maker. He marveled at the skills of an individual who could survive so long without the advantage of the hot springs. The thought that there could be more than one survivor was doubtful. Several years had passed since he saw a person partnered with another out in the snowy wilderness. The killer instinct that came out in most people as they struggled to survive with what little there was left, worked against such bonds of friendship. In the years of the great chill a person was just as likely to die of the cold, or violence as one individual took what belonged to another.

Lars wasn’t surprised that he couldn’t find any sign of the fire. Because the falling snow soon covered his own trail as he made his way through the downtown area. Determined, he still spent the remainder of the afternoon checking the more likely locations.

Finally in frustration, he went to his own prepared shelter, a great fireplace on the ground floor lobby of one of the older hotels. Getting down to the shelter could be a problem and gathering enough fuel to burn through the night might have been the hardest part. Fortunately, his foresight had left the place set up for just such an emergency last summer.

The tall, old hotel across the street from the courthouse was closed long before the great chill started. Lars thought it ironic that the building had faired better than any of the newer hotels that put the older establishment out of business. Because the thick concrete walls and smaller framed glass windows turned out more suited to endure the harsh Alaskan winters.

Lars easily gained entry through a broken window near the back corner of the building. He dug the snow away from the blocked door into the hallway. Noting the numbers on the doors, he realized the floor was a level above where he entered the year before. He was delayed once more, trying to get through the warped frame of the metal fire doors to the stairs. The small crowbar he always carried in his pack barely up to the task of forcing the door away from the frame.

His time grew short, and he cursed himself for not starting for the shelter sooner. With the evening’s drastic drop in temperature, the cold chiseled at his stamina. There were no windows in the stairwell, so he shook an ever-light flashlight to cast the beam down into the dark. Descending, he didn’t see any tracks in the dust, but that didn’t mean much, because there were two other sets of stairs in the building. As reassurance, he fingered the forty-five caliber revolver in his coat pocket.

He smelled the wood smoke long before he tried the main floor door. Pulling the gun out and easing back the hammer, he pushed against the bar to open the door. The back passageway was near the old kitchen and dining room, and a layer of smoke pooled at the ceiling. Someone found and was using his safe place; he should have known.

Sneaking toward the central lounge area, he saw a scuffed trail in the dust where the intruder explored. The pistol close to his side and leveled forward, he quickly peeked around a corner in the direction of the stone fireplace. The smoke from the small fire gathered in the higher reaches, and he wondered if the intruder knew how to open the damper. He hadn’t seen much smoke, because it was mostly trapped in the building, and slowly filtering upward.

The clatter of wood falling drew his attention to a bundled figure entering the room. The person had been stripping the molding from the rooms above and a large pile was built up by the fireplace. Muttering, the individual tossed the load on the pile and returned to pick up the pieces he dropped. The intruder was small, and Lars thought the person might be a kid. He couldn’t make out much in the way of features beneath the hooded parka in the dim light.

“You know if you opened the flue, you wouldn’t have to deal with all this smoke.” He said softly to the back of the bent over figure.

The person leapt for cover. Lars blinked his eyes in surprise, impressed with how fast the figure disappeared in the shadows.

“No point in hiding, you can’t go anywhere from there.” Lars couldn’t see the person, but he knew the guy hid behind the old stuffed couches. To make a break for any of the exits, he would have to come out in the open. Lars stepped into the room, and then to the side, so that he would be in the shadows not lit by the fire.

“Hey, truce! I’m not out to kill you. I could have done that already if I wanted to.” Still no reply, maybe the other guy harbored ideas of his own.

“Look, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. I’m staying the night, and I don’t mind sharing my food.” If the thought of food didn’t get to the guy, then he salvaged plenty on his own and that would be great or grew up part beaver and ate wood.

Then to his surprise a very hard-toned, female voice answered, “Okay, truce. But if you make one wrong move, I’ll gut you,”

The shock that the other person was a woman, almost made him forget to answer back to the ritual greeting. “Yeah, well that goes for you too.” Lars reluctantly holstered his pistol.

The female stood up, and boldly asked, “What’s for dinner?”

“I got some frozen ham and a box of sliced peaches,” he answered, keeping the fact that he also had a package of pears a secret.



“Well, I guess you can’t be all that bad if you have peaches.”

They both stepped a little closer toward the fire each cautiously watching the other’s hands. Calling a truce used to work, but plenty of desperate ones broken the truce and killed when they finally got the upper hand.

“You got anything to go with it?” he asked.

“Um, I have some green beans.”

Like hell, green beans and botulism were neighbors, “French style or cut?”

“French,” she said. Then moved to throw some more wood on the fire, but kept her head turned so that she could keep an eye on him.

Hey, Frenchies were okay, “Just a moment, I’ll get us some more light.” What the hell, if he gave a little, he might gain her trust. Women were scarce, even a few years back. However, not for a moment did he think she survived at a disadvantage. She could kill him just as easily as a man.

Lars went over to a metal service panel, and using the flathead blade on his tool knife he removed the plate. A duffle bag lay hidden inside with stuff a man would need to survive if he were to lose his kit. It never hurt to have a stash here or there. He removed an old wooden box and took out a gas lantern. In moments, he attached a new mantle on the burner tube, and lit the gas flame to light the area around the fireplace.

The woman wasn’t exactly as young as he at first thought, due to her small size. But even that made her more dangerous, because she had survived the bad years. The smudged charcoal on her face and the baggy parka hid a lot of her. However, he believed she hid her figure for a reason. He found it hard to guess her age, maybe near thirty.

“This is one of your regular places?” she asked, watching him dig further in the bag.

“About five years, I’ve been holding up here.”

“I wondered how come the place had a kept look about it.”

Going to the side of the stone fireplace, Lars fished a lever out of a stone nook. Inserted it in another hole and gave it a half turn. Instantly, the flue started to draw, and the flame grew larger, the smoke no longer half boiling up into the upper reaches. “Been here long?”

“Hey, I’m not going to pay you rent,” she countered.

“I’m not asking any. Truce, okay?”

“Yeah truce, but we both know how far that goes these days.”

“I’m not going to hurt you.  I never took to those ways. You remember that so don’t you go panicking and kill me when my back’s turned. Okay?”

“I’m not a bushwhacker.”

“Well good, I’m glad that’s settled. Let’s get to eating.” He slapped a black-iron skillet down on the flat space in front of the fire and began digging out the block of ham from his pack. “You like it fried or really fried?”

“Um, I’ll try fried.”

“Good that was my choice too.”

After a moment, while slicing the ham into quarter-inch slabs, he opened the conversation back up. “My name’s Lars. How about yours?”


He almost laughed, and didn’t think before, he replied, “I’ll bet.”

“Watch it, mister.”

“Where did you come from, the east?”

“Nope, the south.”

She lied with a straight face, but he pretended not to notice. Well maybe she could have been, but not likely. All the bridges collapsed out past Nenana River, and the pass-through Denali Park, impassable even in the summer. But she could have come up the Nenana, from the Yukon River Delta, not that water ever flowed in their frozen beds anymore. His best guess went with Delta Junction; he knew there could still be folks over that way. However, he hadn’t seen anyone in three years.

“You got kin?”

“Not anymore.”

“Me neither,” he instantly replied, not that she would tell him the truth.

With the sound of ham sizzling in the skillet, the smell seemed to overwhelm her caution as she drew nearer the fire. She put her pot down and pulled the package of green beans out. No label, but a big FGB in red dominated the top, and when she took the wrapper off the contents looked okay.

“I haven’t eaten meat in a while, not since I snared a hare that got careless a couple of months ago,” she volunteered.

“That’s about all there is these days. I haven’t seen a moose in years.”

“They still have caribou down in the southeast, I hear,” she offered.

Yep, she came out of the east. “I heard that too, about four years ago. Folks that told me were headed that way on foot. I always wondered if they made it.” No way of telling, because no one ever came back to tell. The radio broadcasts stopped about five years ago. Nobody really knew if the story was true, but the animals went somewhere, and the southeast seemed the most likely.

Anchorage became a frozen waste land, and the Cook Inlet froze over six, seven years back. Valdez always did get more snow than anywhere else, and no doubt buried deep. No ships or boats would leave the shores of south-central Alaska. The trek through Canada was the only way out, unless you knew how to live on the ice. Of course, then there would be the polar bears to contend with.

The only people that truly fared well in this new age were the Alaskan native populations, those that remembered the old ways and their tribal traditions. Many of them died just as the people of the interior, but rumors of nomadic communities out on the ice trickled in during the first years. Perhaps the only people that still survived in groups.

“I heard of an Army base here in Fairbanks, with good pickings.”

“The bases got downsized before the Big Winter, and there wasn’t much left after the rest of the Army and the Air Force pulled out in the evacuation.”

Not that the lower forty-eight wasn’t hit hard. More people to feed, and the temperature drop meant crop failures, and even less food after each following year. Places that had once been deserts, in the southwest’s lower states, were likely to be havens now. The capital of the United States moved to Texas, after the first year, and the southern states became the breadbasket that fed the dwindling American population.

“There was supposed to be an airbase east of here too.”

“That went a year before Wainwright got downsized, you’re talking about Eielson. Believe me, there were folks that went through those buildings in the first few years. Stripped clean, just like all the malls and shopping areas.”

“You’re saying there are no more stashes to salvage?”

“Slim pickings,” uh-huh, she was definitely fishing for information.

“How come you’re still around?”

“Got no place else to go. How about you?”

“I made it through the first winters okay, and then I found a work camp a few years back. There was an oil drip stove in a storage crate, and I set it up to run off a fuel tank. They must have gotten snowed in, because I found the crew frozen.

Never could get the smell out, even after I dragged the bodies outside. Which was a mistake; I couldn’t set foot out of that camp without being hunted. The damn local bears and wolves got a real taste for those human corpses. I was their best friend, and they were always trying to invite me to dinner, until the next winter set in and they drifted else where.”

“Yeah, a lot of people made that mistake,” Lars thought back to the first years, and the number of predators besides man that he used to have to look out for. Bullets had become really scarce for most of the larger caliber guns about then. “What brings you to Fairbanks?”

“I figured there might be a bunker or two left untouched on those bases.”

“Good luck. Like I said, a lot of people had the same idea. Some of those guys were ex-military and knew their way around.”


Lars split up the meat on a blue metal plate, while Angel shared out the beans from her pot. They ate in silence, each thinking their own thoughts for a bit and every once in awhile, one of them would throw on a few pieces of wood.

“What’s your next move?” Lars asked.

“I hadn’t thought that far. I guess, I’ll try looking around, you don’t mind do you?”

The hell he didn’t! “Like I said, slim pickings around here these days, not much left to get by on, for two independents.”

“A girl’s got to live.”

“That what you’re going to say to yourself when you raid my stashes?”

“I can find my own stuff, and it’s not all yours anyway.”

“I can argue that,” Lars said with gruffness.

“I bet you would.”

“Remember it.”

“How about we partner up?”

Lars was almost surprised by the offer, but then he realized that she would know how to use her gender to survive. He briefly questioned how many partners she had in the past ten years? A cold thought, if you asked what happened to them.

“Kind of risky on your part, you don’t even know me.”

“We start out slow, I’m no slacker, and I’ll work hard.”

What the hell, this was why he had rushed off the hill into Fairbanks. That single hope of a little friendly adult conversation with a fellow human being. With two of them, they could tackle a digging project, and there were a couple likely places. In the first years, there were hoarders, church groups, militia groups, some just old friends, or as with others just thrown together by necessity. Most all of them still died, for one reason or another, starvation, lack of heat. He even knew of one group that might have gassed themselves to death from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Hey, what are you thinking about?” she prompted.

“You any good with a snow shovel?”

She laughed, “Who wouldn’t be?”

He liked the sound of her laughter, “There was a church group, a really closed bunch, all locked up in their church. They were doing pretty well for themselves for several years. Then one spring they never dug out, I figure they had an accident with their furnace. Of course there’s a chance they died of sickness too, we could be taking a risk.”

“How long ago?”

“Five years ago.”

“You think there might be stuff we can use?”

“They had the numbers to take and keep what they needed. Like I said, they did pretty well for themselves. They run off anyone who tried to join them, didn’t take to strangers much.”

“Where is this place?”

“Close by, a little north of here.”

“How come you haven’t looked before?”


“How much digging?”

“Maybe twenty, thirty feet of pack, not sure.”

“Man, that’s a lot of digging,” Angel contemplated.

“Hey you wanted to find a mother load and I might know where one is.”

“How you going to tell if we’re digging in the right spot?”

“I have a way.”

“Don’t give much information out, do you?”

“I got to be sure,” Lars eyed her closely.

“Of me?”

“Yeah, you.”

“What’s bothering you?”

“You alone?”


“I just had a thought,” Lars looked around suspiciously.

“I’m alone.”

“Anybody following you?”

“What’s up with all the questions?”

“We have to have an understanding, no lies, partners are partners.”

“I’m not a liar!”

“You said you came up out of the south.”

“Oh, that,” she hung her head then looked up. “How could you tell?”

“Not much south of here, except mountain country. Definitely nothing left down in Nenana. There were some big fights down that way the first few years. The natives went west afterwards, and you don’t look native, not even part. They killed most of the whites down that way and they deserved it. You would have known that.”

“Well maybe I’m not saying.”

“I heard that caribou story from a Delta Junction man. It was kind of a Mecca story that got a lot of people dead chasing after a fantasy herd. That herd went southeast into Canada in the first couple of years, along with the moose and every other critter with legs long enough or wings.”


“I figure you’re from one of those Delta farm co-ops that tried to make a go of it. Maybe you’re one of those mean-bastard’s wives that ran away. Maybe they sent you west to scout out the territory. We killed a bunch of ‘em, when they tried to move in around the third summer.”

“Nobody’s alive over that way now, most left to go east into Canada. The rest died from the cold and starvation,” she said quietly. “I had to be careful, I heard you folks over this way hold a grudge.”

“Well they started it, we just finished it,” Lars let the meanness come out in his voice. He briefly thought of the Delta man that told him of the caribou herd, gut shot, he had lasted half the day and talked a lot before he died. “You part of that group?”

“No! My husband was in the Army at Fort Greely. That was back when the government tried to maintain the missile defense force.”

“Are there military personnel still over that way? That why you were asking about the bases?”

“No. They’re all dead, the Delta Bunch killed them along with all the other decent people in the area during the second summer.”

“How come you’re alive?”

“I was one of those co-op wives you were talking about. They used us like cattle. I escaped in year six, a couple of summers after they took the beating you folks gave them.”

“That part about the work camp true?”

“Yes, that’s where I hid out. I was all over that country last summer. They’re all gone or dead, I didn’t see anyone. Those that went down the Richardson looking for the caribou never came back to tell the tale that’s for sure.”

“Hmm, I always figured that. There just isn’t any place to get through the mountains anymore. Maybe, they could have got out in the first couple of years, east through White Horse, and then down the Cassiar. The folks that tried afterwards, no way.”

“You the only person left over this way?”

“Maybe some natives, but they would be down on the southwest coast. You’re the only adult I’ve seen in a long time,” Lars slipped up, he watched her face to see if she noticed.

“Lars, I’ll be a good partner. I promise. I was just being cautious, you know how things were.”

“Yeah, I do at that,” he held out his hand.

Angel reached out and shook his hand, saying, “Partners.”

“Partners,” Lars repeated.


To Angel, the digging seemed to take forever, because some layers were harder than others. Lars told her the effort wouldn’t have been practical while he was alone. A single person would burn too many calories from the effort and exhaust themselves. They had to ramp their way down. In addition, while one of them dug the other had to drag the snow on the sled up the slope. The use of a rope, pulley and a metal stake pounded deep into the snow made the task easier, but the soreness of their arms, backs, and the constant work left them fatigued at the end of each day.

At the surface, the top of a weathered white cross stuck up above the snow. Lars could tell where the church was and the location of the front door. Since he had known what direction the church faced.

They started by excavating a long trench from the steeple out about thirty feet to begin with. Lars insisted they make the trench about eight-feet wide, just incase the sides were to cave in. Although, he admitted to her later that it wasn’t likely, but he also emphasized they would need the room eventually as they dug deeper.

A couple of weeks later, they were digging out the door frame, but the doors were locked from the inside or frozen shut. Angel stood back watching as Lars worked with the crow bar that he always seemed to carry everywhere. He was a tall man, possibly six-five, and lean from the long years of survival in the Big Winter. Still healthy looking, nor was he suffering from scurvy as she had seen others die of.

“You going to get tough with that door, or do you need my help?” She called out, razzing him a little.

“Grab the ax this isn’t working.”

“Okay,” she walked over to where they had stacked the tools retrieving the single bladed ax. Coming up behind him at the door, he suddenly tensed up a bit. He must have heard a little snow crunch under her boot.

“Here you go.” She noticed that he relaxed his shoulders.


“You’re welcome, Lars.”

If he wasn’t such a nice guy, hiding under all that gruffness, she would have split his skull. However, she realized as the weeks passed that he was a lot like her long-dead husband. Honesty, kindness and consideration were just a few of his good points. Hell, in the world they lived in, who could blame anyone if they got a little hard. At least he hadn’t slipped into animalism like that Delta Bunch.

He had not shown any sign that he knew about the kids, since the first night when he said, he hadn’t seen any adults. She thought for sure he found their tracks or something. After, awhile she put the comment off as a dyslexic moment on his part. She held the distinct impression he hadn’t talked much to anyone in the past few years. Owing to the way he seemed to think about everything he said, which wasn’t much or about his past.

Unlike the women she lived with who all had their stories. How the raiders killed their men when the Delta Bunch first took over the area. Many of the murdered were retired military that had stayed on after the evacuation. God only knew what happened to all the children over the years. Without a protector, the kids definitely didn’t fair as well as the larger predators.

“How come you didn’t split with the others?” she asked, after deciding the momentary pause seemed to be turning into a break.

“Which time?”

“Any of them.”

“I kept running into folks coming from everywhere else. From all directions and all of them were looking for somewhere better.”

“Didn’t anybody get out?”

“In the early years, maybe.”

“I saw you looking off to the northern hilltops. That where you winter?”

He just looked at her with that perfect poker face. Angel realized that she had just broken one of the Survivor’s Rules.

“Hey, I didn’t mean anything; it’s just that you keep looking up that way.”

“I got a place that works.”

“Good! As you know, I don’t.”

“We’ll see.”

In that instant, he raised the axe with a sudden quickness that the blur of movement alone changed the subject. She couldn’t help herself when she jumped back in fear. The back of the axe-head smashed down on the deadbolt’s face. With ease he knocked the lock out of the frame and dug the inner mechanism out with the crow bar. He pushed and pried at the door, and then hammered at the hinges breaking away the ice. Finally going back to widening the lock’s hole to peer inside.

“Cross bar,” he informed her, and fished around with the crowbar.

Shoving and grunting at the weight, he strained so much that she wanted to reach right into help. But dared not, because she sensed he might resent her help. Then she told herself, “Who cares,” and crowded close getting a lower grip on the bar and added her strength.

The loud thud of the wooden crossbar hitting the floor was the instant effect of her efforts. She helped push at the door, laughed and asked, “Are you sure we’re not supposed to be pulling instead?”

“Ha-ha!” He paused breathing hard, and grinned, “I checked the hinges to make sure. However, I think they did change them around to open inwards, probably at the same time they reinforced the framing. Doing so would have made it a lot easier to dig out after a big snow.”

“What next?”

“Worst thing, we have to hack out the hinges, but I would rather not leave the place open by ripping the door frame out.”

“Does it bother you that this place is a tomb?”

“Angel, the whole world’s a tomb.”

“Is it going to stink?” she asked thinking of all the dead she encountered over the years. She would never get used to the smell of the dead.

“Probably. Keep your scarf over your face, don’t touch any bodies, and stick to the open areas. If you find any mirrors, angle them to reflect the light from the door. Don’t light any candles, until we verbally agree there is no gas smell.”


“Who knows what they were using for heat?”

Lars wedged the flat end of the crowbar between the center of the doors and worked the bar to test the door more. Finding a weak point high up, she heard metal tearing and the right hand panel gave in a little bit. Angel was shoving in rhythm with him in an instant and they broadened the gap.

“All right, we did it!”

Thinking of the bodies again, the musty odor that seeped in through the scarf wasn’t as bad as she expected. But she also knew that the longer the building stayed open, the smell would spread. Worse the dark depths were a bait trap, if there were any large predators about they could be in trouble.

Lars went first, sniffing at the air, angling a metal shaving mirror into the dark. Angel remembered the bad smell of the dead pipeline crew; the bodies exposed to brief summer thawing over the early years. These people died after there were no more summers. The church’s anaerobic interior was covered in frost crystals. Angel decided not to look too close at the shadowed bundles she could make out in the dark.

The next think she noticed, were the rifles of the group closest to the door. Old military stuff, some of it pointed directly at the entrance.

“Booby trap?” she asked.

“Don’t see any, but don’t touch anything.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice.”


Lars looked for the food stores to see what survived from frost damage. He assigned Angel to gathering tools, and anything else that she thought could be useful by the door. He would decide later what to pack out for the day. He could haul all the stuff he was finding in one load back up to the hill. Even, if he did finally decide to trust the woman enough to take her that far.

After checking for gas and traps, he shook the ever-light to get a maximum beam. Then they began searching through the treasure of goods. Having the woman’s help paid off. He had left himself open several times, by accident and a few planned ones to test her. She had her chances to kill him if she wanted to. Trust was a hard concept to swallow.

He found what he was looking for in the basement. A giant freezer, behind a kitchen area, there were also pallet boards of supplies in a warehouse like room. He was going to have to find away to protect this stuff from the weather and the wild. Even if he moved just the first pick, it would probably take him a couple of weeks to stock just his local caches.

They chained and locked the two doors shut, and then they headed back to the hotel. Both sleds were full, and they cut a deep trail to their hideaway. He soon decided that if there was anyone else about, this could be the stupidest thing he had ever done. He halted in the trail, and looked off to a parking garage tier.

“What’s up?” Angel called out.

“Detour, we’re leaving too much of a trail.”

“I noticed that.”

“We’ll dump this stuff at a cache and take what we need for the hotel in our packs.”

“We’re going to be at this the whole summer aren’t we?”

“I think so. I’d feel really stupid if some scavenger group squatted on the place after we left at night.”

“In the morning, we’ll start hauling and we hide our finds in my caches. Take a different route home each night.”

“Aren’t you worried about someone moving in on us in the day?”

“Yeah, and we’ll be trapped if they catch us off guard down in the church. One will watch, while the other works using the same routine as before.”

“I want one of those rifles you took out of the basement.”

“You know how to use it?”

“I know.”

“Take one and the ammo you need,” the decision was probably the second stupidest thing he could do.

“I promise not to shoot you or betray you.”

“Well, I hope not.”

“Trust me.”

How many times had he heard those words? How many times did the people speaking them mean it?


Angel left the hotel, sneaking out the window she had busted out when she first arrived. The snow fall would hide her ski tracks. A mile away, she stopped and hid her cache of supplies. She hoped the food would help, knowing they had to be having a rough time.

She worried about the children constantly, only rarely had she been able to leave a message and food in the hiding place they had previously arranged. She scarcely dared to take such a risk in fear of giving their plan away. The four had been holding up on the far side of Fort Wainwright, and scavenging always meant a lot of digging. She knew they were having a rough time of finding enough to eat.


They left the Fairbanks bowl several weeks later. The temperature grew colder, and Lars was anxious to get moving. Most of their time had been spent, caching the supplies they dug up out of the snow. They couldn’t take it all with them, but they had over a dozen hiding places about the city for the better goods.

“Where we going?


“Okay, I can take a hint, but this makes us partners, right?”

“Yeah, I think you can say we’re partners.”

“Wahoo! Is your winter place warm?”

“I think you’ll be surprised.”

They had restocked the house on the hill already, and as they passed the trail in he could tell they had been this way before. Even after the recent snow fall. Their present trail left a packed road that any fool could follow. A trail that same fool would dog to the end to try and take away what they had found.

He checked their back trail all summer, and not once had he detected anyone else. His suspicions of Angel diminished, although he had the nagging feeling that she wasn’t telling him everything. Someone or persons could still be watching as he had done from the hill.

“Lars, are you sure?”

“We’ll keep going.”

He made the decision not to stop at the house, not wanting to waste valuable traveling time. If they were being followed, he could easily out distance anyone on foot, and maybe the coming early winter would hide their way after all.

Then after a bit, he added, “I have another place in mind for the night. We’ll see how far we can get. I would like to know how many miles we can cover in a day.”

“Right behind you,” she said.

He had packed the sleds equally. In case they lost one of them or an injury. They could keep going without shifting loads.

Hours later, the snow hadn’t stopped, and the flakes were getting bigger, a sure sign the sky was going to dump on them.

“It’s not far now, a sheltered place we can get out of the wind.” Crossing an open space that a river once flowed, a grey-white granite cliff loomed up head. With a shallow depression blasted out of the side to mine rock for the road long ago.

Angel asked him, as he settled back, “How far are we from your place?”

“Maybe another full day, the way gets narrower and rougher as we go up along the river bed.”

“We are making better time than you expected, aren’t we?”

“Yes. But I’m glad we left when we did, if this snow keeps up we’ll be at a crawl.”

“Should we keep going?”

“We wouldn’t make it before we had to stop from exhaustion, and there’s not any better place to shelter further along. We’ll leave at false dawn, when we can see a little better. Besides, traveling in the dark could set us back more than we bargained for. If we get stuck or went up the wrong valley we would lose valuable time.”

“You’re the Captain; I’ll follow along like all good first mates.” Then blushed, perhaps realizing that she had put a double emphases on the word mate.

They hadn’t slept together, their relationship having stayed platonic. Yet, Lars figured she had been thinking about it just as much as he. Neither one of them ever made a pass, but he had also noticed she was doing extra things for him unasked, like fixing the zipper on his coat and sewing up his shirt pocket.

He hadn’t been with a woman in so long that he was nervous about the thought of sex. At night, when she took off her outer layer of clothes, and before she zipped up her mummy bag, he stole quick peaks to see what he could see. Despite the hard years, she was well filled out in the right places, and he had darned well noticed.

“Is your back hurting as badly as mine?” She asked, while arching her spine and gripping her sides.


Tracing the scar along one shoulder with her index finger, Angel asked with curiosity, “And this one?” She lay curled against him in the lower right-hand bunk, as hopeful of the future as she had been in a long time.

“A mean bushwhacker tried to put a spear in me. Lucky for me it wasn’t a very good spear and didn’t throw well. The flint head just cut me as it went by.”

“What about the round, puckered one on your back?”

“My ex-partner shot me,” he replied and bowed his head down to kiss her arm. Angel had almost forgotten what it felt like to be touched by a man tenderly.

“That why you’re shy about the word partners?”

“I prefer the term new first-mate. Partners get kind of weird about what’s their fare share.”

“I just want you,” she almost bit her tongue trying to stop that one, but blurted the words out without thinking.


They slept in shifts, the one on watch occasionally popping their head out of the tent and looking around. They were well armed, and as a precaution, he advised Angel to listen before going outside.

In the morning, he hung back to check his trail. His eyes scanned the direction they had come the night before, as far off as he could see. Nothing, perhaps he was just paranoid?

“Damn it!”

“What was that?” Angel asked.

“I’ve got a bad feeling,” he paused, not wanting to accuse her of betrayal.

“What’s on your mind?”

“I’ve had this feeling we’ve been watched, since I met you.”

“Lars, I swear, I’m not partnered up with any bushwhackers.”

“I’m not saying you are. I just have this weird feeling that I can’t shake.”


Angel wasn’t sure how she failed or if she truly had. Somehow, the survivor of the Fairbanks area had got the idea that they were being followed. Each progressive winter, life had become harder to continue. Some had managed alone, their skills and ability to adapt giving them an edge over those who could not. Those that had survived in groups developed a pack mentality. To survive they had to work with the group, but at the same time, members were always ready to gain and advantage over the others. Generally, a group had the advantage over the singular holdouts.

Angel never thought of the gang of children that she put together as a bunch of bushwhackers. They were just a few young kids that somehow survived the abuse of the more aggressive predator gangs. Such as the Delta Bunch that Lars fought, and who damned near ended her own life. Out of the gaggle of women and children that were taken for slaves, she managed to save four of the kids.

Isaiah, twelve years old, was the only boy, and the easiest to keep in line. He had been the first, about four years ago. He had grown from the skinny, little mouse she caught trying to steal her pack one night. These days, he was as tall as Angel, or any of the other three. He often ranged about scouting out ruins on their line of travel.

The three girls were a bit more difficult; Sara thirteen, a watcher that sometimes wavered between her alliances. She had become careful lately, especially concerning the two older girls that never seemed to stop competing. Victoria, the prettiest and now seventeen, tended to boss the rest around when Angel was away from the group. Lynn, sixteen was a feisty blonde out to prove anything to anyone when it came to establishing who was the toughest.

Somehow, they hung together these past few years, always pulling through as a team. They may have been at odds with each other, but never to the point of disloyalty or betrayal. Last winter had been the worst, and Angel knew that this winter could easily be their final one. That was why she had decided to travel east to the Fairbanks area. They needed to scavenge a new area or they would die.

Everyone back Delta way knew about the Fairbanks survivor. The Delta Bunch used to tell horror stories about the insane, maniac that killed so many of their brothers over the years. The rumor was that the man had a great hoard of goods hidden somewhere. No one knew where he held out during the winter months. Of course, nobody would go looking either.

The Delta Bunch were all dead now, she fled for her life the night the man she knew as Lars came to kill them. He only killed the gang members though, not bothering with the lesser hangers on that were smart enough to take cover. That was too bad in some cases, because there were those that Angel wished he had killed. It would have saved her the trouble later. Ironic of life that out of the weakest of the few groups to form up after the massacre of the Delta Bunch they were the only ones that seemed to be left now.

Angel knew Lars had a good winter place, not just the muti-level hole that had once been a survival nuts freehold. Not a bad place to hold up if they had to cut there losses. Lars had an even better place, so she played the innocent loner. She now agonized on what to do next.

Day by day, she grew to like Lars. He had a side that was more than the mad-killer that his reputation declared him to be. But she sensed how he felt about the old partner that shot him in the back. Would he understand about her not telling him of the children? Each day that she didn’t reveal her secret the lie grew. Until now, she was torn by her betrayal and afraid to tell him the truth.

She would never abandon the four kids; somehow Angel would find a way to bring them in without panicking Lars. The man had been betrayed so many times she was convinced that he would react in a very bad way. Certainly, when he found out that she had lied to him. Getting a second chance with this guy would be next to impossible. Hiding her worry behind her scarf, Angel waited for a clue or chance to resolve her predicament.

She had almost blurted out her guilt when he told her about being watched. But then lied, well a white lie, at least they were not bushwhackers. Having four other persons to watch, and young devious minds to cope with wouldn’t exactly comfort the man.

The kids had to be about a day behind them by now. She was afraid they would catch up before she could explain. The four teenagers were tough; they would be taking short breaks, every half hour, following on their cross country skis. Even if it kept snowing, the path they were making would still show the way. Well, if it didn’t drift over, the thought sending her on another spree of worry.


The steam billowing into the sky gave away their destination. The small earthquakes opened up and closed new vents all the time. The active hot springs, nestled in the sheltered valley was a natural defense to the extreme weather. He had been away for more than two months, so there would be a lot of work to catch up on. First a survey of any damage, then no doubt the green houses would need his immediate attention.

He had been reluctant to bring Angel here so soon after meeting her. He even thought about wintering in the tower house, until the following year. Just to be sure of her. He never felt any threat from her, but he knew that she still hid something. The thought of the hot springs doing without his care for a year, drove him to his decision to bring her with him.

He rationalized that there was plenty of room, he could always use more help in the greenhouses and he finally had someone to talk rationally with. Well maybe he had been doing more listening, she sure had a lot to say it seemed. Like she wanted to tell him something, but could never get around to it.

“Lars, we have to talk,” Angel’s voice came over the radio.

“About what?”

“Stop,” I have to say this to your face.

Now what? He wondered to himself as she came up to him. All day, he had been taking notice of the temperature drop and watched the snow pile up. An early storm was gathering and promised to last for days.

“Lars, I have to tell you something. I haven’t been truthful with you. But I want you to know that I was just being careful at first.”

Uh oh, here it comes; he mentally cringed at what he had no idea of. He just knew that it was going to be bad.

“How careful?”

“People have been talking about you for years. Some of the things they say are pretty bad. You were the boogeyman the Delta Bunch always went to bed worrying over.”

“They had it coming.”

“I’m not denying that. It’s not like I don’t know. It’s just that I had to be careful. I told you that I didn’t hook up with any bushwhackers, right?”

“Yeah.” Lars was ready for the bottom of the world to fall away. Just when he had found someone that he could finally settle in with, reality slapped him in the face. A long time had past since he thought he was in love, so maybe he was wrong, but it sure seemed to work between them. He needed help to keep the hot springs going. Angel showing up had been a blessing.

“Well, that parts true,” Angel said, “but I did hook up with a bunch of kids.”


“Lars, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know how to tell you. I’ve been taking care of some kids.”


“No, I found them, one at a time. Would you believe me if I told you they kind of follow me around?”


“They always follow me home,” she answered weakly.

“As in now?”

“I hope so,” she broke down and started to cry.

“How old are these kids and how many?”

Angel told him how much she feared for them and how devoted she was to seeing them all survive. How much trouble they were to raise alone. And how they were somewhere back there in a storm, and who knew how bad off they were. The entire inner trauma that she held back, for so long, came out almost without her breathing. As a last ditch effort, she grabbed his hand and pleaded.

“You have to help me, they’re good kids. They’re not bushwhacker spawn. I give you my word, and they all have morals. They’re not like some of the nasty little snakes that I know you may be thinking about.”

“Kids are nothing but trouble,” Lars shook his head looking away, as if in disgust, then back to look in her eyes. “You say their behind us somewhere? How close?”

“Probably a day behind us. Lars please, don’t hurt them, they’re not coming to kill you.”

“What do they want?” he asked suspiciously.

“A place to live,” Angel blurted out, “I’ll keep them out of trouble, I promise.”

“Nobody, can promise that, believe me, I know.”

“Oh, what do you know about kids?”

Lars just looked at her with that flat poker face and then asked her, “Do you believe that you’ve been a good mother to them?”

“Well, I would like to think so. I do love each one of them.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“You are?”

“Not anyone would have taken those kids in. That kind of devotion should be commended. Those kinds of folks should stick together and pool their resources. And kids do need a mom.”

“Oh, thank you,” Angel reached out to touch his arm.

“I wasn’t just speaking about yours of course.”

“Excuse me?” Squinting her eyes, she made a quick negative head shake, as if trying to decipher what he was talking about.

“Your measly four, aren’t a drop in the bucket.”

Angel’s lower jaw went a little slack, perhaps as the idea of there being more child survivors dawned on her.

“How many?” she asked.

“I got eight, and you would think that they all hate each other, by the way they talk. But I promise you Angel, you’ll really like them once you get to know them.” Lars said with a devious smile and a wink. “I know they’ll love their new mom.”

“Wait a minute!”

“What’s the matter, don’t you like kids?”

“Eight more?”

“The two older boys are almost seventeen, they’re twins, and they might take to your two older girls. But then, I have a whole gaggle of young girls. Most of them were taken from those damn Delta raiders over the years. And when I first got them they used to be the sweetest little girls, but then when they grew older they turned as mean as shrews. In addition, you never know when they’re up to something, and they’ll pull their trap on you real quick like. The next thing you know, you’re doing whatever they want.”

“Oh no. How many girls?”

“Six, first there’s…”