Polar Uproar…

A ‘must read’ inspirational short story…

Be swept away under the guise of wild exploration,

to a remote place with cruel & inconceivable consequences!

The latest in the ten-minute thriller series.

Explore further at “Readers of the Lost Arkives!”

 

“The Winning Way”

Saving the Big White Teddy

By Stephen James

                Confronted odds before, have you? Success can come at an extreme price, but the right state of mind can overcome the hefty bill. Or are there some things in life which are simply too pricy? This piece of writing is an enhanced extract from my latest, however, yet to be published novel. I hope and trust this snippet makes you cringe with emotional excitement…

 

When he left the backstreets of Oslo some thirty-plus years ago, Lars Smirkesdrom had no idea of the turnaround his life would be taking. The orphaned child, raised by a widowed Swedish émigré who drove taxis for a living, also gave him her name — calling him Lars after her late husband. Due to low income, they existed in squalor in rented accommodation, as Norway is and always has been, a very expensive country to reside in. He clawed his way through school, only to discover himself back on the streets when poor results left him shy of further tertiary education. Only his English marks were reasonable. The brilliant education system of Norway assists wherever possible, but his flagging results severely thwarted his chances. His mind seemed to be filled with a strange dream dispiriting the boy’s ability to concentrate. However, determined Lars refused to become a failure. After his step-mother’s passing, when at the tender age of sixteen, he made his way across to Bergen, the second largest city, with her dowry of just under five-hundred Kroner. Here on the western coast, Lars eventually took a lowly job at the Fish Me Fishmarket, to commence scrounging his way through night school where he blossomed. Smirkesdrom slept with the stench of fish on a mattress in his boss’s garage. This manual work made him physically strong to match his Nordic box-jaw features. He stood tall and proud, knowing now what his confused child’s mind was all about. With the small amount of leftover Kroner, he purchased books about the North Pole, Antarctica, Greenland, Canada and Alaska. His burning desire to visit these frozen wildernesses accelerated with each book. Smirkesdrom devoured them at the hasty rate that a regular child devours cookies. The man had a steel-trap memory which seemed to remember every word he read. This all occurred during the early 1990’s.

Within six years, Lars had received his master’s degrees in fluvial hydrology, cryosphere modelling, geomorphology, and glaciology at the University of Bergen. In his limited spare time, he had not only climbed all seven mountains surrounding the city of Bergen but also travelled all the way to Skarsvåg, one of the northernmost villages of Norway. It was here where Lars met his future wife, Imogen Aundörsen. She was a Danish solicitor holidaying with her brother — they were married within four months. Here also at Skarsvåg, was where the dogged Norwegian fell in love with his first polar bear. So taken by these massive mammals was he, that animal conservation became yet another string in his multi-talented bow. He also visited the three main Islands of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, roughly centred on 78.4° north latitude and 20.7° east longitude, to study the Great Northern Lights. Another trip saw him visit the Kodiak Archipelago, to indulge in the huge brown Kodiak Bears there.

As global warming became taken a bit more seriously, Lars Smirkesdrom’s work took him to the far north of many countries; those being the ones he had read about when unloading multiple catches at the Fish Me Fishmarket in Bergen as a youth. By 2008 he had documented and predicted the shrinkage of many Alaskan, Canadian and Greenland glaciers as well as many in his home of Norway. The selfless scientist also had extensive knowledge about ice shelf shift and the icebergs that are produced. After spending countless years, pursuing his passion for saving endangered species of wildlife, particularly the very threatened polar bear, Lars’ work took him deep inside the Arctic Circle. These gargantuan sheets of ice are the homes and livelihoods to all of these vanishing creatures. As a fully-trained glaciologist and geologist, tracking the movement of Arctic ice-flows, huge rogue ’bergs, centuries-old glaciers, and monster ice shelf shifts with minimal regard for his own forthcoming, this dangerous profession had reinforced his character. It strengthened and matured this humble orphaned boy from the backstreets of Oslo. It is during a savage winter in 2009 on the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, part of the Ellesmere Island Ice Shelf at Nunavut, Canada, when our story ignites…

After millenniums of frozen solidarity, Ellesmere Island has now fractured into numerous smaller shelves, with Ward Hunt being the largest. This four-hundred-square-kilometre shelf is also on the move, and the icebergs released by the breakup now pose a potential danger to shipping and offshore development in the region. However, the danger is far greater than that, because the massive loss of microbial ecosystems caused by the release of the freshwater, may also have far-ranging ecological impacts. The breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is tied to steady and dramatic increases in the average temperature of the region over the past decades — in correlation with volcanic activity as well as human intervention. Smirkesdrom was out surveying the episodic (variable) travel speed of Ellesmere’s Mittie Glacier with his trusted sled-hauling team made up of five Alaskan Malamutes and four Northern Inuit Dogs. The faithful hard-working animals were his extended family. Lars loved them all. He slept with them. He ate with them. He spoke to them. The sensitive scientific instruments, along with all their survival equipment and rations weighing many tons were bundled snugly aboard. He preferred to work for weeks at a time, alone. Then, he would return home to visit Imogen where they now lived at Churchill, on Manitoba’s Hudson Bay. Lars guided his dogsled team down a steep slope, in his back, the unrelenting one-hundred kilometre-per-hour Katabatic wind was biting like a shark-infested sea. Katabatic is the name given to a drainage wind; a powerful wind that carries high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity. They do not always travel at high speed, but today’s bitter chill had the inertial force of a freight train. His dogs were having trouble holding their footing in the snow. Visibility was poor. They had been mushing for seven hours — a respite was overdue. Lars looked for a sheltering wall of ice and called to his lead dog;

“Whoop Genghis Khan! Wooh boy!” he shouted through the blizzard. They pulled up beside the partial shelter, but the wind still whistled in an angular fashion, albeit with far less velocity. “We shall take some time to re-energise. I bet you are all rather hungry — as I am!” They woofed and howled in doggy excitement, as he patted the tops of their heads between each pair of eager ears.

Lars began unpacking their dry food as well as the packages of frozen chicken. He fired-up the multi-gas-burner-stove to heat some snow in a large metal pan. Once warm, he dropped the packs in, to thaw, creating their favourite — chicken soup, after which they drank the soup-water. The team feasted ravenously, while Lars set up his radio to give a routine check-in call to the base, located over four-hundred kilometres away at Eureka on Ellesmere Island. He ate whilst speaking…

“Roger that, Alphonse… I’d say I require about, oh another forty-eight hours, to complete the cross-referencing factors. And yes, the boys and I are doing just fine. A bit chilly right now, so we are having supper. I can’t wait to see you guys, once more! I shall be heading off, in about eight hours, to the Loop Moraine’s crack zones for my final measurements, after this blessed Katabatic hopefully slows down. It is picking up a lot of loose snow — I can hardly see a thing.”

“Okay, Lars. We will organize the CH-47 (Chinook tandem-rotor heavy-lifting helicopter) to pick you up, immediately after you send the signal from LM. Over—”

Lars eventually signing off… “Excellent, Alphonse. Tell Erik that he was correct about the new doggy treats, the boys have got far more endurance now. Smirkesdrom over and out!” He shouted over the howling gale-force wind, then continued eating after hauling out a crumpled photograph of a starstruck Imogen under the Aurora Borealis. He was sitting on his sled. Although he couldn’t distinguish her face, his eyes smiled at the picture from behind his goggles.

In split-seconds it happened…

Genghis Khan was first to react, followed by the other eight. All at once a frenzy of yelping and barking stirred Lars’ concentration. The dogs were going ballistic — hanging off their harnesses, teeth exposed by folded-back gums. He glanced up. Smirkesdrom’s breath vanished from his lungs. A huge polar bear stood upright on his hind legs, only metres from them. Suddenly, he heard the full brunt of its chuffing roar. The massive brute started hissing and champing his teeth — Lars knew this to be the sounds made by an angry or hungry bear. He feared for his dog-team, knowing that the smell of their chicken must have drawn the bear in. It had to have emerged from the teeth of the downwind. In the whiteout, Smirkesdrom’s eyes could scarcely focus on the carnivore’s outline against the snow. Only its black nose was clear through his goggles. He could tell from the steep angle its growl was coming from, that this creature stood at least four metres tall. “Easy now, my Big White Teddy friend. (this was his pet-name for these splendid beasts) Take it easy. Nobody’s going to hurt you…” His Norwegian voice calm but directed. Lars was eye-to-eye with it — he knew that fear would only let him down.

Somehow, it seems the polar bear had the upper hand in this one. It dropped back down on all fours and Genghis Khan pounced at the bear’s throat. A terrible mistake…

“No! Get back Genghis! Get back!”

It was not the first time this team had been confronted by a hunting Polar. Now, after five years together, it was their sixth confrontation. But this one was particularly big. The lead dog’s natural territorial-zone instincts, coupled with the protection of his master took over, swamping his canine mind. The black and white Alaskan Malamute collected a front paw far larger and heavier than his own head. The powerful claws had torn clean through the harness. The hefty force swept the dog aside like a furry rag doll severing a bloody gash in his neck. He laid still and stunned. The Northern Inuits raced in, persuaded by wolf-like predispositions. The bear reared back up onto his hind legs. At right-angles to the sled, these dog’s still-tethered harnesses held them at bay — their combined strength nearly toppling the sled and precariously thrusting Lars onto the snow, at the immense white beast’s planted hind paws. His goggles flew aside. He was well within its striking range.

The helpless glaciologist stared up. “My God, look at the size of you, my boy!”

The bear let out a lung-crunching roar. The other eight dogs fell silent. Smirkesdrom’s mind, racing for a solution, knew that the blood-splattered Genghis was what the bear desired, and he lay in the way. His pulse-rate hammered. He glanced at his oldest dog, breathing feverishly, several metres to the left. His provisions did not carry a rifle, and besides, Lars would never use one on a wild animal if he had it anyway. Genghis’ head raised from the snow. He whined and struggled to stand but couldn’t. It looked like the end…

Lars felt the cold no more. “Easy teddy,” he said gently, using eye contact. “Take it easy and we’ll all be happy. I know what you want—”

The eight-hundred-kilogram white bear thundered an even louder growl. Lars, on his hands and knees, backed away slowly. It took a violent swipe. He felt the rush of wind, as five claw-tips ripped his parka. Then a second swipe nicked his face — he felt as if hit by a baseball bat and could have easily suffered a broken neck. The force spun him away landing face up near the sled. All ten lives balancing on a knife’s edge. Smirkesdrom seized an armful of spilt thawed chicken packages and hurled them at the starving creature. Then grabbed some more…

In an unusual standoff scene, the gigantic bear flicked his massive head from side-to-side, then flopped onto the snow to commence gorging on the raw meat. Lars had lost a Siberian Husky once before, about two years ago, under similar circumstances, but managed to spare Genghis’ life by some quick thinking. He gave the endangered bear over twenty kilograms of the dogs’ provisions, talking to it constantly, in awe of its magnificence, before watching it lumber off through the snow. Next, he picked up the Malamute’s injured body and wrapped him up in his spare parka. “You’ll be travelling back on the sled, old mate. There will be no more showing-off on this mission, for you!”

The bonded team rested — as per the original plan. Betrayed by emotion, Smirkesdrom struggled to sleep. There is no daytime/night-time up here. The weak sun merely moves in a circular orbit, up and down around the horizon showing itself, before bobbing down behind one of the vertical sheets of ice, about the height of The Empire State Building. It is something you get used to. Lars had taken a good long look at his dominant Malamute and decided that he would survive the rest of the assignment. They set off after another meal…

After travelling for five hours in the direction of the Loop Moraine’s crack zones, Lars pulled the entourage to a halt. “Whoop Buster! Wooh boy!” Second-in-line Buster had resumed lead dog duties. The Northern Inuit was really a wheel dog, but he knew how and when to stand up to the plate, having heard all the commands a thousand times before. “Goodness gracious me,” whispered the concerned scientist, from atop the crest of a colossal plateau. He knew where he was, but it had altered dramatically since his last visit. He raised his goggles, allowing his eyes a clearer scan for the safest route down the near-perpendicular icy face. The relentless and reinvigorated Katabatic wind vortexed its way over to his extreme right. A clear picture of the highly-condensed snow-filled air spoke to him. On the left, it was a lot less powerful but the face there was much steeper. He decided on the right using a traversing angle to reduce the slope. “Mush, Buster! Mush! Mush!”

An hour of freezing hell later, they neared the bottom, then suddenly, the world fell away from beneath them…

His expedition had survived a fearsome, Big White Teddy, near-death experience, only hours before. But this challenge was nothing, compared to the one he had to face, after tumbling into a deep crevasse with his dogsled team and landing precariously on a plateau of ice barely the size of his lounge room floor. Below that, the chasm’s bottom fell away — hundreds of metres in the darkness. This was every ice traveller’s nightmare; dark, silent, motionless, freezing, injured and alone. Lars unconscious. The only noise was the whining coming from his nine companions. Wounded Genghis had been tossed out on impact, but he was a tough dog — Lars’ parka helped to cushion his injuries. One by one they scrambled out of the tangled mess of harnesses and strewn provisions. It took Smirkesdrom over an hour to regain consciousness, then search and fumble for the radio. He stared up at the dim light streaming down from the narrow jaws of the ravine, hoping the transmitter was still working and praying that the signal would reach the rescue squad. His mind thinking; ‘I reckon… perhaps old Genghis would have drawn the sled to a halt.’

A faint signal reaching Eureka base commenced; “Hello, its Lars here, Alphonse. I never made it to the moraine loops. I have made a terrible error of judgement — must have had my damned eyes closed.” He calmly gave his situation and GPS coordinates to the scientific team. A discussion followed.

Before signing off — “Roger that location, Lars. It will be a few hours till we arrive. I meant to warn you yesterday, that Crevasse 835 LM had extended another fifteen kilometres east. But I figured you would be coming in further from the west— my humblest apologies, sir. Alphonse out…”

He envisioned; The steep route would’ve been the correct one!

To his enthrallment, miraculously, all nine dogs had survived the more than eighty-metre fall. Only two broken legs between them. They all huddled next to Lars to keep him warm and alive until the CH-47 Chinook helicopter arrived. After fourteen hours of motionless wait, finally, rescuers managed to airlift his freezing body back to civilization. The catastrophic fall had shattered his spine. Wheelchair-bound forever, Lars never complained, claiming the fall had been his own fault. A far greater fall for him, was the one from grace, with his wife Imogen walking out because of her inability to deal with the total paralysis. This shattered his heart…

The fear of confronting life alone, and a reconvened outlook, gave birth to Smirkesdrom still travelling the world, but this time not to save his beloved polar bears. Throughout recovery, he wrote a self-help book titled; ‘The Winning Way’. Lars Smirkesdrom now holds free lectures to the hopeless and underprivileged of this world, to motivate and inspire them on to achieve greater things. During these seminars, he refers way back to his childhood woes and lessons learned. He speaks highly of the ice wilderness’s beauty. He teaches kindness to animals. Then, he thanks the wonderful sled dogs for saving his life. Never does he grumble about the poor hands which he got fortuitously dealt thrice in life: Orphaned at four, a quadriplegic at forty-seven and thirdly abandonment. Donated royalties from the multi-million selling manuscript he wrote — along with five other great works to date, have funded a foster home for ill-fated children in Norway…

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