Snowcase #40 • 15 November 2007 • The SnowBlog
L. Lee Lowe is an online writer (and displaced American) who lives in the hills above the Rhine, where on a clear day she can't see forever, but the spires of the Cologne Cathedral.
In a snowbound alternate world, the minds of teen offenders are uploaded into computers as a form of virtual wilderness therapy ... or is it?
[excellent! set in a world of snow!] Corvus
'Get up, lad. You'll freeze to death like this.'
Zach raises his head. His skin and lips are already numb, and his nostrils packed with ice crystals. The splint and dressing after they'd broken his nose had not felt much different - a foreign body, one which he'd welcomed as a constant reminder. He'd flushed the painkillers down the clinic loo. And six months later, one of the blokes needed an implant for the four front teeth he'd lost; a few weeks afterwards, the second one spent ten days in intensive care; and the third would likely never father a child.
Zach can't open his eyes. With his gloved hands, fisted like a small child's, he attempts to rub them free, but his lids are iced shut by a thin glaze of frozen snow. It frightens him, that feeling of resistance, as if someone had used catgut to stitch away the evidence of his genetic code.
The man helps Zach to a sitting position. Noticing Zach's distress, the stranger crouches before him, places a hand on either side of Zach's head, and draws him close. Without any sign of disgust the man blows over first one, then the other eye, again and again, until Zach's sight is restored. The man is a smoker, Zach can smell the tobacco on his breath.
'Who are you?' Zach asks, blinking against the brightness. It's stopped snowing, and the tundra glitters in the moonlight. Those who are unfamiliar with the far north imagine months of winter darkness, but ice and snow have a spectral fierceness as beautiful as a dreamscape, as implacable as hatred. His training included a certain amount of required reading, which Zach in fascination had soon broadened to numerous accounts, many first-hand, of expeditions to the high arctic - of explorers and whalers, of scientists and entrepreneurs, of madmen and dreamers.
'Here they call me Lev.'
Lev draws Zach to his feet, then reaches into a deep flapped pocket and brings out a small flask, which once uncapped, steams and gave off the rich smell of coffee. Lev holds it to Zach's lips.
'Slowly now, don't burn your tongue.'
The coffee is bitter black and very sweet, laced with what might be cardamom in the Saudi style. Fleetingly Zach wonders whether Mishaal has had a hand in the programming; he always likes to leave his version of a calling card. A few sips, and heat blossoms in Zach's stomach like a spurt of blood from a reopened wound, and his shivering subsides.
'OK?' Lev asks.
Lev points towards a group of willows. Low-growing like most arctic trees, they crouch in a small valley where a gleam of aquamarine suggests ice - perhaps a frozen pond or river. As Zach peers at the trees, a snow-covered building comes into focus. A hut or shed of some kind. And yes, now he can see a wisp of smoke rising from what must be a chimney.
'It's nearer than it looks,' Lev says, 'but we'd best get started. This cold will kill you faster than a terr bomb.'
'Is Lev a nickname?' Zach asks. 'It's not on my client list.'
'Not exactly. But conserve your energy - the first rule of survival here. We'll talk once inside.'
Author: L. Lee Lowe
Email: l.lee.lowe [at] gmail [dot] com