A Tale of the Frozen North

By: Rolf Luchs

Chapter 1

Dawn had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, colder and grayer than you could shake a stick at. After all this was the Yukon, the Frozen North, the Land of the Midnight Sun and 2-for-1 snowcone offers, and it had every right to be that way. Yes, the Yukon — where temperatures plunged a hundred degrees in the blink of an eye; the Yukon — where passing clouds froze solid and fell from the heavens; the Yukon — where entire forests petrified overnight only to shatter like glass with the first touch of the rising sun.

Chapter 2

Afternoon had broken cold and gray. Cold cold cold. Brrrr. Up and down the valley as far as the eye could see, a thick blanket of snow lay like vanilla ice cream, smooth and creamy. Through this vast white dessert moved two figures.

Not just any man could survive in this harsh wasteland. A special breed flourished here: Men of the North, tall, beefy and proud. For this was the Yukon, where a man’s worth was measured by the number of leotards he wore under his furs, where a man might not still be a complete man anymore if he dallied outside too long. Such a man was Pierre, a trapper of mostly French-Canadian origin with just a little Eskimo and Japanese and a touch of the sun. Alongside him trotted his faithful canine companion Frisky, a huge shaggy beast of uncertain ancestry whose love for his master and for fresh blood were a legend throughout the North.

The sun hung low in the sky. It was a sign too cryptic for any pampered city-dweller to decipher; but for one whose animal instincts were awake to the primeval rhythms of nature it could mean only one thing: night was approaching. If night fell with Pierre outside he would freeze up like a statue and become the laughing stock of the whole Yukon. People would flock from miles around to gawk and point and pose for souvenir photos. It was harsh, yes — but it was the way of the Men of the North.

All day Pierre had been trudging along the river bank, through snow so deep it was over his galoshes. But now in his haste he ventured onto the frozen surface itself, past the regularly-posted signs that read: CAUTION: YUKON RIVER — NO SWIMMING, NO PICKNICKING. There was less snow out on that wind-swept ice, which made it faster going for him. But Pierre did not trust the river. Rivers, he mused, were like women: beautiful, hard, treacherous. Sometimes with a woman you suddenly discovered that she wore false teeth or had a contagious disease. Rivers were the same: there were places where you could break through and be instantly transformed into an ice sculpture. At least then nobody would find your body and laugh at you. There is nothing a Man of the North hates like being laughed at.

Shortly before nightfall Pierre stepped onto just such a weak spot in the ice — as yet unmarked by warning tape — and fell through past his knees. Frisky immediately clamped his jaws around Pierre’s head like a monkey wrench and pulled him out of the hole, but it was too late. His frozen toes snapped off like so many ice cubes from a tray. Both legs would go too unless he could thaw them out right away. Painfully he staggered to the river bank and gathered a few sticks of driftwood for a fire. Removing his fuzzy pink mittens, he searched his pockets for a match but could only find a butane lighter. Kneeling down by the kindling, he flicked the striker of the lighter. It sputtered briefly, then exploded, blowing off his right arm up to the elbow. “Sacre bleu!” (Aw heck!) he exclaimed, cursing his ill fortune. He would never play the accordian again.

Chapter 3

Night had fallen cold and gray. In fact it was always like that in the Yukon: sometimes a bit colder, sometimes a little more on the gray side, but always both cold and gray. It was no wonder that package holidays to Mexico were so popular.

Francois stood looking out his cabin door, deep in thought, having a last smoke before retiring. Of course he thought about the Yukon, for he too was a Man of the North. But he also mused on his past: Fifi, Gertrude — yes, and Antoine. The seedy night-life of Montreal, a promising career in the ballet…

Then Francois spied two shadowy figures moving toward him out in the snow. As they approached he saw that both were big and ugly and covered with fur. He realized with a sigh of relief that the one walking upright must be good old Pierre, the other one his dog Frisky. Francois could not help but notice that Pierre was hobbling badly and that he was missing the better part of his right arm. He was too polite to mention it, though.

The three of them met wordlessly, went inside and sat near the roaring fire. Pierre took off his galoshes and thrust both feet into the flames.

“Ala mode, Pierre?” (How are things, Pierre ?) asked Francois after about an hour.

“Coup d’etat,” (Oh, not so bad) Pierre replied tersely. “Coma se llama ustad?” (Nippy, isn’t it?)

“Ja, ich bin schwul,” (Yes, quite nippy) agreed Francois.

Several more hours passed in silence. Pierre’s legs burned away in the fire, leaving two charred stumps.

Suddenly Frisky leapt up and sank his fangs deep in Francois’ throat — for he was a Dog of the North, and had his occasional odd moments. They rolled around on the floor, biting and rending, for several minutes until Francois was able to snatch a red-hot poker from the fireplace and beat the dog senseless. Pierre found all this quite amusing and laughed uproariously. He barely noticed the other man coming at him, poker in hand. Francois struck Pierre repeatedly about the head. Pierre seized a heavy stool and returned blow for blow. The tiny cabin shook.

Chapter 4

Dawn had broken cold and gray, as usual. The two men awoke simultaneously, glanced around at the mangled interior of the cabin, and at each other. Then they both broke out laughing at last night’s antics. Francois started slicing up Frisky’s cold corpse for breakfast while Pierre began whittling a pair of wooden legs. For this was the Yukon, and they were Men of the North.


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