Nancy Kilpatrick

The June Special Guest Writer is Nancy Kilpatrick

Please feel free to visit Nancy HERE


by Nancy Kilpatrick

They`d been warned in Whitehorse. By several people. And again in Dawson City. But Joe never listened. He called himself a `free-floating spirit`. Coleen thought of him as somebody who needed to be nailed down to the earth.

Joe`s death had come as a complete shock. Coleen was just finishing drying and putting away dinner dishes in the Winnebago's little cupboards. He stepped out of the one-man shower that also functioned as the toilet. She pushed aside the pink and white curtain above the sink to watch the odd snowflake drift onto the frozen tundra, thinking again how much she did not share his love of or trust in this barren land. It had been his idea to come way up here in the Fall, "when there's no tourists," he'd said, adding in his poetic way, "so we can nourish the snow spirits and they can nourish us."

She folded the dish towel. "We're almost out of food, Joey. We'd better head back to Dawson City—that'll take us half a day. Didn't that guy on the CB say something about a low pressure system building?"

When he didn't answer, Coleen turned. Joe sat on one of the benches at the table, a deck of cards before him. His chunky six foot frame slumped back towards the front of the vehicle. His pale green eyes looked as cold as the crevices in a glacier. In his right hand he held two mismatched socks.

Coleen performed mouth to mouth resuscitation. It didn't work. She got out the first aid kit and found some smelling salts. When everything else failed, she pounded hard on his chest, first in desperation, then in hysteria.

All that had happened yesterday. Today she had a different problem--what to do with her husband's rotting corpse.

She stared out the window. The storm she feared had magically eaten its way across the landscape while she`d struggled last night to revive Joe. She had judged the weather too bad to drive in but now she realized she'd made a mistake by not trying. Eight hours had done damage. Swirling gusts of snow clouded her view beyond a couple of yards. Every so often the wind banshee-howled as it buffeted the two-ton camper, threatening to hurl everything far above the permafrost and into another dimension. It made her think of Dorothy being swept away by the tornado and ending up disoriented in Oz. 

Coleen's eyes automatically went to Joe's body. She had wrapped him in the two sheets they`d brought along and secured the sheets with rope. He lay on the floor like a tacky Halloween ghost, or a silly husband playing ghost. Any moment she expected him to rise with a 'Boo!'.  Then he'd laugh and admit to another of his practical jokes. But the form refused to play its part. It did not sit up.  She had an urge to kick it in the side.

"It's all your fault." Furious tears streaked down her face. She snatched at the box of Kleenex and blew her nose long and loudly. "You wanted to go into debt to buy this stupid camper. You wanted to drive all the way to the Arctic Circle. You wanted to stop at this dumb lake. You never plan anything. Why do you have to be so damn spontaneous?" She yanked open the small door beneath the sink and hurled the empty tissue into a paper bag of burnable trash.

Suddenly her shoulders caved in and she let loose. The weeping turned to a wailing that frightened her all the more because it made her aware that she was alone. She stopped abruptly and the silence hurt her eardrums. When had the snow and wind expired? Outside it looked like some kind of perverse fairy land, white on white merging with a colorless sky. Although the Winnebago was warm, she shivered. This place. It was so...empty. Nothing could live here. 

Coleen knew she needed to act to break this mood. She washed her face in the kitchen sink, dried it with her shirt tail and tried the radio again.

Last night the storm had smothered signals coming and probably going too. For the first time since Joe's death, she was getting some static; she reread the part in the manual about broadcasting. She picked up the microphone and sent out a distress call and gave their location, as recorded by her in the log, "Three hundred kilometres north east of Dawson City, on Hungry Lake." She repeated the call for over an hour until she needed a break.

Coleen sat at the table with her coffee. She felt disheartened and lifted the cup to inhale the comforting sweet-roasted scent.  Sweet-sour noxiousness clotted her nostrils and she gagged. "Oh my God!" She plunked the cup down onto the table, spilling its contents. Joe was starting to stink.  

Primal fear raked a nerve. She jumped up and lifted the seat of the bench. Among the tools inside she found a small shovel and the ice axe she'd insisted on buying. She threw on her parka, stepped into her boots and grabbed the fur-lined mitts.

Once she was dressed she turned the knob of the back door. The door wouldn`t budge. The glass had frosted so she couldn`t see the problem. Panicked, Coleen threw her weight against the door, finally creating an inch gap that let in freezing air. She peered through the slender opening. Snow drifts had climbed half way up the camper. She jammed the shovel handle between the door and the frame and used it as a lever to pry another inch, then another; finally it was wide enough to get the axe through. Hacking and ploughing gave her a one foot opening she could lean around. 

Crystalline whiteness extended as far as she could see. The banks must have been four feet high, the lowest drifts two feet deep. Realization dawned that the truck would not get through this. Even if she managed to connect the chains to the snow tires--and there was a good chance she couldn`t do it by herself--no way would the camper make it.

Despite warm clothing, the air nipped at the skin on her face until it numbed. A bad sign, she knew. She pulled the door shut and made herself another cup of coffee.

While Coleen drank it, she thought about her situation. The weather might warm. The snow could melt enough in a week or so that she could drive. She'd keep working the radio; eventually somebody would hear her. The thought came, maybe a snowmobile will drive by, or a dogsled, but she knew that's the way Joe would think. There were only 25,000 people in the whole of the Yukon and Hungry Lake was a good hundred kilometres from the nearest highway.

Thank God she'd bought that book on surviving in the Yukon when they'd passed through Dawson City. Joe, of course, had laughed at her. There was a checklist at the front—What to do While Waiting for Help to Arrive. She`d torn it out and tacked it to the wall. Joe had found such practicality even more amusing.

Joe. She knew she'd been avoiding thinking about him. She sighed but it sounded more like a moan. Her heart felt both too full and empty. She looked at the body on the floor, wrapped like a mummy. Even now the smell was there, under everything, seeping into the air like poison spreading through water. She`d have to take him outside.

While trying the radio again, Coleen dressed in the heavy clothes--this time wearing a ski mask as well. She continued chopping and digging into the crusty snow. By five o`clock she had the door wide open and the bar locked so it would stay that way. The landscape looked the same now as it had at ten a.m., as it would look at ten p.m.  With only six hours of darkness, even the underside of the clouds reflected white luminosity--snowblink, they called it. This almost endless brightness was unnatural. She remembered near-death stories she'd read about, of white light and how departed souls float down the tunnel towards that blinding light. Coleen wondered if Joe had gone down a tunnel. She squinted. She couldn't imagine anything brighter than this.

Dense cold filled the Winnebago, which numbed her nose and anesthetized her emotions, making the second part of the job easier.             

She grabbed Joe's ankles. Despite the gloves, she was aware of the hardness of his cadaver. Coleen clamped her teeth together; this was no time to let grief and fear overwhelm her. Grunting, heaving, she dragged his dead weight along the brick-red linoleum to the back door. 

There were snowshoes—she'd seen to that—and she strapped a pair onto her boots. She`d never walked in them and had no idea how she'd manage. They weren't like skis; they were feather light but the racket part up front was so wide that she couldn't help tripping herself. 

Her big fear was that the snow wouldn't be solid enough to hold her up, but it did. She backed out of the camper and, once sure she was balanced, bent over and grabbed Joe's feet again. She pulled and the rigid body slid over the door frame easily. All but the head. It caught on the frame. When she yanked, it plummeted into the trench she'd created around the door.

Joe was so stiff that when his head went down into that pit, it jarred her hold and his body popped straight up into the air.

Look, Collie, a human popsicle!

Fear slid up her spine. Coleen looked around. Nothing. No one. Only the corpse.

She knew he was dead but still she said, "Joey?" and waited. It had to have been the wind. She steeled herself and jumped up to grab his feet. Her body weight pulled him down. He levelled like a board and, stepping backwards carefully, she slid him along the compacted snow. 

Somehow she didn't want to leave him just outside the door. The dry cold was exhausting, and deceptive—she knew it was colder than it felt and she had to be careful of frostbite—but she dragged him away from the camper, tripping once, having a hell of a time getting back up on the snowshoes. The air burned its way down her throat and the pain in her lungs became ferocious, making her fear pneumonia.

Finally he was far enough away that she wouldn't smell him every time she opened the door, yet he'd still be within sight.

Coleen struggled back. By the time she got inside, her entire body was numb. That desensitization was preferable to the defrosting that followed. A hot shower brought pins and needles pain that made her cry out loud. Trembling, she bundled up in Joe's two bulky sweaters, pulled open the bed and crawled in. She couldn't see Joe from here. She drifted into what turned out to be a nightmare. A frozen animal carcass with Joe's face grinned down at her. He was sucking on a decaying popsicle.


Coleen woke it was still light outside.  She checked the battery-operated clock radio and could hardly believe she'd slept nearly twenty-four hours until she moved and her muscles screamed and she remembered having been up for thirty-six hours doing exhausting work in sub-zero temperatures.

Joe's death, her being stranded, all of it suffocated her with despair. It was only the thought, I could die here, that got her out of bed.

She ate, played with the radio—now even the static was gone—reread the survival list, and went about doing what was necessary. She checked all propane hookups and turned the heater down—
she'd have to use the gas sparingly. Thanks to Joe, the extra tank had been gobbled up when he'd insisted they extend their stay.

Next she tried the engine. It wouldn't kick over; the fuel line had to be de-iced first. She needed to do that twice a day to keep the battery charged. The gas gauge needle pointed to three quarters full and there was a five gallon container for emergencies. Two of the three hundred kilometres back to Dawson City would be through the mountains where the snow could avalanche and put out the road. But at least there was a road. Making it to Highway No. 5 was the problem. They'd had a hell of a time getting through the spruce and poplars to the lake from the highway and, under these conditions, there'd be double hell to pay to get out. And all of it depended on enough of a thaw to drive the camper.

The snow, she realized with a bitter laugh, had at least one benefit--there would be plenty of snowbroth; fresh water wouldn't be a problem. She checked flashlight batteries, matches, candles, flares and medical supplies. The cupboard held a big jar of instant coffee and a box of tea bags. But even at half rations, the food would only last one person one day. They should have been back in Dawson City five days ago but Joe had insisted on this side trip. She'd argued against it but he'd fixed on some crazy idea he'd read about in a magazine that he could fish in the lake and catch char and they'd "negotiate with the Eskimo gods to live off the land," a concept that now struck her as insane. 

Most of their fifteen year marriage she had, in her way, loved Joe, although their relationship was not the fulfilling one she'd hoped for. She had to admit that because of him she'd been places and done things she wouldn't have, left to her own devices. Early on she'd seen him as a welcome contrast: devilish to her seriousness, adventurous to her timidity. But it wasn't long before she admitted that what had once been charming traits in Joe turned to juvenile habits that gnawed away at her patience; divorce had crossed her mind. 

Still, he was her husband, 'till death did them part. He had died, if not in her arms at least in her presence, and he had died as he'd lived—impulsively. On some level she missed him dearly.

But she was also angry. Angry that he'd brought her to this God-forsaken place and left her, maybe to starve slowly, or freeze to death like a character in a Jack London story. And why? Because he claimed his destiny was to see the "Good and Great White North." And he had too much childish faith that life would support him to worry about freak storms. If he wasn't already dead, she might have entertained murderous thoughts.

She pressed her face against the chilled glass in the back door. White. Everywhere. So pure, so foreboding. The wind had erased her tracks. She couldn't see Joe's body. 

Suddenly she felt guilty for leaving him out there all alone in an icy grave. The thought struck, maybe he's not dead. Maybe he's in a coma or something. She tried to talk herself out of that notion but soon Coleen was putting on the parka and the snowshoes and trudging across the hardened snow in the direction she thought she'd taken her husband.

The air had a peculiar and enticing quality. The cold felt almost warm. As she crunched along, the beauty of the snowscape struck her. Everything was elementally pure, pristine. Blameless. Almost spiritual. In the darkening sky a faint aurora borealis flickered green and blue, like some kind of signals emanating from heaven. She understood how Joe's soul could soar here. Suddenly, the incredible glare on the horizon temporarily snowblinded her.

From behind, the wind resurrected itself and knocked Coleen off her feet. She plunged straight forward as if her body were jointless. Her face crashed into the frost and knocked out her breath. As she struggled to her knees, little puppy yaps came out of her mouth. Pain shot through her nose and forehead. She squeezed her eyes shut hard and opened them slowly to regain her vision. The snow beneath her was red. She touched the ski mask over her nose; the glove was stained.

Coleen looked around wildly, trying to orient herself. Joe's body lay six feet away. She started to think, why didn`t I notice it before... and then stopped. The body looked the same, but the snow surrounding it appeared scraped. It reminded her of being a child and lying flat, making snow angels by opening and closing her legs, and raising and lowering her arms above her head. He can`t be alive, she thought. The sheets are still tied around his body.  There`s no way he could move his arms and legs.      

Coleen crawled to the body. Instinctively she felt afraid to touch it, but forced herself. It was iceberg hard. When she tried to shake him, she discovered that the sheets had adhered to the snow crust.

"Joe! Joey!" 

Freezing in Spirit Land, Honey.

"My God!" She tore at the sheets but her gloves were too bulky so she yanked them off. Still, the cotton was more like ice and she had to use a key to gouge through it. She wedged her fingers between the fabric and his neck and ripped the fabric up over his chin. The cotton peeled away from the familiar face to reveal chunks of torn flesh and exposed frozen muscle. Coleen gasped, horrified. His face was a pallid death mask. "Joe!" Her hands had numbed and were turning blue and she stuffed them back into the gloves before slapping his cheeks. "Can you hear me?"

She sobbed and gulped stabbing air. The storm was getting bad again; she could hardly see the Winnebago through the frozen fog of ice crystals. If she didn't go back now she might be stranded here. She glanced down at Joe. If he hadn`t been dead when she'd brought him out, he certainly had suffered hypothermia and died of exposure. The wind whispered and Coleen accepted the fact that Joe had not spoken to her.

She left him and clumped her way back. By the time she shut the door and peered through the glass, the camper was enshrouded in white air.


Coleen devoured the rest of a tin of sardines in mustard with the last two saltines and drank another cup of coffee. The coffee had her edgy and she decided to switch to tea, although she didn`t like it as well. But now that the solid food was gone, she'd need to keep her head.

All day she`d tried the radio and reread the Survival in the Yukon Guide. She'd just finished an improbable chapter on snaring rabbits by locating their breath holes in the snow and was about to close the book when the section on leaving food outdoors caught her eye. The three paragraphs warned about wolves, bears, caribou and other wild animals being attracted to food. She lay the book in her lap for a moment and rubbed her sore eyes. Human bodies were food. She recalled seeing the movie Alive and how the survivors turned to cannibalism. She shivered and hugged herself.          

Coleen went to the door. Snow, the voracious deity of this land, lay quiet and pallid, waiting. Somewhere out there was her husband's body. Those marks in the snow crust could have been made by something that was hungry. Something that might at this moment be gnawing on Joe's remains.

She shuddered. He deserved better than that. Maybe she should bring him back indoors. But that thought was so bizarre it led to the toilet and her vomiting up sardines.   

By the time Coleen felt steady enough to put on the heavy outdoor clothing, she knew what she had to do. She gathered the supplies she'd need and went to Joe.

The snowscape had turned into an icescape--the Winnebago was icebound. That should have scared her but she felt strangely invincible and coherent, her mind as crystal clear as the air. There were no tracks; she found him by instinct.

She opened the cap on the lighter fluid and doused his body. It was hard to believe that under this frozen earth lay huge oil deposits; the nauseatingly sweet combustible reeked. She struck a match and dropped it onto the pyre. Flames sprang upward and black smoke fouled the air. She hoped the snow gods did not feel defiled.

Coleen stared at the fire charring her husband`s remains. Flesh crackled and a familiar scent wafted up; she realized that she had never known anyone who'd been cremated. It came to her that maybe his spirit was trapped in his frozen flesh. If anybody possessed a spirit, it would have been Joey.

As the inky cloud danced heavenward, she panicked. Maybe she was doing the wrong thing. Maybe the flames would not just cook his flesh but would burn his soul. Maybe hell was...but something caught her eye.

A pale spectre appeared in the dark smoke. The face was luminous, the form familiar. She watched Joe ascend like a snow angel. He smiled down at her and waved. Coleen sobbed and waved back. Tears welled over her eyelids and froze on her lower lashes and she stepped closer to the fire's warmth. We all do what we have to, Collie. He`d said that often enough, but this was the first time she understood it.      

She felt bone chilled. The wind confided in her—the northern demons were still hungry.

Coleen shovelled snow onto the flames and they sizzled into silence. As darkness crawled up the sky, she worked quickly with the ice axe. There was plenty of meat. It would take time to pack it in ice and store it safely before the storm returned. 

Nancy Kilpatrick is an award-winning writer and editor.

She has published 19 novels, 1 non-fiction book, over 220 short stories and 6 collections of her short fiction, comic books, a graphic novel, and she has edited 15 anthologies. Her work has been translated into 7 languages.

Her writing and editing falls into these genres:

Dark Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Erotic Horror, Sci-Fi.  She writes under her name, and the noms de plume Amarantha Knight and Desirée Knight (Amarantha’s kid sister!)

Nancy has been a 4 time Bram Stoker Award finalist, a 7 time Aurora Award finalist, a 2 time Paris Book Festival winner for anthologies, the ForeWord Reviewers Award silver winner for collections, the winner of the Murder, Mayhem & the Macabre award; The Standing Stone short fiction winner award; Interzon winner; and winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for best mystery story.

She lives with her calico cat Fedex in lovely Montréal. When not writing, she travels planet Earth —the Great Curio Cabinet–in search of cemeteries, ossuaries, catacombs, mummies and Danse Macabre artwork.

You can learn more about Nancy HERE

You can find all of her books HERE

Photo credit: Hugues Leblanc


































































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