Five and a half hours a day when the sun rose above the horizon. Storm clouds so thick, daylight never penetrated, and night reigned eternal. Thirty below zero Fahrenheit. The hurricane-force wind wrapped frigid temperatures around the lodge, driving through the log cabin construction and the steel roof, ignoring the insulation, creeping inch by inch into the Great Room where twenty-year-old Petie huddled on a love seat, dressed in a former guest’s flannel pajamas and bundled in a Pendleton Northern Lights wool blanket. A wind like this pushed snow through the roof vents, and she knew as soon as the storm stopped, she’d be up in the attic shoveling it out. Or not. Maybe first the ceiling would fall in on top of her. Who would know? Who would care? The storm of the century, online news called it, before the internet disappeared in a blast that blew out the cable like a candle. For a second long, dark winter, she was the only living being tending the Midnight Sun cabins and the lodge, making sure the dark, relentless Alaska winter didn’t do too much damage and in the spring the camp could open to enthusiastic fishermen, corporate team builders and rugged individualists. Alone for eight months of the year. No Christmas. No New Year’s. No Valentine’s Day. No any day, nothing interesting, just dark dark dark isolation and fear that she would die out here. With the internet gone, she waited for the next inevitable event.
The lights went out. On each of the four walls, a small, battery-charged night-light came on to battle feebly against the darkness. Outside, the storm roared. Inside, cold swallowed the heat with greedy appetite. Petie sat and stared into a dark so black it hurt her eyes. And remembered… There, against the far back wall of the basement, in the darkest corner, white plastic covered…something. Slowly, Petie approached, driven by a terrible fear. She stopped about three feet away, leaned forward and reached out, far out, to grasp the corner of the plastic, pull it back, and see— With a gasp, Petie leaped to her feet. No. Just no.
She couldn’t—wouldn’t—replay those memories again. She tossed the blanket onto the floor and groped for the flashlights on the table beside her: the big metal one with a hefty weight and the smaller plastic headlamp she could strap to her forehead. She clicked on the big one and shone it around the lodge, reassuring herself no one and nothing was here. No ghosts, no zombies, no cruel people making ruthless judgments about the gullible young woman she had been. Armed with both lights, she moved purposefully out of the Great Room, through the massive kitchen and toward the utility room. The door between the kitchen and the utility room was insulated, the first barrier between the lodge and the bitter, rattling winds. She opened that door, took a breath of the even chillier air, stepped into the utility room and shut herself in. There she donned socks, boots, ski pants, an insulated shirt, a cold-weather blanket cut with arm holes, a knit hat and an ancient, full-length, seal-skin, Aleut-made coat with a hood. She checked the outside temperature. Colder now—forty below and with the wind howling, the wind chill would be sixty below, seventy below…who knew? Who cared? Exposed skin froze in extreme cold and add the wind chill… She wrapped a scarf around her face and the back of her neck.
Then unwrapped it to secure the headlamp low on her forehead. Then wrapped herself up again, trying to cover as much skin as she could before she faced the punishing weather. She pointed her big flashlight at the generator checklist posted on the wall and read: Hawley’s reasons why the generator will fail to start. The generator is new and well-tested, so the problem is: 1. LOOSE BATTERY CABLE Solution: Tighten. 2. CORRODED BATTERY CONNECTION Solution: Use metal terminal battery brush to clean connections and reattach. 3. DEAD BATTERY Solution: Change battery in the autumn to avoid ever having to change it in the middle of a major fucking winter storm. If she wasn’t standing there alone in the dark in the bitter cold, she would have grinned.
The owner of the fishing camp, Hawley Foggo, taught his employees Hawley’s Rules. He had them for every occurrence of the fishing camp, and that last sounded exactly like him. The generator used a car battery, and as instructed, in the autumn she had changed it. This was her second year dealing with the battery, and she felt secure about her work. So probably this failure was a loose connection or corrosion. Either way, she could fix it and save the lodge from turning into a solid ice cube that wouldn’t thaw until spring. That was, after all, her job. She shivered. So much better than her last job, the one that led to her conviction for a gruesome double murder. “Okay, Petie, let’s grab that metal battery cleaner thingy and get the job done.
” Which sounded pretty easy, when she talked to herself about it, but when she pulled on the insulated ski gloves, they limited her dexterity. Out of the corner of her eye, a light blinked out. She looked back into the lodge’s Great Room. The night-lights were failing, and soon she really would be alone in the absolute darkness, facing the memories of that long-ago day in the basement. Good incentive to hurry. She grabbed the wire battery connection cleaner thingy and moved to the outer door. There she paused and pictured the outdoor layout. A loosely built lean-to protected the generator from the worst of the weather while allowing the exhaust to escape. That meant she wasn’t stepping out into the full force of the storm; she would be as protected as the generator itself. Which was apparently not well enough since the damned thing wasn’t working.
She gathered her fortitude and eased the outer door open. The wind caught it, yanked it wide and dragged her outside and down the steps. She hung on to the door handle, flailed around on the frozen ground, and when she regained her footing, she used all her strength to shove the door closed again. Then she was alone, outside, in a killer storm, in the massive, bleak wilderness that was Alaska. 2 SOME MIGHT SAY PETIE was stupid to put herself in this situation. She had to agree. Except… No, really, she had to agree. Her forehead light scarcely pierced the dark of the night and the dark of the storm, so she groped in her coat pocket for her big flashlight, clicked it on and waved the beam around. The left wall of the lean-to had been shattered by a tree branch that had ridden a gust like a battering ram. Everywhere, snowflakes twisted and spun in glittering arcs, and more snow settled against the outside of the generator.
Stupid to feel relieved, but nothing she’d done had compromised the generator. It was that bitch Mother Nature. She was out to kill them all. Who could blame her? A snow shovel hung on the external wall of the lodge, clamped at the top and bottom; still it clattered like a skeleton’s bones. Petie used the broad scoop to clear her path to the generator. Putting the shovel down, she knelt to release the lock on the door that opened onto the battery. The wind caught the shovel and shoved it across the slick ground. On her knees, she hustled after it, caught it before it escaped into the storm, brought it back to the generator and knelt on the scoop. The cold seeped through her ski pants, pants and underwear. Incentive to finish quickly.
She cleaned the posts, scraping, wiping, scraping, wiping. She reattached the battery cables and pushed “Start.” The generator coughed and chugged on. A light popped on over the door leading to the lodge. More came on inside. She had fixed it. She had fixed it! She had saved Hawley’s lodge. It would be safe until spring. Probably safe until spring. Her momentary exultation flickered and died.
Now she was stuck here, alone, for another four months. Her head bent. She closed her eyes. She felt the pain of piercing cold, of blistering wind, of loneliness and hopelessness that had no end. Four more months of life barren and lost to exile…unless she did something to change that. She turned off the flashlight and left it on the ground next to the shovel. She didn’t need them anymore. She pushed her way through the snow to the broken north wall and faced the full brunt of the storm. Even through her scarf, the wind scoured her face. Snow froze onto her eyelashes.
If she walked out there, straight into the storm’s violent embrace, she would struggle and struggle, until at last she would lie down and die. Why not? What did she have to live for? TSTL. That was what they called women like her. Too Stupid to Live. Truth. She was too stupid to live. She despised herself. Now she was stuck here, forever, alone every winter, without anyone who cared about her. Why not walk out and die? Why not? She took the first step. A gust of wind slammed into her belly, lifted her off her feet, carried her backward and knocked her into the wall.
Her neck whiplashed, and her head thumped hard enough to rattle her brains. The wind disappeared as rapidly as it came. Petie fell to her knees. Night enveloped her. If she hadn’t had the hat, the scarf, the hood on her head, she would have been dealing with a concussion. As it was, the memory that floated to the top of her brain was the moment when, at fourteen, she had faced her mother in juvenile detention. Petie was afraid, horrified, ashamed, but she faced Ioana with her chin defiantly stuck out. “Evie, I’m an immigrant. I have an accent. You’re making it hard for me at work and hard for your sister at school.
Someone in the neighborhood sprayed paint on our windows—GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!” “Those bastards,” Evie had said sullenly. “Tell them to stuf it.” “You do not repent? When you can make me proud, come home.” Ioana stuck her finger in Petie’s face, and her Eastern European accent was strong and angry. “Until then, you stay away from your sister. Stay away from me. Life is hard enough without having your kind drag us down.” “My kind? I’m just like you!” Ioana had slapped her. Petie’s hand flew to her cheek. Ioana gasped.
Reaching out, she pulled Petie into her arms. “Forgive me. But you’re throwing away all your opportunities with both hands. Stop. Think. Live!” Apparently, her mother and the wind had something in common. Petie hung her head and cried a few tears, tears that froze instantly into the scarf. She staggered to her feet. She groped her way to the generator, knelt and found the large metal flashlight right where she’d left it and turned it on. She picked up the snow shovel, stood, pointed the beam of light at the ground and stepped carefully across the icy patches and up the steps.
Still carrying the shovel, she let herself inside, shut the door behind her, locked it and stood listening to the beastly roar of the storm, now muffled by the protective walls. She had fixed the generator. The lights were on. The heat was running. She was not going to die here. She said it out loud, needing to hear the words. “I am not going to die here.” Someday, somehow she would leave the wilderness behind, mend the rift in her family, but most of all, she was going to sometime, somehow find Donald White: conspirator, con man…killer. She would have revenge—and he would face justice.