[an Alaska short story, written for The Mysterious North]
THEIR OVERCOATS STEAMED in the red-hot glow of the tiny stove, the steam rising to form ice on the ceiling of the cramped canvas tent. After a day’s slogging up and down the pass, they were each man and woman among them soaked to the skin, but it was so cold no one was willing to remove so much as a single layer of clothing. Frosted lashes and brows began to thaw, forming rivulets on cheeks that could be mistaken for tears, but the truth was they were too exhausted to weep.
They sat instead in a silent circle, nine of them shoulder to shoulder, and thrust their hands and faces forward into the heat radiating from the stove like repentant sinners reaching for the light from above. If Jesus Himself had appeared before them, they would not have turned from the stove to greet Him, not even Isaiah Rowan. Rowan sat with his elbows on his knees, hands dangling between, his head bent, his eyes closed. His coat, made of moosehide, had stood the day better than their thick woolen overcoats, but even it was dark with melted snow and sweat, and it smelled of urine and wood smoke.
But then they all smelled.
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