Chapter 7: The Icehole
Jake felt another forceful push on his shoulders as the sound of helicopter blades whipped rudely in his ears. He opened his eyes to see the white landscape outside the window gradually drawing closer to his position. Everything appeared hazy at first, but quickly cleared up as he rubbed his eyes into focus. As he studied the scene beyond the frosted window, he took notice of its barrenness. The fields of ice came across like a silent ocean, eternally trapped under a breaking wave. At least, that was probably how Kate saw it. She took a steady picture of it.
“Are you making a private photo album, too?” he asked.
“That’s five more pictures, Jake.”
Oh right, the bet. For a moment he had forgotten about it, but thank goodness Kate was hasty to remind him. Problem was that Jake was too tired to bother with it at this point. The trip to the icecap wasn’t his idea to begin with, and he really didn’t think there would be anything particularly exciting about it once he got there. Whether or not he used up his film on her or the photo site was irrelevant by now. So, he figured he would just get his wasted pictures over with. He snapped his camera in rapid-fire succession, then put it back in his case. For all he knew he could have taken five pictures of the back of his seat and he wouldn’t have cared.
“The crew is waiting to take us down,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Jake followed her as she stepped coolly out of the cabin. Once he set foot onto the snow himself, he finally felt the effects of the wolf attack. It came across more like a muscle pain than it did a leg wound. He looked down to discover a shoddy bandage tied around the affected area. Fortunately, there were no blood spots.
“Thanks for fixing up my leg,” he said. “Despite my putting your life in danger, that was pretty considerate of you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “I figured one of us should be considerate today.”
Jake might have been tired, but he knew a cheap shot when he heard one. But, to his dismay, he didn’t feel like shooting back. After all, she didn’t have to bandage him in his sleep. Likewise, she didn’t have to come back for him when the angry wolves were on his tail, or put up with his incessant whining about his boredom since the assignment had begun. Realistically, he probably owed her that cheap shot.
“You figured well,” he said.
When they got to the destination site—a hole in the ice—they found ropes connected to pulleys designed to lower them in. Jake peeked over the edge to see a mammoth drop from the surface to the darkened depths of the abyss below. He wasn’t sure where it stopped because the light didn’t reach that far down. All he knew was that Kate expected them to take pictures of it. It was one of those moments where he had realized they were there for a reason, but he didn’t understand why this had to be the reason. Maybe some people would like to have pictures of ice, but for the life of him he couldn’t quite talk himself into wasting film on it. He figured if the public wanted to see ice that badly, they could open their freezers and peek inside. He felt a nudge against his shoulder.
“Jake, aren’t you listening to them?” Kate asked.
He had no idea what she was talking about.
“They’re telling us how to be careful down there,” she said. “They don’t usually let nature photographers do this because of the danger level. So pay attention.”
Jake couldn’t have cared less about danger levels. He had climbed mountains before. This couldn’t have been that much different. She obviously worried too much. He bent down to massage his leg for the grand adventure ahead.
After a few minutes of preparation had passed, he and Kate hooked themselves into the ropes and carefully stepped over the lip of the hole. Within moments, they were rappelling down the ice cliff. Jake remembered the last time he had hung suspended over a huge drop, using only a rope as his lifeline to safety. That was the day a mountain goat had almost head-butted him off the ravine; he had tried to make it wear boxing gloves for a sports calendar he was doing. He laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Kate asked. She was dangling a few feet above him.
“Nothing. Think we’ll find any pissed off penguins down here?”
“Not likely. Wrong hemisphere. They say we might find some rivers of melted ice though. Isn’t that exciting?”
The excitement couldn’t have contained him. At least that’s what he wanted to tell her. Jake had no interest in finding a river down there. He wanted to find snow rabbits eating bananas or something. This was going to be a joke.
While he continued to lower himself down the rope, he looked around from wall to wall to see if he could find anything worth photographing. He managed to spot one angle that was fairly interesting, or at least one more interesting than anything else he could possibly find down here. If for nothing else, he thought he could take it for Kate. The angle aimed upward from his position, and the ice from that angle looked as if it were made out of a deep blue pinwheel, with a hole of light shining through, and some ropes hanging down, like a blue monster whose tendrils were the support necessary for these unfortunate ice climbers to climb out of its throat. He stopped his rappelling midway and took the picture.
“Jake,” said Kate. “What are you doing? Keep going.”
“Just trying to get the shot no one else wants to take,” he said. “That’s all.”
Kate slightly tapped him on the head with her foot. He assumed this was her way of saying that she meant it. To avoid any further kicks to the brain, Jake continued rappelling down until he reached the bottom. Once they touched the crystalline ground after many minutes of descent, he saw the river Kate was talking about.
The river mimicked any other frigid channel of water that came complete with floating ice fragments and a huge canopy of solid blue ice hanging wickedly over it. It raged mildly compared to the slow trickle of the wolves’ river, but not so quickly that someone would get swept away should they be stupid enough to go for a swim. Small chunks of ice crumbled from the banks and fell like cookie crumbs into the current. Jake touched the water to see if there was anything unique about it, or if anything would try to swim to the surface and bite him. Other than that it was really cold, he didn’t notice anything unusual. It felt and flowed like water. Kate took a picture of it.
“Can you believe it, Jake?” she asked. Her face was alight with excitement. “Do you think anyone back at the office has ever seen anything like this?”
Jake took his shoe off from his wounded limb and carefully removed the bandage. After setting it aside and rolling up his pant leg, he sat by the bank and stuck his leg in the river. The cold water was not the least bit comfortable, but he thought it might be good for his injury.
From out of nowhere, a series of high beam flashlights illuminated the interior of the ice cavern, revealing more shades of blue on the walls than he could count. Grooves and alcoves in the cliff walls made the icecap’s interior seem almost like a labyrinth, where every hole led to somewhere new. Jake studied the patterns to figure out if they had been formed by nature or by burrowing animals. Even though he knew deep down that God had a bigger hand in the formation of these grooves than some rabid little ice creature, he still kept his eyes open just in case. Perhaps sometime before this journey ended, something might jump out of one of the holes and plummet toward the river. He figured if that happened, that might make the underground excursion worthwhile.
“Jake,” said Kate, “are you all right?”
He wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Was he all right from being attacked by a wolf, or was he all right from going down into this pit and being expected to take pictures of things that didn’t interest him or his vision for the calendar? He took a picture of a nearby icicle because it was there.
“They say there are some neat ice patterns along the walls about a quarter-mile down the river,” she said. “Think you can make it?”
Jake flipped backward into the ice and spread his arms out to stretch. With his body expanded and his damaged leg soaking in the hypothermia maker, he realized that this was the best place he could be in this deep frozen abyss. He closed his eyes to give his answer. Kate didn’t say anything more. A moment later he reopened them to see that she was gone.
Jake couldn’t take the numbing boredom any longer. He had been down in the hole, wandering by himself for at least two or three hours, trying to find something worth capturing on film, but the only things he found worthy were all related to falling icicles. One icicle had crashed into the river, making a huge splash. Another had hit the wall in such a way that it took out a large chunk of ice and knocked it to the ground. The last one he had managed to photograph was cool only because he envisioned running the picture through an imaging program before adding fire to the scene. Of course, he valued himself as more of a purist than that. But all in all, he didn’t think there was any reason to be tormented with this nonsense any longer. Fed up with the lack of necessity to be down here, and fed up with his forced silence in regard to Kate’s photography methods, he returned to the rendezvous point and climbed the rope back to the top. Upon reaching the surface, he climbed into the helicopter and went to sleep. Remaining deep in slumber was how he had wanted to spend his day anyway. He figured he could deal with Kate’s wrath for abandoning the icehole later.