“We need to fix your hand,” Michael says after a few minutes. James doesn’t take his eyes off Alexander.
“Yeah,” Michael says, going back over to the first aid kit. “Looks painful.” He returns with a bottle of antiseptic, cotton wool and some gauze. “This might hurt.” He soaks the cotton wool with antiseptic. “How did this happen?”
James manages to take his eyes off Alexander long enough to see what he is talking about. Several deep gashes run across the centre of his palm and his knuckles and split are bruised.
“I hurt my palm in the avalanche,” he says, turning back to Alexander. “And I hurt my knuckles trying to break the ice in the lake.”
Michael doesn’t ask any more questions. He cleans and bandages James’ hand in silence. Alexander mutters something about snow angels and rolls over, turning away from James and sliding further down the bed. His hold on James’ hair loosens.
“He’s still too warm,” James says. “We need to cool him down.”
Michael puts the antiseptic and remaining gauze back into the first aid kit and returns to the bed, picking up the jacket he’d found in the cabin.
“I might wear this then,” he says, trying to smile. He pulls it on and puts on the spare gloves too. James notices for the first time that his breath is coming out in vaporous puffs.
“Here,” James says, starting to get out of the bed. He gently unhooks Alexander’s hand from his hair. “It’s warm in here. Lie down and get some rest.”
Alexander’s eyes flutter open. He looks around the room in a panic. His eyes settle on Michael.
“Uncle Michael,” he says in a small voice. “Where’s –”
“He’s right there,” Michael says, pointing to James. Alexander turns around. The panic on his face vanishes and he wriggles onto James’ lap, falling asleep again in seconds. Michael gives James a small smile.
“First of all, you’ll freeze to death out here given that your clothes are soaking wet. And second of all, he needs you. You. I am a poor substitute.”
Michael picks up the discarded bomber hat and pulls it on top of the woollen hat he is already wearing.
“I’ll be just fine, brother. It’s much warmer in here than it was out there, and I survived that. We all did.”
James glances at the pile of snow that fell into the entrance when he opened the door. It has started to melt.
“I guess this place is insulated enough to retain some heat,” he says, looking through the single window at the snow drifting down from the sky. He runs his hand through Alexander’s hair, trying not to hear his desperate, fearful screams echoing in his mind.
He knows he will never forget them. They will haunt him forever.
“Michael…” he says in an effort to distract himself. “What are…What are we…” He can’t bring himself to say it. He takes a silent breath in. “No one knows we are here, Mike. No one knows to look for us.”
“It will be okay,” Michael says, sitting down heavily on a chair. He rubs his thigh. “We’ll figure something out. There must be something that we’ve missed. This is a park ranger cabin. There has to be a satellite phone here or something. There has to be. We’ve just missed it.”
“But what if it’s not?” James asks, finally saying what he’d been thinking since the moment they arrived. “What if we are wrong?”
Michael is silent for a long moment before he answers. “What else could it be? This is a national park. Some random person couldn’t be living here.” He kneads his thigh. “No. It has to be ranger cabin. There has to be a phone here somewhere. I mean there’s a generator, canned food, blankets, a first aid kit…They can’t have all that and no means of communication. That just doesn’t make sense.”
James chews the inside of his cheek and doesn’t say what he is thinking. Michael yawns and stretches out his leg onto the chair in front of him . He folds his arms across his chest.
“I think for now we’d do well to get some sleep,” he says, shifting into a more comfortable position. He glances over at James’ and Alexander’s clothes, which he has strung across a make-shift washing line attached between the other two chairs.
“I’m not convinced those will be dry any time soon,” he says, watching the water drip onto the floor. “We might have to see what else we can do. Maybe run the radiator from the generator just until the clothes are dry.”
James frowns. “There’s a radiator? So why the hell are you sitting there breathing out frost?”
“We need to preserve the gas. I had a look around; there’s only a gallon spare at most. Once that runs out, we won’t have any power. We can’t waste it.”
James would like to argue, but he knows Michael is right. Although neither of them has said it, they both know it is too risky to venture out into the snow again, especially now that they have no idea which way to go. They have to stay in the cabin until help arrives.
James tries not to wonder how help will know to arrive in the first place.
“Okay,” he says, looking at his dripping clothes. “Run the radiator. At least the cabin will heat up while it’s on. Hopefully it will retain enough heat to take the chill out of the air.
Michael nods and gets up. He takes the clothes outside first and wrings out as much water as he can before bringing them back inside. He sets up the radiator and angles it so that it blows its warmth onto the clothes. He sits back down and massages his leg.
“Maybe you should take something,” James says, watching him. “Are there other pain killers in the first aid kit?”
“Just the Tylenol,” Michael says, pushing harder on his thigh, “and we need to keep that for Alexander.”
James shakes his head. “You can take a couple, Mike. Seriously. You’re in pain.”
Michael stops rubbing his thigh. “I’m fine,” he says, crossing his arms. “I don’t need anything.”
James wants to get out of the bed and force feed him a couple of pills, but he doesn’t. Instead he looks at Alexander, who is still sleeping peacefully in his lap.
“He’ll be okay,” he says, although he’s not sure if he’s trying to convince himself or Michael. “Take a couple of pills. You’ve pushed yourself far too hard lately.”
“I’m fine,” Michael repeats.
“I said I’m fine, brother,” he says firmly. “Now drop it.” He pulls his hats down further until they nearly cover his eyes. The room has already started to warm up. It’s becoming almost pleasant.
“I think we should both sleep for a bit,” Michael says, yawning again. “I’ll search through the cupboards again in a few hours. I must have just missed the phone. I’m sure I’ll find it with fresh eyes.”
James nods. Between the warmth of the bed and the increasing warmth of the cabin, he’s feeling drowsy. Michael reaches for his phone on the table.
“I’ll set an alarm for an hour from now so I can get up and turn off the radiator. That should be enough time for the clothes to dry.”
James is already settling down to sleep. Alexander tangles their limbs together and snuggles into the crook of his neck. He mumbles James’ name.
“When my clothes are dry you can take the bed,” James says, yawning.
Michael doesn’t answer. James looks up. He’s already fast asleep.