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The Ice Wife
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-159-5
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 141 Pages
Published: February 2014



From inside the flap

Roland Johnson has carried around the guilt of his wife’s death for the past two years, after failing to hold onto her and letting the current of the Snake River carry her away when their canoe tipped over in a freak accident. Losing Choo (her nickname) and abandoned by his friends, he sells his farm in southern Idaho and, after many dreams of Choo in the snow, he decides that he’s tired of the stifling heat of the high desert and heads for Alaska to try and shock some meaning into his shattered life.

Stopping in the town of Tok on his way to Fairbanks, he visits the local watering hole and witnesses old Dr. Waller crying in his whiskey about a Veronica Stills, who was the wife of one of his WW2 buddies who had come to Alaska with him just after the war. Tired of the slow progress of the convoy, she had traveled ahead by herself and was never seen again. As Roland listens he cannot shake the feeling that Dr. Waller is somehow familiar to him, but soon realizes that he’s also seen the old man in his dreams. His friend Clyde looks disgusted and tells the doctor that he has to let her go already, but this just puts him in a worse state of mind.

The next morning, with the temperature at -50, Roland checks out of the lodge and heads for Fairbanks and his destiny. After only thirty miles he hits black ice on a corner, which causes him to spin out of control, smash through the guardrail near Yerrick Creek, and end up out of sight under the bridge with his foot caught between the brake pedal and firewall. Unable to escape the car and with the cold seeping in, he is dragged into the world of the Ice Wife, who is what Veronica Stills has become after years of being enslaved by the demon Ohno. Thus begins a day-and-a-half struggle against the cold, Ohno, and a scared Ice Wife, guided by the realm’s gatekeeper, a ghostly old native named Siqokte, to free her soul before it’s too late. Even his late wife gets involved from the grave.

The Ice Wife (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

REACHING THE LAST FRONTIER

The tone of the man's voice tugged at Roland's emotions, as though the old Alaskan was not only telling the story but had lived it, too. "We tried," he said. "She

was Bob's wife, you know? Yes sir, and what a wonderful woman she was, too. Oh, poor Ronnie." Suddenly his weathered face seemed to brighten a little. "She's back, you know? Oh, yes, our sweet Veronica is back." But just as quickly as Roland had seen the bar's light twinkle in the old man's sorrowful eyes, it disappeared. "Why did she have to go like that, Lord? And why couldn't we find her? We all loved her so much."

The old-timer whimpered into his shot glass, and somehow managed to toss most of the remaining whiskey down his throat with a shaky jerk of his wrist. He kept his head back as if the liquor were reluctant to slide down his gullet, then exhaled through clenched teeth with a shudder. "We couldn't find her, damn it!" He slumped lower on his stool. "We just couldn't find her."

It was thirty-five below zero outside the big wooden lodge, and Roland Johnson had finally made it to the Last Frontier. After four straight days of driving from Idaho, he was now just inside the Alaskan border in the small town of Tok, taking his leisure in the long, dimly lit lounge of the lodge. The old man looked familiar to him somehow.

"C'mon, Doc," said the frizzy-haired man sitting next to the old-timer. "You're starting to drink too much again. Remember what you told me last time? You wanted me to tell you if you start going over the edge ... remember, you old buzzard? Well, I'm telling you now!" Roland watched the skinny man grab his beer off the bar and take a long slobbery gulp, then smack it down again. He rubbed the black beanie perched atop his high forehead and glared at the old man through one watery eye. "Are you going to listen to me now?"

"If you only knew, Clyde," said the doctor. He crossed his arms along the bar's polished surface and let his head sag to rest on them. "If you had only known her, and then seen what happened to her." His breath began to come in muffled but loud huffs.

Clyde looked disgusted. "You've told me enough times where I feel like I've lived through that horrible affair myself, Doc. You can't bring her back! Don't you realize that? You have to let go, before you die a lonely old man with only the memory of a ghost on your mind."

"I can't. I just can't!" The old man shuddered and began to weep.

Roland finished his hot coffee and walked out of the lounge, sitting down in a big easy chair in the lobby. Relaxing into the cushions, he soaked in the warm vibrations from the huge log building. But the encounter stayed in his mind. I've seen him before, he thought again, recalling the white-haired man's face.

He was still there an hour later when Clyde stumbled through the heavy lounge door into the lobby, a big wad of keys in one hand and an unfiltered cigarette in the other. He grinned when he saw Roland. "Well, if it isn't the 'outa-townie.' What's up? Are you staying here tonight?" The scrawny man took a long drag on the cigarette.

"Yes, I am," said Roland, stretching his long arms.

"You probably should-that's for sure," said Clyde, looking outside. "It's going to get mighty cold out there tonight, but this place will keep you as snug as a bug. Where are you going, anyway?"

"Fairbanks." Roland took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"Oh, wow-that's quite a trip in this weather. I sure wouldn't want to be in your shoes. But then, it looks like you have a little better vehicle than my good old 'Blue Beastie' out there." Clyde looked out the big front window at his old Chevy truck parked in the lot. He sucked in his stomach and let out a large belch. "Excuse me, won't you? What's your name, Mr. 'Outa-townie'?"

"Roland. Roland Johnson." He reached out his hand to shake.

Clyde grabbed the hand and ratcheted it up and down. "Glad to make your acquaintance. I'm Clyde-Clyde Murphees. Have you been sitting here waiting for my skinny little ass to get out here or something?"

"Well, sort of ... actually, I want to talk to you about the old man," said Roland, still wondering where he had seen the elderly guy before.

"Old man?" asked Clyde, looking puzzled. "Oh, you mean Doc Waller, right? Now there's a real Alaskan sourdough for you, he's been here forever."

Roland sat up. "Is he the one you were just talking to?"

"Yeah, yeah, crazy old Doc Waller-that's right, I was just getting an earful from him again. Poor old coot, he's really.... Say, what do you want to know about him for?" Clyde glared at him through one eye.

"That story," said Roland. "You said you'd heard it before. Is it supposed to be true?"

"Heard it?" Clyde brayed. "Heard it? I know that story so well that sometimes I think it's my very own! Every time January rolls around and old Doc starts thinking about poor Veronica Stills-he always cries on my shoulder. Christ! Sometimes I don't even want to come down here to wet my whistle when he's like that. But I get such a powerful thirst, you know?"

"Who's Veronica Stills?" asked Roland, puzzled.

"Ronnie, that's what he calls her. 'Beautiful, beautiful Ronnie'," said Clyde. "She was the wife of one of the men in Doc's convoy that traveled up the Alcan Highway in the fall of 1946. For some reason she had went ahead of the group, by herself, and got into trouble. They couldn't find her-and they looked and looked, I'll tell you. She froze to death somewhere out there, and they still haven't found her body." Clyde shivered and did a little dance on the hardwood floor. "Gives me the jitters just thinking about it-but that loony old man won't quit reminding me of it every chance he gets. See what I mean, Mr. Traveling Man?"

Roland was beginning to think that making Clyde's acquaintance had been a mistake. Oh, God-what a lush. But since he'd initiated first contact he didn't want to be too rude. "What's Doc Waller got to do with her?" he asked. And why does he look so familiar?

Clyde squealed with glee. "That old goat was secretly in love with her. He says they all loved her so much, but I think it was mostly him-that's what I think. Don't get me wrong now, dude, I'm sure they all loved the heck out of her, but it was mostly him who was in love with her ... besides her husband, Bob, of course."

Roland had heard enough. This is fruitless. He's too sloshed. "I understand," he said. "Thank you, Clyde, you've been very helpful. I think I'll go to my room now and.... "

"Yes, sir," Clyde continued. "Old Doc was so smitten with her back then that he could hardly see straight-but nobody knew. Now the only problem was that her husband, Bob, was smitten with her, too, and he treated her real good so there was no way she was gonna leave him. Charlie had to suffer in silence."

"I see," said Roland.

"Then it happened." Clyde smiled, showing yellow teeth.

Roland almost didn't want to ask. "What?"

"Well, like I was saying," Clyde peeked through one eye again. "She was unhappy at how slow the rest of them were traveling, so in Tok she jumped into one of the new jalopies and told them she would wait in Delta Junction-which is only a hundred miles down the road toward Fairbanks, you see. Now, Bob, he didn't like the idea, but he knew how much she hated poking along with the big four-wheelers so he finally gave in. He figured that she'd make it that far all right. The last anyone ever saw of her she was tootling off in a brand new '46 Ford sedan, waving happily at the rest of them. But that was only until the next spring, mind you."

"What happened then?" Roland was getting interested again.

Clyde's eyebrows rose as his fingers waggled in the air. "People started seeing her icy ghost flitting about down by Yerrick Creek. That's when they found the car down in the ditch ... but no Veronica. Her husband almost went crazy after that, and poor old Doc hasn't been the same, either-and I can vouch for that. God, I got to run to the can!"

"You're not planning to drive, are you?" asked Roland, buttoning the top button on his red flannel shirt.

"Oh, yeah-I'm not that bad off, Roland, old buddy," Clyde wheezed around the cigarette that now dangled from his mouth.

Roland pulled himself to his feet and grabbed his Stetson from the diamond willow hat rack. "Don't be ridiculous, Clyde," he said, slipping the hat on over graying hair. "March back in there and give those keys to the bartender. Have him call you a cab-it's on me. I'll even leave enough for you to get your truck home after you've slept it off." He peered into the lounge, where the old doctor was still slouched over the bar.

"No way, man," said Clyde, trying to flick the long ash from his butt with a gnarly-looking finger. "I can get myself home-just like always. Why, if I start seeing double I'll just close one eye and everything will be fine." Swaying drunkenly back on his heels, Clyde barely caught himself and stumbled forward, dislodging the burdensome ash in the process. The curly ash floated down and splattered on one of Roland's new Red Wing boots in a bright white explosion.

Roland's jowl began to tremble. "Not while I'm around," he said. "Let's put it this way, Clyde, from 'the townie'-if you do, I'll call the cops myself." He clenched his teeth as he reached out to keep Clyde from stumbling over the easy chair. "You're in no condition to drive, and I don't even want to see you try." Roland could see that Clyde wasn't happy; at least, he figured that he probably wasn't the man's 'old buddy' from 'outa-townie' anymore. Clyde one-eyed him all the way to the cab and out of the frozen gravel parking lot.

Although Clyde had in a manner of speaking introduced him to Veronica Stills, and he was thankful for that (why, he wasn't really sure), Roland was still glad to see the last of the strange man. But Dr. Waller meant something to him, he was sure of it, because now he remembered why the old sourdough looked so familiar-it was his pleading face he had seen over and over in the nightmares that had plagued him for the last two years, since his wife's death. It seemed to Roland that the elder man was always wallowing in some kind of misery.