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Black Ice by Anna Reith

$2.99

5.00 out of 5 based on 1 customer rating
1 Review

Rookie trucker Jack is stoked for his first solo trip on the Arctic Road. But, out there on the ice, there are things that shouldn’t exist outside of stories.

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Description

At the roof of the world, with no one to hear him scream, Jack is excited to prove himself. Everything rides on his new job, and he doesn’t want to let anyone down.

However, out in the frozen wilderness, there’s nothing between Jack and his thoughts… or the tricks the mind can play when the landscape is empty of everything except frightening legends.

They’re only stories, though… right?

 


This short story is also available in the volume ‘Black Ice: collected stories‘, which can be purchased in ebook and paperback formats.


 

Additional information

Writer

Anna Reith

ISBN

978-1-907623-36-3

Kindle ASIN

B0083V968U

Length

7800 words (21 .pdf pages)

Available formats

.pdf, .epub (provided in a .zip file)

Cover design

Anna Reith

Read an excerpt


An Excerpt from:

BLACK ICE

© Anna Reith. All rights reserved.


“I’ll kill you,” Lenny warned, and Jack knew he meant it.

Lenny always meant it, whatever he said, which was why he didn’t say much a lot of the time. He was just that kind of guy… though, in all probability, it wouldn’t be so much ‘kill’ as ‘kick really hard in the balls’. After all, Lenny had promised Jack’s mom he’d look after him, or at least make sure he didn’t die stupidly before his first trip.

After that, Lenny said, he was on his own.

Jack stuck one arm out of the truck’s window and waved dismissively at the man who’d just become his supervisor as well as his friend.

“Aw, you won’t do that,” he teased, as he began to coax the rig into gear and nose it towards the edge of the yard. “You love me, Sugarcake!”

Lenny, bundled up in so much weatherproof gear all Jack could see of him was his dark moustache, mirrored snow glasses and a little bit of weathered red nose, snorted.

“I’m not kidding!” He raised his voice over the noise of the truck’s engine and the sound of its massive wheels creaking on the snow. “You screw this up, and if the ice don’t get you, I will. I’ll send you back home in pieces, kid. Mess up, you make a fool outta me… man, that is it. Toast! And don’t you forget it!”

Jack grinned, his attention on his rear view and wing mirrors, aware of the weight of his load hanging on the truck’s steering. He’d been begging Lenny to bring him north for years, ever since he got his Class I license and realised how much more money he could make driving in the short Arctic season instead of spending all year hauling on plain old asphalt.

Lenny had spent half his life driving on the roof of the world. He’d started out about the age Jack was now—too old for incompetence and too young for respect—and worked up to hold a trusted position with one of the biggest trucking firms in this part of the country. Jack owed the guy big time for sticking his neck out on his behalf, taking this chance and putting him forward for the job. He wasn’t about to waste the opportunity. Of course, that was easy to say until he really thought about driving a twenty ton vehicle across two hundred miles of ice that, in some place, might be as little as forty inches thick.

It was a pretty scary prospect, but Jack knew that stopping to dwell on it before he made his first run would be pretty much the stupidest thing he could do.

He made the turn at the mouth of the yard without problems, just like he’d done in evaluation, and caught a glimpse of Lenny’s nod of approval, and maybe the suggestion of a smile hidden under all that weatherproof gear. Jack grinned to himself and pointed the truck’s nose ahead. Yeah, he was good to go. Flying solo at last.

He didn’t know of anything like the Winter Road existing anywhere else in the world. Of course, it had no reason to, did it? Nowhere else had man been arrogant enough to assume he could walk right over the goddamn ocean and take what he wanted. People were always willing to risk lives for the right rewards… maybe not always their own lives, but the point stood. Right up here, where the weather became an enemy and everything sensible turned inside out, there were reserves of natural gas, diamonds, and all kinds of other junk worth millions. Worth enough to endanger the lives of men who spent months isolated from the rest of civilisation, chipping treasure out of the frigid earth. Communities grew up around those desperate places, industrial shantytowns of steel and grease, and they needed supplies to keep going. Those supplies could only be brought during a few frozen months, when the ice that crusted the whole region grew thick enough to support carefully scheduled vehicle runs. It wasn’t risk-free, obviously, but money makes men do crazy things and, Jack reflected, driving a big rig across a frozen river probably wasn’t the dumbest thing he’d ever do with his life. It might be the last, but… he didn’t plan on thinking like that. Not now.

He waved at Lenny again one last time, and knew he meant every word he’d said. Since Jack’s real dad never bothered to be around much, Lenny had been the closest thing to a father in his life, but that wouldn’t count for anything if Jack made a mess of things today. If anything, it’d just add to how mad Lenny would be, after he’d gone through so much to fix up this chance.

Jack steeled his nerves and ran back over all the things he’d learned on his evaluations and written tests. So much to remember, all choking up behind his eyes as the ice-rimed grey shapes of the yard receded into the distance and his truck headed on towards the road. There were rules about speed; you had to take the whole deal slow and steady, because the pressure of the truck’s weight on the ice caused the water beneath—the actual salty, honest-to-God Arctic Ocean, in some parts—to ripple in waves beneath the surface of the road. Fluctuations like that spelled disaster if they got too big or too sudden, and cracks could appear right under your wheels, sending both truck and driver to an immediate, icy grave. Of course, the whole thing was shifting all the time.

Jack had found that the hardest thing to get used to on his evaluation run. Every minute left unfilled with talking or radio chatter, he could hear the Ice Road crack under his truck’s tyres, as if the landscape was readjusting itself around his presence. It seemed an uneasy truce, like the place didn’t really want him, or the land itself was complaining. That had scared the crap out of him at first, and he’d kept on jawing to cover it up, cranked the radio high and tried to ignore it. Lenny had put a stop to that pretty damn quick. Can’t ignore Mother Nature, he’d said, because that’s when she gets to be a really mean bitch. You had to learn how to listen to it, how to judge how safe you were, and you had to stay alert at every second.

So, now, on his first solo run and with his first paid load, Jack found himself alone with nothing but the world inside his truck to protect him from the world outside it. Behind his cab, echoing gloomily, sat the empty barrel of the truck’s massive vacuum tank, ready to be filled when he reached his destination. That destination was the Nordschatz barge, a huge vessel that—for five months of the year—stopped being a floating research lab and became a kind of oasis of the ice. Trapped in the big freeze, she couldn’t move or fend for herself and, dependent on supplies, she was forced to just wait, dormant with her crew still on board, until the thaw.

Jack’s job would be to take care of what, as he understood, bilge pumps usually did. He’d have to get the vac truck up there—effectively out into the middle of the goddamned water—pump out who knew how many hundreds of gallons of shit, and cart it back to the treatment plant another hundred and fifty miles away. The thought that stayed with him was that, if something went wrong, he would most likely die sitting on top of several tons of crap. He’d said as much to Lenny, who’d laughed and told him rookies always got the shit jobs… literally.

Thing was, that wasn’t strictly true. Jack knew this particular job came as a measure of Lenny’s trust in him. Handling what could only be described with any delicacy as a liquid load wasn’t going to be easy. The added movement of everything sloshing around in there would make the rig wallow and pitch if he wasn’t careful, turning an already tricky drive into something truly treacherous. Lenny believed him capable of managing it, though, and that counted for a lot. Jack wasn’t about to let him down, so he knuckled under, concentrated on the symphony of noises the truck made—the rattle of the heater, the whirs, clicks and fizzes on the radio, and the idiosyncratic little clatters of her engine—and just focused on the job in hand.

He found it easier once he got away from the last edges of town and struck the road itself, where he knew he had to think of the ice, to be alert the whole time, but where there were fewer distractions from it. No more hesitation, no more psyching himself up, just going. There was nothing around him but white, the boundaries of the road marked out by snow banks, fresh-turned every night by the maintenance crews who raked up and down stretches of the ice, repairing the surface, eternally testing and checking for fissures and weaknesses.

Jack had talked to one of those guys at the bar back in town. He said you saw weird shit up on the ice at night. Jack reckoned that would be pretty logical; the snow ate up all the normal distinctions between ground and sky, horizon and perspective. You had nothing but the distant treelines beyond the frozen river to say what could be real, and what was just your eyes trying to make sense out of the wilderness. Sometimes the Northern Lights danced across the sky, adding to the weirdness with their sinuous shapes and eerie colours. It wasn’t surprising there were stories. When all guys saw for nights on end was different shades of snow and the occasional headlight… well, anyone would start to people this wasteland with things from their own imagination. And that was probably all it had ever been, Jack felt sure.


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1 review for Black Ice by Anna Reith

  1. 5 out of 5


    I love stories set in the cold. Really, any tale set in an inhospitable, alien environment, but there’s something about the icy poles that captures the imagination: Lovecraft did it with his Mountains of Madness, John Carpenter did it with The Thing.

    But where these men wrote of the frozen south, Anna Reith has captured the isolation of a far northern world, and she has done it in a more modern light: that of an ice-road trucker.
    I won’t give a synopsis because the story is short enough (and conveniently-priced enough) to read for oneself, but I will say that Reith’s writing draws you in with relatable characters, settings that serve a purpose other than simple backdrop, and slick storytelling that is tight tight tight.

    This is a weird tale where things aren’t exactly explained–and when it comes to truly unsettling fiction, I’d have it no other way.

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