by Kate Ward ’23
The ice creaked and groaned, my pickaxe clanking dully against the ice. I could barely make out the animal we were meant to be digging out from the ice. The museum needed it by morning, an impossible deadline. I looked at my coworkers who were shivering and trying to coax a fire to spark in the icy cavern.
“It isn’t going to work, man, my hands are shaking too much,” Tommy said as he gave up on the fire and decided to light a cigarette.
“I thought you gave that up,” Jennifer gestured to the cigarette as she continued to try and spark a flame.
Tommy shook his head. “Tried patches and gum, even tried those flavored things kids like but-” a long drag and a puff of smoke, “didn’t work.”
“Work will keep you busy enough so you don’t have to kill yourself,” I mentioned as I swung my pick forward into the ice.
He grunted, “I been workin’ longer than you’ve been alive, boy.”
“Good, so you should be used to it by now,” I grouched. I hated Tommy; he never pulled his weight.
“He’s right you know, just help the kid out,” Jennifer said as she dusted her hands on her pants and slowly stood up, knees cracking.
“I don’t need to do anything. I am taking a break,” Tommy argued, a frown curling his lips.
I turned towards him fully, “Yeah? Taking a break? You’ll take a permanent break once this axe finds a home in your skull!”
Jennifer lifted a hand, a soft laugh bubbling from her, “Stop, stop, boys. We don’t need to do this.”
Tommy leaned against the wall of the cavern, nursing his cigarette. “We have plenty of time. But if you want to kill me, please do the honors so I can get out of here.”
I shook my head, pinching the bridge of my nose. “You are insufferable! I want to go home just as much as you do, so help me!”
Jennifer had fallen silent. I looked at her to support my point but instead, she looked petrified. Her eyes dilated, face going pale. “I don’t think you need to do any more work.”
“What do you mean?” I asked them, back turned to the ice wall I was working away at.
A foot emerged, then a tusk, as an enraged, rumbling roar shook the cavern. I dropped the pickaxe and staggered back a few steps. “I see what you mean now.”
“You two are both being dramatic,” Tommy said as he turned to face us. The cigarette dropped from his lips, hitting the ground with a light pat. “What on… God’s green Earth is that thing?”
“If you read the assignment, it’s the mammoth we are supposed to be transporting to the museum,” I whispered as the ice wall gave way and the beast emerged, slowly shaking the ice and snow from its woolly pelt.
Tommy picked up my pickaxe and held it defensively. “And why, pray tell, is it awake?”
“Why don’t you ask it?” I replied as I looked up at the looming creature in front of me.
“Why don’t we get the hell out of here?” Jennifer cried before starting to scramble across the frozen floor towards the mouth of the cavern.
The mammoth stamped its front legs, lifting its trunk as it released another mighty roar. I turned and started to move after Jennifer. Running was awful, it was a chore; it felt like when I try to run in my dreams, sluggish and lagging. I grabbed Tommy by the jacket sleeve and tried to haul him with me but the large man shook me off and ran toward the mammoth.
“Don’t!” I shouted as I slid to a stop, watching as he swung the pick at the mammoth’s tree trunk leg.
Upon impact, both Tommy and the mammoth howled and screamed. The mammoth swung its head and its tusks, catching Tommy and flinging him against the wall. Tommy hit the wall and crumpled in a heap. The mammoth grunted and charged at him, lowering his head angrily.
“Stop! Stop, no! Hey, look over here!” I picked up a chunk of ice and hurled it at the mass of fur. That only seemed to anger it further. It reared up and its front feet came down hard upon Tommy. Blood and chunks of his body splattered against the ice, then the mammoth turned on me.
“We’re out of time,” I whispered.