Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer.
I stood gazing into the dark long after she disappears. I stand glued to the spot, the tray in my arms all but forgotten as I try to make sense out of her warning. Who would do away with me? The old men running the place, the guards…who?
And what did she mean by the others. What others? Were there a lot of people locked in these cages before me.
The weight of the tray on my arms breaks into my thoughts. I walk over to the metal shelf and set the tray down and sit beside it. I don’t know what to do about this new development.
First I am swept off my ice sled, then the fall through the ice cavity to the bottom of this cavern. If the all of that and the discovery of the strangers on the path wasn’t enough, now I find myself locked up in a cage awaiting an uncertain future.
I take stock of what I have with me. Not much. I had forgotten my pack miles back when I had gone in search of water and then came across the people on the path. All I have remaining is my reading paper and my thermal suit. Not much to work with.
I remove my helmet and check to make sure I have powered off my thermal suit to save the batteries, I have a feeling I will need it when I take my leave of this place. The ominous warning by the girl resonates through my mind and I have no plans to be done away with by anybody.
The tray contains solid food of some sort and a flask of water. I sample the food while I sit in the dark. It’s good, unlike the drab sustenance I’m used to. Daydreaming I wonder what it’s like to live in this shiny city eating tasty food and walking about without a helmet to filter the air and no need for a heat suit.
Paradise I realize. Too bad I have come upon it under such unfriendly conditions. I gobble down the food and drain the flask then settle back waiting for whatever comes next.
I sit and try to remain vigilant but the combined warmth of the building and the food makes me sleepy.
The creaking of an opening door stirs me from my sleep; the lights in the room turn on. Blinking my eyes for focus it takes me a second to remember where I am. Voices approach from the doorway and then a group of old men gather at the bars of my cage inspecting me.
“Why have you come here? How did you find us?” One of the elders asks. “Who sent you?”
“I fell through the ice from the surface. No one sent me because we didn’t know you existed or that your city was down here.” I tied to explain. I watch the men look at each other, disbelieving looks exchanged between them.
“My name is Mike Ryan. I’m an ice racer. I come from the New Capital, a long way from here, at the base of Mount St. Helens.” I keep talking trying to convince them that what I say is the truth.
The group turns their back on me mumbling to each other amongst themselves. They turn back in my direction and continue watching me like a specimen in a…in a cage.
“We’ll be back to talk to you.” The spokesman for the group says as they leave. When the door closes the lights go out and I find myself standing in the dark alone with my thoughts again. I need a way out of this cage and I need it soon.
I hear a sound from the far end of the row of cages. The morning has passed. The same girl walks out of the darkness, another tray in her hands. She stops short of my cage and raises her head to look at me, wary that I’m standing close to the bars. Backing away I talk to her.
“What’s your name? What did you mean last night when you said they would do away with me?”
She slides the tray through the slot and waits for me to grab it then she backs away and with her head motions to the used tray sitting on the shelf. I quickly exchange trays and slide the empty one back through the slot.
“Annaliese.” She replies then lowers her eyes to the ground.
“Where are we Annaliese?” I ask trying desperately to start a conversation. She remains quiet and in the dim light I can see she’s nervous. “What is this place?” I try again.
“We live in the Adams Mountain City.” She very softly answers without raising her head. “You’re not here to spy on us like the others so that your people can return and attack us are you?” Her voice trembles as she asks the questions. “That’s what the prophets say.”
“The Climate Prophets?” I ask certain that I had heard her wrong.
She gasps and backs farther way from the cage. “You are going to attack us aren’t you?” She says. “How else would you know who they are?”
“No…no, I…” I scramble to pull my reading paper out of my suit and power it up. “Do you read?” I say as I show her the paper. She looks at me like I had just grown a third eye.
“Doesn’t everybody?” She replies. I have no answer for this because at our city we have extremely little reading material and to learn to read is not a luxury many want or need to spend time doing.
“Ah. Yeah, sure. I just thought…” I didn’t know what to say then remembering the paper I shove it toward her. “I only know about the Climate Prophets because of my great grand fathers diary.” I shook the paper hoping she would understand. “Who has been attacking you?”
“No one that any one remembers but the Prophets tell us this every time a stranger appears. It’s the only way to keep us safe they tell us before condemning the men to the oil mines.” She adds sadly. “No one knows what happens to them after that.”
The word oil catches my attention. “Oil. There hasn’t been oil for over two hundred years. It was outlawed and destroyed during the climate wars.” I said incredulously my hand tapping my reading paper.
Maybe I grew yet another eye on my face judging from the way she looks at me.
“What do you think powers this city, the lights and the heat? The huge air purifiers and the air pumps from the surface? All the equipment? Where are you from?” She finally asked.
Suddenly I become aware of the constant humming and vibrations I had been feeling, machines powered the city. I struggle with the concept. Nobody I know would think this is possible. We have a few very tiny crude generators at our city but the small amounts of fuels we have been able to find to run them make them almost useless.
A thousand questions rush into my brain and trip over each other as they leave my mouth. The girl, Annaliese, gets scared and backs farther away from my cage.
“I’ve said too much.” Her quiet voice almost blocked out by her retreating footsteps. “I will be back with your supper.”
With the bars grasped in my hands and my face pressed tight to the cage I call after her. Her footsteps fade into the darkness.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.