Never. Mind. Pak was right beside me, yelling to be heard over
the wind that suddenly swept down the slope. The first blast tore his
words apart. A second blast hit just as he tried again. To keep my balance,
I turned sideways, which may be why I could hear the wind and
nothing else. I thought my right ear might be ripped off in the gale, but
not before it froze solid. I imagined an ice cube with my ear inside skittering
along the ground, bouncing against trees and rocks, until at last it
came to rest at the foot of the mountain. It might be deemed a new listening
post of substantial value. Good work, Inspector, someone in
the Ministry would say months hence, after all the paperwork on my
commendation was complete, but I would only hear ice melting off the
rocks, since my ear would not be in range of commendations.
No, Ill do it. Ill do it, I said to Pak when the wind died down for a
moment and I could feel that my ear was still attached. I brushed more
snow off my coat and tried to use the sleeve to clear the lenses. But we
might as well quit. Really, being out here is not healthy. Then the wind
started again, furious at something, howling, smashing any words that
dared emerge. The last thing in the world we needed was to climb a
mountain in this weather. We werent dressed for it, not through lack of
foresight on our part. The Ministry just didnt issue anything fit for
climbing mountains in the middle of a blizzard. The only thing were
going to find is frostbite, I said. The lenses were still frosted over, though
at least now they were glistening.
Pak hunched his shoulders. Relax, Inspector. Dont get in a sweat,
or youll get frostbite for sure. He reached for the binoculars. You
know, your ears dont look normal, especially the right one. Funny color
for flesh. He cocked his head. Are you alright? Pull down those flaps,
why dont you? He tugged down his own and pointed to his ears.
Thats why they put them on these hats. Costs us extra, you know.
Might as well use them, snaps or not.
To hell with earflaps, I thought and put my hands back in my pockets.
To hell with standing in the cold. This is ugly weather. I was shouting
at the top of my lungs, but from the look on his face, I didnt think
Pak could hear me. We cant even see our boots in this wind! It surprised
me that I could still form words; my cheeks were numb, and the
feeling had practically drained from my lips. Well be stuck in that miserable
hut back there for days. I jerked my head in the direction of the
peaks, made nearly invisible by the snow, unless the wind had become so
strong it was actually blowing apart the light. Hell freeze to death up
there. I didnt point because I didnt want to take my hands from my
pockets again. Well be lucky to find him next May. Pak gave me a
blank stare. I shouted louder. If hes down here in the next few minutes,
well invite him to dine. Ill warm my ears in the soup. The wind
shrieked and knocked me sideways a step.
Pak shook his head. What? I cant hear you with these flaps down.
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