Cheechako | By: drksideofthemoon | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share


drksideofthemoon© 2006

While this story is fictional, the facts surrounding this story are true. On August 16th, 1896 gold was discovered at Bonanza Creek by three men, George Carmacks, Skookum Jim, and Tagish Charlie. Most of the world was oblivious to the gold strike until the steamship Excelsior docked in San Francisco on July 15th, 1897. On board were miners and a half million dollars in gold. Three days later a crowd of five thousand greeted the arrival of sixty-eight miners on the steamship Portland in Seattle. Also on board was a million dollars in gold from the Klondike. The rush was on. It is said that over one hundred thousand stampeders headed for the gold fields and only thirty thousand completed the journey.

Cheechako was a Chinook word to describe newcomers. In the Klondike it was used to describe a person who hadn\'t spent a full winter in the Yukon.

I had journeyed north from Seattle to the Klondike as soon as I heard the whisperings of gold being discovered. I arrived in Dyea in January of eighteen-hundred and ninety-eight. All of my fellow passengers had the same dream. Pull that damned bitch called Gold from the ground, fill my pockets with her and return a rich man.

She had held me in her grip, she was like a sickness. I was like a drunk following her siren\'s song. I had sold everything I had and left my life behind. I had been told that miners were being met at the Canadian border and weren\'t being allowed to cross unless they had a years worth of supplies. I was glad that I had purchased most everything that I would need in Seattle and paid the cost of having it transported on the ship that brought me north. Merchants in Dyea and Skagway were charging ten times and more what the goods had sold for in Seattle.

There were men in Skagway that would transport goods up over the White Pass by horse and pack mule. I lacked the necessary funds, so like most; I hauled my supplies up over the Chilkoot Trail. Fifty-three trips I made up and down that stairway to Hell. A solid string of men, and yes, even some women snaked their way up that grueling trail. I heard stories of men falling and taking hours to get back in the line. No one wanted to stop and let someone in the line for fear of stopping and not having the energy to start again. It was mind-numbing and back-breaking, one step after another, and each step was up. There was no respite, no flat areas to catch one\'s breath. Just one more step, moving ever higher up the side of the mountain with the weight of the pack tearing at my shoulders.

I paid what little money I had left to a brawling, boozing woman, Two-Gun Tessie to stand guard over my stash at the top of the trail. She guarded my goods, and the goods of many other would be gold miners with an eagle eye and a shotgun in her hand and a pistol on her hip. Tess had a lusty laugh and bawdy sense of humor. From what I saw of her, she could out-drink, out-fight, and out-shoot most of the men in the Klondike. I lost track of her once we set sail on Lake Bennett. I never did know what became of her.

I lost count of the number of days I climbed that murderous trail. I spent both night and day following the back of the man directly in front of me until the top of the trail was breeched. How I cursed that bitch named Gold with every step I took. I screamed in agony for my release from her. I had sworn no oath, nor had I signed any pledge, but still, she held me like none other. She came to me in my dreams, making promises I knew she would not keep. I swore each time before I reached the top, that once back at the bottom I would find passage back south and leave that cursed land behind. Each time, when I got to the bottom I would be back in the grip of gold-lust, and I would load my pack once again and make my way back up that chain of human misery.

There would be no rest for the seekers of Satan\'s Horde. The supplies still had to be hauled overland to Lake Bennett. Two thousand pounds of goods to be moved from the summit of the Chilkoot to the shores of Lake Bennett, and a detachment of the Northwest Mounted Police at the border to ensure each man had the required ton of supplies.

There were a stern looking lot, those men with their scarlet tunics and Stetson hats. There were thousands of men like myself and scarcely a dozen of them. Straight as an arrow they were. Stern, but fair, money could not sway them from their duty sworn.

I saw one yegg draw down on one them one day. The constable was going to confiscate the sixteen barrels of cheap, watered-down-hooch the man had hauled up from the coast. I never had seen a man so cool, and so calm while staring death in the eye. He pointed to his uniform and said to the whiskey trader, \"Don\'t you see? I am a Queen\'s man. You may put me down, of that there is no doubt as you have the draw on me, but the men like me will be on your trail. They will come in twos and threes. There will be no trail too harsh for them to travel, and no place too remote for you to hide. So, if you do not want to spend the rest of your days looking back over your shoulder, listening for their avenging cries, I suggest you holster you piece and let me get on with my work.\"

Well, you could have heard a pin drop that day up there on top. The man looked like a beaten cur. He turned around and took his load of devil\'s brew back down to the saloons of Skagway.

They treated me fair and checked over my goods. With a smile and a nod they let me through.

Lake Bennett was froze up solid by the time I had arrived. I parded up with a grizzled old miner who had been on the trail for gold for most of his life. \"Stick with me, chum,\" he said. \"An\' I\'ll show ya the ropes.\" And thus started my association with Swede Knudsen.

We spent our days cutting logs and hauling to our stash on the shore of that lake. By nights we would sit by the fire and talk like men do when alone and so far from home. Some man had hauled up a piano on the back of a horse. It sat cockeyed on the shore, and he would stretch out his talon-like fingers and begin to play. Tess would get half-liquored up and begin to sing. I would lay on my bedroll, and look at the stars, and drift away in the words of her songs.

Our raft was as sturdy a craft as there was on the shores of that frozen lake. We had found a clear spot on the bank and had our camp set up there. It seemed that near every tree had been cut down to build rafts and to fuel the fires at night. As far as the eye could see, there were all manners of barges and rafts ready to make the five hundred mile trip to Dawson.

I thought the spring thaw would never come. The days turned to weeks, and the weeks turned slowly into months. There were all manner of people gathered in that spot. Some were hard working and honest. Others were shiftless and cunning, they were willing and ready to take advantage of some unsuspecting miner. Confidence men and card sharks roamed the shores looking for easy pickings. The men in red sent more than one of these ne\'er-do-wells packing back across the border with a stern warning to never return.

At nights the tales were told, and some by men who professed to have known Tagish Charlie, Skookum Jim and George Carmacks. They told of stories of men moving rocks in the creeks of the Klondike and finding gold as thick as cheese on a sandwich. Their eyes would glaze over as they told the tales, and I have to admit, that I was as caught up in their tales as the next man. Some pretended to have secret maps or knowledge of places that lay untouched. And maybe, just maybe, for the right amount of coin, they could be persuaded to share in their secrets.

We had heard the sounds of the ice creaking and groaning for several days. Swede\'s face lit up and he smiled at me. \"It won\'t be long now, lad, the ice, she\'s ready to go.\"

On the morning of May 29th, a roar arose from the banks of the lake. People were running, yelling and pointing. The ice had left! The lake was clear! We hastily packed the remaining goods on our raft and set out. It has been said that seven-thousand rafts and barges set out on that morning. I will not argue that estimate as the lake seemed near covered with home-built craft of every size and manner.

The weather was warmer now and as we made our way through Windy Arm and Tagish Lake the signs of spring were apparent. The journey up river was fraught with peril. More than one poorly built craft broke up going through the rapids to the south of Lake Labarge.

I soon learned to curse the warmer weather, for with it came the mosquito, that wicked little vampiric creature with its incessant buzzing. My arms and face were covered with the bites. I had bites upon my bites. We tried all manner of remedies to stop the itching; none were entirely successful I wondered if I would make it to the gold fields with any blood left in my veins.

The sun barely set at that time of the year in those northern climes. By the time we arrived in Dawson, the snow and ice were but a memory. Dawson City was a booming city, and some say the largest city north of San Francisco. Tents had sprung up like mushrooms after the rain. The streets were mucky ribbons of mud. A few wooden sidewalks had been built by owners of the more prestigious and permanent establishments.

Swede and I spent little time in Dawson, the lure of that yellow metal held us in her grip. We set out to the creeks to stake our claims and make our fortune. A steady stream of fortune seekers poured forth from Dawson, each eager to mine the treasure from the ground and streams. Gold, it was the fuel that drove the engine of excess called Dawson in the summer of eighteen-hundred and ninety-eight.

Men fresh from the creeks would toss a nugget the size of man\'s thumb to a dancehall girl for nothing more than a quick cuddle and a kiss. Bad whiskey was five dollars for a watered down shot and a can of oysters would cost a man close to a month\'s wages from what he made back in the south.

Swede had studied the maps of the area before we set out to seek our fortune. He had spotted a creek on the map on the wall of the claims office that everyone else had bypassed. He tapped the stub end of his pipe on the thin, squiggly line on the map and winked at me. \"That\'s where we\'re heading off to.\"

We purchased a map and we set out to make our fortune. Somehow Swede had managed to get into a card game in one of the many gambling dens in Dawson and had ended up winning a bit of gold and four burros. We figured that it would take us two or three trips to haul all of our gear and provisions with the mules. That was a far sight better than the dozen or more trips we thought it would take with just the two of us.

Once we arrived, it was easy to see why this creek had been bypassed. The first half mile of the trail that led to the creek was a steep climb of over thirty degrees. It took maximum effort on the part of man and beast to traverse the steep incline. By the end of the week we had hauled all of our belongings to where we had staked our claims.

Swede\'s hunch had paid off. There was gold in the creek. My hands began to shake the first time I saw that glittering dust in the bottom of my gold pan. It was gold, real gold, and it was mine. At that moment all of the sacrifices I had made were forgotten. I had struck gold! I was going to be rich! Rich beyond my wildest dreams!

The days were still long and I spent from the early arctic dawn until the late night sunset gleaning the dust and nuggets from the creek. I didn\'t need sleep. What man needs sleep where there are riches to be plucked from the ground?

When I did sleep, I would hide my poke of gold. Each night I would place it in a new place. I was almost afraid to sleep at night for fear that I might forget where I had placed my loot. There were nights that I would get up and move it for fear that someone may have seen where I hid my rawhide sacks of gold.

Swede had moved about mile upstream and was planning on building a small sluice and shaker to pull even more gold from the waters of that hitherto unknown creek. I hate to admit this, but, I was even suspicious of Swede. I was sure that he wanted what I had mined from the gravel of the creek. I began to sleep with my pistol in my hand under my blankets.

The days turned into weeks. As my horde grew, I found my paranoia slowly ebbing away. I found myself trusting Swede once again. Summer was going to be over soon, especially this far north.

\"You need to take some time and build yourself a cabin. Winter, she be comin\', and it will be here sooner than you think.\" Swede pointed to where the creek had once run, and had hollowed out part of the bank. \"I\'d dig back in there a ways, and then build a log wall in the front. That would do for the winter.\"

\"What about you?\" I asked, and with a bit of suspicion in the back of my mind.

\"I already got my place finished,\" he answered. \"I\'m about ready for winter. When the leaves start dropping, we need to take a week off and head into town for supplies for the winter. We won\'t want to be trying to get into town after the snow comes.\"

I had to admit that his advice was sage. He knew what he was talking about when it came to living in the woods. So far there was no evidence that he had ever tried to steer me wrong, and I could find no reason to doubt him now.

I divided my days up. I would spend the morning with pick and shovel digging into the bank. The afternoons and evenings I would spend in the creek, shoveling load after load of gravel and muck into my pan. I would kneel there carefully trying to separate the gold from the dirt. After each pan was finished I carefully placed each nugget and grain of dust into my pouch.

At night, by the yellowy light of my kerosene lantern, I would line up my pouches of wealth and mentally calculate how much money I had. It was more than I had seen in my entire life. But, it wasn\'t enough, especially knowing that there was more of it just outside of my door, waiting to be panned from the creek. When I had ten thousand, I wanted fifteen. At twenty thousand, I wanted twenty-five. Now I was near thirty thousand, and it wasn\'t enough. There were occasional brief moments of lucidity where I recognized my madness for gold, but they never lasted long enough to make any sort of change.

Swede helped me cut the logs for the front of my cabin. Once it was done, I was quite pleased with my new home. I had noticed the some of the leaves on the trees beginning to change color, and the days were noticeably shorter than when we had first arrived.

One frosty morning, Swede appeared at sun-up with the burros in tow. \"It\'s time we went to Dawson to pick up our winter supplies.\"

I was nervous at leaving our claim unguarded. \"Do you think it\'s wise that both of us go? Don\'t you think one of us should stick around?\"

He shook his grizzled head. \"Nah. We ain\'t seen hide nor hair of another soul since we been here.\"

He filled his pipe with tobacco and lit it and puffed on it for a bit. \"Don\'t go taking all of you gold to town with you. We don\'t want anyone to know how much we found up here. Just take a pouch or two, enough for supplies and maybe a night out on the town. Hide the rest here.\" He paused for moment and I think he saw the distrust in my eyes. \"I buried mine under my stove.\"

I felt ashamed that I had mistrusted him. With his help, I found a spot in my cabin where I placed most of my gold. Once satisfied that it hidden from all but the most ambitious of thieves, we headed into Dawson.

Dawson was a beehive of activity. Odd how a man forgets what civilization is like when he is out in the wilds for an extended period of time. Our first stop was to purchase our supplies. I had to hand it to Swede, he knew what we needed, and was a shrewd bargainer. We paid the store owner and received a receipt for what we had purchased.

We dropped our burros off at the livery stable. The proprietor was a fellow countryman of Swede\'s, so they got on like long lost relatives. Swede made arrangements for the liveryman\'s son to accompany us back to the creeks so he could bring the burros back to town for the winter.

Swede looked at me and announced. \"I need a bath. It\'s been a good six months, and I think it\'s about time.\"

They charged by the hour at the bath house, and it was worth every penny we paid to sit in the big copper tubs and soak up the hot water. I had forgotten what it was like to feel clean. I felt like a new man after I had my hair cut and beard trimmed. We strutted down the wooden boardwalks of the boomtown feeling like a million dollars in our new clothes.

We ate a large steak dinner with all of the trimmings. I had lived on biscuits, beans and tinned beef for so long I had almost forgotten what real food tasted like. From there we hit the saloons and drank whiskey like it was water. From one saloon to the next, it was the same wherever we went.

Smoke filled whiskey dens filled with fellow miners, just in from the creeks. There were women willing to give them thirty minutes of love for some coin or dust. Like the sirens song of yore, the sound of the piano beckoned to all that passed.

Games of chance, a few were on the level, but most were fixed in one way or another. It was free drinks for the gamblers, well, that is until their pokes dried up, and then it was the bum\'s rush out onto the street with them. Nothing stopped in Dawson, the town ran non-stop, fueled by the vice called gold.

We went on a three day drunk that only stopped when our gold finally ran out. I woke up feeling haggard and worn. My stomach felt like it was on fire, and my head pounded with an ache that I had never known the likes of before.

Bleary eyed, we stumbled to the livery stable and collected our burros and picked up the supplies we had purchased. The fresh air helped clear my head as headed back out to the creek.

\"You see why I told ya to leave most of your gold at the cabin,\" Swede commented after we had been on the trail for a couple of hours. \"If we would have taken it all.\" He pointed back towards Dawson. \"We would still be there, and we wouldn\'t have left until we had drunk it all up, or worse.\"

I nodded my head in agreement. That thought had constantly run through my head since I had sobered up. I had spent more money in three days in Dawson than I had probably made in most of my life. I had a hard time believing that I had squandered that much hard earned gold in that short a period of time. After that day, I never distrusted Swede again.

When we got near to my cabin, we could see that my door had been pushed in. I panicked and began to run. \'My gold, my gold.\' It was the only thought that raced through my head. Someone had come while we were gone and stolen my precious, golden stash. A blood rage burned through my body, I would track down whoever had stolen my loot and I would make them pay. Everything seemed tinged with red when I ran through the doorway. What little hope I had was dashed when I entered the cabin. All of my meager possessions were strewn about. My knees felt week, my stomach churned. All that work, all that gold—gone.

I heard Swede laughing outside. That only angered me more. How could this so-called friend of mine be laughing at a time like this? I turned on my heels and went out to confront him.

He was pointing to the ground when I came outside and saying something in Swedish to the Liveryman\'s son.

\"What the blazes is so damned funny?\" I demanded.

\"Bear,\" said Swede as he looked up at me. \"Your burglar was a bear. Look at the tracks.\"

I raced back into my cabin and found my hiding spot. A wave of relief poured over me when I felt the familiar gold laden pouches that I had hidden away. All that ended up missing from the cabin was a pot of beans. I found the pot later in the day, a hundred yards from the cabin, empty and licked clean.

Each day seemed to be noticeably shorter than the next. Within a week of our return we had the first hard freeze of the season, and to my reckoning, it was only mid September. There was no drawn out autumn as I was accustomed to. A wind came up and for a day it seemed like there was blizzard of orange and yellow leaves cascading down from the trees.

Swede and I took precious time off from our panning for gold and began to cut firewood for the winter. It took us a week to fell enough dead wood, haul it by hand, and cut it up to last the both of us for the winter.

There were no signs of the gold petering out. I was pulling a couple of ounces of gold per day from the gravel in and around the creek. I had moved several times upstream as had Swede. At night we would talk of our plans. It was decided that we would work the creek until the gold was played out. We hoped that it would carry us through the winter and all of the next summer. Long hours were spent by the fire at night discussing what we were going to do with our fortune when we left this north-land.

\"When we are done, we\'ll divvy the gold up fifty-fifty,\" offered Swede. \"By the time we are done, we\'ll have enough gold to last a man two lifetimes.\"

For a moment my greed wanted to scream no, that I didn\'t want to share what I had pulled from the stream. But, a moment of reason prevailed, Swede hadn\'t try to cheat me before, so why would he try to cheat me now. I knew he was moving more gravel than me with his sluice and shaker box, so it only reasoned that he was pulling as much or more gold from the creek than I was.

I awoke one morning and was surprised to find the ground was covered with a skiff of snow. It stayed. The ground was growing harder with each passing day. The thin crust of frozen earth was growing thicker with each passing day, making it more difficult to mine the banks of the creek. Compound this with the ever shortening days and the amount of gold I was pulling from the ground was dwindling. I still hadn\'t made up for the gold that I had spent in Dawson.

Swede had warned me that we would probably have to shut down panning during the coldest part of the winter. He was hoping that we would have enough water flowing in the creek to keep the sluice in operation.

\"I wish we had a few tons of coal,\" He remarked as we stood by his sluice and pointed at the frozen ground. \"We could get a fire going and let the coal burn to thaw out the ground. This chipping away at the froze up ground is going to be tough going at best.\"

I took his advice and gave up on panning. Each morning I would eat a bowl of oatmeal mush and drink a cup of coffee or tea, stoke up my stove to keep my cabin warm, and trudge the mile up to Swede\'s to work with him.

The cold relented a bit, and the temperature was up near freezing. Heavy clouds hung overhead and it began to snow by midmorning. As the hours passed the snow grew heavier and heavier. Finally Swede looked at me. \"I got a queer feeling about this weather. I think it\'s going to blow. I can feel the breeze beginning to freshen. Let\'s shut it down for the day. You need to head back down to your place while you can still see the trail. If it\'s snowing heavy come morning, just stay in your cabin and set it out.\"

I nodded. I had noticed the snow was beginning to pile up in places. On the trip home I found the snow almost knee deep in a couple of spots. It snowed all night, and all of the next day, and the day after that. I just sat in my cabin drinking coffee, feeding the fire, and staring out the window. On the second day of the snow the wind came up strong out of the west. I couldn\'t see more than a few feet in front of me when I opened the door to my cabin.

A foolhardy mistake almost ended it for me. I made the mistake of walking out into the snow. I turned around and couldn\'t see my cabin, just a veil of white in every direction. I was just able to see my tracks in the snow, but the wind was quickly filling them in. Once I reached the safety of my cabin, I didn\'t leave again.

The temperature began to drop as the wind shifted. It was coming from the north now, I think it had quite snowing, but it was hard to tell as the wind was blowing the snow. Harder and harder it blew. I had to put an old shirt under the door to keep the snow from drifting in through the door.

The temperature continued to drop, but there was no letting up in the wind. I could hear it howling all through the day and all through the night. At times my mind would hear things on the wind. I could swear I could hear people calling my name. The first few times I would open the door and look outside. The blowing snow felt like sharp pieces of glass cutting at my face. \'It was only the wind\'. I told myself this over and over again until I finally believed it.

The storm had lasted for over a week before it subsided. I got up in the morning to find the sun out and the skies clear with no wind blowing. A joy flowed through my body. I quickly ate my breakfast and then opened my door.

The air hit my face like a bucket of icy water. My God, but it was cold. I had never felt cold like this before. The very air itself seemed frozen. There was not a sound to be heard outside, not a breath of air moved. The smallest of branches stood still like silent sentinels.

I strapped my snowshoes on and set out for Swede\'s. I could feel my breath freezing instantly in my beard. The air was so cold that it burned my lungs. I wrapped a scarf around my face so that only my eyes showed through. With my snowshoes strapped to my feet I set out for Swede\'s cabin.

I scarcely recognized the way. So much snow had fallen. The creek was frozen and drifted over. I kept my eyes locked on the few familiar landmarks that hadn\'t changed. The normal fifteen minute trek to Swedes took me over an hour, even with the exertion that it took to move through the snow, I still felt cold.

Finally Swede\'s cabin came into view. It was going to be good to see him, to hear another person\'s voice. As I got closer, I began to feel a little worried. Why was there no smoke rising from his cabin? I could see no tracks leading to or from his cabin.

I yelled out his name, \"Swede!\" I tried to run on my snowshoes but tripped and fell headlong into the snow. I got up and made my way to his cabin. I tried his door, but the latch was frozen. I pounded on the door and yelled again, \"Swede!\"

I took off my snow shoes and I pounded the latch with my mittens, still it would not give. Looking around I spotted his axe. Two blows from the axe and the latch finally gave. I walked into Swede\'s cabin and looked around.

He was in bed, sleeping. I let out a sigh of relief. \"Swede, wake up. The storm has let up.\"

It was damned cold in that cabin. Swede didn\'t move. I reached over and my heart sank. He was frozen solid. I sat down on the bed and looked at him. There was look of calm on his face. He must have died in his sleep during the storm.

What was I going to do? It would take days of feeding a huge fire to thaw enough ground to bury him. I knew I couldn\'t do that. I hauled the supplies out of his cabin and made a cache in a hard snowdrift. I knew where his gold was hidden, and I felt a bit of guilt as I retrieved it. I was surprised at how much he had. Swede had pulled three ounces of gold from the creek for every one that I had. I looked at the frozen face of my partner and felt guilty. He had offered to split what we had taken out of the creek, and he must have known that he had mined much more than I had.

But, I took the gold. There was no point on leaving it there. I put the bags of gold into a large pack and took it outside. I filled as much as his cabin with firewood as I could. I used two gallon cans of kerosene and splashed it over everything in the cabin.

I looked at the body of Swede and I knelt by the bed. \"I don\'t know any religious words, Swede, and for that I am sorry. You always did good by me, and I wish I could do more for you now. I know you come from Sweden, and I remember stories about the Vikings and their burning of their long ships when someone died. I reckon this cabin will have to serve as your ship.\" I reached out and put my hand on Swede\'s head. \"God bless you, Swede.\"

I lit a match and touched it to the kerosene. I stood and watched as the flames quickly spread. How long I stood there and watched I have no idea. As the flames roared high into the air, I moved further and further back. It was getting near time for the sun to set when I turned my back on the inferno and began to make my way home.

The red glow of the flames was visible in the sky from my cabin. With a heavy heart I stoked up my stove and started to prepare something to eat. I had never felt alone like I did at this moment. I was alone. To the best of my knowledge the nearest person was in Dawson.

Did I want to spend the rest of the winter out here alone? The thought made me shiver. The week by myself during the storm was enough. I had the prospect of seeing Swede once the storm was over to carry me through. Now, I had nothing. Just alone.

I counted up what gold I had, and then added it to what Swede had. There was more than enough there to keep a man for life. I knew what I had to do. I had to get to Dawson. I could sell my gold at the bank. I could find my way south and out of this country. I could go back home. Home. I didn\'t really have a home, not like most men. Home could be anywhere I wanted it to be. It just had to be somewhere where there were people.

It would just take a day to hike back into Dawson. I began to pack that night. I didn\'t need to take much. I just needed a bit of food to get me to town. And the gold. I couldn\'t forget the gold. It surprised me how much gold there really was. It almost filled up my pack.

I left my cabin at first light. I didn\'t turn around; I just plowed along on my snowshoes. The pack weighed heavy on my back. It was a weight that I enjoyed the feel of. It was the fruits of our labors. It was my future. A future of not having to work, or to struggle. It meant respect.

It was slower going than I had expected. The snow and the extra weight slowed me down. By mid afternoon I had to take a break. My legs burned, my back burned. I was sweating from exertion and I was breathing hard. I was worried. I hadn\'t seen the cut that signaled the turn that would put in line with Dawson. I began to worry that maybe I had missed it. The snow could have filled it in.

Just when I was about to turn back, I rounded a corner in the trail and spotted the cut. My heart leapt for joy. I was going to make it. I set out across the frozen pond, it would cut down on time. The sun was getting low in the sky. I had misjudged how much time it was going to take me to make my way back on snowshoes through the fresh snow, and with a lot of extra weight on my back.

I was two-thirds way across the pond when I heard a sickening crack and I felt myself falling. I was immersed in the frigid water up to my waist. I clung to the ice and tried to pull myself back onto the ice. I couldn\'t and my strength was going fast. I knew it was the pack that was holding me in the water. Finally I closed my eyes and let it slip from my back and into the icy water.

I could smell sulfur. I cursed myself, I should have remembered. Swede had mentioned it each time we had passed. \"Smells like there\'s a hot spring in there.\" The warm water from the spring had kept the ice thin.

I crawled back onto the ice and staggered to the shore where I collapsed. I was so cold that my body was wracked with the most violent shaking. I tried to stand again but, my legs were completely sapped of any strength. My mittens were frozen already, and I could feel my pants freezing to my legs.

As I lay there, I slowly stopped shivering. I could feel warmth in my body again. My eyes were getting heavy. The sun had slipped behind the horizon. All I needed to do now was to rest for a bit, and make my way to Dawson. I\'d be rich in Dawson. I\'d sell my gold in Dawson. I just needed a bit of sleep first, sleep, glorious sleep. I felt so tired. My eyes were closing.

I was surrounded by a silvery glow. I saw her face. Her face filled me with a joy that I had never felt before. She smiled at me and touched my face.

Her voice was unlike anything I had heard before. \"I\'m here to take you home.\" Her words warmed me more than the hottest fire.

\"What about my gold?\" My voice seemed to crack.

\"You won\'t need your gold,\" she replied in a voice like a mother would use with a small child. She reached out and touched my hand with hers.

At that moment I felt a release from the grip that had held me for almost a year. I didn\'t need gold, I was going home. The darkness around me was replaced with a glorious light.

I then heard Swede\'s familiar voice. \"It\'s good to see you again, lad.\"

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