Cold. Unbelievable cold. So cold it burns. I lift my head from what I first think is my pillow and find myself looking at the shape of my face in the snow. A perfect mold. Of a man I do not recognize. I prop myself up on my elbows and touch my face. It’s numb, feels like it’s buried beneath an inch-thick, freezing rubber mask. I push back and work up to my knees. Jesus Christ, I’m naked, every inch of my body shivering and caked in snow. Not the fluffy shit you romanticize about at Christmas. This stuff is crystallized, sharp, and cuts into me like thousands of microscopic shards of glass as I stretch.
Everything is white. I wait for color to arrive into my vision, like what I’m seeing is the first few seconds of switching on an old TV set, but it doesn’t come. I get to my feet, uneasy, like a newborn deer, and survey my surroundings. Nothing but flat land for miles in any direction. No horizon, no mountains, no buildings, no nothing. Just white. And scrub. Crappy grass, weeds and random I-have-no-idea-what-it-is vegetation wherever I look.
My legs fold like one of them has been kicked out from under me and I end up on my side. The fall should hurt. Maybe it does. But I can’t feel anything right now. I close my eyes. Maybe if I go back to sleep. Shit, maybe that’s it. I am asleep, and this is one of those crappy-ass dreams that make no sense, but that people with theories on everything have theories on what they mean. Dreams with rats in them, or ones where your teeth fall out, or where you’re in school and look down and realize you’re… naked.
Yes, of course, this is a dream. Okay, time to wake up now. 1, 2, I open my eyes. Nope. I’m still here. In hell. Only this time there’s a pair of eyes looking right back at me.
Photo: Alicja Zmysłowska | Frozen
I shit myself for a second, thinking it’s a wolf, then spend the next couple wishing it was. At least then there’d be the chance it would put me out of my misery.
It’s a dog. Wolf-shaped, at least. That’s as much as I know. I’m not good with dogs. Don’t know the breeds, never had one, don’t want one, think I got bitten by one once as a kid. The thing sits there in the scrub just looking at me, indifferent, like it’s been waiting for me to wake up.
“How you feeling?” it says.
“You’re not dreaming,” it says.
I try to talk back, but it takes a couple of attempts. “Your mouth isn’t moving.”
“That’s telepathy for you,” the dog says.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m not surprised,” the dog replies.
The dog’s expression hasn’t changed during this exchange. I convince myself I’m hallucinating.
“You’re not hallucinating.”
“I just told you. Telepathy. And the reason the dog’s expression hasn’t changed is because I’m simply using it as a conduit. You didn’t actually think you were having a conversation with a dog, did you?”
“I don’t know what to think right now.”
The dog shifts position and scratches its neck.
“You don’t remember Hamish?” the voice says.
“I don’t remember anything.”
“He likes you. Always has. God knows why.”
“Who are you?”
“Oh dear. Jonathan – your name is Jonathan, Doctor Jonathan Searle – I want you to sit tight. Don’t move. Hamish has a GPS tracker on his collar, he’ll stay with you. I’m dispatching the helicopter now to bring you back. Be about half an hour though. You’ve covered some serious ground.”
“I don’t remember any of this.”
“Side effect, I imagine.”
I turn my hands over. There are barcodes printed on the soft side of my wrists with numbers beneath. When I press the flesh, I feel something hard and rectangular just under the surface.
Cold, extreme cold, renders them useless. I remember that now for some reason. But why would a doctor need to be fitted with a tracker? Hang on. Other bits and pieces are coming back to me now. Doctor. Doctor Jonathan Searle. That’s not-
“Searle. That’s not my name,” I say to the dog.
It shifts in the snow. “No, it’s mine. First one that came to mind,” it says again without moving its mouth.
“I’m not the doctor, I’m the patient,” I say.
The dog says, or rather projects, nothing.
“No that’s wrong. Not the patient. The subject.”
“The helicopter is in the air,” the voice says. “You’ve been through a lot tonight, please just stay where you are, try not to exert yourself. Help is on the way.”
“’Help’?” I say. I get to my feet, adrenaline enabling me to stay up on them this time and make it several steps before stopping. I look around. The dog is right behind me. “Hamish?” I say. “Stay.”
The dog sits and I set off again, but the little bastard pops back up again. I start to run, hoping I can leave him behind but he sticks with me. I stop and he comes to heel at my side. I kneel and he starts licking at my hands as I inspect his collar. The thing is a one-piece affair with no locking mechanism, looks like it’s molded around his neck, impossible to remove, the GPS tracker sealed within.
“You’re wasting your time. Hamish is going to stick to you like glue. It’s what he does. I wasn’t lying when I said he likes you.”
“You’re lying about everything else.”
They sent the dog to track me when the chips in my wrists failed. If I am prepared to run naked through the snow in freezing cold conditions to avoid being found, I must have a very, very good reason.
Apparently, I’ve come far. Too far to fail, to be captured. Not rescued. Captured. These words coming to me are the right ones, I know now. The truth is starting to become clear.
I pat the dog on the head and hold it by the collar. “Sorry, Hamish,” I say, as I wrap my arm around its neck and clamp my hands over its nose and mouth.