“The Last Stump” by Edward Rodosek

A sharp morning frost woke me up from a restless slumber. I rose stamping my benumbed feet and put a thick bend branch on the glowing embers. Now remained only one great stump from the whole pile of firewood that he'd gathered last evening. Soon he has to set off to the shore and look for some driftwood, to–

I shook my head without finishing my senseless thought.

I looked at my sleeping father. When I stooped down to him I noticed his slightly trembling eyelids.

"Why don't you sleep, daddy? You should rest so you'd be on your feet soon."

Father's turbid eyes stared at me. I clearly felt he sensed my deceit as always when I'd as a child tried to lie to him.

"Do you remember–" A spasmodic cough interrupted his sentence and he had to wait till he recovered his breath. "Do you remember, many years ago, when you and I searched something edible all day long? But we found nothing except a tiny squirrel."

"How could I forget that day? Then you allowed me to shoot the animal but I missed it – what a shame!"

My father shook his head. "No harm done, sonny." The squeeze of his hand was surprisingly firm. "And then we suddenly–" His gasping prevented him from continuing talking.

"Yes – we heard a distant howling of a wolf. There must be more then one, probably a whole pack of wolves. Oh, god, how we ran! And then I stumbled and hurt my knee so you had to keep me from falling and then carrying me up to our hamlet. But then my uncle emerged with a burning branch in his hand – and the wolves took flight in panic fear."

My father nodded feeble. "The wolves are not afraid of yelling or drumming, even the shooting wouldn't scare them for long. Only the fire..." He sighed and the squeeze of his hand released. Only the hardly audible gurgling from his throat showed he was still alive.

I stepped to the lessening fire and with some difficulty managed to roll the last stump on to the ember. I shouldn't wait longer for later it probably wouldn't inflame at all.

I put my snowshoes on and meanwhile my malamutes leapt up, shaking the snow off their fur, and whimpered from eagerness to haul my sled. They knew I'd give them their first meal of frozen fish only after two hours of the trip.

At that moment I heard from the distant the well-known sound – a dreadful howl of the leader of a wolf's pack.

I wasn't able to look back to the linen shelter behind which my father was lying on the pine branches. How far the others could arrive till now? Probably up to the 'Two creeks' if they've travelled all day. All their sleds were fully loaded and I worried if they'd manage to overcome the Moose Slope. Who knows how many of us would succeed to come to Fort Laradell, where food and shelter were waiting to us.

I said, hoping my voice wouldn't tremble, "You have two dried salmons within reach."

My father's eyes avoided meeting mine. "Off with you, Kanak. You have to catch them up before dark or else–" A fit of cough interrupted him.

I didn't look back when I shouted at the dogs and cracked a whip over their heads. I heard the wolf's howl again, nearer than before.

I wiped my humid eyes with the backside of my fur gloves. Luckily, my tribe was far ahead of me so at the moment nobody could see my face, an image of their best hunter and bravest warrior.

Anyway, these tears must be from the cold wind.