*This is the first of 30 chapters of Paul McGowan’s upcoming adventure novel, Resurrection. These chapters are offered free, one per day. I expect to publish the entire book, part of a series of books, in late 2020.
Panuk got up before the others and started a fire in the woodstove. As the pot of wash water heated, he warmed his hands through the stove’s open grille. He splashed hot water on his face, then stopped for a moment at the small mirror dangling from the tupiq’s sealskin wall to stare back at the deeply creased man peering out at him. Getting old. He pulled back the reindeer-skin flap to check the weather. Clear sky, bitter cold. Autumn had arrived early. The ground was covered with three feet of hard-packed snow—and last night’s storm had given it a light dusting of more.
He checked his watch, then looped a leather strap around his shoulders. Maw Maw and Katya barked and nipped at each other as Panuk pulled the sled past the penned reindeer herd and into a clearing. He didn’t know how big an area would be needed, so he placed the 10 kerosene lanterns in a star pattern at the extreme edge of the south plain, where the ice began its incline into the forest. Then he pulled off his parka’s hood and cocked his right ear eastward, toward the faraway buzz that had broken the frigid silence. Within moments, the buzz had increased to a low drone and the ground under his feet was shaking. From the corner of his eye he saw the herd run to the western wall of their pen, where they crowded together, trying to get as far as possible from the noise. He covered his ears with his hands and ran back to the tent, elbows sprawled like wings, as a brilliant white light descended from the sky in a thundering cloud of snow. He saw his wife Amka yelling something at him, but he couldn’t make it out. The rest of the camp had gathered outside, some in long johns, others in reindeer dresses, all staring at the huge black helicopter as it landed.
A crewman aboard the chopper lowered a large blue backpack to the snow, and almost immediately a man and a woman, both in bright yellow parkas and white backpacks, stepped down. They turned to help a third person down the ramp, who was bundled so heavily in an orange parka that Panuk couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. The two in bright yellow parkas waved at the pilot, who gave them a thumbs up. Crouching low, they covered their ears as the chopper swung back into the sky, dusting the camp in a cloud of white.
“I am Alonya Dorokhov,” the woman said to Panuk in a thick Russian accent. “This my assistant, Mr. Misha Vaselov, and our passenger, Mr. Sam Sawyer.” All three shook hands with Panuk and Amka. Dorokhov and Vaselov smiled at the other villagers, but Panuk had his eye on Sam who kept staring at the vanishing chopper. He had seen that same reaction from the last researcher.
“We are here to accompany Mr. Sam to his destination,” announced the Russian woman. “Everything ready?”
Panuk looked over at the two sleds nearest the reindeer pen, then nodded. “It is good we share a meal together before traveling. It will be a difficult journey.”
Panuk pulled back the flap of their tent and waited for his guests to enter. Inside, Amka poured tea, and ladled into bowls the chunky reindeer stew she’d been simmering all day. The bowls warmed Dorokhov’s and Vaselov’s hands as they waited for Sam to accept the offering.
Panuk inspected him. He had yet to remove his parka and the look on his face was one of bewilderment. “You okay, Mr. Sam?”
“Thank you, but I’m not hungry.”
Panuk had seen the look before. These young researchers, that occasionally came through their camp, had no clue what was in store for them. Panuk and Amka would do what they could to ease the pain of what was about to happen.
Amka helped Sam remove his parka. His tousle of wavy brown hair bunched up on top of his head, so he patted it smooth with his hand before slumping into the only available chair in the small tent.
Panuk shook his head. If their warm tent and unfamiliar reindeer stew made this newcomer feel uncomfortable…
After a few minutes, Amka picked up the empty bowls and placed them in the wooden bucket next to the reindeer-hide door flap.
Sam broke the silence. “Where’s Professor Satsky?”
Vaselov looked surprised. “You do not know?”
Sam looked helpless.
“Your professor is not where you have been told,” said Dorokhov. “We will take you. Then you find professor.”
She turned to Panuk. “How soon can we go?”
“My neighbor, Yakav, is getting the sleds ready.”
Dorokhov and Vaselov thanked Amka again, then went outside to wave goodbye to the villagers. Sam stood and stared.
The fronts of the two long sleds nearest the animal pens were already piled high with cargo, each with room for one passenger and a driver standing behind: Panuk and Dorokhov on one, Sam and Vaselov on the other.
It was noon, but this close to the arctic circle there would be light well into evening. They passed through a forest of white-locked spruce and Jack pine trees, then into open meadows where patches of green moss and lichen peeked through the snow. The going was slow, the crunching of reindeer feet hypnotic.
After six hours of travel, they ground up a steep hill. To lighten their loads, all four travelers walked alongside the sleds as the reindeer strained against the ropes, their breath like the chuffing of steam engines. The sleds stopped at the top of the rise.
“Come, Mr. Sam.” Vaselov pointed down into the valley below. “Your professor is down there.”
Panuk followed as Sam waddled up the hill as quickly as his mukluks and overstuffed pants permitted. Below them lay the northwestern coast of Greenland: rust-brown patches of rolling frozen earth, punctuated by fields of white and the scattered blue of melt ponds—and beyond, the blue-black Greenland Sea.
Vaselov pointed again, this time past the small stretch of open water, to an island of more rock and ice. “Your professor is there.”
Panuk had seen before the baffled look on Sam’s face.
“The island of Uunartoq Qeqertaq,” said Dorokhov from behind them. “Hidden under ice for hundred thousand year.” Panuk nodded in agreement. “Its name means Warming Island. When Greenland glacier melt, you see island.” Dorokhov drew an imaginary circle around the distant island to define its shape: three long, narrow strips of land, no longer joined to the mainland by ice, extended from the island’s center. The thin fingers of rock, none more than 900 feet long, together formed an elegantly penned W reaching back to the land. “No one see for 100,000 year. Now warming Earth show us.”
“But…” stammered Sam. “This looks like the middle of nowhere. There’s nothin’ there. I thought the professor would’a been at the University’s dig site,” said Sam.
Vaselov chuckled. “He want people believe that. Island off limits. Against law. He pay Panuk people and Russians to keep mouths shut. Hide truth.”
“I don’t understand,” said Sam. “Looks like a barren rock.”
Panuk lowered his eyes.
Dorokhov shrugged. “Not our problem. Look there.” She pointed to a tiny spit of land at the coast’s edge. Bobbing in the sea’s chop, just off the thin strip of shore, was a ship at anchor. From its gray and rust-red steel hull, two-story many-windowed bridge, and the collection of yellow floats stacked atop piles of netting, Panuk knew the vessel was a commercial fishing trawler.
“Let’s go,” she said. “Your boat wait.”
Their caravan moved down the patchy ice and bumped over the spots of rust-colored tundra towards the waiting ship. As they neared, Panuk could see the white, blue, and red stripes of the vessel’s Russian flag fluttering in the frigid wind. A smaller boat with a single outboard motor, tended by two gruff-looking seamen, waited to ferry Sam and the sled’s supply crates to the waiting ship. As Panuk looked out to sea, the black tips of the island’s tallest points peeked over the ocean’s gray horizon at them. The frozen wind whistled around them. He watched as Sam helped unload the crates and supplies. When they had finished, Dorokhov spoke to the two crewmen as Panuk and Vaselov approached Sam.
“Good luck,” said Vaselov. “This crew take you to island and your professor now. Hope you know what you are doing.”
Panuk grasped Sam’s hand and stared into his perplexed eyes. He hoped this young man would find what he was looking for and make it out alive.