IN THIS EPISODE: …Dr. Cushing completes a quest and finds a new exhibit for his Chamber of Horrors…
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CHAPTER 5 – The Ice Man
Dr. Cushing – The Coast of Norway
That Same Day
The Arctic gust whipped Leigh Cushing’s face, yanking back the hood of his parka. The wind was bitter for this time of year, even in Norway—it was late spring, after all—but Dr. Cushing was used to adverse conditions during his expeditions. He’d suffered sandstorms in Egypt, swarms of blood-sucking flies in Siberia, and caught a tropical fever in Southeast Asia.
The trials of this venture had been neither more nor less difficult; they had just been different. Troubles or no, it was these upcoming minutes that he lived for, the moments when, at last, his search would come to fruition.
Cushing pulled his hood back snug around his face and dug the toes of his cleated boots more securely into the iceberg’s slick surface.
No sense falling to my death when I’m this near to my objective, he thought with a smile.
It had taken him years of research, rumor gathering, and fruitless pursuits to come to this point, but now, the legendary Ice Man seemed within his grasp.
Taking a deep breath, he climbed the last few steps to what passed for the top of this beached mountain of ice. The area was remote, and exactly when the berg had actually run ashore, nobody knew for certain—days? Weeks? Months? Perhaps even a whole year.
He’d first heard news of the iceberg, and its strange passenger, more than three years ago—from a fur trapper, who’d landed ashore on the berg to chase seals. The man had encountered little luck with his hunt, but he’d returned to the mainland with yet another rumor of a huge man, frozen in the ice.
Unfortunately, at that time, Cushing’s attempts to track down the iceberg had proved futile—as had his previous attempts to find and recover the Ice Man.
After so many years, so many rumors…! he thought, his heart swelling as he tramped across the berg’s cracked and crevassed surface.
The vast icy expanse that lay before him looked more like a glacier than something that could possibly float. Its vast blue-white bulk was longer and wider than a city block and easily as tall as Big Ben. Yet, float the iceberg had, until currents—and perhaps Providence—had grounded it here on the inhospitable Norwegian shoreline, for Cushing to discover, at last.
The day was sunny and might have been warm and hospitable, except for the harrowing wind, which picked up snow from the berg and, at times, blanketed the sunshine with a blizzard of blinding white flakes.
During less gusty moments, Cushing could see the blue-grey Arctic Sea, stretching into the endless distance, beyond the top of the floe. Far below, resting well above the high-tide mark, lay the small tent-village of men and sled dogs that Cushing had hired to help with his venture.
He tried not to think about the cost. “Cost should never be a barrier to science!” as he often said (especially to his creditors). Still, with any luck, his new Egyptian exhibit—and the one resulting from this expedition—would help him recoup his considerable expenditures.
“Dr. Cushing!” a voice called to him, and out of the current wind-blown whiteout emerged Tor Johansen, the leader of Cushing’s hirelings. The two had worked together on several expeditions in the past, and Cushing was glad to have the big Norwegian along again.
Johansen stood at least six and one-half feet tall and was built like a lumberjack, which, indeed, had been his profession before he became one of the best outdoorsmen and wilderness guides in the Arctic.
“We have it, Doctor,” Johansen said. “We’ve freed it from the ice. You’re just in time!”
“Excellent!” Cushing replied. He felt an extra spring in his step as he followed Johansen to the crevasse where their team had been working.
Johansen fastened a rope around Cushing’s waist, and helped lower the doctor down into the enormous crack, before rappelling down himself.
Cushing took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He wasn’t claustrophobic, as such, but it didn’t pay to think too much about the millions of tons of sheer ice walls towering over them. The cast of the light at the bottom of the crevasse was distinctly bluish, giving the whole environment an eerie feeling, almost like being underwater.
Ahead of him lay a small cave in the ice, an opening that had been carefully hacked away and expanded by the half dozen men—and one woman—who stood before him.
“How goes it, Ingrid?” Cushing asked, addressing the sole female worker.
Ingrid Johansen smiled at him. “Well, doctor, ja. I think we’ve finally got this here bugger loose for ya.”
Despite himself, Cushing blushed at the use of the word “bugger.” Ingrid may have learned her English from sailors, but she was the finest sled-team leader in the area, and matched her husband in wilderness skills as well. Plus, she stood nearly as tall as Tor did.
“Capital!” Cushing said.
“It’s gonna take some heavy work with block and tackle to get this bugger out of here,” she continued, “but once we get it down to the sleds, it should be easy enough to lug to port.”
“Stand back, doctor, and we’ll haul it out into the light, where you can get a better look at it,” Tor offered.
Cushing stepped aside to make room for the rest to pull on the ropes they’d wrapped around the huge block that they’d hacked from the ice.
“All right, you sons-of-sled-dogs…” Ingrid called to the rest. “Heave!”
The Johansens and the other six—all burly wilderness men in their own right—hauled on the ropes.
The block of ice groaned and crept forward a few inches.
Another few inches.
And, as if by magic—or perhaps via melting of the ice beneath it—the block suddenly rocketed forward, toward the wall where Cushing stood waiting.
He nimbly hopped out of the way, as the block skidded to a halt.
“Ha ha,” Ingrid laughed. “Nice steppin’ there, doctor! Ya nearly got a quick lesson in slimmin’ down.”
Cushing adjusted the snugness of his parka’s collar. “I think I’m quite skinny enough already, thank you.”
“Any skinnier and you’d be nothin’ but skin and bones,” Tor observed. “You English are a puny lot!” He smiled, showing one golden incisor amid a sea of ivory.
“Nothing puny about this fellow, though,” Ingrid said, patting the block of ice they’d just heaved to the edge of the crevasse. “Take a look.”
With one seal-skin glove she polished off a section of the newly freed ice block.
Cushing stepped forward to get a better glimpse.
Inside the block loomed an enormous figure, like a man trapped in blue-white amber.
“Big fella, ain’t he?” Ingrid noted.
“Ja, even for a Norwegian,” Tor agreed.
“Extraordinary!” blurted Cushing.
The Ice Man made even the Johansens look tiny by comparison. Freed from the ice, he would have stood at least seven feet tall—possibly more—and he was as broad as any two normal human beings. He seemed to be pale of cast and shaggy of hair, with bony features and long, knobby fingers—thought it was hard to make out precise details through the ice.
His eyes remained open, literally frozen in a ghastly stare.
“Yes,” Cushing mused, “quite an exceptional find. Thank you so much—all of you—for helping me to recover it.”
“You’re welcome, Doctor,” Tor said.
“But there’s still a long way to go to get this bugger back to your museum,” Ingrid added.
“Yes, yes. Of course,” Cushing said. As he did, he realized that the journey returning to civilization might prove just as difficult as getting here and discovering this find had been. He had no doubt, though, that—with the Johansens’ help—he would accomplish his goal. “What a splendid exhibit he shall make! An Ice Age man brought back to…”
And then something struck him.
“What’s wrong, doctor?” Ingrid asked.
“I’ve just realized that this fellow isn’t from the Ice Age at all!”
“He’s not?” Tor said.
“No. He can’t be. His clothes are all wrong.”
Tor pressed his face up near the ice, to get a better look. “They look pretty old to me.”
“Old, yes,” Cushing said. “But not old enough. They’re far too modern. I’d say this fellow comes from the nineteenth century, eighteenth at most. That’s only one- or two-hundred years gone by!”
“Still seems pretty old to me, doctor,” Ingrid said, her blue eyes twinkling in the gleam from the glacier and the glow from their electric lanterns.
“Are you saying he’s worthless?” Tor asked, concern growing on his ruggedly handsome face.
“Oh, no,” Cushing replied. “I’m not saying that at all. It’s just that the rumors all seemed to point to the Ice Man as being some kind of relic—a throwback to a bygone era—like the rumored gill-men of the Congo, or the wild hairy giants supposed to inhabit the northwestern Canadian wilderness. This fellow looks far more modern, almost like he stepped out of a production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.”
“We seen that in the movies,” Ingrid said.
“It was pretty good,” Tor admitted. “Didn’t seen no fellas that large in it, though—except maybe that Christmas Past guy. He was pretty big. You sure this fella ain’t one of those giants from Viking times, doctor?”
“Positive. I can’t help but speculate where he did come from, though. I wonder—”
“Min Gut!” Ingrid swore.
“What is it?” Cushing asked.
“H-he looked at me!” Ingrid said. “I swear, Doctor… He just looked at me with those awful, pale eyes.”
“Preposterous!” Cushing said.
“Doctor, you don’t think this fella could still be alive, frozen in there, could he?” Tor asked.
“Impossible,” Dr. Cushing replied. “No, it must just have been a trick of the light.”
“Ja, I guess so,” Ingrid agreed. But a shiver still shook her enormous frame.
“I assure you both that there is no possible way for a man to remain alive after being frozen in ice,” Cushing said. “Not for one hundred minutes, never mind one hundred years.”
“I hope you’re right, Doctor,” Tor said. “’Cause if that big fella were to get free, I wouldn’t want to tangle with him, I’ll tell you that for sure!”
The other six men in the ice cave grumbled their agreement, and Ingrid nodded as well.
“No need to worry about that, I assure you,” Cushing said, patting the ice block with one mitten-clad hand. “I intend that he remain frozen all the way from here back to London, where we’ll put him on display in my museum. We wouldn’t want the old boy thawing out and rotting away, like those Siberian mammoths, would we?”
“Nope,” Tor said, and Ingrid shook her head in agreement.
“Capital. So, let’s get this fellow out of here, onto the sleds, and shipped back to civilization, shall we?” Cushing said. “I’m sure my daughters will be delighted to see him,”
He grinned. It had been a long time coming, but this triumph—like all the others before it—tasted sweet.
“After that,” he continued, “we can resume looking around this iceberg and searching the surrounding countryside to discover if there are any more of his kind to be found. Eh? What fun!”
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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