Breaking The Ice

Jacques and Marie were not your average pensioners. In fact, they had no pensions at all. To fund their simple life, Jacques pawned diamonds he found on the mountain. Marie carved figurines and sold them at the market. They were wilderness people. They didn’t have the dodgy knees and busted hips that characterise old age; they were strong. They had carved out a place for themselves above the forest, building their home from evergreens. 

Fire was their best friend. It cooked their food and kept them warm; it entertained them with flickering flames. Their world was vibrant. The shriek of an eagle engulfed the valley. The autumn blush made them weep. Each encounter had meaning, from the glare of a wolf, to a fawn taking her delicate first steps. They separated each morning: Marie to the forest for mushrooms and wood, and Jacques to the high mountain to hunt. At sunset they reunited to watch the peaks turn red, huddling close when warmth was stolen by the night. 

Trouble came in March. It was their grandson, Marc, a city boy with a smirk and a taste for comfort. He considered laziness a virtue, quoting drop-out successes like Jobs and Zuckerberg to justify merging with the sofa. His mother had made him visit, hoping her wild parents would knock some sense into the lad. In preparation, Marc had downloaded half of Netflix, and now glued his eyes to the laptop. Something had to be done. 

The first days were tough. Marc groaned from dawn ‘til dusk. When foraging he parked himself on the soil, refusing to move like a petulant chihuahua. He declined to hunt on moral grounds, yet wolfed down venison when it appeared on his plate. When finished, he retreated to his room to binge on TV. However, Jacques was relentless, waking him at sunrise to help with the chores.

Eventually, Marc began to shed his civilised skin. On vertiginous climbs he complained slightly less, and connected more with the forest. He savoured the smell of pine drifting through the trees, and the softness of the moss that lined them. He chased marmottes that popped their heads from the bushes. He still moaned often, and retreated to his lair most evenings, but on one night, he stuck around. The three of them played Hearts, laughing over the candlelight.

“Today we find diamonds!”, declared Jacques the next morning, a mad twinkle in his eye. They were off on a scavenger hunt. The day was hazy, and the mountains were faint, like soft strokes of a paint brush. The sun had yet to crest the peaks, but an orange glow announced its arrival. They crunched up a snowy path, adding man prints to those of elk and fox.

They had to cross a glacier. Marc’s jaw dropped when he saw it. The ice was crystal blue with deep cracks, like scars. Waterfalls dripped from its edges, flowing down the black rock of the mountain. 

“Careful now”, cautioned Marie, as she inched onto the ice. Marc was fully present, awakened by the danger. Their boots made splinters with each step. 

Halfway across, and the haze thickened. Marc looked back and froze. There was a beast on the ridge. Jacques assessed the situation. 

“Stay calm, she won’t follow us here.” 

His grandson started trembling. Jacques reached for his hand. The bear roared, shaking the ground with a guttural bellow. Marc shot off like a greyhound, powered by youth and fear. Jacques chased after, with the deft strides of a man half his age. 

The boy stepped on a fragile chunk and it cracked. Jacques grabbed him as the ice collapsed beneath them, and together, they fell into the abyss.

Below was cold and black. Jacques turned on his head torch. They were in a crevasse, sprawled on an icy floor. Snow had fallen in behind them. 

“Your arm!”, cried Marc, “it’s broken!”. 

Jacques took a look. 

“Stay calm”, he said, “it’s nothing”. 

Marc circled the crevasse, stroking the walls as if to find a secret door. His pace quickened, and he started breathing heavily. Jacques grabbed him. 

“Look at me.” 

The quivering child obliged. In the light he saw Grandpa’s stoic face, hardened by time and desperate winters. There was no trace of fear. Marc squeezed his hand. 

The floor trembled. Jacques poked the walls as Marc had done, but with purpose. He knocked on the ice as if at a friend’s front door. He whipped out an ice pick and thrust it inside. 

“What are you doing?!” demanded Marc. 

“Getting us out.” 

With a yank he tore a hole in the wall, sending chunks of ice clattering. A dark tunnel beckoned. 

“Let’s go let’s go!” he shouted. The room splintered, then shattered as they ran into the void. A shard hit Marc on the head, knocking him unconscious. 

The boy awoke. He opened his eyes, but all he saw was ripples. He remembered the glacier falling on them, but here he was. He heard laughter. 

“Wake up, my boy”, said Jacques, snapping him back to reality. With a rustle, the ripples gave way. Grandpa was there, chuckling. 

“Where am I?” asked Marc. 

“Come on son, you’ve got to see this.” 

He helped him to his feet, into another world. They were in a vast stone cavern, with a skyline of stalactites drooping from the ceiling. A crystal blue stream trickled past. A wind was moaning, amid occasional drips of water. 

“Look!” said Jacques. 

It was a ruby the size of a tennis ball. The motherload. Jacques took it and handed it to his grandson. The gem was warm in his hands. Marc beamed, and slipped it into his pocket. 

“I love you, Grandpa.”

“I love you too.”

They left the cave, entering a tunnel of ice. They saw the sky through the ceiling. Jacques smashed a hole, and they bellowed as loud as they could. Marie was there in a flash, eyes streaming, and she lowered a rope to rescue them. 

“Thank god you’re alive”, she sighed. They fell into a tight embrace. 

Back home, Marc shared the surprise.

“Grandma!”, he exclaimed, “we’re gonna be rich!”.

He emptied his pocket, spilling dirt and pebbles over the table. The ruby had slipped out. Marie laughed. 

“Don’t worry my love, we’re rich enough already.”

Written by Henry Small

Photos from Pexels

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