Breaking the Ice
By Maz McCoy
“Will you shut up! If you don’t like what I cook, make your own damn food!” Heyes slammed the plate, containing that night’s supper, on the table scattering some of its contents on the floor. Hands fisted at his side, he tried hard to get his temper under control.
“Feel better for that?” Kid asked from his seat at the table. He swirled the coffee around in his cup, before downing the last mouthful.
“No dammit, I don’t! I swear, Kid, if you make one more comment about my coffee, my food or my cooking…”
Two amused blue eyes looked up at him, as steam rose from a very angry Hannibal Heyes. Kid finished his coffee, pushed back the chair and stood up.
“What are you going to do, Heyes? Divorce me?” Kid smiled and reached around to remove his hat off the hook on the cabin door. When he turned back to his friend, Heyes fist collided with his jaw. Kid stumbled backwards, crashing into the door before sliding to the floor. He touched a hand carefully to his mouth, feeling the split lip and tasting blood. “What the heck, d’you do that for?”
“Because I couldn’t hit anyone else!”
Kid looked at his friend, studying his face.
“I reckon you got a bad case of cabin fever, Heyes.”
“It has nothing to do with being stuck in a cabin! It has everything to do with being stuck in a cabin in the snow for weeks with YOU!”
“You don’t hear me complain when you go on about me cleaning my gun so often or you throw open a window ‘cos you think my socks could do with a wash.” Kid pulled himself to his feet.
“A wash! They could do with drowning at sea, ‘cept it’d be kinda hard on the fish! They’re so strong; they could walk out if here on their own!”
“Which is exactly what I’m gonna do.” Kid pulled on his sheepskin coat and buttoned it. He settled his hat on his head, then turned up his collar.
A look of concern passed over Heyes’ face.
“Where you going?”
“Well first I’m going to check on the horses and then…guess I’ll decide if I’m staying or not.” Without another word he opened the door, grimaced against the cold blast that hit him and then stepped into the snow. Still seething, Heyes glared at the closed wooden door.
“He don’t have room to pace, that’s the trouble,” Kid told his horse as he gave it fresh feed. “Having nothing to plan is driving him nuts. Still there wasn’t no reason to hit me. I wasn’t that rude about his cooking. How did I know they were supposed to be biscuits?”
Sensibly, the horse said nothing, not wanting to choose sides.
“He’s lucky I didn’t shoot him.” Kid rubbed the horse’s nose. “His socks are worse than mine, anyway.” Kid picked up a bucket and met the horse’s deep brown eyes. “Thanks for listening. I guess being cooped up with his horse all this time, ain’t been much fun for you either.”
The horse nodded.
The wind whistled outside. Heyes rubbed a small hole in the ice forming on the window glass. He could see the barn. The door was still closed. Kid was still in there. Something inside Heyes softened. Kid was right, he did have cabin fever. He shouldn’t have hit him. They found the cabin during a snow storm. On the run from a posse and with no town nearby, it had been a welcome sight and well stocked too, but the snow, unlike the posse, had not let up. They had been stuck inside for two weeks, taking it in turns, during the worst of the storm, to follow a rope to the barn to check on the horses. Heyes read the only book he had with him, twice. He’d rearranged the furniture in the small cabin, he’d beaten Kid at poker so many times his partner refused to play with him any more and then he played solitaire until he didn’t care if he won or lost.
Peering out again he saw a sheepskin coated figure, carrying a bucket, walk from the barn down to the small frozen lake. The horses must need water. Heyes looked at their own meagre supply of fresh water and a thought struck him. Now could be a good time to break the ice.
Using a large branch Kid Curry smashed a hole in the ice, and then moved cautiously towards it. From the way the snow covered the ground he figured he was close enough to the edge of the lake without actually being out on the frozen water. Bending down, he made the hole wider to accommodate the bucket. He dipped the bucket into the water and filled it. He smiled at a sudden vision of himself throwing freezing water over Heyes. Could he? Nah… Heyes was grumpy enough already.
Standing up he heard an ominous creak. Kid stood perfectly still. The full bucket of water added to his weight. There was another creak and then a sudden, terrifying crack and the ice gave way. Kid hurled himself towards what he thought was the shore, only to find he was further out on the ice than he expected. He slipped, felt a shard of ice hit him in the jaw and plunged into the ice cold water.
Heyes heard a splash and something told him it wasn’t the bucket. He picked up his pace. When he reached the top of the hill he looked down at the lake, just in time to see Kid slip beneath the water.
“KID!” Heyes set off at a run.
When he reached the edge of the lake Kid was grabbing frantically at the slippery sides of the ice hole. With wet gloves, he couldn’t get a hand hold and slipped back into the freezing lake.
“KID! HANG ON!”
Lying on his stomach Heyes slid out onto the ice, feeling the cold penetrate his clothes the minute he did so. He pushed himself towards his partner. Kid’s teeth were chattering, his boots were filled with water and his waterlogged clothes were weighing him down. He was cold, so cold. He made a desperate grasp for the ice, but his hands slipped.
Flat on his belly, Heyes wriggled forward and held out his arm.
“Grab my hand!”
Kid reached for his friend but was just too far away and he was slipping backwards.
“GRAB HOLD, DAMMIT!” Heyes made a desperate lunge for Kid as he slid under the surface. “KID!” Heyes scrambled further onto the ice, reached the hole and made a frantic grab for his friend only to find himself staring at empty water. A brown hat floated on the surface. Heyes threw it to one side. Looking down he searched the darkness below him and then, to his horror, he was face to face with his partner, except Kid was under the ice, beating at the frozen water with his fists. Heyes removed his gun from his holster and pounded on the ice. Seeing the terrified look in Kid’s eyes and bubbles emerging from his mouth, Heyes beat faster and harder as Kid pounded back. Heyes pointed in the direction Kid needed to swim to reach the hole and then Kid disappeared. The water went eerily calm, Heyes searched frantically around him for any sign of his friend. Nothing! “KID! KID!”
And then Kid broke the surface of the water, gasping lungfuls of air. Heyes reached forward and grabbed his partner’s coat. There was no way he was going to let go. Gritting his teeth he pulled Kid towards the edge of the hole.
“Help me, Kid!” But his partner could do nothing to help himself. His body felt as frozen as the ice he had fallen through, his limbs no longer responded to his commands. He was cold, so cold and tired, so damn tired. Somehow, Heyes dragged him out of the water and onto the ice. Breathing heavily, and ignoring the creaks and groans of the ice beneath them, he dragged Kid’s lifeless body towards the snow covered shore. Digging his feet into the snow, Heyes hauled him up the bank. When they were both safe on firm ground, Heyes dropped to his knees. He was shivering himself, his own hands shaking as he slapped his friend’s face.
“Kid? Kid, c’mon wake up!” No response. Warmth, he had to get Kid warm. Fire, there was a fire back at the cabin but how..? Standing he took hold of Kid’s shoulders and began to drag him up the slope. The waterlogged clothing added to the weight he had to shift. “You sure could lose a few pounds,” Heyes grumbled as he struggled but there was no way he was giving up. Somehow he managed to get Kid back to the cabin, pulling him inside and in front of the fire.
“We hafta…g…g…get you outta these…w…w…wet clothes,” Heyes stammered, his own teeth chattering. When Kid’s coat was removed Heyes threw a blanket over him as he stoked the fire adding more wood until the flames grew higher. He removed Kid’s wet clothes and wrapped all the blankets they had around him. Wringing the water out of Kid’s pants and shirt, he hung them over the chairs. He rubbed Kid’s dripping hair with one of his shirts. Kid was still unresponsive as Heyes heated water for hot coffee. While he waited for the water to boil he knelt beside Kid, rubbing blood back into his arms.
“Come on, Kid, wake up.” His friend showed little response. If he had a bath tub he’d put Kid in it and add hot water but, the cabin lacked that facility.
Exhausted, Heyes sat beside his partner, sipping on a steaming cup of coffee, as water dripping from Kid’s hair pooled around his head. What more could he do? Talk, that was it, talk to Kid to keep him with him. If he could hear his friend’s voice maybe he wouldn’t slip away.
“You’d better not be giving up, Kid. I mean if you think I went through all that to let you die…well you’d just better not, okay? When we get that amnesty I want you to be there too. I made a promise to…well you know I made a promise, years ago and I’m not having you make me break it now. I’ll flatten you before I let you do that. And I need you to watch my back. I know I don’t say it often enough, but I sure do appreciate you doing that, being there, when I play poker or…well, I appreciate it.” He looked at Kid’s pale face.
“I made some coffee. Now I know you complain about it, I never understand why, because it tastes fine to me, but it’s good and hot and, say d’you want some now?” Heyes leaned forward, placed a hand under Kid’s neck and the coffee cup to his mouth. “C’mon Kid try and drink some. It’ll warm you up.”
Slowly he tilted the cup until the hot brown liquid touched Kid’s lips.
“Drink some, come on.”
Kid made no attempt to do so. Heyes tilted the cup higher. Coffee fell into Kid’s mouth and onto his face and he began to choke. As Kid woke, panic gripped him. He was back under the ice. He couldn’t breathe. There was no way out. His arms flailed frantically, knocking Heyes out of the way and sending the coffee flying. Coughing, Kid rolled onto his side, spitting out a mixture of lake water and coffee. Gasping for breath, fear in his eyes, he looked up at his friend.
“It’s okay, you’re okay, Kid, you’re alive, you’re safe.”
There was a broad grin of relief on Heyes’ face.
“Not if you’re trying to scald me with that stuff,” Kid spluttered as his eyes narrowed on his friend.
“Well there’s gratitude for you! I just pulled you from a freezing lake! Saved your life.”
“Just so you could drown me with your awful coffee?” Still coughing, Kid sat up, pulling the blankets around him and shivering as he did so. His face was pale, his body cold. His eyes met his partner’s and then he understood. Heyes had been as scared as he had. Kid closed his eyes and sighed. That had been a nightmare he didn’t want to relive. Opening his eyes again his met Heyes’ gaze. “That was a close one.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Heyes returned the smile.
“Don’t do that again, okay?”
“I’ll try not to.” Kid smiled and wrapped the blankets closer. “Got any of that coffee left?”
Heyes raised his eyebrows.
“You sure you want any? I hear it tastes awful.”
“It’s hot isn’t it?”
“Then I’ll risk it.”
Heyes stood up and walked over to the coffee pot. Returning to the fire he handed his partner a cup. Kid held it in both hands, savouring the warmth on his fingers as he sipped the thick brew. Heyes held back a smile, taking a drink of his own coffee. He glanced out of the window.
“Once you get warm, I guess we could try and head down the mountain now the sun’s come out. Could be the start of the thaw.”
“Yeah, and it’ll be just my luck to get washed into a river.”
“Boy, you sure are grouchy. You don’t see me complaining, do you?”
Incredulous, Kid stared at him, open mouthed. Heyes gave him an innocent look.
Lost for words, Kid shook his head. He was too weak to argue. Heyes smiled and tapped his coffee cup against Kid’s.