Ms. Doogan waited for the laughter to die down. “Think about this, boys and girls,” she said, waving a hand at the glacier.
"Seventy-five years ago? This little strip of beach we're picnicking on was under the glacier. That's right, under a big slab of ice just like that one. Your grandmas and grandpas couldn't have had a school picnic here." Eyes widened, measured the distance between the face of the glacier, a wall of ice a hundred feet high, and their beachfront picnic site. "Mother Nature doesn't waste time in the Kanuyaq River basin. How many of you remember last summer, when Grant Glacier thrust forward right over the lake?"
Blank looks all around. Ms. Doogan tried not to let her ex-asperation show. These kids were living in the middle of a ge-ological experiment in progress. If only she could get some of them to notice, they could go on to make a living from it one day.
They finished lunch and set out to explore. Ms. Doogan in-sisted that they go in groups of two or larger and stay in sight of her at all times, but beyond that they were free to wander as they chose, which added to the sense of it being more like a day off. Eric Kizzia ripped pages from his notebook and made paper sailboats to float in the lake, gathering other students to make a regatta out of it. Mary Lindbeck sat with her hands clasped around her knees and her face turned up to the sun. Others stretched out, some making notes, some napping.
"Hey, look, here's a trail," Johnny said. "It looks like it goes around the lake to the mouth of the glacier. Want to go?"
"Sure," Vanessa said.
"I'll go, too," Andrea said.
"And me," Betty said.
Johnny and Vanessa exchanged martyred looks. Johnny led off, with Vanessa behind. Somewhere along the route Andrea elbowed Vanessa to the rear. She tried to walk next to Johnny but the trail was too narrow, so instead she relied on tripping and slipping a lot. "Thanks," she said, the third time it happened. She smiled up at him as she used his hand to pull herself upright.
"Sorry to be so clumsy." She turned the smile on Vanessa, who looked more than usually wooden of face.
The next time Andrea tripped, Johnny stepped nimbly out of reach and Andrea went down on both knees. She didn't mind bleeding as much as she minded getting blood on her brand- new Gap khakis. Her language was unladylike.
"Sorry about that," Johnny said, only he didn't sound sorry at A. "Hey, Van, look at this. Is this a lupine?"
Betty shoved past both of them and peered at the slender green shoots, comparing them to the copy of Pratt's Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers she held open before her on the palms of both hands, like a priest consulting a sacred scroll. "Lupinus arc-ticus," she announced in the manner of one handing down a prophecy. "Of the pea or Fabaccae family. A perennial, which means it comes back every year."
They gazed at her, stunned into silence by an oblivious self-assurance that allowed Betty to be convinced that they were as spellbound by the subject as she was. "The arctic lupine grows ten to sixteen inches tall, prefers dry slopes, fields, and roadsides, and is not to be confused with the Nootka lupine, which grows in Southeastern, Southcentral, and on the Chain." She frowned down at the plants. "I can't tell which this is. The pictures only show them in bloom." She displayed the book accusingly.
"Yup, that's lupine," Johnny said, and Vanessa quickly fol-lowed his lead. "Lupine, definitely."
Once more Andrea brushed ineffectually at the knees of her khakis and muttered dire imprecations to the fashion gods.
Johnny watched her for a moment, and said, "Want to get closer to the glacier?" "Sure," Vanessa said, measuring the distance. "Can we?" "Sure, the trail looks like it goes right up to it." "It could fall on us," Andrea said. "We won't get that close," Johnny said. Andrea hesitated, and he shrugged and turned, saying over his shoulder, "Stay behind if you want."
Vanessa and Betty swung out onto the path behind him. An-drea bit her lip, and followed.
It was rough and rocky going, with treacherous bits of ice cleverly hidden by glacial silt only revealing themselves when trodden upon. A faint, translucent fog seemed to be rising up out of the face of the glacier, looming large and blue in front of them.
They heard a faint cry, and looked around to see Ms. Doogan waving at them from the beach. "Did you hear her?" Johnny said.
"Hear who?" Vanessa said.
"We'd better go back, we could get in trouble," Andrea said.
Betty, caught between a natural inclination to succumb to authority and a congenital compulsion to amass scientific data, wavered.
"Come on," Johnny said. "We're almost there."
In the end the four of them approached the foot of the glacier together. Where the moraine ended, the leading edge of ice had eroded into a yawning black cave, shallow, dark from the silt and dirt embedded in it, an enormous, engulfing shadow in om-inous contrast to the bright, sunny day a few feet away. It was melting so fast that the runoff sounded like rain. The gravel beneath, rounded smooth by millennia of glacial erosion, was wet and shiny. The cold and the moisture hit their faces like a slap.
-ies like standing in front of an open refrigerator," Andrea said.
Johnny didn't look at Vanessa, the same way she didn't look at him. Andrea lived in Niniltna, where they had electricity com-ing out of every wall plug. She didn't live on a homestead, like he did, or on a defunct roadhouse site like Vanessa, or in the middle of a bison farm like Betty. Townies just had no clue.
Johnny peered into the interior. "Whoa," Betty said. "You don't want to get too close." She pointed. "The face is calving all the time. Look at all that fallen stuff. Some of those pieces are pretty big. You don't want to get hit."
"Darn right we don't," Andrea said tartly. "Okay, we've been here, done that, let's go back."
"There's someone in there," Johnny said.
"Oh, come on," Andrea said with a playful slap at his shoul-der. "Stop kidding around."
"I'm not kidding," Johnny said, "there's somebody inside, un-der the glacier."
"What?" Betty and Vanessa crowded next to him, peering into the gloom. "Where?"
They followed the direction indicated by his pointing finger, and out of the dim a figure coalesced, a dark outline, vaguely human, sitting bolt upright with its back to the ice where the ice curved in to meet the gravel. The figure appeared to be clothed. At least no flesh was gleaming whitely at them.
It also wasn't moving. "Um, hello?" Johnny said.
It didn't move. "Hello, you there inside the glacier," Betty said in an unconscious imitation of Ms. Doogan's authoritarian accents. "You need to come out from under the glacier. It could fall on you."
At that moment a shard of roughly the size of a bronto-saurus calved from the face of the glacier and smashed to the earth outside in a thousand pieces, one of which narrowly missed Andrea, which, after her own heart settled down, Vanessa -thought was a dam shame. They all jumped and bumped into each other. Johnny swore. Andrea, of course, screamed. "You guys are nuts, you re all going to get squished! There's no one in there, no one would be crazy enough to go in there! I'm going back to the lake!"
The other three heard the sound of rapidly receding feet. The opening into the ice was still free. "Hello?" Johnny repeated. "You need to come out of there, whoever you are."
There was no response.
"Maybe they're dead," Vanessa said, articulating the thought uppermost in all their minds. "We should check."
She stepped inside then open mouth of the cave. After a momentary hesitation, Johnny and Betty followed.
As they approached the sitting figure, their eyes adjusted to the darkness. It was a man, dressed in worn jeans and a Carhartt’s jacket. His face was the blue-white of the face of the glacier, veined and mottled.
The hole in his chest was the size of a basketball.
Copyright 2003 by Dana Stabenow