Base CampTim NoonanThe snow is falling and I can¶t see two feet in front of me. I regret stepping out from the shelter of the cave, modest protection from the blizzard now upon me, but enough to keep the stingingwind from my eyes and the feeling in my toes. But I¶ve a job to do. So I move on.I close my eyes. It seems like just moments ago I was with them at base camp. The light snowhad just begun and we were all in a festive spirit - sharing a ration of eggnog, playfully leadingher under the mistletoe by ³accident´ for a kiss. Times were good. But like all good things, Iguess it was destined to change.I stumble and sink up to my thigh. I question the wisdom of our decision.
decision I remindmyself. But only to deflect the guilt, and I know it. I never really tried to stop him.Like I said, we were doing okay. The snow began to fall in wet sticky clumps, not the lightswirling flakes of the day before, but we were alright. We were together. We found a box of candy canes someone had squirreled away and continued to pretend everything was fine, justanother normal holiday. She even had us singing Jingle Bells, maybe to avoid telling us what shehad to tell us. But he found out, he could always read her like a book.I stop to catch my breath. Despite the arctic cold, hot sweat has formed on the back of my neck.My hair is damp. That can be death out here. I¶m also tired. How long I¶ve been out here onlyGod knows. It feels like days now, but I can¶t tell. There¶s no time out here. Only darkness. Istruggle to lift my right leg. I stumble again and wonder when the last time I had eaten had been.It was mid-day. I was reading him the report I was working on when she stepped in. She smiledat us but didn¶t sit down. He guessed it right away. Rations were low. She nodded, wiping her hands on her khakis; just enough to get us through one more meal. It would be plain, shelaughed, but it would keep us alive for another day. But after that«the pantry was bare. Sheturned around and went back to the galley. He told me to finish, but I could see his eyes move beyond me and out to the white expanse beyond the frosted window.My mouth is dry. I am considering shoveling in a mouthful of snow when I see the tree. The treethat marks the trail back to camp! I run to it. I fall into it, wrapping my arms around the trunk. Idon¶t have the strength left to hold on. I slip past. The world goes black.While he geared up, she went about her business. Maybe that was her way of pretendingeverything was normal. I watched him. I feebly asked him to send me instead, but he waved itaway. He had seniority, it was his responsibility. I didn¶t protest. If only I had, maybe thingswould have been different.I open my eyes. The tree looms overhead, its bare branches drooping dangerously low with theweight of the sticky snow. I¶m thankful I didn¶t pass out face down, I could have suffocated. I