A Long Winter's Hike

by Patricia

ATF Universe

Part 16

JDs head immerged up through the trapdoor into a hallway, the dog had followed him into the cellar and now pushed past him into the house. JD climbed the rest of the way up, closing the trap door behind him and placing the throw rug back on top of it. It was definitely warmer in here, but still the house had a real chill to it, as though no one had turned up the heat in a while. There was nothing fancy about the place, but it looked to be maintained with a loving hand. The furniture was old, but sturdy, with throw rugs covering the couches and all the chairs. The rugs were also scattered around on the hardwood floors, each one different, handmade and sewn with a multitude of colors. The walls were all log, but artwork hung everywhere, all of it had a western theme, plus there were several portraits of people, some which looked generations old.

In the corner of the living room stood a blue spruce tree, at least nine feet tall. It was adorned with a mixed bag of decorations, from a child's hand made paper chain, to antique glass angels. The rest of the room was awash with Christmas colors. Ribbon bows, garland, Santa's and snowmen figurines adorned the room and the house was filled with the wondrous scent of cedar boughs and apple cinnamon.

Up against the outside wall stood a rock fireplace that JD desperately wished was on.

The kitchen was as neat as the rest of the house. Outdated, but still functional appliances were surrounded by pine kitchen cabinets. On the counter sat a bowl of cashews and fruit, JD felt guilty as he scooped up a handful of the nuts and a banana. "Oh well," he said to the tail wagging dog before him. "You are what you eat!"

Walking down the hallway, JD counted three bedrooms, the first one a small little girl's room, filled with a mixture of dolls and toy horses. On the wall was a collage of pictures, all of them of the pinto pony, from what looked like his first day, to recent ones. A brown pony-tailed girl of about six was also in most of the shots, leading, feeding, hugging and even sleeping beside the pony

The next room was a blue nursery, newly decorated, with baby gifts still in their boxes sitting in the crib. Stuffed animals abound, set wherever there was an empty space.

The last room was the largest, a king size brass bed was placed in the middle of the floor, a big, bright, fluffy quilt covering it. JD had never seen a more welcoming sight in his life, if only he could crawl under it and sleep buried in its warmth.

JD headed back to the main living area looking for a phone, first to contact Chris and then search and rescue. It was going to be a hell of a search, because JD had no idea where he was, he hoped he could find the name of the ranch written on something. Situated back behind the tree sat a small desk with a phone hidden on it; JD picked it up to dial, but the line was dead. "No, come on, please work!" JD disconnected and tried again, still nothing but silence met his ear. Desperately, he moved through the house, looking for another source of communication, a computer, or CB radio, or even another phone in case the one in the living room was malfunctioning, but all to no avail.

He had no idea how far he was from the nearest neighbor, or even which direction to go and Buck and Josiah couldn't stay where they were much longer without food, or appropriate heat. Both men had injuries that needed medical attention, especially Josiah, but JD wasn't sure how to even get them this far

Dreading the mere thought of it JD knew he was going to have to go back out in the cold and find away to get his friends at least to here. Racing, at least that's what JD tried to do, it was more of an amble, he headed back to the master bedroom. All his clothes were soaking wet and clinging to his body. JD rifled in the closets and drawers for warm dry clothes. This being a working ranch the clothes he found were not fancy, but all functional and warm. Stiffly, he peeled off his wet things. Glancing up he caught his reflection in the dresser mirror; it was no wonder he felt so lousy. Bruises covered his body; he had a shiner on one eye and split lip from his acquaintance with Rock. Scrapes and black and blue patches mottled his body, caused from his tumble out of the van and then falling off the mountain. Welt like whip marks were on his face and upper torso, from running into tree branches trying to escape from the bear.

The clothes felt like heaven, as he struggled to get each article on over clammy skin. He wished he had time to jump in the claw foot bathtub, he had seen in the bathroom. He was a shower kind of guy, but the thought of soaking in a tub of hot water was incredibly appealing.

JD returned to the kitchen, he had to take the time to eat something, or he would not be in any shape to help himself, let alone his friends. He found a can of soup in the pantry and put it on the stove to heat, then while looking for bread in the freezer compartment he saw the note taped to the fridge. "Well, that explains the empty house." JD said to himself, as he read the hurriedly scribbled note.

Frank, thanks for feeding the livestock, will let you knew if it's a boy or girl. Doctor says Emily will probably have to stay in hospital at least a week after the baby is born


P.S. Still have not been able to find my old draft horse, or that pinto gelding that escaped out of south pasture. My daughter is really upset about her pony, so please keep a lookout for them. Thanks.

Whoever this Frank was, it didn't look like he had made here with all the snow, JD debated looking for his place, but it could be anywhere. Besides if the phone was out here, chances were they wouldn't work at this guys place either.

JD gobbled down his can of soup, Campbell's had never tasted better to the starving youth, sharing the bread with his large hairy friend. While he ate he had three more cans warming on the stove to take to Buck and Josiah. He had found a thermos in the back of the pantry, big enough to hold all he made. Then as he pulled a carton of milk out of the fridge, smelling it to see if it was still drinkable, a cookie tin on the bottom shelf caught his eye, opening it; he found an assortment of culinary delights.

Carrying a large glass of milk and the cookies JD wandered back into the living room. The fireplace had wood neatly stacked inside, just waiting to be lit, so that's what he did. Sitting in front of its flames with the dog's head on his lap, JD let the heat roll over him, soaking in the power of its healing warmth. Before he knew it, most of the cookies were gone, along with the milk. Fighting to stay awake, he stared at the fire dancing in front of his eyes, trying to regain some of his depleted energy. With a resigned sigh, he rose to his feet and returned his dirty dish to the kitchen.

His coat and gloves were still totally soaked, so JD made his way to the back porch in hopes of finding a coat there. To his surprise the back room was full of winter clothes, but it was the snowmobile suits that caught his attention. He searched through the suits until he found one that was just a little big on him. Hats and gloves of every size hung off a coat rack where they could dry. If they had suits, JD prayed they had the snowmobiles to go with them. He didn't want to drag the old horse along with him, but he had to find someway to transport Buck and Josiah once he was with them again. The old horse had already done his job getting JD here and deserved his feed and rest in the warm barn, but JD would use him if he had to.

Calling the dog JD went back outside, heading towards what looked like a garage. The snow and wind had really picked up again, the tracks he made earlier by the house, gone already. JD was grateful for suit he now wore, protecting him from the unrelenting winds.

Pushing the large shop door open, he and the dog entered the building. It was like the house, a solid log frame that had stood the test of time. Neat, and well organized, tools all hanging in their rightful places on the wall. A tractor sat torn apart in the middle of the room and a truck engine, attached to a pulley, hung down from the ceiling waiting to be rebuilt.

"Yes!" Barely visible in the dark, a yellow Ski Doo from the early sixties was parked in the back corner, under a pile of tarps.

JD shoved the tarps to the ground and with a lot of grunting and groaning managed to drag the machine to the front of the shop. By the luck of god, the key rested in the ignition and a 200-gallon gas drum sat just outside the shop door. JD went out and filled up a gas can to put in the machine.

"Okay dog, cross your fingers this baby's going to start." JD turned the key to the on position and pulled the starter rope, the machine turned over with a rumble, and then stalled. "Oh, hell, come on Start, Start!" JD yanked the rope harder this time. Snap! Down went JD on to his butt, the splayed starter rope dangling in his hand.

JD let out a string of swearwords a longshoreman, would have blushed at. The dog whined and crept up to give JD's face a lick, bringing at least a twitch of a smile to his mouth.

JD lifted the hood on the snowmobile, finding the other end of the starter rope; he tied the two ends together. He then attempted to rewind the start recoil mechanism. When he was finally done, another thirty-five minutes had gone by.

"One more time, please just start." JD tentatively pulled on the cord, nothing. He drew in a big breath and this time gave another hard pull. It sputtered and coughed and then to JD's great relief, roared to life. Not willing to risk it not starting again, JD left it running and went to the back of the shop again. Hanging on the wall was a skimmer sled, shaped like a long toboggan and made to attach to the back of the Ski Doo. He dragged it down and connected it, then opened the heavy doors all the way, and drove up to the house.

JD grabbed the thermos of hot soup and some bread and then went in search of blankets. On his way out of the house he wrote a note in case the occupants were able to somehow return, explaining who he was and which direction he was going to start off in. If he did not make it back, hopefully these people would find Buck and Josiah. He also flipped on the outside light switch, as dusk was fast approaching, he would need all the help he could get in finding his way back to here.

JD threw the extra blankets and thermos in the back of the skimmer, along with Buck's boots, as he had found a pair of smaller Kodiak boots on the back porch. Two small geri cans of gas were set away from the other supplies, at the back of the sled.

He turned to look at the house one last time before leaving; it was aglow with Christmas lights, the whole log frame outlined in glorious color. If their lives were not in such peril he would have been speechless at the beauty around him, it was truly a winter wonderland. Unfortunately, he was too exhausted and scared for himself and his friends to appreciate it. Climbing on the seat he headed down the snow covered driveway, turning his head around at the sound of mad barking. The dog was floundering in the snow after him, not wanting to be left behind. Knowing he shouldn't, JD slowed the machine down letting the dog catch up and jump onto the sled. Crazy mutt, if he wants to ride along JD wasn't going to argue, his presence gave him a stronger feeling of security, plus he valued the company.

Once they got to the end of the driveway JD turned to the left and made his way up the unplowed road, praying he was going in the right direction. JD would kill for Vin's tracking skills right now. Even if he could have driven the snowmobile through the dense bush, all his and the horses tracks were long covered by the snow, He had gotten so completely turned around in the woods, when running from the bear he didn't know north from south. He could only hope this was the road he and the others had been driven up yesterday and he would eventually just come across the cabin.

Dusk was fast becoming night, the wind continuing to pick up steam. The snow blinded JD, as it whipped against his face, making his eyes water. He had to close his eyes to melt the frozen tears; his once long black lashes were now white, thick with frost. JD tucked his chin and nose down inside his scarf and pulled his hood tighter against his head, trying to limit the amount of skin exposed to the elements. On the back of the sled, the dog laid curled in a ball, seemingly happy to just stay where he was.

The headlights arched out in front of him, highlighting millions of swirling snowflakes, but little else. JD had visions of his friends and himself lost out here forever, stranded and buried under twenty feet of snow, their bones picked clean by birds after the spring thaw. He could feel the snow and darkness closing in around him, choking off his air, and making his ears ring.

JD came to a sliding stop and dropped his head into his hands, shudders vibrating through his body. Lifting his head upwards, he took in great gulping breaths, closing his eyes to block out the world around him. Waves of claustrophobia washing over him, he could feel each new snowflake land on him, burying him under their weight. The great huge universe felt like it was being sucked down into a whirling funnel, pulling JD down with it towards the core of the earth.

Warm, panting breaths floated across JDs cheek and insistent nudges in his stomach, forced him to reopen his eyes. The dog climbed half up on to the snowmobile seat, clamoring to get closer to JD. JD threw his arms around the great hulking neck, resting his head against the rough fur. Drinking in the wet doggy smell, JD let himself relax, gathering comfort and strength from the animal. His heart still pounding and hands shaking, he sat back up. "What the heck is wrong with me, man, I've got to get it together here?" JD mumbled in the dogs ear, then shook his head as if to dislodge the fearful images. He was just so tired; he had pushed his body and mind past the limitations of coherent thoughts, or actions.

The big dog draped himself across the seat behind JD, making the machine feel off balance, but JD didn't want to relinquish his contact with another living being just yet. As long as the dog was willing to ride in that uncomfortable position, JD was willing to drive a little slower.

The road in front was a white blur, everywhere else, just black. JD continued to move up the road for approximately another hour and then he slowly started to zigzag back, and forth. Shining the headlight into the tree line, looking for any familiar landmarks. Everything looked the same; he couldn't tell one tree from another, the clouds had been so low the last few days he had no background visuals to go on, even if it wasn't so dark.

Patience was fast fading as frustration, anger and fear for his friends started taking over again. How far up the road could they be, had he really walked this far, or was he wasting valuable time wandering around on the wrong road? Or had he already passed them in the dark, should he turn around and search another road, what if he passed them again going back? JD felt the strongest about this direction, but he had little to base that on, just a gut feeling. Heck, he usually spent as much time trying to find where he parked at the mall, as he did inside shopping. The team always depended on Vin to get them to their destinations. Well, when he and the others were home JD was going to make Vin show him everything there was to know about tracking and survival in the wilderness, even if it took years.

Debating if he should change direction, JD turned the sled harder to the right, to circle back when he saw the log pile. It looked like the hundreds of others he had past, but for some reason JD felt he should have a closer look. The snow covering the logs was a bit rough, like someone, or thing had disrupted it. JD left the headlights pointing towards the pile and got off to explore, the dog hot on his trail. He climbed over the first log pile and looked around, but nothing spoke to him that this area was different from any other. Turning, he called the dog to return to the sled and at that second saw it, a small piece of material that had been ripped from his coat, stuck in a branch. He was on the right track, and getting nearer to the guys.

JD thought of that expression about the destination not being important, but the journey. Well, so far this journey had sucked, as far as JD was concerned, but soon his destination would have him back with Buck and Josiah, and that will have made this journey worthwhile.

Part 17

JD quickly made his way back to the snowmobile, with the dog right on his heels. When he tried to climb back on the seat, JD grabbed his collar and led him around to the back of the sled. "Sorry boy, but you will be safer here, I have to make time now."

JD jumped on, one knee kneeling on the seat, standing with the other. His head was no longer below the windshield, but he didn't pay attention to the cold, now he concentrated on going as fast as he could.

His only thoughts were on getting back to his friends. JD raced along in the night, twisting and turning in places, but mostly going straight down the logging road. He now had the throttle wide open, pounding through snow banks, nothing but a black and white blur going past him. He had walked for over two hours this morning before meeting up with the bear, but it had been a long difficult struggle, trudging through the deep snow, he could only guess how far he had actually gotten away from the cabin.

JD never even saw it, he was just starting to think about slowing down, when the drift appeared before him. JD expected to just ride over it like he had the rest, when the Ski- Doo hit it, a large boulder hidden under a mass of snow. Catching the corner of the rock, the machine was thrust into the air, before flipping over and sliding upside-down for twenty feet.

JD screamed as the machine came down on top of him, propelling him along the frozen ground. The only thing saving him from being squashed was the soft snow, which gave beneath his weight. JD lay on his back, the snowmobile resting between his legs still running, pinning him to the ground. The steering handle pressed against his neck, so he had no mobility with his head. Frantically he brought his hands up, trying to grasp the handle and push it off him, but the machine's weight was too much for him and would not budge.

"Buck!" He screamed over the noise the snowmobile motor was making. "Buck, Josiah, I need help." JD kicked and pushed again at the machine, then started to drag at the snow beside him. Maybe he could dig himself out. With his head still cranked to the right, he pushed with his left arm and leg trying to move the snow out behind him.

Something sharp suddenly cut across his hand, making him wrench his neck further, as he struggled to see where the new attack was coming from. Then he recognized the whining. JD never had time to think about his hairy buddy, but now here he was digging behind his back. Whether he was smart enough to know he had to dig to get the youth out, or he was just trying to get closer to JD didn't matter. The snow was flying everywhere; JD could wriggle his arm and shoulders now, lessening the pressure on his neck. Gradually, between the two of them, the pile of snow grew away from the snowmobile and JD was able to squirm out.

The dog came and lay down against the prone figure; JD moaned as his ribs sprang back now the weight on them was gone. He could feel the bruises forming on the insides of his thighs as he lay there, some more to add to the list, courtesy of this little adventure. He couldn't believe he had gotten this close to the cabin, only to have trouble find him again. He really had a little black cloud following him around the last few days, none of it his fault. Reaching over he gave the dog a pat of gratitude, he didn't know if he would have gotten out without him.

With a great effort and lots of groaning, he rose to his feet. His neck protesting loudly as he swiveled his head around, trying to loosen it up. Pain suddenly radiated up from his one thigh, causing him to almost collapse back to the ground. It hurt so badly, it momentarily took his breath away, JD cautiously ran a hand over that area and felt a large bruising bump starting to form.

Ignoring the pain JD made his way over to the accident sight, the skimmer sled was still attached, but up-side down as well, the supplies scattered all over the ground in a twenty foot radius. Rocking the machine back and forth, JD finally got the snowmobile right side up, its motor still running, but it's windshield snapped almost in half. JD examined it, but it didn't look like he could salvage it, so he broke the rest of it off and threw it into the drift. Fumbling around in the dark and snow, he finally managed to find all his supplies and load them back on the sled. The dog decided he had had enough of the sled, choosing to run along behind instead. He figured the poor animal must have gone for quite a ride himself when the sled flipped. JD drove slowly, so the dog could keep up and he could see when they came to the cabin. Also, small waves of pain kept hitting his body, making it hard to concentrate on the road in front of him, he learnt his lesson on going too fast.

A very faint light appeared off in the distance, through the snowstorm its glow getting brighter the closer the weary travelers got. At last JD pulled up in front of the little cabin, the light from the wood stove shining through cracks in the cabins wall. He knew he would not find a lot of warmth inside, but at least he could get out of the storm while his friends ate.

"Buck, your hero has arrived!" JD bellowed as he came in the door, scaring the heck out of both men inside.

Josiah was still on the bed, as he had been when JD last saw him, but at least this time he was awake. Buck sat in the chair with his leg up on a grate, a blanket wrapped around him. The cabin was surprisingly warm, or at least JD thought it was compared to where he had spent most of his day.

Buck reached up and tried to pull JD down for a hug but they both yelped as their sore bodies protested, so settled for shaking hands.

"So where's the cavalry son, Chris, and the guys behind you?" Buck asked as he released his roommate's cold hand.

"Just me Buck, I couldn't find any help, this is a very unpopulated spot." JD started to explain, when the air shook with the sound of howling, the hair standing up on the back of Bucks neck.

"JD, get back in here… JD!" Buck yelled out as JD turned and limped into the storm again. "JD, damn it, come back here!" The crate flying out from under his leg, Buck tried to get up so he could go rescue his crazy young friend from whatever man-eating beast roamed out there. "You freeze your brains while you were out there, you damn fool, what do you think yo…." The rest of his screaming fit was cut off as JD returned with one of the biggest dogs Buck had ever seen.

The dog filled the small cabin, his great wagging tale beating everything in his path. "JD, get that thing out of here." Buck exclaimed, while trying to push the mammoth beast back, which was trying equally hard to lick Buck's face, since he was level with his head. "Jezz JD, now the cabin reeks like wet dog, no offence mutt, but you stink and we're out of doggie deodorant. Ow, you stupid dog, stop leaning on my sore leg, JD get him out of here!"

"Well get used to him Buck, cause I'm not leaving him outside, he needs to dry off too, besides he's pretty handy to have around." JD did not elaborate, but closed the cabin door, crossed his arms and returned the nasty stare Buck was shooting his way with one of his own. A haughty, "I told you off and this is settled!" look on his face.

Josiah chuckled, and then his shoulders started to shake and a deep rumble erupted from his chest. Both men whipped around to fix their glares on him, but they had no effect as Josiah continued to lose the battle of control over his laughter.

"You want to let us in on your little joke there Josiah, because I'm not finding to much to laugh at right this moment.

"We sat here this afternoon in the peace and quiet, and did nothing but worry about JD being out there alone. Now he's back and in less than two minutes total havoc has returned with him. All these nice things you wanted to say to him, about always being in his life and having his kids named after you and here you are yelling already about a wet dog. I'm sorry for laughing, just the sentimental reunion touched a warm fuzzy spot in my tired old cynical heart." Josiah wiped at the tears forming in his eyes from laughing.

Buck shot Josiah a look of disgust; that conversation was supposed to be confidential. Buck just knew arming JD with that kind of information would eventually come back and bite Buck in the butt.

"You want me to name my kids after you, I'm touched, but who would name a poor kid Buck, I mean besides your mom. Not that Buck's a bad name, it just isn't, you know, like a real name, isn't that right Josiah." JD shot Josiah a pleading look, to see if the preacher could help him get his foot out of his mouth. Josiah had stopped laughing and now had his head back down on the pillow. His eyes were squeezed shut, a furrow of pain etched on his forehead.

"Josiah, you okay over there?" Buck asked as JD went to check on the older man, concern shining on his face.

"Yeah, I guess my head still not up to par yet, just give me a minute and I'll be fine." Josiah sighed as JD placed his cold hands against his forehead, the cold giving him temporary relief from his pounding head.

JD knew Josiah would be a lot more comfortable at the ranch house; he just wasn't sure how hard the trip would be on the older man, even riding on the sled.

"I have food on the back of the sled, you guys should eat and then we can head back to the ranch." JD said looking over at Buck.

"What ranch JD, you said you couldn't find anyone?" Buck asked, the kid never said anything about a ranch. In fact, with the wind blowing the two men never even heard JD pull up, so they didn't know how he had arrived back at the cabin.

"Where I found the snowmobile and the dog and the winter clothes and lucky for you Buck, food." Did Buck think this stuff just appeared out of thin air? "Good detective work Buck, nothing gets by you." JD smirked at the man, who just gave him a dirty look back. He was really glad the kid made it back, but after the last two days he had just put in, he wasn't in the mood to take lip from him and for once in his life JD thought it prudent to back off. "Sorry, I found two horses to be more exact and they took me to this ranch, but there was no one home. I found a note saying they are at some hospital having a baby, phone lines were down still when I left to come back here."

After bringing in the supplies from outside, JD reheated the soup on the wood stove in the cabins only pot. Josiah managed to eat a few mouthfuls, more to make JD happy, than because he was hungry. JD ate a small dish, the hot soup felt soothing to his throat going down, while Buck polished off the rest, even grudgingly sharing a piece of bread with the dog.

JD helped Josiah into his winter coat and then helped guide the staggering man out to the sled. Josiah lay down; his head on the only pillow and let JD cover him up with some of the blankets from the ranch. Lastly, he was wrapped in one of the small tarps that had been stored in the shop, to keep the wet snow and wind off him.

Buck made it as far as the door on his own, before requiring help from his roommate in getting from the cabin to the Ski-Doo. Buck sat on the seat behind JD, his bad leg stretched out in front of him. JD wrapped him up in the remaining blankets and tied the last tarp around his shoulders.

"You have any idea what your doing kid, don't forget, I've seen you ride your motorcycle and I'm not sure sitting on a snowmobile with you driving is the safest place for two guys who are already pretty banged up to be. Maybe we should wait here for Chris and the guys to come and rescue us?" Asked a skeptical Buck, no one could antagonize JD like Buck could.

"Do not try this at home kids, a professional driver was used in the making of this commercial!" JD yelled over his shoulder to his mustached friend and hit the throttle.

"Say your prayers Josiah, this idiot is going to kill us all, pull over kid, even with my bad leg I think we'll all be better off if I drive." Buck bellowed back in JDs ear.

"Buck, would you relax and give me credit for something, I made to the cabin didn't I, I'll get you to the ranch in one piece." I just won't tell you about flipping it, JD thought to himself.

The ride back was easier than the one coming out, JD stayed in the same tracks as he had made earlier, except for the places he had zigzagged looking for the cabin. The dog ran behind, the path was harder now that it had been packed down twice by the snowmobile. JD fought the urge to go faster, knowing neither of the other men would handle the ride well with their injuries, but he really wanted to get back to the ranch. His own body was being pounded unmercifully and he was again chilled right to the bone. Without the windshield he had no protection from the wind and pelting snow, even Buck had finally put his head down against JDs back, using him as a windbreak.

"Okay professional driver, what the hell happened here?" Buck asked as they drove past the broken windshield and heavily ripped up trail of snow. Looking back Buck could see tracks hitting a snow bank then disappearing for a good ten feet, then what looked to be a long skid mark. At the end of the skid was a deep hole, with a mound of snow beside it and the broken windshield stuck in it.

"JD, you going to tell me about it?" Buck whispered in JDs ear. JD gave his head a negative shake. "Nope."

"JD, what did you do?" Buck repeated. "There seems to be a windshield missing from this machine and hey look, there's a windshield stuck in a snow bank just back there. Coincidence… I don't think so?"

"Let's just say it got in my way, so I took it off, okay Mr. Have to Know Everything." One little accident and Buck had to see it. The next few weeks JD knew he would be spending a lot of time dodging the interrogations of six highly trained agents on this incident.

The ride continued on, seeming endless. Josiah tried to sleep, but felt like he was rocking on a boat in the middle of a typhoon. Each bump on the trail making him more nauseous as they went along. Buck's leg throbbed steady and was so stiff he seriously wondered if it would ever bend again. He still had too many women to chase, to be slowed down by a permanent limp. He could also feel the exhaustion coming off the back of the young man in front of him. Buck would have loved to be able to remove the responsibility of this trip from JDs shoulders, but his leg was not going to cooperate, so he resigned himself to the role of passenger.

JD had fought the closing of his eyes for the last hour. The excitement at meeting up with his friends again had worn off, now he just felt every aching pain on his body. He contemplated letting Buck drive, but knew his friend's leg was too badly injured. The bruise on JD's thigh was giving him great grief, but at least he could bend it and in time it would heal without causing lasting damage. JD stopped briefly to let the dog climb on the sled with Josiah, after he started to fall behind in the steadily increasing snowfall. Wearily, he compressed his cold joints back down onto the seat and wrapped his frozen fingers around the steering handle, before heading off again.


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