On the open snow-covered ground stood Sterling, his face contorted in disgust, tears frozen to his face, the blood in his nose trapped in the frost bitten capillaries. Frank was at his feet, mangled, nearly turned inside out. He wanted to kneel but his legs were too frozen. He wanted to pray but his hands were too cold to move. Frank was alive only minutes before. He could see the steam rising from his insides as he witnessed the 21 grams of death’s release. The wind picked at his back, his large coat haphazardly thrown over the suspenders of his snow trousers, an oversized hood hanging lifeless over his shaggy hair, the snow clinging to his unkempt beard like mold to a rock. He barely had time to get dressed when in a frenzy Frank managed to slam his body into the door to open it.
Sterling was alone on the northern tip of Svalbard, his husky torn apart and laying inches from his boots. Behind him was a small shack he called home, and behind that, the only tree to exist in Svalbard, the very last willow to exist before the sea divided the livable land and the wastes of frozen tundra and the North Pole. It was only halfway into the third month of night, almost three more months until the sun would set again on the horizon.
“Frank...” he whispered, his voice coarse and painful.
Sterling could find no other words. The cold does a strange thing to the voice. The death of man’s best friend does even more. He wanted to say something beautiful, but he couldn’t muster more than a name.
He shuffled back into his shack disappearing for only a few minutes, cutting silhouettes over the golden windows, till returning with a large wooden crate and a shovel. Sterling had gathered some more sense now. Not enough to ignore the grim fact that in this setting, it was probably a polar bear nearby that killed Frank, but enough sense to have bundled up enough to be out in the freezing night air without suffering sudden frost bite. His face was now wrapped up in a scarf, his eyes dry, but blood red. Slamming the shovel into the ice, he finally knelt.
Sterling gathered up his husky the best he could, wearing old gloves he could throw away later. He set Frank into the crate like how a mother lays her baby down in the crib, and he carefully made sure to put him into a sleeping position. With the lid back on the crate he dragged it on top of the icy snow, around to the back his poorly lit shack. There was the tree. It took two hours to dig through all the snow and the frozen ground, but he gave Frank a resting place at the bottom of that legendary willow. Sterling stared at his blood stained gloves for only a moment, before he spun around, shoulder low, and staggered back inside.
The days crawled by, one miserable day after another. He would take the long ride to town on his four wheeler every once in awhile for supplies, but where he lived there were no humans, and the days were much quieter.
On the very first day of the forth month of night, Sterling heard a strange clanking outside his front door. With that he arose from his rocking chair in front of the fire and peeked out the front door, opening it only a smidgeon, accidentally kicking Frank’s empty food dish. He could make out something after his eyes adjusted, but only the snow shifted in the dark. After getting on his outside gear and grabbing a torch, he stepped out into the snow.
Sterling saw the one thing he never wanted to see again. With the light of only his torch in the darkness he stumbled out to find a lone crate. The very crate he had buried under the willow. Bewildered he looked around spastically, his breathing growing deep as his heart pulsed the blood through his veins with increasing speed. His eyes darted around looking for any signs of movement. He got closer. The crate was empty. His lips quivered as he rubbed his hand on the crate to make sure he wasn’t imagining it. Unfortunately, it was there. The blood still stained the inside. He stumbled back a few steps, when the foulest stench of rotten flesh clawed its way into his senses. He gagged again as the scent grew stronger. Seeking the air he ripped the scarf from his face. Dropping his torch in the snow he gripped his face with both of his hands trying to hold back the vomit.
In a flash Sterling found himself on the ground, small black claws scraping away at his coat, two solid black eyes staring back at him with ambition. In defense, he pushed the small black-bodied creature off of him. It rebounded faster than he could and was right back on him before he could get to his feet. Screaming in anguish Sterling fought back, managing to land a few good punches before it had clawed into his chest. Covered in red he managed to get his knee up to separate him from the beast, and with a right hook he stunned it again, quickly swinging his body around and kicking it with all the strength he could muster. It let out a high-pitched shriek as it clamored into the snow, slipping and trying to find it’s footing again. Sterling landed another boot on the creature, and rapidly snatched back up the his torch, climbed on top of the creature, and beat it until only the snow moved in the darkness once again.
There was so much adrenaline in his system he didn’t even feel the hundred of razor-like wounds all over his body and his face. He didn’t feel the cold at all. All he could see was this tiny lifeless creature. It had the body of a man, but smaller, almost fragile and malnourished. It was completely bald, naked, and its skin appeared like oil. Everything it touched it left a black residue. It had a large oval-shaped head, and long sharp fingers and two overly-sized, pitch black eyes with no inkling of eyelids. A small mouth filled with carnivorous teeth.
The stench was growing stronger as he heard the snow giving away to footfall. Hundreds of tiny foot falls, slicing their way through the frozen skin of Svalbard. Sterling dashed for the door of his cabin, fighting the snow and his numb limbs. Another creature caught up with him and grabbed the tail of his coat. In complete panic he let his arms fall back, and he felt his jacket pulled off his body. He dove inside the front door, slamming it open with his shoulder, and kicking it shut after it had rebounded off the wall, sending all the pictures he had hanging crashing to the floor. He threw the lock on the door, and pushed a small chest of drawers up against it, all the while hearing these blackened creatures scratching on the other side. All through the night, Sterling heard them scratching. He boarded up the windows haphazardly, knowing that boarding them from the inside was almost fruitless, but they never broke the glass. They just would stare back at Sterling through the gaps in the spare firewood he had nailed onto the window frames.
Daylight was a month away. Sleep only came when his body could no longer stay awake. And when he did awake, he found himself in a nightmare. He built a secondary barricade inside his shack. He cried the day he could hear them disassembling his four-wheeler outside. Sterling rationed all the food he had left. He kept all the blankets he could on himself, only feeding the fire when he absolutely had to. He counted the days, hoping that the sun would banish them, like they were some sort of vampire. He had a shotgun on the off chance of a polar bear, but these creatures were far from that. In fact he knew it wasn’t enough, for when the town sent someone to check up on him, he heard them scream, only after a single shot. It was the waiting that drove him into madness. The constant scratching at the front door and the roof only added to it. Most of all it was the stench equivalent to a hundred rotting corpses that imprisoned him. He couldn’t remember what fresh air was. He only had to last a month.
Sterling lasted only four more days.
In madness he broke out the back window of his shack with the butt of his shotgun, and with hatchet in one hand, and shotgun in the other. He paced steadfast out to the willow. The creatures did not jump him.
Sterling stood in the shallow grave of Frank, and after a deafening silence spoke the first words he had spoken since he first encountered this black plague:
He began to pray aloud.
With that the creatures rushed Sterling. He never stopped talking to God as he emptied his shotgun, or as his arms grew tired and the blade of his hatchet dulled. He never stopped praying as they ripped him limb for limb.
When the sun set at the end of the six months the creatures returned back underground, right back under Sterling’s shack. Leaving only a blackened cabin, an ice covered willow, and the bones of Sterling Longyear.
Thank You if you took the time to read it. Please let me know what you thought.
The sketch here was started just because I wanted to render something out, and to try this really amazing tech pencil lead Shy Custis and Coey Kuhn lent me. Was going for a kind of pygmy type deal. The vetter in Norwegian folklore are underground welling people and are usually revered as good, many tales accounting the magical things they accomplished, in most cases appearing just like tiny humans. Their underground homes looking exactly like ours. Well, we can't have that.