Through The Ice
Laila rubbed her eyes, bleary from lack of sleep, and sat up in bed at 5:45 AM. She shivered involuntarily from the cold temperature and pulled the blankets around her shoulders, savoring a few more minutes of warmth before she started her day.
She looked around the room. As a paid scientist, she was staying in a small room with an almost cabin like feel. All she had was a small bed, a dresser for her clothing, and a nightstand with a lamp. Nobody ever said living in Antarctica would be glamorous, she thought with a small smile. She was staying in the living quarters of the Casey Station while she was studying in Antarctica, which was far different from the warm beaches of Australia. The Casey Station was always cold, even on the inside. They couldn't use too much heat because there wasn't enough heat to be harnessed. Laila was told to dress warm in layers and get used to the cold when she arrived.
With a reluctant sigh, Laila pulled out of bed and began to get dressed, slipping on thermal long johns and tight leggings under her tight jeans. The tightness of her clothing kept the heat in, which she was extremely grateful for. She pulled on an undershirt and a sweatshirt before stepping out into the bathroom she shared to brush her teeth.
Her friend Meghan was already in the bathroom, her eyes tinged red from exhaustion. She looked up from washing her face and gave Laila a small wave before concentrating on not getting the gritty soap in her eyes. Laila carefully brushed her teeth and combed her thick waves before tying them in a thick braid down her back. Then, she headed downstairs to the dining room to eat breakfast and receive today's assignment.
Another guy she had met at the station, Wendell, met her down at the dining room, unusually peppy for this early hour. She gave him a weak hello and followed him into the mess hall where she stacked her plate high with warm pancakes, bacon, and grits. She swallowed a mug of coffee and refilled her mug again before sitting down with Wendell, awaiting Meghan's arrival.
Meghan burst in and sat down with a scone and a mug of coffee with two creams. "I am so exhausted. I hope they put me on something easy today, like monitoring duty."
Wendell laughed. "You would be very lucky to get monitoring duty Meghan, and you know it." Meghan groaned and chugged her coffee, letting the warm liquid course through her veins and give her the jumpstart she needed.
Laila piled down her food and sat back in her chair to relax for a few minutes before checking the assignment boards. "I'm freezing," she stated in her Aussie accent, still shivering. "And I'm about to go and get more freezing. I left the beach for this?" she shook her head slowly, watching as Meghan and Wendell snickered.
"I've been here for three months longer than you," Meghan said, "And I grew up in Canada. I'm good with cold, I embrace it." She spread her arms wide and pretended to take in all the cold air, making Wendell laugh.
Wendell shrugged. "I've lived in Antarctica most of my life. Cold is a lifestyle for me." On that note, the three scientists pushed their chairs back and walked down the hall to the assign boards together. They each scanned the list with different reactions.
Wendell cheered. "I have kitchen duty, yes!" He stretched his fingers and gave the two girls a wave. "I will be warm and cozy. See you later!" He walked off with a skip in his step and a smile on his face.
Meghan groaned, loudly. "I don't have monitoring duty. I'm stuck with ice chipping." She scanned her freshly painted red fingernails with a sigh.
Laila didn't really care; she was off on a hike to collect an ice sample from a nearby frozen lake. She pulled on three layers of socks, boots, her heavy coat, and her gear before heading out the door and tromping off in the snow.
At first the wind was bitingly cold and Laila had to fight the urge to run back inside. She trudged slowly ahead and managed to think happier thoughts. Two hours later, she arrived at her destination, her body warmed up a little from the exercise.
She set to work cutting a sample of ice from the lake. She used her knife to carefully shape a square before using her sharper axe tool to cut it and remove it from the lake. She set it in her empty box, which was soon filled with tiny ice squares. She had managed to remove a good portion of the lake. She put the box in her backpack and turned away from the lake, swinging her backpack up. They had always taught her not to do it too fast because she could slip in the snow. Unfortunately for Laila, that's exactly what happened, and she went tumbling back into the lake.
She surfaced moments later, sputtering water. She was shaking from the water, which had a below freezing temperature. She attempted to climb up and pull herself onto the snow, but her foot was caught on something at the bottom of the lake. She screamed for help, but she knew it was wasted because nobody could hear her this far away. She reached into her backpack and pulled out her walkie-talkie, only to discover it was soaking wet and broken.
Laila held back tears. "Do not panic, Laila. You can get out of this." She tried to pull her foot again, but it was still stuck. She quickly realized she had to wait and settled her head on the snow above the water, trying to keep her shivering to a minimum.
She didn't know if it was minutes later or hours, but she felt her feet going numb and then she couldn't hold the tears back anymore. She knew she was in serious danger of freezing to death. She thought about her life and knew she didn't want to die; she hadn't even had a serious boyfriend. She knew she had a better life than most people, and kept that positive thought in her head as she felt herself slowly fading from consciousness due to the freezing cold.
Right before she closed her eyes, she saw a dark shape in the distance. At first she thought she was hallucinating, but then she saw several shapes deliberately walking closer. She recognized a follow-up team, probably sent after her. She was supposed to be back in four hours. She weakly lifted her arm and waved until it collapsed. She saw someone start to run, and the rest of the team followed. "They're here to save me," she thought with a smile. That was her last thought before she passed out.
When she awoke, the first thing she was aware of was a warm drink pressed to her lips. "Drink," a voice commanded, sounding a lot like Meghan. She obeyed and sat back in bed. Wendell slowly came into view, as did Meghan. "Is she awake?" he asked softly.
"I'm awake," Laila tried to say, but her voice came out as a rasp. "How long have I been asleep?"
Just then, a doctor rushed in. "She's awake!" He called out into the hall before rushing to Laila's bedside. "You had a nasty case of hypothermia, Laila. But your friends said you were a fighter. This guy," he said, pointing to Wendell, "Saved your life by sending a team out after you." I smiled in gratitude, attempting to pat his hand. "Don't worry Laila, you're alive. And you're going to be okay."
*Authors Note: This piece won first place in rsjakovac's Setting Contest and it was my first ever contest placing piece.