The walls of the wooden shack swayed like paper. If it weren’t for the faint light emerging from the almost black windows, you’d have thought the dilapidated place was an illusion. The four men sat inside the hut, crowded around their tiny fire. Their heavy fur coats lay close at hand, because the fire looked as if it might just give in to the cold already and save itself some time. It had been six long days since they had set out from the town, following a wisp of a rumor. Tales of a treasure. The four men had pooled their small savings together to buy their equipment for this journey. Every local they spoke to tried to talk them out of it, speaking of curses, but they were convinced it was out there. The Norwegian cold had not been kind to them. The blizzards were brutal, and they’d spent most of the time half blinded. The shack had been a lucky find in the frozen desert. They had been there for several days, waiting for the vicious storms to calm, but the firewood wouldn’t last much longer. Johanssen stirred and rose from his rickety chair. He pushed the door open, long red braids trailing behind him, and he would have heard the creak if the wind hadn’t sucked away the sound. Fumbling, he drew a thermometer from his pocket. As he turned to look at the numbers carved on the tool’s glass, it shattered from the cold. The mercury spilled from the top of the broken tube, and flowed over his gloves, dripping and pooling in the snow like blood. He turned slowly and reentered the building. He pulled the cloth covering his mouth down to his neck and began rousing the others.
The blizzards were as calm as they’d been in days, and if they didn’t leave now, who knew when they would get the chance. Gathering their coats, they kicked the little fire down and picked up their bags. They would find it today and return home, or they would give up and leave in defeat.
The cold snaked through the men’s heavy furs as they trudged up the mountain side. They had ventured in nearly every direction from their camp, and this was the first time they had dared to go north, over the daunting, ice-covered slopes. Emik had already threatened to leave, unhappy with the lack of success. But today they could feel they were close. And then, at the crest of the fourth hill, they found it. They were hours from their tiny cabin, when the wall of ice in front of them suddenly opened into a yawning cave mouth. The snow seemed to bend around the entrance. They walked tentatively downwards into the stone hallway. The sunlight reflected off the walls, illuminating the wooden chest that sat on the ground. The chest’s worn wood seemed to glow, the metal bands holding the planks sparkling, even after years of disuse. Nilsen rushed forward, and tried to open the
lid, but the lock had long rusted over, and he didn’t have the strength to break it. He lifted it on to his back, leaving his supplies, and rushed out of the cave, past the other men. Odden tried to stop him. He made a grab for the chest, and Nilsen wobbled dangerously on the edge of the icy cliff. He tried to wrestle his way out of the grasp of Odden, who was a much larger man, but failed, sliding closer towards death below. He called for help from the other two, but they only smiled grimly at each other. And with that, he slipped, teetered on the edge, and fell, leaving the trunk spinning across the ice. His screams faded halfway down.
As the three men descended the winding path down the snowy hillside, they took turns carrying the trunk. Emik and Johannsen hung back, and began whispering. They would split the contents of the trunk among themselves. Emik drew his long, serrated knife from his belt and advanced on Odden, raising the knife above his head. The soft snow masked his footsteps. It was over before it started. He pried the knife out of the hole on the body’s back, and shoved the knife roughly back into its sheath, wiping his bloody hands on the leg of his winter pants.
The two men lay sleeping in the small hut, both happy with their bloody success. Johannsen rose quietly to check the fire, when he saw the red stained knife glinting in its sheath. He had only known Emik for a few weeks. They had already killed together. Doubt filled his mind. What if everything were for nothing, and he was killed first? He stared at the chest, and the voice in the back of his head encouraged him. He picked up one of the stools and raised it over his head. Hesitation held his hand, but the fear dealt the blow. The thud of wood on bone echoed through the shack. Johannsen lugged the chest down the hill. He could see the lights of the town sparkling in the distance. He would find some excuse for the others. All that mattered was the wealth he carried with him. He would be famous, talked about for generations. He would — the ground around him began to rumble. He turned. The wall of snow that faced him was growing by the second, a mere hundred feet away. The scream he let out was muffled by the cloth on his mouth. As he tried to run, it overtook him. The cold wrapped around his trapped body, and the trunk pushing down on him began to break. The splinters stabbed his freezing hands. He tried to raise his head as the final planks buckled away. Forcing his eyes open against the cold, he strained to see the contents of the chest. It was empty. That was the last thought he had as his vision faded to black.