You need help like Ranger Baker needs his jacket. No interruptions, please.
| Baker couldn’t find his jacket when the radio buzzed in with a cloud of static. It was a piece of crap—the radio, not the jacket. The jacket he liked—it was insulated with goosedown and had a soft leather trim, perfect for the winters on Admiralty Island. Where the hell did he put it? His fingers felt numb.
[“…can’t… need help… loose…”] went the radio.
In all likelihood, the jacket wasn’t under the chair but he looked anyway. Nope. Not under there, either. Baker looked behind the doorway to the john, and under Ranger Twomey’s desk, too. Nothing. Not a sign.
[“…is anyone there? We…trap… need help…”] the radio continued.
He knew the guy on the radio. Sounded like an emergency. And judging from the way the sunset splashed pink across the ranger station, there probably wasn’t much time before it all went dark. This far north, it gets cold at night. You need a jacket if you don’t want to catch something. And his jacket wasn’t in the file cabinet, under the couch or anywhere else on the floor. This wasn’t like Baker: he didn’t lose things. How do you lose something extra large tall in the ranger station? The place just wasn’t that big. He shivered. It was getting colder.
[“The bear... camera… blood every… to shoot…”]
Baker undid one of the ceiling panels; they were made of that styra-foamy ceiling panel stuff, so it popped out easily. The hard part was balancing on two chairs to get the angle and the height, but he remembered Twomey had stashed his chew up there once, and in all likelihood a jacket might fit there, too. His jacket. He needed it.
[“God, is there any… have GPS…”]
The sun was disappearing and the station was a deep bath of red; some of it leaked into where he’d removed the panel and there was definitely the outline of something up there, between the wiring. He concentrated, reaching out to it, maintaining balance, doing his best to ignore the buzzing of the radio. Two inches, at most. He could see his breath. One inch, if he just stretched. He went for it.
[“…hold on, Baker…”]
He did. He held it. But his fingers felt thick and then gravity mutinied, clawing him down with the chairs and two jagged chunks of the ceiling. The wood on the floor cracked. Maybe one of his ribs did, too. But it was there in front of him—there was enough light left to see the words “PARK RANGER” across the green felt on the back. Baker tasted something bitter and spat, careful not to hit the jacket. He pulled himself toward it, finding purchase in the cracks between the floorboards, smiling. He blinked. Then it was gone.
[“Where’s his f%$&*g jacket?” the radio asked someone Baker didn’t see. “Get him his f&^%*&g jacket!”]
Baker would’ve been thankful for the help, but as far as he knew, he was the only one in the station. Did the floor swallow it? Did the floor have a mouth? It sounded insane, but maybe…? Baker's chest was wet; part of his shirt had frozen to the floorboards. He found his feet and stood, the bitter taste stronger. It was almost too dark to see, but he had purpose guiding him—he needed the shovel. It was under Twomey’s desk where he wanted it to be. He lifted it up and propped himself against it and willed himself back to the spot where his jacket disappeared.
[“Is it going to work? I don’t have experience with this kind of…”]
Baker used his foot and the shovel bit into the wood flooring. One of the planks splintered. He shoveled the floor again and it splintered more. Then the floor screamed at him and told him not to move. The hole he’d made—it was talking to Baker like a mouth. It told him or someone else not to move him; Baker was having a hard time understanding its speech. It was sounding mushy and slurred. That was funny, Baker thought, hitting the floor again.
[“If we don’t move him, he’s dead. At least this way… a chance to…”]
The floor kept screaming but the hole was done. And his jacket was there, too, at the bottom, staring up at him, surrounded by a frozen void.
Baker grabbed the jacket. The void grabbed him back.