Just coming in from the barn after a bitter hard ride, Frank almost dropped his saddle bags when he saw Nelly come out the doorway of the log cabin. Freezing wind whipped her white nightgown and her long hair furiously. She held up a lantern, but the wind shook it and blew it sideways. The flame went out. He slipped his arm around her and guided her back into the cabin. He slammed the door shut against the vicious wind.
"He's gone," she said. "He snuck out over an hour ago. Something horrible has happened to him, I just know it." She pressed her head against his chest.
"Oh, no." Frank dropped the saddle bags on the floor. "It's what I said."
"We've got to do something."
Frank winced. "I created this mess and I'll find him."
"You've got to hurry," Nelly said. "His note says he's gone to be with his parents."
Frank shook his head. "I hate myself." He stepped toward the door.
"I'm afraid you won't make it back." Nelly wrapped her arms around him and clung to him.
"I've got to go," Frank said.
He leaned forward and rode through the blizzard. He had to find that boy. Nelly had lost her baby two years ago because Frank hadn't watched him closely enough. This couldn't be happening all over again. He punched his leg and wished it would hurt more. Punched it again.
He forded Icy Creek, praying the buck wouldn't slip on a rock and spill him into the icy rapids. On a night like this, it could be fatal to get wet. He could only hope that Wil didn't fall when he crossed the log bridge. Frank hissed in regret. He should have widened the bridge. Once he got across the creek, he dug heal and his horse bolted into the storm. Temperature was below zero and dropping. The icy Siberian wind was blasting in off the Bering Sea.
The buck rose to a steady gait. Frank rode into blindness, but guessed he would soon come upon the shoreline, assuming he hadn't lost his direction. If he did that, he'd lose Wil and have nobody to blame but himself. In pure anger and frustration, he shouted into the wind as loud as he could. The horse reared up on his hind legs, but Frank calmed him.
Following his instincts, he rode toward the channel over frozen muskeg and tussocks of snow-covered grass. Coming finally upon the igneous palisades lining the channel, he could hear big surf pounding the rocks, which was uncommon in those sheltered waters. He pulled a jar of petroleum jelly out of his pocket and smeared it all over his face to protect his exposed skin from frostbite. Thanks to his foolishness, Wil was out there someplace, freezing and running out of time.
Half an hour later, he reached the point and started up the coast. Big waves thundered along the beach. Frank rode several miles, using the noise of the surf to keep his bearing. At Desolation Point, he got off the horse and tied the reins to a driftwood log. He climbed over the slippery rocks and after a short hike, he found Wil huddled up next to his parents' graves. He was bundled up in his caribou-skin clothes and had wind shelter behind some big rocks. His teeth were chattering.
"Thank God I found you." Frank said. "I'm sorry."
"I don't c-care what you say. I'm never going back."
"Please forgive me," Frank said.
"I'm staying with my r-real parents."
"I was just angry. I didn't mean it."
"Oh, yes. I'm just a f-filler."
"That's a lie. We're a family now."
"No. You want your son, not me."
Frank wiped his arm across his face. "If you can forgive me-" He paused as a wave burst upon the rocky shore. "We love you. I want another chance."
Fierce wind rumbled in off the water and howled around the rocks. Wil was quiet and for a moment, but then he said, "You'll never be happy."
Frank quit trying to fight his emotions. They overwhelmed him and his whole body shook. "It doesn't come easy for me, but I'm so proud of you. Things are getting better."
"I'm cold," Wil said.
Frank picked him up and carried him through the storm.
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