Freyja staggered to the top of the ledge, lips blue and teeth chattering. Her torn clothes did nothing to protect her from the bitter wind, which whistled through the rocky crevices and caressed her skin like an icy breath. The air was thin, and as she struggled up the incline to the edge, her chest heaved and she gasped for air like a fish out of water.
She fell to her knees when she reached the end of her journey. She was alone. That’s how she started this journey, it only seemed fit to end it this way.
Her trembling hand, heavy and leaden with exhaustion, found its unsteady way to her pocket and fumbled for the ring. Her heart leaped into her throat when she couldn’t find it. Did she come all this way for nothing? Did everything that she had ever done from the moment she first laid eyes on the ring until now not count?
Right. It was on the chain around her neck.
With a relieved sob, Freyja clumsily grabbed the necklace and tugged, breaking the chain. The cold metal slithered from around her neck and pooled on the rock below her as she stared at the gold ring in her hand.
So many memories, tied to this one band of metal.
She dropped it over the side of the cliff.
I found the ring when I was 12. We were on a family vacation to Alaska, and the guide was encouraging us to drink from the glacier stream.
“If you brought a water bottle, be sure to fill it up now! Our next stop doesn't have a stream!!”
The tour guide then knelt down, upending a bag full of plastic water bottles that he then started to fill, one by one. He looked up to our inquisitive stares and shrugged.
“I like to recycle. Plus, it tastes better than tap water.”
“Do you refill those every tour?” The lady next to him grimaced.
“No, I actually have more back in the bus that I swap out.” The guide continued replenishing the water bottles and placing them back in the bag. The lady scooted upstream of him and began filling up her own reusable bottle.
I scooped up some stream water and drank it. There wasn’t much of a taste- which is what made it good, that you couldn’t taste a journey of rusty pipes. I joined my parents in gathering some water for the trip back and then went to check on my brother.
He was marveling at the size of the wheels on the bus.
“They’re bigger than I am!” He said excitedly as I approached.
I rolled my eyes. “You’ve said that at least ten times, and that’s just from when I was in earshot. Don’t you want to get some glacier water?”
“Mom and Dad will bring me some.” He said assuredly.
“It’s better from the source,” I told him. “You can’t taste the plastic water bottle if you drink it directly from the ice.”
“But then it’s dirty.” He whined.
“And it’s not when it’s in the bottle? You know what, never mind.” I stomped away. I was cold and tired and I just wanted to be curled up in the hotel bed- or, better yet, my own bed. My brother had been complaining the entire trip, and our parents danced around him, granting his every wish.
Sorry, honey, but 20 bucks for a t-shirt? That’s pretty expensive. We’re only getting your brother something because he scraped his knee.
I was missing my friend’s birthday party to go on this stupid trip. It was the only party I had been invited to in years, and here I was staring at ice. And rocks. And trees. We had plenty of those back home. I didn’t need to be here, and I didn’t want to be here.
My angry pacing was interrupted when I tripped over a lump in the ice. I yelled in frustration, clutching my arm.
Slowly, I pulled myself up, keeping my arm still. It hurt like crazy, but it didn’t seem to be bleeding or broken. I searched around in the ice for what had tripped me and uncovered a ball of ice, completely separate from the rest of the glacier. It looked like a snowball.
I peeled my gloves off and brushed the snow away, heating up the ice with my hands so it would clear. Something gold glinted inside the ball, and I kept rubbing the ice, waiting for it to melt.
“Alright! Everyone on board!” The guide did an awful imitation of a train whistle as he herded people back on the bus. I stared at the ice ball- what was in there? I could barely make out the color, let alone the shape. With a glance around me, I shoved the ice into my pocket and headed back towards the bus.
As I got to our seat, my mom looked up in surprise from her phone.
“Oh hey, Sam. We thought you were already on board.”
I sighed and took a seat. My dad was crouched in the aisle next to my brother, fitting his gloves over my brother’s hands.
“That better, buddy?”
My brother pouted and nodded.
“What’s wrong?” I regretted the words the second they popped out of my mouth. Normally, I would just mind my business, but I was preoccupied with the melting lump of ice inside my coat.
“James’s hands are super cold.” My dad frowned sympathetically as he got up and sat in the seat next to James. “Do you want my coat too? I can lay it over your lap.”
James sniffed pathetically and my dad began taking his coat off.
“Hey, Sam?” My mom leaned over to me. “I think your dad and I are going to stay onboard the bus at the next stop, so we can help James warm up. You can get off if you want.”
Perfect. I’d have time to empty the water out of my pocket.
“Sounds great, Mom.”
I stared out the window as the bus rumbled to life, and the tour guide began rambling some nonsense about global warming and how the glacier used to be a couple more inches above the sea just last year.
“We would’ve been about ten feet under ice a thousand years ago! Underground igloos, anyone?” He chuckled, and some old people in front of me gave him a pity laugh.
Luckily, the next stop wasn’t too far away.
I got off the bus with everyone else as James started whining again.
“Now I’m too hot!” was the last thing I heard before the doors closed. I stepped out of the group as the tour guide led them to look at some ice formation, and I slipped my hand into my pocket. The ice had melted unusually fast, and all that was left was water and something metal. I pulled the pocket lining, allowing the water to drain out and the metal thing to land on the ground. I knelt down and picked it up. It was a gold ring- a wedding ring, maybe? It wasn’t cheap metal, that was for sure. It was surprisingly heavy as I held it in my palm. And the ring was not nearly as cold as I would expect something made of metal that was frozen in ice minutes ago to be. The band was a little plain for a wedding ring, though. There was an engraving on the inside, but the ice had eroded it to the point of unreadability. I slipped the ring on my finger and went to join the rest of the group.