Today's Reading

I'M ALONE. I don't have much food. The temperature is dropping.

No one is coming for me.

It will be winter soon, and there are so many ways to die out here. If the cold doesn't get me, the hunger will. If the hunger doesn't get me, the cold will. Or some wild animal. Or those men will come back . . .

But I'm not dead yet, and someone should know. Someone should know what happened. So I'm writing it down, as best I can. In pieces, because that's the way it is in my head, all tangled up.

There are two beginnings to this story. One of them is on a tarmac in Alaska. The other's standing on a lakeshore with the rain falling on me like mist, the cabin's timbers smoldering, sullen and red. I'll tell you both stories, what happened before my father died and what happened after. And when I'm done or when I'm too weak to write anymore, I'll leave this notebook where the cabin was. If someone comes looking for us, for me, maybe they'll find it.

So if you're reading this, I'm probably dead. But for a while, I survived.

My name is Jess Cooper, and I am still alive.


SUMMER

BEFORE


IT TOOK TWO flights to get up to the town where Dad lived in Alaska—where I thought he lived. I spent the second flight studying a picture of him. Mom had gotten rid of the photos of them together but held on to one of him alone, just for me, and I clutched it in my hand. I was worried I might not recognize him. Or he might not recognize me. We could walk right past each other and not know it.

In the photo, he stood in the woods in a blue rain shell. Mist hung in the air, his breath making a thicker cloud in front of his bristly lips. He had a beard that needed trimming and bright eyes, crinkled up at the edges like he'd laughed right before the picture was taken. By the time I stepped onto the tarmac and scanned the thin crowd of people waiting, I had memorized every detail of his face.

He wasn't there. I imagined adding gray to his beard, taking his beard away, making it longer. Scrubbing out the laugh lines and adding the sort of wrinkles you get from frowning, because I figured he couldn't be that happy if he'd left his wife and kid. No matter what I did to the picture in my mind, it didn't match anyone there, and soon everyone waiting for the plane had been claimed by one of my fellow passengers.

The only person left was a huge man wearing a puffy yellow jacket who stared straight at me, squinting, but didn't move or wave or anything. His bushy red-brown hair poked out from under a baseball cap that might have once been yellow but had faded to gray brown everywhere except the brim.

I hitched my bag over my shoulder. Dad must have sent someone to pick me up, that was all. I walked over, my right foot dragging slightly. I still couldn't lift it properly, and the ball of my foot scraped along the ground. The man watched my slow progress without budging.

"Hi," I said when I got close. It sounded like a bird chirping, high-pitched and spastic. "I'm Jess. Did my dad send you?"

"Jess?" the guy said. He scratched his beard. "I'm supposed to be meeting Sequoia. Could be I'm in the wrong place, though." He looked behind me as if another girl could be lurking there.

"No, that's me," I said. "Jess is my middle name. I never go by Sequoia."

"Oh, great." He grinned. He looked a lot less intimidating when he smiled, but he still could've closed a hand around my entire head. "Carl's waiting."

He'd turned around and started walking before I really remembered that was my father's name. Carl Green. Not Cooper; Mom hadn't changed her name.
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