A young couple are stranded on a remote Alaskan island when their seaplane goes down in a winter storm. Soon, they realize they are being stalked --- and not just by wolves.
"...set in a desolate wintertime Alaska...author Linda Boroff expertly braids well-developed plot, vivid setting, and exceptional lyricism by using utterly raw prose to echo the raw landscape."
MEGHAN is a pretty college girl traveling up to meet her boyfriend, CLIFF, a law student interning for six months with the Alaska Public Defender office. On the plane, she meets KITTY, who has just gotten out of prison after taking the fall for her abusive boyfriend DUKE's cocaine possession. She is now fleeing to Alaska to escape him.
The two women drink away their fear of the stormy flight and share their life stories. When they land, Meghan gives Kitty her boyfriend Cliff's phone number in Anchorage.
Meghan takes a secretarial job in Anchorage for another lawyer. She realizes: "From the moment you arrive, Alaska tests you in ways that you never see coming."
As winter nears, Meghan notices that "the change of seasons is having an odd effect on Cliff: The shrinking daylight makes him jittery, and he tries to squeeze more and more activity into less and less time."
One Saturday morning, Cliff gets a call that Kitty's boyfriend Duke has been arrested for beating her up. To Cliff, this is a perfect opportunity to show off his growing courtroom skills by getting Duke freed on his "Own Recognizance."
He succeeds --- but Duke returns home and beats poor Kitty to death.
From the novella: "Within minutes of murdering Kitty, Duke was on the phone, feeling remorseful, helpless and sorry for himself, as well as hungry. He should never have been let out, Duke wailed to the arriving deputies as they handcuffed him. That inexperienced little shit of a public defender cost Kitty her life, didn’t they see?"
To help the traumatized Cliff regain his confidence, his boss dispatches him to a tiny native village called Angoon, outside Juneau. Cliff invites Meghan along for the sightseeing. Cliff's task is to interview the family of a child molestation victim: The Chief’s young daughter was raped by the chief’s brother. The tribe wants the state of Alaska to take over the case to avoid vendetta and perhaps murder.
But the family of the victim does not understand that Cliff is there to defend the villain --- not prosecute him. They welcome Cliff and Meghan as allies. They even allow Cliff to interview the little girl victim.
Meghan, upset at this breach of ethics, remains silent. But she disapproves of Cliff's duplicity and fears it is setting him up for yet another tragedy.
Later that day, the weather turns threatening. The crusty bush pilot who has flown them to Angoon decides to try to make the return flight to Sitka. At 2 p.m. they take off into a stormy sky.
Soon, they are hopelessly lost. The pilot cannot understand --- he knows the route like the back of his hand. But they seem to be almost dragged or pushed off course. The pilot has no radio on board. Their Cessna 180 seaplane is soon forced down by the weather.
The three stumble through freezing slushy water to one of the many uninhabited islands in the area. Here, Meghan shows off her Girl Scout skills by building a fire, but they are in deep trouble. The storm could go on for days, and this area has one of highest bear and wolf populations in Alaska.
The pilot shows Meghan how to use the rusty 30.06, and they make torches from resin-filled bushes. They chew on some jerky in the survival kit.
Night falls by 2:30 p.m. As the dark intensifies, they see eyes circling the fire. Howling. They feel the approaching terror. Panicked, they rush back in the sleet storm to the plane and attempt to take off. But they cannot, and in the impact of dropping to the ground, the pilot is injured. Cliff and Meghan drag him back to the nearly gutted fire, and she manages to get it going again.
While Cliff tries to sleep, Meghan gazes into the darkness holding the gun (she has never fired a gun in her life). She thinks about Kitty and flashes back on stories Kitty has told her of being a showgirl in Las Vegas and dating millionaires etc.
The woods suddenly come alive with howling. The nearby bushes shake violently. The captain tells of native beliefs about the area. They may have disturbed the boundaries of a hunting or burial ground. Meghan wonders if the spirits are angry at them lying to the family of the little girl.
Suddenly, Cliff, who has dozed off, awakens screaming. He rises and dashes off into the bushes. Meghan and the pilot go after him. All around are flashes of light, and the storm intensifies. Meghan and the pilot are forced to return to the camp, calling out for Cliff. As the long night wears on, the pilot gets out a bottle of whisky and gets drunk. Meghan is too worried about Cliff. She dozes, but awakens to find the pilot attacking her. She fights him off, and he apologizes. Now she doesn't dare sleep. He keeps drinking, and the night wears on.
When day breaks, gray and freezing cold, Meghan sets off into the woods with the gun, calling for Cliff. When she returns, the pilot attacks her again, holding a handgun on her, he tries to rape her. Suddenly, he is seized by something and dragged out of the campsite screaming. Horrible noises follow. Then silence. Meghan is now alone.
She looks at the plane. There is no chance she could fly it. Again the storm intensifies. Suddenly, Cliff stumbles back into the campsite. But he is changed. Covered with scratches and bruises, one eye swollen shut, he responds only halfheartedly to Meghan's cries of joy and love.
"Where were you?" Meghan asks. Cliff tells a strange, disjointed story. When Meghan tells him what happened with the pilot, Cliff seems vague. But now they have no way to fly the plane and get home, Meghan cries.
As night falls again, Cliff leaves the campsite and returns with a bloody dead deer. Meghan screams and Cliff slaps her face. He then eats the meat raw. Meghan finally cooks a piece of it, to keep up her strength.
Cliff tells her that when he was a boy, he was constantly taunted and bullied. Now he says he wants to find his bullies and kill them, one by one. Meghan worries that Cliff is losing his mind.
When Cliff leaves to stalk more prey, a pack of wolves descends on the campsite. They circle and sniff at the terrified Meghan but don't hurt her. Cliff returns and gnaws at the carcass of a rabbit.
Cliff decides they should stay here a while; he enjoys the hunting. When they hear the engine of a plane overhead during a lull in the weather, Cliff stamps out the fire and ties Meghan up, covering her with brush to hide her, then hides away himself. As night falls again, Cliff tells Meghan that he intends to sink their plane by puncturing its pontoons.
Desperate, Meghan manages to free herself. She and Cliff fight, and Cliff beats Meghan nearly senseless. He tells her that Duke had the right idea in killing Kitty. He could kill Meghan and bury her body; nobody will ever find her or know what happened to her.
As he menaces Meghan with a knife, he is suddenly grabbed from behind and hurled away. Every time he tries to approach her, something gets between them. It finally knocks him unconscious and Meghan ties him up. In a dream, she hears Kitty telling her to go back to the plane. As she nears the plane, she hears the rescue plane dipping low to look at it. She desperately shouts and waves. The rescue plane lands on its pontoons and picks them both up, returning them to Sitka.
When Meghan sets foot on the wooden pier, she gets down on her knees and kisses it. Cliff is sheepish and apologetic. He seems like his old self, but Meghan has seen the truth.
Chris Pine type
Back of Beyond
Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in fiction in 2021 and 2016
I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the shooting of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The film played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/movies/22murder.html?_r=0
My short story, published in Cornell University's literary magazine, Epoch, is currently under option to Sony and Road Less Traveled Productions.