21. Ether

“Did you get it?”

Mac doesn’t answer. Flakes of snow land on his face and stick to the fur lining of his parka. He lies still, just a few feet away, but doesn’t budge an inch. The wind whips across the tundra, and sheets of white ripple over the ground like waves on a stormy sea.

“Hey Mac. Mac, c’mon man. Did you kill it?”

He moves slowly, still looking to the distance, but finally pulls back the bolt on his rifle. That’s it, our last bullet. Our last hope too.

“Mac, I-”

“Yes.” He looks over at me with a face like leather, chapped from the wind and cold, tanned by the sun and sea spray. He doesn’t smile, which is just as well. A face like that reminds me of a broken in shoe: comfortable, but ready to burst at the seams if you stretch it too far.

“Yea, well you fucking better have, because-.”

“Go get it.”

I look him over, up and down. Power games, thinking he’s the big man just because he managed to blast a sleeping animal, but I’m just too hungry to play. I need that seal – I need its blubber, its meat, its flesh and bones. I need it all. I’ve got a cudgel in my hand and I’m over the small, snow barricade we dug a few days before, running towards Mac’s trophy.

Did he shout something? Could be the wind. Christ it’s cold, and howling so hard now I struggle to keep in a straight line, but I need this animal butchered and bagged before I get competition. So hungry, and I wont be the only one that feels this way. In a world where there’s so little land and most of that land is ice, you’re fighting mother nature just as much as you’re fighting your own. That logical voice in your head that keeps your human nature from taking over, from making you rip off your clothes, eat your supplies and howl at the moon ’til the frostbite gets you.

“Pssh, bastard,” I mumble. The kill’s good, right through the brain, I can use just about the whole animal from this. Mac’s not perfect, he’s quiet and smug, but he deserves a bit of credit. I’ll give him first pick of the meat.

“Hey,” I turn back, shouting, “Sniper Zaytsev! Get…”

Mac’s finally got a bit of colour in his cheeks. His mouth’s open, his eyes rolled back, his head hangs by its spine from the mouth of a polar bear. Then its gone, inside.

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit!”

It’s looking this way. Fuck Mac, our last bullet. Up on its back legs and the size of a yeti, all muscle and fur and big teeth still dripping with its first course.

The ether we use to keep the engines running, up in the cold. A long shot, and my hands are numb but my heart’s ready to explode as I fumble for it at my side. The bear’s back on all fours and running, grunting like a maniac. Got it. I pull out the cork with my teeth and throw it at the fucker.

Got to move fast. It’s pawing at its face. I pull a flare from my side and twist off the striker. Once. It’s got a roar on it, like thunder, like the heavens opening. Twice. Come on. Come on. It’s coming at me again, so close I can see the saliva foaming at its mouth. But it’s lit!

The bear snarls, roars, pink light reflected in deep black eyes. But it’s too late for it to stop. I throw the flare at it with arms that are limp and it’s up in flames. Blue and orange and hot, like a huge cotton ball it burns bright. It runs in circles in a panic, its deep roar now a squeal, then a choke, but I’ve got to see it through. With a roar of my own I run at the bear as the flames give way to black, singed skin and strike it on the jaw with my cudgel. It cries out, but I’m getting the power back. My arm smashes its skull until it’s just cracked, charred bone stuck in a brain and blood jelly.

“Holy Shit. Fuck, oh fuck.” I’m shaking and panting, but the beast’s blood is already starting to cool. Fingers of red slow down on the ice, congeal, crystalise. “I’m sorry Mac. I know…I know we never had much to say. But I don’t know where to go from here. Oh fuck Mac, I needed you.”

Forgive me Mac, because these tears aren’t for you. Alone and adrift on a flooded planet, with three corpses for friends. I think you’re the lucky one.

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20. Doge

“Meat, Doge, and a replacement for this.”

Keikos dropped a mechanical device onto the table that Doge ignored, instead locking intense, blue eyes with the Hekathon.

“That’s no way to ask for a favour, Keikos. Remember whose territory you’re in.”

Keikos grunted without a reply, yet after some discomfort glanced once up and down the sun-baked street. Doge appeared satisfied with this response, and for the first time looked down to acknowledge the trinket, his eyes only leaving Keikos’ at the last moment.

“Ah, yes. This device is for navigating underground, quite easy to acquire for a Chesh’r, but more difficult for a foreigner.” He paused to glance at Keikos, this time more casually, “certainly an interesting piece of equipment for a soldier who spends half his life on the water and half on the archipelagos.”

Keikos offered nothing, so Doge smiled and continued to speak, this time eyeing the object more closely. “Something to do with your little castaway last night?”

The soldier’s features flickered briefly before resuming their original stoic mask. The noise of the port seemed to flare, and the sound of children running past caused his sword arm to tense.

“Relax, Keikos. I know you in Dekan think security is non-existent on our side of the strait, but it isn’t so bad they can’t spot a lone foreigner with a torch in the dead of night. They just aren’t paid enough to fight a nikaiakon full of Hypersian commandos. So I ask you,” Doge handed the repaired article back to the Hekathon. “What’s in it for me?”

Two sacks of vegetables and a reed basket of bread loaves presented themselves on the table.

“You can keep the cloth, Chesh’r.”

“You know what I meant,” spoke the merchant to the soldier’s back, as he walked away towards the jetty. Doge settled back in his canvas chair, snatching one of the bread loaves. “I’ve seen much more of the world than you have,” he muttered quietly, “and naivety can only carry you so far.”

pt.1 | pt.2

18. A Conversation

It’s eight minutes past five on a Friday afternoon when Adam finally enters the Costa Coffee, adjacent platform five, at Newcastle Central train station. He manoeuvres through the door to a backdrop of warm, equinox sunlight, channelled down ceilinged platforms as it falls below the horizon, and gives a quick smile of acknowledgement before queueing to order his drink. A little over five minutes later he’s sat down and hurriedly removing his hooded jersey.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,”  he offers, with no qualifying explanation, any guilt quickly hidden by his top as he pulls it over his head. When his outdoor clothing is completely removed Adam relaxes, and gives a broad smile that immediately turns the conversation from an interrogation over his tardiness to what it was supposed to be: a meeting of friends.

“That’s ok. Why were you late?”

“Oh, nothing really, you know how I can be. I was just working and lost track, I got here as quickly as I could when I realised the time.” He ran his fingers over the indents of the Costa logo on his cup, then the handle and finally traced a finger around the rim. Seemingly bored already of answering questions, he offered his own, “So then, Emily, how are you? I feel as if it’s been forever since I’ve seen you!”

“I know! Well, it hasn’t been so long actually, but I suppose last time we met it was brief. We haven’t had a chance to spend any real time together in a while.”

Adam continued to smile and nodded, then looked down to tear a corner from a brown sugar sachet. He spoke as he poured, “well, no-one could blame you. You’ve just come back from Belgium right, on an EU internship? If I was there I’d have had little time for social networking.”

“Yea! It’s been brilliant, well, mostly. I’ve already had a taste of the kind of bureaucracy I can expect later and it’s going to be so annoying. There’s also so many acronyms, it’s like learning another language!”

Adam looked up long enough to laugh, then stirred his drink. “In addition to French, and German night classes? They’re certainly getting their money’s worth with you.” He returned the wooden stirrer to the table, then continued, “Remember when we took that road trip to Cornwall, and we’d spoke the whole way about how much we were looking forward to sausage sandwiches,” he took a few sips, “but when we arrived we realised we didn’t have any fuel for the stoves? So we had to eat bread and butter and cold tinned beans.”

“I know! Such a depressing start to our little adventure. In fact, I have something you’ll enjoy.” He looked at the photo Emily had presented on her phone and smiled. “You’re even wearing the same top now.”

“I know, it’s uncanny, like a reverse Dorian Gray. In the picture I looked sharp and tanned whereas here I’ve become more tatty.” He suddenly moved farther back in his chair and tensed then relaxed his shoulder blades, as if relieving a cramp, then moved forward again, resting his elbows on his knees.”Remember Steve, and those gloves he wore the entire journey?” Adam spoke to the right of Emily and used his hands to mimic Steve’s outlines, as if addressing his spectre standing over her shoulder, only glancing at her to confirm her attention was still with him, “I wonder if he still has those. It’s funny to think he does.” Adam smiled briefly and tried to hold eye contact, but this time it didn’t last. His gaze drifted from one feature of the room’s architecture to the next, and before long he settled on the floor. He gently squeezed the tip of one index finger.

“How have you been up here?”

“Ah, it’s been OK. What can I say really? I don’t know what to say.”

Silence.

“Things will get better for you.”

Adam didn’t look up to see her leave to catch her train. It took fifteen minutes before he threw the last cold mouthful of coffee down his throat, donned his jersey, and walked into the Newcastle evening.

17. Posts to become a Versatile Blogger!

Hats off to Rylee for doing what the rest of WP should have done months ago, and nominating me for a Versatile Blogger award!

Versatile Blogger Award

In all seriousness though I’m very flattered, and all the more so because I’m a big fan of The Lime. Her blog provides a full spectrum of reading entertainment through fiction, poetry, opinion pieces and bits of fitness banter. Ok, I guess I could say about 80% of blogs out there cover those topics, including this one, but she still has that extra something that sets her apart from the rest.

So then, this award. It isn’t too hard to come by, in fact all you need to do is be nominated and it’s yours, but I still think it’s a good way to get to know people you’re linked with and a nice way of showing other people you appreciate their writing.

The rules are:

  • Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your acceptance post.
  • Share seven (7) FACTS about yourself.
  • Award 15-20 other bloggers the versatility award.
  • Contact your nominees so they know you nominated them.
Sounds easy enough! Ok then, here we go. My facts…
1) As my nomination was from The Lime, my first fact will be fitness related. I’ve completed 5 cycling tours in Europe; one has crossed the continent from North to South and another from West to East. The North to South one was from Calais (very Northern France) through Belgium, Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine, Switzerland and Italy, ending in Chiasso/Lake Como (Swiss/Italian border). The West to East was from Paris to Budapest, going through France (obviously), Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary (obviously). I’ve been accredited in a book another cyclist wrote while travelling from Britain to Italy on a cycling trip for some advice I gave him for the journey.

Also, my best running time on the treadmill is 5km in 20minutes, which I first achieved about 9months ago. It had been my objective since I started running at 18, and I achieved it at 22! I can’t do that now though, I’ve put on too much weight, but I’m clawing it back :p

2) I fenced for two University teams, and my proudest moment was beating an epéeist who fenced for the Dutch junior squad (I believe that actually was at a match in St.Andrews as well Rylee 😉 )

3) One day I hope to be able to earn enough to make a standing donation to the Volunteer Development Poverty Children’s Association of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I went there twice in my gap year as a volunteer teacher and met the initial founder before he died in a traffic accident, and it made quite the impact on me.

4) As a general rule, if something is Freshly Pressed, I’m not going to like it.

5) I was attracted to Literature growing up because of the type of person it produces. I like people who aren’t sheep, which is why I can get a little turned off when I see people refer to “we” bloggers or “bloggers unite!” as if we’re all in the same boat. I like places like WordPress so I can get away from that kind of thinking!

6) I find creative writing very difficult, but at the same time find good books, film music and theatre hard to come by. When I do find these thing however, I am often bowled over. I’ve never written anything I’ve been completely happy with.

7) I thought the film “Monsters” was terrible, and felt betrayed by UK critics for making it out to be a viable indie alternative to Hollywood. I actually felt it was just the type of movie Hollywood would have produced had they been given only a $50,000 budget.

Ok, so then, for my nominees. I’ve no doubt that these people already have this award, but I like them so they’re getting it again! In no discernible order then:

Fantasy in Motion – Insightful posts from a would-be fantasy author explaining the mechanics behind his writing. Also has a good amount of fiction to read through, and has recently published an e-book!

Broken Doll Collective – Great bits of photography and writing from a clearly very creative and talented individual.

Comedy Confessions – Haven’t heard from her in a while, but then again I’m hardly one to talk. What she has written is funny stuff, so I hope she keeps this up. Maybe this will inspire you to keep going?

Kevin MacNeill – A fellow cyclist and writer? ’nuff said.

Reverend Gwyon – Interesting, fragmented and unusual poetry.

I Just Write Something – an author currently writing a novel online with frequent updates. A pleasure to read as and when they appear.

Word by Word – Frequent book reviews that can point you towards your next read.

I understand that I am supposed to send this to 15-20 people, but there actually aren’t very many people I follow! Thanks again to Rylee 🙂

13. How To Increase Your Page Views

Posts about Blogging increase your view count and thus exposure to other bloggers out there. Through my own experiences I have found that the following are useful checkpoints on the way to success:

  • Be Self-Conscious. Write about your blogging experiences, how to be a successful blogger and challenges bloggers face.
  • Use Pingbacks and Comment extensively.
  • Photography can work too.

Here is an example of how to increase your view count, the number of clicks you receive and your referrals.

9. In Plain Air (I)

It is said no-one fully understands how a plane is able to stay in the sky.

I once sat in a classroom at the end of a school day. My backside was numb and my legs tingled from a lack of movement. Sunlight, filtered through blinds already half-drawn in preparation for the final bell, drooped over benches filled with students in heavy felt blazers. Near the front of the class a teacher droned on about the relationship between thrust, gravity, lift and drag, occasionally turning to a poorly sketched diagram of a plane cut with arrows representing each force. As he spoke my eyes drifted to one of the many threads of dust hanging lazily in the late day sun, and I absently wondered how the same natural laws the teacher described worked to keep it afloat.

That was my intial experience of aviation physics, and I would imagine this is as much as most people ever learn. However, I have since spoken to a number of engineers who tell me that these forces alone don’t explain how a plane is able to stay airborne.

Anyone who has seen a plane land knows exactly what I mean: it drifts so casually to earth it makes the sky seem viscous, thick and able to support its massive bulk. As effortlessly as a whale plunging through fathoms of water it yaws belly up, and only betrays its true mass when its wheels bounce and groan as they touch the runway. Until this moment movement is guided gently from underneath and free of the the familiar rules that bind us to our clumsy terrestrial sphere.

The plane that hit the ground before me followed this pattern. It approached through the cloudless sky as gracefully as a bumblebee, until its left wing clipped the hillside and broke the spell.

6. A Blogger’s Manifesto

The day I realised my soul wasn’t mine was the day I changed my mind. 

It was a cold, winters morning in a North London Starbucks, so chill that everyone slunk deep into their coats when the doors swung open. I sat in one of the few plush, leather chairs all coffee chains seem to have and suffered the jealous eyes of other customers standing in the queue. They coveted my territory like animals denied mating rights,  visibly wounded by my success and desperate to see me usurped. With my laptop on and coffee in hand it was clear I intended to stay, blogging, as I had been for the last twenty minutes:

Lazy Sunday Thoughts

Is there anything better than a venti mocha, with cream, on a Sunday? Just sitting in Starbucks thinking about the worthy cause of Fairtrade coffee that’s advertised everywhere in here – a perfect way to combat the guilt of a full-fat drink. It means all growers worldwide are ensured a good price for their product,which means no-one is left in poverty. I wasn’t even aware of this cause until *$s [Starbucks] brought it to my attention

I took a sip of said guilt-free drink and felt guilty anyway. The  stamp on the back of my cup conjured images of wearisome plantation workers haggling with corrupt businessmen, jubilant when the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation arrived with UN Bluecaps and offered them bags of money. In reality I didn’t have a clue on whether this was the case or not. Starbucks told me it was true, I believed it, then wrote it.

I took another sip, this one colder than the last. There was a powdery residue of cocoa on my tongue.

This place, not necessarily just Starbucks, but similar venues, was everything it meant to be a writer. Coffee kept me stimulated and the words flowing. The atmosphere was quiet so I could concentrate. The staff were friendly, the food locally and ethically sourced – it was an achievement of modern society that such a place existed to cater for the creative. But I was supposed to be a writer, so then for what was I writing? Most of my topics involved coffee in some way, and a lot of my “musings” were painfully contrived. In this case I admitted to myself that what I wrote could have originated from a Starbucks training pamphlet.

Like the plantation workers, my identity was difficult to sift from the company that informed me of their very existence. They weren’t farmers, but Fairtrade farmers, a logo on a cup and a warm feeling that I was helping the world’s poor whenever I drank. These weren’t people: they were a brand, an identity, and didn’t that make me the same thing? A blogger, like so many others, that formed part of Starbucks’ image as the creative person’s haven?

More cold cocoa. Some cream clung to the side of my lip and was quickly removed with a tongue swipe.

I deleted my initial post, and started again:

A Blogger’s Manifesto

1. A writer of any type has a purpose, whether they want to or not.  If they don’t think they have a purpose, their purpose belongs to somebody else.

2. Writers have a duty to create their own purpose.

3. Writers are obsolete until they prove otherwise, and are of no benefit to anyone unless they do something no-one else can do. This is essential if writing is to be a serious profession and not just a hobby.

Pause. Another sip. Posted.

Now, time for something else. I spent the next two hours writing a job application for Starbucks, citing my gushing praise for the chain over my blogging history as evidence of my enthusiasm. From there, I watch other writers enter the store daily and spend my time observing them. Then I write what I see, each time expanding the Blogger’s Manifesto. 

My aim is to give other people purpose, and I still maintain that my job application is the best post I have made to date.