Thursday, 26 January 2012

Where did that come from? 3

Hendricks returned to consciousness and the conviction he was in a submarine being tumbled about the seabed, his head swollen with the pressure, his stomach churning with acid fear and nauseating dislocation. This he might have accepted but for an implacable sense of foreboding welling up through the terror and bewilderment. The situation would disintegrate further. Whatever unspeakable deeds he had enacted, regardless of irreparable damage caused to himself and those close to him, he would soon be making things worse. Nothing he could do about it.

His mouth tasted of corpses; his soul had left for the coast. He was crawling out of blackout. He didn’t know what terrified him more - what he’d done in this latest one, or when the next one would descend on him, He reached automatically for a bottle under the shabby, wet bed.

Once he found the bottle, he discovered the room. It was a small room and smelled of things even worse than himself. There was a small notice affixed to the back of the door. Another hotel room, then. And, from the damp on the walls, not quite one star standard. He’d landed lucky.

He pulled himself to his feet, gagging with the effort and crept over to try and decipher the language on the tariff notice on the door. It refused to swim into focus. The door was bolted, though. He’d had that much sense when he’d arrived.

It was a mildly peevish gurgling that jerked him into feral alertness and sent him stumbling into the bathroom, horribly afraid that he wasn’t alone. And he wasn’t.

There was a piglet in the bath, entangled in his top sheet and blankets. It looked reproachfully up at him. He sighed with relief. For a moment he’d thought he’d heard a baby.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Where did that come from? 2

Burkett had allowed a day’s rest before the assault on the summit. Any longer and their food reserves wouldn’t last the descent to mid-way camp, any less and they wouldn’t be guaranteed of sufficient momentum on the final climb. Tasker and Kemp would accompany him to the peak. Spinetti and Holmes had taken it well, all things considered. They’d put the success of the expedition before any personal ambition to be the first human beings to stand atop C3.

From first light, the climbing party picked their way through freezing mist, across treacherous ice and vertiginous outcrops of rock. Hour after hour they fought the mountain until at last they gained the summit, breaking through the last vestiges of cloud to stand in fierce sunshine, exhausted and uplifted in equal measure. In every direction the world lay far beneath their feet. Something no man had seen before.

Burkett threw an arm around Kemp’s shoulder while Tasker busied himself with the camera, before shuffling over to join them. Lungs bursting and limbs aching, they managed a reticent smile into the camera for posterity. They may be the first men to stand there, but they’d have no vulgar triumphalism.

The snow at their feet was ever shifting as fierce cross-winds buffeted the summit. Burkett looked down as something scudded along the ground and bumped into his snow-boot.

It was an empty packet of cheap cigarettes.

Burkett scooped it up into his pocket. He saw the others staring at him in utter dejection.

“Wondered where I’d dropped that,” he improvised hastily. “Never do to leave litter up here, would it?”

On the way down, they all pretended Burkett was not a lifetime and almost fanatical non-smoker. When they reached base camp, his first request was for a cup of tea and a smoke.