Dear Reader: Aurora, which is in the process of being written even
as we speak, is my current piece. It is my expectation that it will
be substantially shorter than Tristan's Redemption—more of a true short
story than the novel that Tristan's Redemption became. Aurora
is definitely written in an entirely different fashion than Tristan's
story was, but I hope you will all find it enjoyable nonetheless. As
ever, comments are always appreciated. Aurora will be posted
here at Nifty and on awesomedude.com;
updates will usually be faster on awesomedude simply because I have greater
independent control over update speed. Also, it's a cool site run by
a good friend of mine; it has good stories in the high school genre, so check
it out. I also host a poetry page there, so feel free to submit your
poetry. Thanks for reading!
Also: For those of you that read Tristan's Redemption,
I'm currently submitting it for publication. Would you all be so kind
as to hop over to my livejournal and offer
new title suggestions? (I can't keep the title the same because I need
something with more oomph.) I have six or so that are my current
favorites and I would be grateful if you would offer your vote via a comment,
anonymous or otherwise, on livejournal. Thanks!
Oh, yeah, and this is copyright Nicholas Nurse 2004, so don't even think
about it, yo.
By Nicholas Nurse
Entry One: Arrival
Everything in these last days takes place under moonlight, for this is a
land where the sun does not shine. There are only the moon and stars,
and on many nights the electric drapes of the aurora borealis unfold across
the sky. There are no trees here. The land is flat and white as
far as the eye can see, and the sea is filled with ice and the sad songs of
the wind that can carry for miles. Its quiet rush is the only music
in this place. It is cold here and I am dying. I have not been
in this place long, and I don't expect to be. The shears of Atropos
are already sliding shut across the thread of my life. If I am very
quiet, here in this place at the very edge of the world, I can hear sand running
through an hourglass bigger than the sky. I imagine that it sounds
kind of like rain.
They say that teenagers think that they're immortal, and to some extent
this is true. I certainly did for awhile. Now, though, suddenly
there is death like a ship on the horizon, always getting closer, brought
nearer by forces greater than myself. In my mind, its sails are white
like the sun off of new snow. Perhaps we all shield our eyes from death
as from a great brightness.
Sometimes this place feels as though it's not even on the same planet as
the rest of the world. Time runs differently here; the sun never rises,
so for the first time in my life the little light on the clock that says PM
suddenly becomes important. It's the only way I can tell if it is supposed
to be day or night. But even that, to some extent, becomes irrelevant;
I try to spend as little time asleep as possible these days. We spend
a third of our lives asleep. That's not such a big deal when you can
live to be seventy, eighty, ninety. But when you'll be lucky to hit
twenty, and luckier still to do it without a morphine drip and only the fuzziest
sense of consciousness, eight hours a night suddenly seems like a big deal.
That and the dreams are bad, too.
I write this because I feel that it is important that I leave something
behind when I am gone. I will not have children; I have neither the
time nor the inclination to do so. This record will be my child; this
journal will be what remains after I am gone. Though it has no life
of its own, it is the proof of my life. These are the words
I choose to set down, the reflection in time's mirror, so that even when
I am gone, the image will remain.
I am lucky in some respects; I still have enough money that I don't have
to work. I choose to work, instead, and this simple fact makes even
the most menial tasks worthwhile. Even in the sub-zero darkness, I
have a feeling of quiet pleasure in the back and forth of routine labor.
The sense of time running out sharpens everything, so that even the simplest
things take on near-cosmic significance. I signed up for dangerous work
when I got here, but one of the advantages of knowing you're already dead
is that anything else even slightly risky is almost laughable by comparison.
Especially when you know you deserve everything you've got coming to you.
I know I do.
Stepping off the plane really made this all become very real. Up until
that moment, I think I'd convinced myself that everything I was doing here
was a childhood lark of sorts, the daydream of a map and a photograph of a
whale breaching, or the idle tracings of a finger against a globe, stopping
and saying, "Here, this is where I will go." This place is as far north
as I can go and still find other people. Beyond this, there is only
the numinous, vast sentient things that have existed long before humans ever
did. They will outlast us, too. The fish and the seals and the
polar bears and the whales and the water and the ice will be here until the
very end of everything. I want to be a part of that, really. I
was drawn here in search of something I'd never found anywhere else.
I don't know what it is, exactly, but I think it might be here. It has
to be. If it isn't, then I've wasted everything on this final stop,
because from here there will be no more tracing a globe for a new destination.
Here, at the top of the world, everything ends.
The runway here where this Alaskan Airlines plane left me is gritty and
somehow unfinished, as everything here is unfinished—the houses are on stilts
and the roads are unpaved; the people are beautiful and rough-hewn, sprung
to life from snow and stone and somehow more natural, more vibrant and attuned
to everything that is not them, than any other human being I have ever met.
They are the Inupiat Inuit, and this place was originally called Ukpeagvik,
which is the place where owls are hunted. Humans have lived here for
thousands of years; in fact, this would have been the first place humans would've
stopped on their way across the Bering land bridge in the days when the seas
were lower and the world was colder. Snowmobiles and Ford Explorers
have replaced rawhide boots and bone snowshoes, but little else has changed.
Sure, subsistence is no longer guaranteed only in the hunt; the Alaskan Oil
Pipeline runs through here, and many people give their lives in service to
it. But as many as have acquiesced to the frenetic pace of man have
also remained true to older callings. In the fall and in the summer,
whales are still brought ashore to be gutted and eaten. Boats powered
by motors where once they were driven by the hands of men reach out like
fingers into the water. In their cupped hands they bring back these
giants, these singing creatures that are killed and offered up as both feast
and prayer. It is on one of these whaling ships that I found a job.
Every duty on the boat is dangerous, I was assured, but at first I found
employ as a common boathand, responsible for hauling anchor and tying knots
and fetching buckets of water to wash the blood from the decks. Progress
had reached even here; nobody leaned out of the sides of small boats and
hurled harpoons anymore. Instead, giant guns mounted fore and aft launch
ballistae that pierce and stain the water. If ever a creature could
scream, these whales should. Their cries should sunder the water and
break our boat in two. Instead, they roll, and their silent sufferings
bury the harpoon more deeply, until at last they shudder and die. I
can't help but know fear in that moment. I've seen their eyes, as big
across as my hand and filled with a terrible knowledge, fold closed.
Every time I see that I promise myself that I will not go so easily.
As violent as their deaths may be, there is still somehow no sense of violation
in them, for the Inupiat Inuit recognize the moment of that which they take.
This is no idle catch, as the winching of fish in a net, but is instead the
visceral inevitability of the wheel of existence, a great stunning consequence
that is brutal and necessary for the survival of everything. The whale
is hauled ashore as a fallen comrade in battle, and its dismantling is more
funeral than butchery. Knives are embalmers' tools and to the sea is
committed what little remains. The whale is the embodiment of life itself,
and as in life almost everything is used up, so that what is not taken is
returned to the world. I do not believe in a soul. It's hard
to believe in anything at all, really. But when I die, it will be like
this—everything that is a part of me will break apart and will become the
snow and the water and the sky. There is no thought and no knowledge,
but in that last moment when it all becomes clear—that there is nothing here
and there will never be anything, that the myth of the afterlife is just that—the
explosion of nothingness will be a peaceful blow, and the disassociation of
the body will not be a sad passing. Rather, it will be a joining with
everything that has been and is yet to come. If anyone reads this in
ten years, in twenty, remember me as a cloud, or the curl of a wave, or the
lights in the sky. Because I am there. And I'm singing alongside
everyone else that has ever passed my way, even if I cannot hear that song
Entry Two: Under Ice
The first place I saw in Barrow, other than the one-runway airport, was
the King Eider Inn. Apparently it's named after some sort of bird.
Anyway, I checked into a room on the second floor until I could find somewhere
else to live. Being in hotels or motels is always a dissonant experience
for me. I guess it's because I've spent so much time in them, and those
times are not the kind I really want to remember. Most of them involved
me bent over and panting, sweat running down my chest, sometimes the giver,
sometimes the taker. Oh, I admit, I enjoyed it in those moments, the
feeling of someone behind me making the tight-lipped angry noises of sex,
or those times when it was me with my teeth gritted tightly, thrusting forward
with very little rhythm and a whole lot of passion. As I dropped my
bags in the corner of the room and looked at the beds I could almost sense
the hot sticky smell of it, that mix of pheromones and sweat that wound run
down my bare chest and onto the back of someone whose flesh I knew better
than his name.
And mostly I remember the succession of voices, all saying my name, over
and over in my head Gavin Gavin Gavin, the bass beat against which they would
all push their bodies into mine. God, so many different voices.
So many people in meaningless rooms just like this. They never knew
my last name, and sometimes when we were done and lying there in the darkness,
breathing together heavily and heartbeats matching, I wanted to whisper it
to them like a benediction: "Gavin Mortensen." The moment always passed,
though, and I'd towel the cum off of my body almost angrily in the silence.
I should've been counting, keeping score like World War I pilots in their
planes, a hatch-mark in a random headboard I'd never see again. I couldn't
pretend even then that I gave a shit about any of them, that they were anything
more than living sex toys, given life solely for that night, to satiate my
need to fuck. In my head there were a couple of girls, too, all bouncing
tits and crotches seeming strangely empty, missing that lightning rod of flesh
that made it all fun.
And then there was the one.
It's hard to set those memories aside; it's been hard to do it every time
I step into this cold little room, four thousand miles from the places where
I pressed briefly into dirty beds and then off again a few hours later.
I do, though, because this place is different. It's cleaner. Maybe
I'm silly for thinking so—maybe it's just the fact that the snow makes everything
like a blank page—but if it is a blank page, I'm going to write something
simple across it for once, even if I've already reached the end of the book.
So that's why, every morning, I get up and I shower and I head in darkness
to the ships that hunt the whales and bring them ashore. I say "morning"
but of course mean the term only in the chronological sense; that word has
no real meaning here. For the first time in a very long time I feel
as though I am doing something with myself, that I'm not just going through
some empty motions but that I am a part of something much larger than just
me. Perhaps it's because of the community feel of whaling—when a whale
is brought in, tractors pull it up onto the beach and families take turns
in the work of rendering the creature down into its constituent parts.
It was a bit difficult to get onto one of the crews at first, as typically
they're structured around family units, but when I told the whalers why I
was here, they understood. It made sense to this rugged people.
The people here live much harder than do people almost anywhere else in the
civilized world. To them, my story was both foreign and yet, when viewed
through a prism, more familiar than I expected. Mostly, a lot of the
men who had never been further from home than Fairbanks wanted to hear what
Los Angeles was like.
I told them stories. I told them the stories that didn't hold any
pain for me. I told them about cruising down Sunset Boulevard without
mentioning that it was usually on the way to some seedy hotel in the Valley.
I told them about the shops all along Hollywood Boulevard without telling
them that I was waiting for a shiny expensive car to pull up and take me
away for the evening. I told them about all the little coffeeshops
and cafes without telling them how I'd use those places to meet people from
the Internet, to pretend to enjoy their conversation—oh, such witty banter!—before
I'd lead them off to a place where the lights could be lowered. I told
them about all these things while I held back the parts that were boring,
the parts that were the things I didn't want to remember.
Thinking about it reminds me of those random dates, if I can call them that.
They were always shy, those boys and the few girls I would meet in random
places in the city, always fidgeting and laughing nervously and running hands
through hair or glancing out the window as though something would come through
it and infuse them with everything they wanted to be before me. I was
never like that. It wasn't because I was some scintillating conversationalist,
or because I don't get nervous. It was because I walked into these things
knowing what I wanted out of them, and what I wanted wasn't conversation.
Since I didn't seek it, it was easy for me. That's the unfortunate part
of life: the things you don't want come easy, and the things worth having
are hard to come by, or impossible.
By contrast, everything here, while difficult, also seems easy in a way.
It was hard to come here—finding the flight was easy, and there wasn't much
I was leaving behind in Los Angeles except for a trail of one-night lovers
and an aunt who probably hasn't even noticed yet that I'm gone. But
motion, the tearing myself out of a rut and getting up and leaving, going
higher and higher until even the sun couldn't follow me—that part was hard.
Starting all over, getting to know new people and becoming accustomed to the
total darkness . . . that part, too, was difficult, but it was refreshing
all the same. It feels like the wind feels here—a cold that snaps you
to waking in an instant, with a bite that makes everything sharper and clearer
There's a restaurant in town, a little place that serves what is purportedly
Mexican food—having lived in Los Angeles, I can tell you that it's actually
nothing of the sort, but it's good nonetheless—and I think just about everybody
in town passes through there once or twice a week. Barrow's a small
place, really, with just under five thousand people. Sometimes it seems
like there are a lot of children here; there certainly aren't as many older
people as you'd find in warmer places. This isn't exactly a retirement
hotspot. But this restaurant is like all of Barrow—it's a low-slung
squat building, designed to withstand the cold and built up on stilts so that
the heat of the buildings doesn't melt into the snow and cause the building
to sink under its own heat and weight. There's an unpaved parking lot
there—nothing's paved in Barrow, and the Explorers and 4Runners all about
town are preternaturally dirty as a result—and it's fun to take a seat by
the window and watch people make the rush in darkness from their cars to the
lit restaurant, which radiates the warmth that threatens to sink it.
The restaurant itself is decorated cheaply; nothing in Barrow is expensive,
because this is not a wealthy town. The tables don't all match and the
countertops near the kitchen are all Formica, ancient and that beige mottled
color of old diners, although I'm sure this place can't be any more than
ten years old. But the food is good and the people are friendly, and
that too is Barrow in a microcosm. Almost everyone here has Inuit blood
in them, and it lends the population at large a strange, Asiatic beauty; here
and there you'll see a head of blond hair and eyes dark and slightly tilted,
or widely-set cheekbones in a beautiful face like the moon. I laughed
one time and told one of the men I worked with on the boat, "Everyone here
makes me think of Bjork," and he just looked at me funny, not understanding
the reference. It didn't matter, though. I said it for me, as
I say many things for me, because I need to speak sometimes to remind myself
that I am still here.
I guess that's partially why I do this—this journal, I mean. Who else
is ever going to read the crap I put down here? Nobody, really.
It'll end up in a trash can somewhere or maybe I'll leave a note to have it
buried beside me or cast into the sea when I can no longer see the doer make
the wide toss and hear the tiny splash as my memories, damp, separate and
sink and, in so doing, rejoin me in the everything of death. The point
is that writing this grounds me, roots me into this place and this time so
that when I feel myself drifting away sometimes, I can gather myself together
with bindings of words that tie me to the snow and the water.
It's funny when you think about it, actually—how really, there isn't land
here so much as there is ice and then ocean, and a thin bridge of shoreline
that rings this frozen world into place. What would happen, I wonder,
if some invisible barrier broke and the ice and snow suddenly decided it wanted
to give in and return to the water? What would it be like if this place
were a city afloat on a constantly-shrinking island of ice, adrift?
Would it head north until it got to the very top of the world? Would
it turn around again? Probably not. I know I won't be turning
around again, and I am a wanderer just like this imaginary floating Barrow
in my mind. I guess I'm less of a nomad than some people—I've only lived
in three places my entire life—but I have nothing that ties me to any of
those places besides my memories. Barrow won't remember me when I am
gone. Los Angeles was a stopping-over point, the layover on a longer
plane ride that has no real destination. And before that there was
Geneva, New Hampshire, which was the only place in the whole fucking world
that actually looked like those stupid Thomas Kinkade pictures. I don't
think I'd ever want to go back there again. Well, I admit some degree
of curiosity—like what the old shop looks like, or our old house by the creek,
and what my old friends are doing and if they ever think about me—but the
entire image is overlaid with so much that makes me want to put this pen
down and throw myself into the sea that I know I'll never go back home now.
Besides, my end is tied to this place. It was that more than anything
else that the people here understood. "This is where I have come to
spend out the last of my days," I'd told them, and each person nodded.
One of them told me that it was fitting that I worked on a whaling ship,
because I was like the whales we caught: like them, I too came to this place
to die. The only difference is that while the whales came ashore only
in their final moments, my death would take me from land into water.
And maybe in a thousand years someone sailing through a time far from here
will find me, under ice, and I will be at peace for the first time in a long,
These are the first two journal entries in Gavin's
journal, the length of which is not determined at current time, but will probably
number around fifteen or so. As always, comments are appreciated. Flames
will be laughed at and summarily deleted.