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; 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 any longer.          


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 somehow.

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, long while.

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.
journal: livejournal