A flash fiction tale of 1000 words, with thanks to Chuck Wendig for the writing prompt, and Christine Bell and Margeanne Mitchell for the word:
Shackleton stands steadfast on the South Polar Plateau. Wild, on his back, lies panting at Shackleton’s feet. Ice crystals grow and trail out of Wild’s nostrils.
“Looks like you could use a bit of whisky,” Shackleton says.
“Eh?” Wild grunts.
“Whisky. For your nose frost. You’re building a frozen waterfall on your upper lip. A bit of whisky, and your nose-breath will melt the frost.”
“What if I’m a mouth-breather?”
“You shouldn’t be breathing through your mouth. But whisky breath will melt your nose-icles either way. In the meantime, you look like Frosticles himself.”
Shackleton walks past Marshall and the Mate. He crouches over one of the crates labeled “SPIRITS.”
Marshall, the Mate, and Shackleton take turns cutting the crate straps and lifting the lids.
“Scotch whisky!” Shackleton says. “Hallelujah. I had forgotten what we packed. The Antarctic will do that, you know. Make you forget.”
The three of them open the remaining “SPIRITS” crates and find more whiskey and brandy.
Marshall reaches into a crate. “Hunter Valley Distillery, Limited. Fine brandy, indeed.”
“Charles Mackinlay and Company. It’s about time we opened this shit,” the Mate says, lifting a brandy bottle to the sun.
Shackleton grabs a couple whisky bottles, opens them, and stoops beside Wild. “Drink up, Wild man. It’ll snotrunningly cure what ails you.”
Wild struggles upright. “A toast . . to our Great Southern Journey.” He coughs and wheezes. He taps his frozen snot-encrusted mustache with a stiff finger and sips.
“A toast to the Nimrods.” Shackleton stands and salutes his comrades.
“Shackleton. Will we make it?” Wild says.
“We’ve already made it.” Shackleton raises his bottle. “Today- January 16, 1909- will be inscribed in history books as the day Wild, Marshall, Adams- er, the Mate- and Shackleton reached the South Magnetic Pole.” He sips his whisky. “And last week- on January 9, to be exact- will be inscribed in the history books as the day Wild, Marshall, the Mate, and Shackleton reached the new farthest southern point. Er, what’s that latitude, Marshall?”
Marshall grabs his notepad from his belt and flips it open. “88°23’S, sir.”
Wild grimaces. “But the geographical pole- still over one hundred miles away.” He puts his hand over his eyes. “Shackleton. I don’t want to ruin it. I’m weak. Go on. Touch the pole. Please take my rations.” Wild cries, rubbing his tears on his red, raw face. Marshall and the Mate bow their heads.
“No. Leaving a man behind is a coward’s deed. I’d rather waste away in the laughingstocks than be tarred and feathered for murder.” He crouches beside Wild and looks into his eyes. “Besides, four live donkeys are better than a pride of dead lions.”
Wild looks up at Shackleton and smiles. Then his face clouds over.
“What is it? Something else troubling you?” Shackleton asks.
Wild squints at Shackleton, then blinks hard and wipes his eyes. He smacks his palms against his eyes, rubs hard, then looks up again.
“You alright, Wild man?”
“Ah . . yes. Just my eyes playing tricks on me.”
“That’s a symptom of snow blindness. And it’s getting late. Have some more whisky and sleep. Tomorrow we’ll break camp.”
Shackleton helps Wild to his feet and they stagger to the hut. Marshall and the Mate follow. The icy wind whips frost through the door, and Wild shivers as he unbuttons his coat.
Wild breathes into his cupped hands. “I think I’ve got the fever. It smells like a barn in here.”
“Damn it to hell, man, we’ve all got the fever,” the Mate says. “We put off the spirits too long, and now we’re paying for it.”
Marshall slips into his sleeping bag. “Speak for yourself, Mate. Had we partaken on day one, we’d all be frozen dead by now.”
“Liar. Nothing motivates a man like spirits,” the Mate says.
“Nothing makes a man sluggish like spirits,” Marshall replies before flipping his blanket over his head.
That night, the temperature plummets and Wild awakens. He reads the thermometer. Negative 129 degrees. The others are shivering and chattering in their sleep. He opens another bottle of whisky and finishes it before daybreak. Shackleton awakes and sees Wild passed out upright.
“You snotrunningly drank it ahead of schedule!” he yells, shaking Wild by the shoulders. Wild sneezes a snot spray and vomits on the floor. Marshall and the Mate jump out of their bags. The snot and vomit have already frozen. They break camp and partake in spirits before their trek.
The next day, rations running low, Shackleton allots three biscuit per day per man. Shackleton, Marshall, and the Mate surge ahead while Wild trails. Each afternoon, they wait for Wild to catch up.
At Cape Royds- the last camp before the end of the journey- Shackleton gathers the men together. “We’ve four biscuits left, and two days- if we’re lucky- to Hut Point and our ship out of here. Wild, you eat my biscuit. I’m feeling strong as a donkey.”
“Bless you, donkey,” Wild whispers. He nibbles the biscuit and sips his whisky. An hour later the biscuit is gone and his bottle is empty.
The next night, Wild decides to sleep outside.
“Keep away from me, you beasts! I will not bed down with donkeys!” Wild flails at the others as they try to drag him into the tent.
The next evening, Shackleton, Marshall, and the Mate bury the remaining spirits under the floorboards at Hut Point. The three bed down for the night, and Wild sleeps outside again, wrapped in the others’ blankets. At daybreak, Shackleton crawls out of the hut and scans the horizon.
“Wild, wake up. I see the ship! Look!”
Wild moans and opens his blood-shot eyes.
“The ship- look! Over there!” Shackleton point at the horizon.
Wild follows Shackleton’s finger and gasps. He jumps up, runs, then stumbles to all fours. “The lion!” he cries. “Lion’s come to eat donkeys! Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw!” he brays, kicking his back legs out as he gallops back to Cape Royds.
Note- I decided, post-writing, the genre is surrealism.
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