The Golden Beaches of Antarctica
A warm breeze blew through my hair as I stood on the edge of the ship, and gazed across the ocean towards Antarctica. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of its shores far off in the distance. Finally, after waiting my entire life, I would be able to feel the soothing touch of sand beneath my feet.
For as long as I can remember, I was “the Mayor’s son”. God, I couldn’t stand it. Always having to be prim, and proper. Look good in the eyes of everyone. Or should I say his constituency? “Set a good example, son. People are watching.” Everything so structured. Never getting to play much with the other kids around the neighborhood. I mean who would want to play with the Mayor’s son? Nobody. So I couldn’t really blame ’em.
I always had the pleasure of listening to my father drone about our family’s rich history. About how my great-great-grandfather was the first person to build a permanent settlement in this area since the Great Eruption, and how ever since a member of our family had served as the Mayor. I thought it was stupid. Passing power down from generation to generation seemed like a recipe for disaster, but then again that already happened.
From what I learned in school, the world wasn’t always like this. It used to be hot, and sunny where I live. Always “raining” too. Could you imagine that? Fresh water, just falling from the sky. It made me laugh, but my dad used to always say there was nothing fraud about it; it really was hot. Now that word is only used in fairy tales, and history books.
It’s always freezing, and gray outside. Most trees are dead, and withered. The soil dry, and cracked. Can’t remember the last time I wore less than four layers of clothing outside. Maybe that time at Buck’s house when we all dared each other to see who could wear the least outside. Joey won, but paid for it. He lost five toes, and a finger that day. But at least he proved he was the toughest. That was the last time I ever really hung out with anyone my age. Everyone thought I ratted, but it was really Mrs. Jeffrey across the way. Apparently, four kids running around sub-zero temperatures without their parkas is a huge deal. We got on the news that day. My father wasn’t very happy.
When I first heard about the voyage to Antarctica, I knew it was my way out of this dreary life. My ticket out of the tundra. They only wanted the brightest minds, and the fittest bodies. The journey was an important one in regards to the fate of humanity. We needed this bad. Years of hunting depleted our already limited options for meat, and it was nearly impossible to grow food. Just recently we made a breakthrough, and began growing crops indoors. It would be a few years until we could reasonably sustain everyone off the harvest though.
It wasn’t long after sending in my application that I got my acceptance notice. Being the mayors son did have its perks. I couldn’t really enjoy it though. Not until I got some gloating done. I stepped out of my room, and headed towards my father’s office. It was locked like always; my father was a real stickler when it came to his privacy. Accessible to the public, but not his family. “It’s me. Open up” I said while rapping on his door. No answer. I knock again, louder this time, and yell “open up!” He still wasn’t answering, so I headed to my room, and grabbed my lock-pickers. Stole ’em from the sheriff while my dad and I were over at his place for dinner. They were laying out in the open, so i figured nobody would miss ’em. Been using ’em ever since to snoop around my father’s office when he wasn’t around. I never found anything, though, but I suspect I will one of these days.
I headed back towards my father’s office, and inserted the lock-pickers into the keyhole. It was unlocked within a second. I pushed open the door softly at first, so as to not disturb him; I couldn’t stand my father, but his work was important after all. Nothing seemed to be going on in the office, so I pushed the door fully open, and stepped through the entryway. My father wasn’t at his desk, and his normally neat piles of documents were strewn across the room. The curtains were drawn open, letting in the gray light from outside. I noticed the window behind the desk was ajar, and ice was quickly piling up on the sill. That must be the reason why my father’s papers were all over the place. Wind blew ’em around. My dad liked to open the window sometimes “for some fresh air”, but the old fool always forgot to close it.
I walked over to the window to shut it. As I placed my hands on the window, the freezing temperatures from outside icing my fingertips, I noticed a small red stain on the sill. A little lower there were a few more. I closed the window, and stepped back to inspect the red speckles. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to ’em; there was just a random splatter of red dots. I locked the window, drew the curtains shut, and turned to leave.
I’ll admit it was a little disappointing I had to put my gloating on hold. I wanted to rub it in his face so bad. I was going to be a famous explorer, not some boring old politician! As I walked past the desk, I tripped over something, and fell to the ground. I heard glass shatter, and knew immediately I was done for. The only glass object on my father’s desk was an old pipe he found when he was young while picking through ice. He told me before our ancestors used to smoke herbs out of it. It used to just grow up right out the ground, he said. That old pipe was his most cherished possession; he was going to kill me for sure. I picked myself up off the ground, and plodded over to sweep up the glass shards. That’s when I saw him. My father’s body in a heap under his desk, and his favorite gun on the ground next to him. There was blood everywhere. And a few teeth. Strands of hair. That’s all I saw before I turned away, and the mornings breakfast came surging up out of my stomach.
We’ve been on the open ocean for about a year now. It’s been nice enough. All the other guys who got accepted weren’t from the same town as me, so nobody knew I was the Mayor’s son. That was a relief. Would’ve been annoying having to listen to pity comments from anyone about my father. I came on this trip to escape my past. To begin anew. Not have the same old tired phrases of comfort thrown at me. Why can’t anyone understand that saying your sorry doesn’t help me at all? I’m getting into one of my funks again. It’ll probably be impossible for me to be my regular morose self in Antarctica though. Golden beaches, a warm breeze, an abundance of fresh water. What could anyone be upset about?
We prepared for four years after the acceptance letters came in. We waited anxiously to set sail. Now this agonizing year on the sea, wasting the days within the cold steel ship. We’re starting to burn out. Grow weary. I need a break from all of this. It’s just as regimented as life back home. Wake up at dawn for a jog around the ship. Breakfast afterwards. Then we’re off to learn about what we might encounter in Antarctica until noon. We break for lunch, and then head to the gym on board for weight training. Protein shakes are prepared and ready for us as soon as we finish training. The mess hall is filled for a third and final time, then one quick shower later, we’re off to our rooms for free time before lights out. They call it free time, but it’s pushed pretty hard that we should be spending the time studying what’s known, and what’s speculated, about Antarctica. I don’t see the point in learning about what scientists back home hypothesize about a place nobody has ever been before. We’re going to find out ourselves. So I’m not going to waste my spare time learning about speculations, and theories. I crack open a book about building habitable shelters entirely out of trees, instead of using the wood for critical things like fire, or doors and windows for the privileged. It’s hard to wrap your head around something that foreign. Somewhere not completely frozen sounds like a dreamland, far away from the reach of Man. The whole notion makes my head hurt, and after an hour trying to get it through my head; I’m fast asleep.
When I woke up, it was just before dawn. I normally wake up a bit early so I don’t have to hop out of bed as soon as our alarms ring, and go straight to jogging. But this is different. All of the lights are on, and the loudspeaker just clicked on. “Attention all sailors. We are now approaching the Antarctic coast.” I shot up so fast I cracked my head on the bunk above mine. The excitement rushing through me numbed whatever pain my skull was feeling, and made my legs carry me out the door. I was flying like the wind. When I reached the end of the hallway, I finally heard the pounding of footsteps following me. Slowpokes. They didn’t want this as bad as me. A few seconds later, I was standing on the ship’s deck. I climbed up on the railing to try and get a higher vantage point. And there she was, twinkling in the radiance of the rising sun. She had a golden shore, with crystal clear water all around, and trees that seemed to rise up to the borders of Heaven. The view was so awe inspiring that I completely lost myself in it. I stood there for hours I guess ’cause when I finally came to my senses, I was all alone and the sun was just above my head. I tore my gaze away from the majestic coast, and went to head back to the barracks. Nobody ever came to get me, so I guess we’re breaking from the strict schedule now. Don’t need it anymore now that the real fun is about to begin. As I walked down the hall, I passed the officers quarters, and Captain James stepped out to greet me. Captain James was a middle-aged man of about 50, so tall he had to stoop a little when walking through doors, and had hair whiter than the tundras we hail from. He held out his hand, and said “You really liked that view, huh?”
“Yes, sir” I responded, and gripped his hand in mine.
“We’ll be there soon enough. How ya holding up?” said Captain James.
“Just fine. How could anyone be down after such a sight?” I said.
“They couldn’t,” chuckled Captain James. “Just thought I should check up on ya today. But it’s good to see you’re moving on. You shouldn’t dwell on the past, son.”
He put his hand on my shoulder, and flashed me a smile before heading back into the officers quarters. I couldn't help but wonder what Captain James was getting at? I guess I’ve been withdrawn lately, and standing there like a nut all morning didn’t help my image. When I got back to the barracks, everyone was staring at me. I could feel the rush of blood to my face. Embarrassed to be blushing in front of a bunch of guys, I ducked my head and headed straight for my bunk. I always get nervous when more than one person was paying attention to me. Can’t stand being the center of attention. They always expect something from you. Like you’re some form of entertainment to them. After the eternal walk to my bed was finally over, I peeped over my shoulder and noticed everyone was still staring. But not in an eager way. They weren’t looking to be entertained; they all had somber looks on their faces. What was the matter? I sat down on my bed, and pulled out my pen, and began to circle today’s date on my wall calendar. Today was a great day, the day Man finally reached the… The thought hit me like a runaway train. I felt sick, like I was going to faint. My knees started trembling. I couldn’t stop shaking. How could I have forgotten? My father’s suicide was five years ago today. I was so desperate to leave him, and my life behind. And now I’m thinking about him on what was supposed to be my best day ever. He always got the last laugh.
The next morning myself and a few others got on a small boat, and headed towards the beaches of Antarctica. Our mission was simple: find a suitable area to set up camp. We left at dawn, and one slow hour later, our canoe reached the shore. Seeing the beach up close for the first time was breathtaking. The suns light twinkled on top of the water, and warmed the golden sands. Coconut trees stood tall along the shore, while birds flew in and out of their leafy crowns. Johnny was the first to begin crying tears of joy. The long year cooped up in that ship changed us, and feeling the solidness of the ground was too much for us to handle. Some of us cried, others rolled around in the sand, or splashed in the ocean; it was a merry time for all.
We found a spot along the beach that suited us perfectly. Right underneath two tall trees, with long tan trunks extending up out of the sand and blossoming at their peaks. We took about an hour pitching the tents we brought, and then we drew straws to see who would have the miserable task of going back to the ship. Somebody had to let them know the location we chose. I wasn’t too worried though. I knew it wouldn’t be me. We all drew our lots, and sure enough, I didn’t have one of the short ones. The two pour souls took their short straws, and made their way over to the canoe. Trudging along with heavy feet, already missing the golden sands. They rowed with their backs towards the ship.
Johnny and I decided that we should explore a bit while we waited for the unlucky to come back with the rest of the crew. We had at least three hours to spare, and I was excited like never before. What would we find out there? The sand, and the ocean are stunning, but what creatures lurk deep in these jungles? Mankind hasn’t set foot on this land in centuries. What secrets did Mother Nature keep? We stepped off the beach, and into her memories.
Chirping rang throughout the jungle. There wasn’t a second passed in silence. We cut our way through the foliage, trying to start a path. I couldn’t help feeling a little giddy. We were exploring the New World! My whole life was spent dreaming of moments like this. I finally have a purpose. Something to do with my life besides waste my time rubbing elbows with smelly old bureaucrats. There were birds of all colors, and sizes flying through the treetops. Blue and orange feathered birds, purple beaked birds, tiny birds, and large birds. Frogs were plastered along the trees in colorful assortments like a rainbow bleeding out of the bark. Johnny was scribbling in his notebook while I cut through the overgrowth. This is going to be ground breaking stuff. All of these creatures have never been seen by men. We were the first to ever observe them in the wild, the first to introduce them to the civilization of Man. I turned to ask Johnny if we should stop for a rest, seeing as I was doing all of the chopping, but he was gone. Maybe he went off for a piss real quick. He better not touch any of those frogs; God knows what might happen.
“Johnny!” I called. No answer. Only the birds.
I turned back around to continue chopping, and was met with a rock cracked over my head. A loud screech rang through my ears. I fell to the ground on my back. My vision blurred. I looked up, and saw three figures standing over me. One of them bent down, and placed a hood over my head.
A rancid smell filled my nose. The intense stench sent me into a fit of coughing, blood flying out of my mouth with each cough. I tried looking around, but everything was pitch black. Maybe I still had the hood on. I couldn’t tell. All I could feel was the pounding ache in my head. Was this some sort of training exercise? Johnny and I must be getting punished for recklessly abandoning the camp. There wasn’t even anybody out here to screw it up! Damned rules. I’ll never escape the long reach of bureaucracy.
I sat for hours at least, judging from how accustomed I became to the foul odor in the room. This is how they used to break people in the old days. Treat prisoners like animals, like they’re worthless; eventually they will break. They’ll become easy to manipulate, doing anything you say just to stay alive. I know what game they’re playing though, so I’ll sit and bide my time.
It wasn’t much longer until somebody finally came into the room. A heavy door groaned open, and slammed shut. A pair of feet walked across the stone floor, and stopped just in front of me. The scorching hot cell seemed to grow cold for a moment. Then they spoke.
“How are you feeling?” the voice asked.
I didn’t answer. The voice was familiar. Too old to be from any of my peers, but not like Captain James’. Maybe the Captain sent one of his Lieutenants to deal with me. He was probably too busy getting everyone off the ship and settled in on the beach.
“You always were a quiet one.” the voice said. “Speak your mind more often; I’m sure people would appreciate that.”
“Don’t have much to say,” I said.
A deep laugh echoed throughout the cell. “Still a smart ass too!” the voice hooted.
Strong hands gripped my shoulders, and lifted me up. They untied the knot on the hood, and lifted it off my head. The room was dimly lit. I saw a large, grizzly man standing directly in front of me, and a body laying in the far corner.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” the man said. “They were only supposed to take you two as prisoners.”
A shot of ice ran down my back. This wasn’t a drill. Johnny’s dead. And I’m going to be next.
“Don’t look so scared,” the man said. “I’ve waited a long time for you. We’re going to be a family again, son.”
Johnny’s funeral was held a week later. It was attended by everyone that came on our ship. None of my father’s people were there; they knew better. Captain James gave a short speech about the cost of progress. I thought it was a load of crap. Nobody would remember Johnny. They wouldn’t remember any of us. We weren’t first.
After the funeral I took a walk around the town my father founded. They had made incredible progress in the few years they had been there. Master-planned streets, all stemming out from the capitol in the center of town. Extensive irrigation systems, and the good Antarctic soil yielded enough crop to feed the population and then some. It was paradise. Our mission we spent years of our lives preparing for, was over before we had even begun. My purpose was lost as soon as I seized it. I looked up, and realized I had wandered my way to the capitol. A new purpose crept into my heart.
Everyone inside knew who I was. The Mayor’s son. I strolled right through the front room, and headed down the hallway to my father’s office. He was in there of course, with the window open; just like the good ol’ days.
“Come in, son,” said my father. “How are you?”
My face grew hot with anger, and my fists trembled with the might of justice. He sighed deeply, and came over to me. We stood in awkward silence. Finally, my father spoke again.
“I’m sorry for what I had to do, son,” he said with a cracking voice. “It was so hard to leave you like that. But it was the only way. You were ready to lead.”
He embraced me, and let his tears flow. My heart fluttered, and for a second I doubted my new found purpose. But he was right; I am ready. I reached into my back pocket, and pulled my knife out. Tears fell on my shoulder, as I pushed the knife into the back of his neck. My father shuddered, and coughed. He made a gurgling sound, rinsing his throat with blood, and fell to the floor. Sorrow was in his eyes. I wiped the knife’s blade clean, and set it on my new desk. A cold breeze blew in through the open window.