Fiction: The Death of Shackleton (an alternate timeline end to Shackleton's life)
By Alexander Penney
Page marked December 12th, 1911, discovered on December 14th, 1911 some two thousand feet from the South Pole.
The arctic winds have been howling in my frostbitten ears nonstop for the past four days. It refuses to die down. The sound has erased any memory of the gulls at the shores we left behind when the journey began on October 18th. How I long to hear the sound of London streets, the waves crashing on the hull of my shape, or the voice of another living soul. By day twenty eight half the party had perished. By forty two it was just me. For two weeks I have pushed on alone along this expansive tundra, barely able to see more than a few dozen feet in front of me. Despite being able to take as many of the rations as I could carry, I can feel my body failing me. Pure will has kept this husk of myself moving forward. Even if I shall never return, I push on in hopes I can at least breathe my last breath knowing I have confirmed and reached that central point on this godforsaken landmass. The numbness in my extremities feels as if nothing could awaken them again, not the burning core directly below me or the cursed son that never sets. I sometimes think about gutting myself and warming my hands in my entrails. I dreamt of the fireplace in my childhood home when I last rested. My father telling stories of great men, soldiers and explorers, their deeds marked down forever in time for us to marvel at. The warmth of my mother’s hug as she brought me tea. My sister’s gasps at every turn in the tales our father told, propped up on elbows on the thick rug of the living room. I thought I saw her when I awoke, not her as a child, but her as on old woman, dressed in all black, weeping. I called out to her but my voice was hollow and swallowed by the winds. She knelt and wept, at what I assume was a grave for me back home, when they finally determine by return impossible. The tears are still frozen to my face as I make what I estimate should hopefully be my final camp before the conclusion of this expedition. The salt stung clinging to my face but I couldn’t muster the strength to rid myself of this last connection to the world beyond this hell, even if they were connected simply to the visions of a failing mind. My lungs feel coated in frost, each inhalation they crack at their expansion, and each exhalation I fear will be my last. My thumb traces circles in my palm, I am too fearful to take out the instruments to see how close I may be. I must fight through one final night, and I should make it. I wonder if the heavens will open up for me in that moment and welcome me into the beyond, angel’s song drowning out the whipping winds to usher me to their side. Maybe, or maybe it will be just like ever other inch I have walked since I first got up on my own two legs.
Alexander Penney is an occasional writer and musician. During the day, they work as a Social Worker. In their downtime, they dabble in poetry, fiction, and music that ranges from confessional to the mystical and all-around surreal.