So it’s about that time in November where I annoy you all with an excerpt from my garbage bag of a NaNoWriMo story. SO LET’S GET TO IT!
Context: so this story exists in kind of a future world of ours where science has actually provided proof* that the earth is, in fact, a disk-shaped object rather than a spherical one. Basically, the timeline went from flat-earthers to, as I’m calling them, “round-earthers” (people who were convinced that the earth was a sphere, like we know today) to “disk-earthers,” or people who have come to accept the new scientific evidence that the earth is a disk.
The problem is that (for a number of reasons) no one has ever actually seen the edge of this disk. This story focuses on one crew who is trying to do exactly that: sail to the edge of the earth so as to obtain demonstrable proof of the fact that the earth is flat (and to, you know, explore, as explorers do).
[Edit: I had a different excerpt here originally, but I hated it and like this scene a little bit better.]
So the crew does turn out to be successful in their mission and they do in fact stumble upon the edge of the earth (though it takes them much longer to do so than their captain, McCasey, told them it would). However, once they see the edge of the earth from their ship, they are unable to get very close due to some extreme weather conditions that exist in the tumultuous atmosphere at the edge of the planet. So McCasey (who’s headed three previous missions to the edge of the earth, all of which had failed for one reason or another) has run the ship aground on one of the tiny islands near the edge and selected a group of men to proceed on foot so that they can get closer.
This scene is actually near the end of the story. Due to the amount of time it took for the ship to actually reach the edge of the earth, a lot of the men on the ship started doubting McCasey’s ability to lead (as well as his sanity; he starts getting weird and reclusive as time goes on). A decent number of these doubters are included in the small exhibition group that goes with McCasey to get to the edge on foot. Really, the only two people in the group who don’t doubt his abilities are the ship’s doctor (who’s also McCasey’s old friend) and Apollo. Apollo is the cartographer who’s been brought along to map the edge of the planet. He’s the only “disk-earth skeptic” on board and is one of the only cartographers around who still actively makes globes. He’s aboard because he’s one of the best cartographers in the world and because, upon hearing about the opportunity to sail to the edge of the earth, wanted to go along with it because he wanted to be there with others when it was revealed that there was, in fact, no “edge” because the earth was really round. Despite the fact that he and McCasey had vastly differing views about the shape of the earth (at least until they actually got to the edge), he and the captain became very close.
Anyway. A few days before this scene, there was an accident on their journey and two of the other men got killed. This really divided the group and basically set everyone except for the doctor and Apollo completely against McCasey. With the weather and conditions getting worse, everyone wanted to press on as quickly as possible, but McCasey still wants Apollo to do what he’d been brought along to do: sketch some maps of the edge of the planet. So he suggests that he stays behind with Apollo while the rest of the party continues ahead of them.
This scene occurs after a particularly rough set of days where McCasey and Apollo were stuck in near-blizzard conditions in sub-zero temperatures. They’re both very weak and sick (particularly McCasey) and so Apollo decides to set up their shelter for the rest of the day/night so that they can get a fresh start the next day. So he does that and the two hunker down for the night. Basically what happens here is McCasey knows that he’ll probably be the death of both of them if he keeps going in his injured/sick state, so he chooses to wander off into the snow instead.
I’m being really vague because I hate this freaking story and I know it’s no good, but the 15th is Excerpt Day, so y’all get to suffer through this thing with me. Also, this is me writing about something I know little to zero of (ships n’ stuff n’ exploring) with no time to research much (NaNo is writing, not research!) and zero editing.
(Nate, don’t read this, it’s terrible)
Apollo awoke to the sun blazing its way through the thin fabric of the tent and a looming feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. That familiar hint of alarm was slight and it barely caught his attention, but it was strong enough that he did notice it.
It took him a second to register that he was alone. McCasey wasn’t beside him as he slowly transitioned from being half asleep to feeling a bit more awake. Figuring the captain had already woken and was outside of their makeshift shelter, Apollo took his time getting up. He was warm – finally – and he had no desire to end the feeling until he absolutely had to. Taking advantage of McCasey’s tendency to rise early and to stay awake after doing so, Apollo helped himself to the captain’s portion of the blankets and wrapped them around himself, reveling in the cocoon of comfort he knew would have to be broken in order for them to continue their journey to reach the others.
He sunk down into the blankets with the intention of staying in them as long as possible, which meant until McCasey returned to the shelter and prompted him to pack up to continue their walking. But as he lay back to try and catch a bit more sleep in the interim before the captain’s arrival, Apollo realized that the barely perceptible feeling of dread he’d experienced upon waking had transformed itself into something stronger. It felt now more like a pulsing ball of worry that was starting to eat at his stomach.
Apollo tried to rationalize this dread that had seemingly come out of nowhere. It was likely it was just a manifestation of his feelings regarding the whole second half of their mission. Ever since they had stepped off the ship to continue their journey on foot, things had seemed to go wrong at a fairly consistent pace. First the shock of how difficult it was to breathe in the thin atmosphere at the edge of the planet, then the rough going through the snow and wintry conditions, then the accident and deaths of Johnson and Davie.
The fight between Pauls and McCasey had truly been what separated the group, but the actual physical separation had come when McCasey had insisted on Apollo’s completion of the map and his unyielding desire to remain with the map maker until he finished, forcing the others to go ahead under the direction of Pauls. There was also McCasey’s second injury of their journey by foot, which had made it all the more difficult for him and Apollo to catch up with the faster moving group of crew.
Still, though, McCasey had remained optimistic throughout all of it, and had assured Apollo that if they got early starts and were able to keep up a steady pace during daylight, they would be able to catch the rest of the crew in less than four days, five max.
Where was McCasey?
Thinking of the captain made Apollo realize that the man had yet to return to the shelter. Surely using the bathroom or just getting some fresh air wouldn’t normally take him so long. Maybe his injury was slowing him down.
“Captain?” Apollo called it from inside without moving, not yet wanting to release the warmth from his cocoon of blankets. He waited for a moment for a response, and when he got none, he called again.
“Captain? Sir? Are you out there?”
The feeling of dread in his stomach was boiling now; Apollo unwound himself from the thick blankets and tossed on outer jacket as quickly as he could to try to contain the heat still radiating from his warmed body. He poked his head out of their shelter to see where McCasey was.
“Sir?” He had to shield his eyes from the sting of the blowing snow, the storm having come in quickly on the fast- moving morning wind. The sun, which had woken him with its brightness, was now muted by the dense clouds above him. But even without the stinging blaze of the sun in his eyes, he couldn’t see the captain anywhere.
“McCasey, sir? Are you out here?” Apollo ventured out of the shelter now, more earnestly scanning around their shelter to see if there was any indication of where the captain was. He plodded around a bit, eyes blinking away the stinging snowflakes, looking. Had McCasey gone back in the shelter behind him, and Apollo had just missed him?
“McCasey!” Apollo spoke a bit louder. He turned to check behind him, and that’s when he saw the footprints. They were unmistakably McCasey’s and were fairly fresh, though were quickly being filled with the rapidly falling snow. For the briefest of moments, the thought flashed through his head that McCasey had gone on without him, trying to catch the group by getting an earlier head start than he could have if he’d waited until Apollo was awake.
But this thought disappeared as quickly as it arose as Apollo realized that the tracks McCasey had left were going off in the wrong direction. Rather than heading in the same direction that they had been going when they’d stopped the night before, the footprints went off in a perpendicular direction – nowhere near where the others were and nowhere near anyplace that Apollo could think was worth going.
“McCasey!” Apollo called. Nothing answered him but the wind and its whipping through the falling snow. Apollo took a few bumbling steps in an attempt to follow the footprints, then called again. “McCasey!”
Nothing. More earnestly than the first time, Apollo attempted to run in the direction of the footprints. He grunted, the newly-fallen snow making the otherwise natural action incredibly difficult and tedious. In a manner of less than a minute, he was gasping for breath and struggling to stay upright.
Had the captain been trying to scout out a route to follow and mistakenly gone off in the wrong direction? Had he just gone outside to get some fresh air and gotten lost in the falling snow? Had he gone further away from the shelter than he’d originally planned, and in trying to get back, gotten lost in the near white- out conditions? The circumstances of the weather and of their predicament made all of these options possible. But as Apollo continued his vain attempt to follow the footprints, which were rapidly disappearing under the falling snow, he knew that none of these were what had really happened.
Apollo was gasping from exhaustion and from anger now, his tear-filled eyes straining to follow footprints that were little more than shallow indents in the thick snow underfoot. He gritted his teeth and, with every ounce of strength and every molecule of oxygen he had in his body, he lifted his head and yelled.
“Coward!” Apollo shouted it into the falling snow, his voice breaking with a sob. “You coward!” But as soon as the words burst from his lips, he regretted them. Stumbling, he finally succumbed to the heavy snow around him and collapsed to the ground. “I’m sorry,” he whispered into the snow, shaking, hot tears falling from his eyes and burning through the cold whiteness beneath him. “I’m sorry.”
The coldness that had been so all consuming a mere five minutes ago had now left him. Through his tear-blurred eyes, Apollo could see the rapidly-building snow begin to pile around his lower arms as he remained motionless and kneeling in the snow. For the briefest moment, he succumbed to it, accepting his fate as the white flakes began to bury him. He was content to be consumed by it.
But in another minute that feeling was gone and replaced with nothing but numbness. Somehow he pulled himself up and out of the snow. Somehow he made his way back to the makeshift shelter and climbed inside. He made no effort to warm himself in the blankets and instead remained on the cold, hard floor, shaking from cold and fear and anger.
Time passed. Apollo knew not how much. His eyes were glazed with tears, his mind clouded with a numb feeling of shock and fear. But the cold finally returned to him and, shivering, he crawled beneath the shelter of the blankets that he had left to go search for the captain. And as his body warmed, his mind seemed to come back to him.
Perhaps McCasey would return. Perhaps this was nothing more than a mistake. A quick survey of the captain’s belongings suggested he had taken nothing with him when he departed. It had been a scouting mission, Apollo thought. It had to be. He would return, hopefully before dark.
But the approaching night showed no inclination for lenience. Beneath his cocoon of blankets, Apollo watched the shadows as they moved along the walls of the shelter, bending as the sun traveled on its low arc through the sky. Around what Apollo assumed to be five in the evening, he consumed his portion of the dinner ration, his eyes never moving from the door of the shelter, keen still on seeing the shadow of the captain approaching from outside.
McCasey was not back by nightfall. The sun sank, darkness filled the void left by the departing shadows, and Apollo used precious lamp oil to keep the tent’s hanging lamp as bright as possible all night—a lighthouse in a sea of snow and cold. As much as he tried, Apollo did not make it through the night awake, and was ashamed when the sudden brightness of the abrupt morning of the edge of the earth startled him into a wakeful state. Momentarily panicked, he glanced around to see if any of the inside of the shelter had been disturbed, suggesting that the captain had returned in the night. Finding nothing, he stumbled free of the blankets and unzipped the shelter door to get a glance outside.
The snow drifts had piled up so high during the night that Apollo actually had to push away a decent amount of snow from the other side of the door to even be able to see out, but this and the fact that there were no visible signs of footprints outside suggested what Apollo feared but what he had seemed to know all along.
McCasey had not returned.
*This involves a whole bunch of nonsense that I’m not going to get into here, so just take it as fact in the story.