Written for my final Writing and Place seminar. My tutor tried to test my understanding of how tents work for five minutes of slightly hysterical tent banter. It was a super great module.
The four explorers have icicles in their eyelashes and they can’t stand the sight of each other. They hate their names, their faces, their smells, their overly-sentimental stories of home. They hate each other for suggesting this adventure into a flat land of white, of white so cold they can feel their tongues turning to ice in their mouths.
Everywhere is the same. Their tent is pitched against a fierce arctic wind; they look like a tiny beetle on a linen sheet. At the start of the trip, they knew where they were. They had checkpoints and data and maps. Now they are lost in an empty hell with only each others’ thick jackets as a loathsome disruption to the endless expanse of snow.
Early one morning, the fourth explorer leaves the tent alone. He walks for a little while; his surroundings clearing his head. After a few minutes, he stops, and notices a black spot in the snow. As he stares, it gets bigger. It spreads until it is the size of a dinner plate. He thinks about his mother’s Sunday roasts. He does not come back to the tent and the rest do not look for him.
The fourth explorer was the best at pitching the tent and without him the three argue even more. The third explorer is sick of it all, and leaves the tent alone. He hopes the two of them are struggling with the pegs and strings without him to help them. He walks until his legs get too tired and cold and he can’t see the others any more. Then he looks down and sees a black spot the shape of his fist trickling through the snow like water through a sponge. He watches as it grows away from him down the slope. He thinks about his dog and he doesn’t walk back.
The first and second explorers are fighting; they cannot get the tent up by themselves. They are furious with the missing members of their team but they can only take out their aggression on the other man. The second explorer throws the first punch. His fist is padded under his gloves but the first explorer’s face is frosty and brittle and his nose breaks with the force. A spray of blood spatters into the snow and its colour is refreshing at first, but it deepens as it spreads. It soon turns black; there are black spots all around their feet as they continue with their brawl.
The first explorer lashes out with his hand and the second explorer’s attention is drawn to the ground where he sees a thick, dark circle move and shift and get bigger and bigger. He smiles and tells the first explorer how it reminds him of the car he’s restoring back home. It leaks oil all the time, he says.
The first explorer is alone. He starts walking, but he cannot carry the tent and the food and the tools and his sleeping bag by himself. He packs a sticky cereal bar in his pocket and leaves the rest. He feels as though he’s walked for hours but it isn’t that far at all. There are no landmarks or signs or familiar sights to mark the distance. He starts to feel sleepy, exhausted from the fight, but just as he decides to give up and lie down he sees a black spot growing under him. The knife in his hand falls and sticks upright in the snow like a dart in a dartboard. He doesn’t think about anything.