A Sea Change
Whiteout. Antarctic night covered the land. It was Admiral Richard E. Byrd who described it best. Staying alone months inland from the Ross Ice Shelf in 1934, he had written he felt as if he were living “in cold and darkness as complete as that of the Pleistocene.”
I clutched the rope, feeling the thickness of the ice coating it through my gloves. The blizzard would rage another two days, with winds likely to hit one-hundred-sixty miles an hour. If I didn’t get back to the main hut I’d freeze to death. It was typical of the almighty Central Committee to install the weather tracking device in one place and the living quarters in another. Stupid management who’d never been where I was now.
When the rope gave out, I reached for the door and felt around for the latch. Lifting it was almost impossible and I had to give a violent shove with my shoulder at the same time. The door burst open and I almost fell as I landed inside. The next second I had secured the door against the night. Behind me I felt the blessed warmth from the generator.
The banging started when I was taking off my outer clothing and setting it near the heat to dry. It sounded like a metal rod banging and sliding across more metal, getting louder and softer in alternation. The sound came even when there was no storm and lasted a few minutes and then stopping a few hours before beginning again. I had no idea what it was, only that it came from outside.
In the first weeks, I’d taken the noise for some kind of minor hallucination and wasn’t worried, though I did check the stove. The buildup of carbon monoxide in his hut had scrambled Byrd’s mind during his self-imposed isolation on the Advance Base. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
Who was it said “madness that way lies” or something of that ilk? Eventually, I put the whole thing down to an atmospheric anomaly combined with an aberration in the hut’s construction. I’d almost asked Central in my last radio communication if such things had been reported before anywhere on Antarctica, but stopped myself in time. They’d see it as a sign of some mental deterioration and pull me out.
“You’ll never last, Charlie. You’re not the kind of person who likes being alone. It’s the South Pole…