Short story #3
The frost came.
It settled into the desert floor, ice choking dust.
Two companions trudged across a vast landscape. Glancing down at the thick-spectacle layer of ice, you could see straight through. The surface below burned red, but provided no heat.
In the distance, mountain ranges signposted a path forward. Between the mountains and the unending sheet of ice, the pair seemed entirely insignificant. Two ants, scuttling across a sublime red-glass portrait.
Then,—as if to coat the portrait with a careful veneer—snow began to flutter down from the darkening sky.
The pair stared upwards, open-mouthed.
“Is… is it… yeah, it’s fucking snowing on Mars, isn’t it Thomas?”
“Yep, looks that way” answered Maidvern.
“Y’know,” he continued, “I never thought I’d make it to another planet. Maybe the moon, if I was really lucky… but never another planet. And now, here we are, on Mars, and it’s fucking snowing. Wait wait, hold on, this is real, right? Tell me, Thomas. Hit me or something”
“Seems like it. What? I’m not gonna hit you. And besides, a bit of snow is no reason to stop walking. Keep pushing.”
“How much farther is the Yaruga, Thomas?” Maidvern asked.
“Uh, not far. Not far at all” replied the other voice.
The sky dwindled into a late twighlight. The snow whirled and whistled, seeming to surge, gush, and flow from every pore of the terrain. Each pixel of life became cold and unreal whiteness.
They trudged onwards. Already it settled. With each step, Maidvern sunk into the dense snow. It creaked underfoot as he unlodged, then stepped again, only to be foiled by each step after. His skin burned, ablaze with coldness. His body wavered, buffeted by the storm. He squinted, closing one eye, barely able to see. When he did manage open both eyes fully, everything shone a vibrant, blinding white.
Glimpses of redness on the desert floor below glowed when their steps kicked up snow. They turned on their flashlights, though the violent illumination of the stars above them was more than enough to see. The stars seemed close enough to pluck, like ripe apples in an ever-expanding orchard.
Red flashed under the frost below, with white falling in thick torrents above; stars and mountains set the scene between. If it wasn’t so cold, Midvaern would find it beautiful.
But it was cold, so there could be no beauty here. No beauty in this temperature—only from the outside, looking in, could it seem beautiful.
Oh, but from the outside, how it shined, how it shimmered, how it sang…
“It’s been hours, Thomas. Fuck. Twelve, or twenty-four? I don’t know. But hours of nothing.”
“Just keeping going, Maidvern. That’s all we can do.”
“How long have we been walking? How long since it iced over, d’you think?”
“How would I know, man? All our equipment’s broken. And I think we’re breaking, a little. More than five hours I’d say, but less than ten, but I—“
Thomas broke off. A great wind chill gathered and coiled, bided its tension, wound, and then cracked the earth like a great whip. The windchill almost knocked them back, and Midvaern swore bitterly, certain that he’d been sliced straight through, split into two clean-cut halves.
But no, they were still intact. Though the skin on their faces stung like hell, a thousand paper-cuts seeped in saltwater.
“It’s getting worse and worse. If we don’t find our way back, we’re done.”
Maidvern continued to shout over the wind’s whistle and snow’s murmur.
“I never thought I’d die in the snow. Didn’t get much cold south of the border. Never thought I’d die on Mars, either. And I definitely didn’t think I’d fucking die from cold on Mars.”
The two survivors tried to laugh, but couldn’t quite get their faces to move in the right way.
“Well, I’d wager a good deal people don’t die in any way they’d thought they would. That ain’t nothing that makes us special. I can hear your teeth chattering like cymbals. Stop talking. Save whatever’s left. It’s probably not good for us to keep talking. That’s what they say in the movies when they’re about to die, anyway”
Maidvern grimaced in reply.
Why’d I come to this rock, anyway?
Maidvern thought about Earth, and of all the years they still had back on the home planet. More years to come, more years to fill. Stale years—broken years—but years all the same. The situation on Earth didn’t seem so scary with all this distance, in this storm. What he’d give to go back and see the Great Rain…
At least the rain kills you slow. Now I got no years. Only snow on a desert planet. Isn’t this funny? Or is it sad? I can’t tell.
I shouldn’t even be here. I’m no revolutionary scientist, no hotshot, genius, trailblazer—just one of the stupid few they found willing to come here. Science’s foot soldier. I’m no savior. I couldn’t even save myself. Can barely be bothered to save myself now. Terraforming? Who am I terraform another planet? Ha! Look at this. A speck amongst specks, on a planet that’s just a dot amongst the rest of the universe! And now I’m going to be buried with the rest of these pale dots falling out the sky. And then, once this long red night ends, Mars will regain its heat as quickly as it lost it. And our bodies will be found on this stupid desert.
The planet won’t notice, maybe no one else in this universe will know what happened to us. It’s biblical, in a way. I’m leaving this world like something straight out of a sci-fi book.
I’m sorry, Gina. Just forget about me. Find another. I’m not it.
He kicked the snow, and winced in pain as his boot caught the tip of the ice’s thick top layer.
Is it special when you’re lonely? Is it meaningful? I’ve felt it often, but now it’s all ending, it just feels the same as everything else. Do you still think of me? I think of you often. And I will continue to, if I can. I don’t know what comes after this, so I don’t want to make any promises. Can you live forever, for me?
Unaware to Maidvern, as he stumbled and contemplated, the snow had picked up. It fell like titanic lumps, icy glitter bouncing around a snow globe, as if shaken by a malevolent child.
At least snow globes have antifreeze in them. He could do with a great tidal wave of that stuff right now. Wash away the sins, wash away the ice, and start over.
-80c degrees, the thermometer showed. Nothing can prepare you for that. Nothing.
He was being covered. Being buried alive is always a fear. You just don’t think it’ll be snow.
As the polystyrene ocean rushed up to his knees, Maidvern’s mind flickered back to his first night on the Red Planet.
With the right gear, Mars is fine. It can get up to 20 degrees, in the right conditions. And there’s something calm about being here. Like there’d been something here before us who’d tamed it, an ancient civilization. Maidvern didn’t know why he felt that, but he did.
He thought back to warmer days. A beer with Thomas, talking up the next project. Play a song. Pixies – Hey. Whatever you want.
Hey, said the man to the lady, this planet is actually kinda beautiful. A perfect place to build a second home.
His mind flashed back to reality. To brilliant whiteness of the snowstorm and more stars than any man could hope to count in a lifetime. He pushed it away, tried to escape back to the memories’ reverie.
Where was I?
Ah, then the first truly cold night on Mars came. They all knew it’d be bad. They’d been prepared, somewhat. Not enough. Of course an army of scientists knew a planet with a thin atmosphere, rotating an extra 48,700,000 miles from the sun, would get cold at night. But knowing something is easy. Experience is far, far harder. They erected their makeshift, well-insulated buildings and climbed into layers upon layers. Then they waited. And the chill came, and they suddenly understood true cold. That type of experience that nothing will ever prepare you for until you feel it with your own soul. Harsher than anywhere on Earth. Earth was one large pillow compared to this, each desert a chaise.
Snap out of it.
“We’re the first to ever terraform another planet. In history! Ever! You know that?” Maidvern shouted to Thomas.
There was no reply.
The wind picked up. It howled like wolves. The cold gained an extra dimension, surrounding Midvaern with a great, terrible noise. God knows where it found this dimension, but it filled everything. His ears, eyes, touch, smell, his soul—all was white, wind, snow, noise, silence.
Mars’ reddening twilight poured down. The wind picked up to a frenzied vibrato, the snowglobe shook wildly. Chaos reigned the planet, Chaos reigned in Maidvern. His whole body was numb, and each thought was slowing down.
Suddenly, Maidvern noticed a white flame. A white flame gathering on the tip of his tongue. Breathing out, the air carried the flame; the flame became snow, flittering into the whiteness. A white flame, on a Red Planet. He laughed.
Again, he shouted. Wilder this time.
He called for Thomas, again, and again. Once more, again. Thomas didn’t answer.
That’s when he realised Thomas hadn’t answered for a long time.
Did he ever answered anything this whole time?
He looked around. Nothing. Just more whiteness, and zero red now. Just the unrelenting cold and the star’s illumination, which seemed to be fading.
His flashlight died. Illuminated darkness slipped into a pure darkness. Every sound was amplified, each step trudging through the snow and the whirling wind echoed. He entered Chaos.
Even the stars themselves, which had shone so violently, seemed to lose their light, dimming like dying lightbulbs.
What is this? When did Thomas last speak? Where could he have gone? How do I count the time since I last heard? I don’t even feel I understand what it is I have to do, or to do. When did I last call for Thomas? I don’t understand. Help me understand. God, anyone. Does God come to Mars? Can anyone hear me? What is this place?
The weather enveloped him.
Endless questions fell within the storm. Question marks buffetted him, slashed him, questions without form, without answer. Grainy imagery, ringing ears. He relented to the storm, tried to find some shelter within it.
If I accept it, will it go away?
Where does this lead? Thomas is gone? How do I fix this?
Was he ever there? How did I get here?
Each question dissipated just as an answer began to form; the answers disintegrated just as the question finished formulating. His questions became the question, looping over and over, grasping for clarity.
A voice echoed resoundingly from the great white storm. The voice cracked like Zeus’ thunder. He remembered Zeus, from the textbooks on Earth. What was he doing on Mars? Could he help?
No, Zeus was laughing at him, the voice was laughing. His senses shifted and focussed like a kaleidoscope, every thought wanting to touch the other, to make a link, but he couldn’t introduce them. Everything was connected, he just couldn’t see how. Each thought so vivid, they could explode, spill out onto him, melt the snow, end the ice.
They could overlap, but could not meet. All was cacophony. It meant everything, yet meant nothing.
In one room of his brain he had found the meaning of existence; in another an opposing meaning of existence. They could not meet. And overshadowing all these rooms was one large gong—it resounded, signaling the plot, the story, the action—sounding the directions to how he could reach the river, the Yaruga, reach safety. But no, he was too cold, it would be easier to lay down.
Ah, but it made sense, for a brief, flashing moment, and then slipped through his fingers like snow through a gorge, valley, a fissure.
He kept marching, because Thomas had told him to, and Thomas was never wrong. But Thomas was dead, so he was wrong. He marched because it was the only thing that made sense in a place that could not make sense.
But then he could not march. He fell, his face sinking into deep snow that settled upon ice that settled upon red desert.
The white flame sputtered on just above his lips. His last few breaths kept it alive like a syphon. But without them, it was just snow. More snow on the Red Planet.
Everything faded into white and black .
Out of the static rang a shrill voice.
“Maidvern? Is that you?”
“Maidvern, get up! Help him!”
He heard the voice, but could not respond. It was a voice he did not know.
Can’t even remember where the idea for this one came from. Think I just wanted to create a story based on the biggest juxtaposition I could think of. Snow on Mars, that’d be cool, right? Turns out it’s actually possible!
Been very busy lately, starting an exciting (but fast-paced) new job. Still in marketing!
It’s really nice to come back on here and just write about what comes to mind. Especially when you’re always thinking about SEO during the day, to write something you know will never rank anywhere—like this—is nice.
As for notes on the writing… The biggest thing I thought about this time was show, rather than tell. So instead of describing how my characters got into the situation they’re in from some kinda detached, omniscient perspective, I let the story unfold through allusions and the character’s thoughts. Cut the exposition, only write about the character. Live through the character(s). If the character wouldn’t be thinking about something, don’t write about it. So for example, I was going to write all about the backstory of how they arrived on Mars, why they did it, what had happened up until the point of the story. But when you read a nice book, that’s not what happens. All the details are shown to you through conversation and internal monologue, not just thrown at you through random asides.
And I experimented with adding direct thoughts, without any quotation marks, switching between tenses, to get that sort of unhinged feeling going.
I’m rambling, but you see my point? Showing, not telling, is supposed to help maintain a good pace and stops you straying from the action or events.
Reading something at the moment called On Writing Well. He talks about the sound of words. The cadence in your head as you read, the alliteration. I’ve never thought of this deliberately, but I think I will moving forward.
I was also thinking about varying the sentence length this time. I’ve been reliant on short sentences, a crossover from all the copywriting stuff I’ve been learning over the past few months.
Still think I need to develop the story better though. Why should a reader care about what’s happening to these people on Mars? What’s the mystery, where’s the suspense? The ending was weak. Think a weak ending is a symptom of lack of character investment or suspense created during the story, perhaps.
I think I’ll go back and edit this one. I just went complete word soup at the end—stream of consciousness—to see how it’d turn out. I wanted to represent the experience of dying in a kinda surreal way.
Next time, I’d like to try a story that doesn’t unfold just from one person’s head. So you can have different characters thinking their own things. A new challenge.
Thanks for reading. I never expect anyone to read these things, and it makes me happy when I see it gets some hits. I hope you’re well. I write all of these notes at the end to give an insight into what I’m thinking as I learn to write silly stories. Primarily, it’s a diary. But if it helps anyone who reads this approach their own writing, then that’s great!
Until next time.