[In the coming days, we will be presenting teasers from the upcoming Issue No. 10: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales.]
HE WENT IN SEARCH OF
A RELIC OF EARTH’S PAST,
AND CAME FACE TO FACE
WITH THE MORTAL SPECTER
OF HIS OWN!
He’d brought some books with him on the way out, but had lost the lot of them on the transfer to the smaller boat. One of the lifting pallets had upset and spilled the crate down the side of the ship. His almanac had been saved, for which he was thankful.
Among the losses had been his Simpson and his Eldredge; his Osteology and Relationships of Chondrichthyans; his Boys’ Book of Songs, Balfour’s Development of Elasmobranch Fishes, and, thrown in from his childhood, his Beadle Boys’ Library, including Wide Awake Ned; the Boy Wizard.
Above his head, interstellar space was impossibly black. That night he wrote in his almanac, Velvet set with piercing bits of light. There seemed to be, spread above him, some kind of galactic cloud arrangement. Stars arced up over one horizon and down the other. The water nearest the ice seemed disturbingly calm. Little wavelets lapped the prow of the nearest kayak. The cold was like a wind from the stars.
Thirty-three-year-old Roy Henry Tedford and his little pile of provisions were braced on the lee side of a talus slope on a speck of an island at somewhere around degree of longitude 146 and degree of latitude 58, seven hundred miles from Adélie Land on the Antarctic Coast, and four hundred from the nearest landfall on any official map: the unprepossessing dot of Macquarie Island to the east. It was a fine midsummer night in 1923.
His island, one of three ice-covered rocks huddled together in a quarter mile chain, existed only on the hand-drawn chart that had brought him here, far from those few shipping lanes and fishing waters this far south. The chart was entitled, in Heuvelmans’s barbed-wire handwriting, alongside his approximation of the location, The Islands of the Dead. Under that Heuvelmans had printed in block letters the aboriginal word Kadimakara, or “Animals of the Dreamtime.”
Tedford’s provisions included twenty-one pounds of hardtack, two tins of biscuit flour, a sack of sweets, a bag of dried fruit, a camp-stove, an oilskin wrap for his almanac, two small reading-lanterns, four jerry cans of kerosene, a waterproofed one-man tent, a bedroll, a spare coat and gloves, a spare set of Wellington boots, a knife, a small tool set, waterproofed and double-wrapped packets of matches, a box camera in a specially made mahogany case in an oilskin pouch, a revolver, and a Bland’s .577 Axite Express. He’d fired the Bland’s twice, and both times been knocked onto his back by the recoil. The sportsman in Melbourne who’d sold it to him had assured him that it was the closest thing to field artillery that a man could put to his shoulder.
He was now four hundred miles from sharing a wish, or a word, or a memory. If all went well, it might be two months before he again saw a friendly face. Until she’d stopped writing, his mother had informed him regularly that it took a powerful perversity of spirit to send an otherwise intelligent young man voluntarily into such a life.
His plan looked excellent on paper. He’d already left another kayak, with an accompanying supply depot, on the third or westernmost island, in the event bad weather or high seas prevented his return to this one . . .
BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE BONE-CHILLING CONCLUSION, AVAILABLE ONLY IN McSWEENEY’S MAMMOTH TREASURY OF THRILLING TALES.
Jim Shepard is the author of six novels, including, most recently, Nosferatu and the forthcoming Project X, and two collections of short stories, including the forthcoming Love and Hydrogen. He teaches at Williams College and in the Warren Wilson MFA program.