When The Tundra Calls

in #finishthstory5 years ago

My entry for @bananafish's Finish the Story Contest. I wish I had more room for Anton’s father’s disillusionment, his hatred for the place, the impossibility of escape, and the small contentments Anton found, but alas.

Image by Natalia_Kollegova.

by @f3nix

"СКБ Прогресс". Space Missile Center Progress.

The writing stood out on the roof of the latrine, indelible against the cobalt blue metal, sparkling under the dirty white sky of a first spring attempt.

Gennadiy waited impatiently, hopping from leg to leg in the mud and throwing stones at the door of the makeshift bathroom.

Not far away, Drogol pointed to a litter of kittens wagging his tail, the snorting nose pressed between the mesh of the net surrounding one of the last houses before the forest. From his sharp eyes and outstretched ears, a curiosity shone halfway between the festive and the ferocious.

"Stop it with these stones, Genna, or there's no deal."

The Siberian husky slipped off his nose from the net, the time to direct a dry bark in the direction of the voice filtered by the rotten wooden boards.

"Even Drogol is annoyed with your complaining, Anton. The sun sets quickly." Gennadiy said, throwing another stone with a theatrical gesture as if he were casting a dark curse. The dirty pebble ended up right in the crack above the door.

"You're a bastard, Genna. Forget me leaving this pisshole”.

Perhaps, it was better to leave him in peace, free to concentrate. It was not only the hours of daylight but also their fathers, who in a few hours would be home with the day's loot and would certainly have wanted to find them ready to help with the recovered material. The boy stared at the makeshift latrine with the mark of the nearby Pleseck's cosmodrome: a missile and a satellite with its orbit in evidence stood out against the blue background and the white silhouette of a planet.

That symbol often appeared in the most unthinkable places of Dolgoščelę, an insignificant village in the Russian region of Mezen, a stone throw away from the Arctic circle. It seemed as if over the years millions of spores from the nearby cosmodrome had taken root and proliferated among the simple urban elements of that group of houses between tundra and sea.

From the time of the cold war, when the launch program intensified, for the population of the region to recover the pieces of the rockets embedded in the snow became an essential second job. One that, eventually, could replace the traditional activities of hunting and fishing and grant those poor families better odds against the sublime yet sharp immensity of nature. Sifting through the snow of the tundra in winter was easier than in summer when even the streets flooded and boats built with rocket shells came back to use after the seasonal dormancy.

Recovered metals such as gold and titanium could be sold to Arcangelo's black market. The activity ended up involving all family members, each with a task in an efficient recycling chain.

The door of the latrine opened wide. Anton, the son of the country's pastor and Gennadiy's inseparable friend, now stood out against the shining metal like a war hero.

"Anton, if they discover us because of your endless shitting, I swear this time your bike is mine."

"Stop worrying and think, instead, of their faces in front of our loot," replied Anton with a seraphic expression.

"East, beyond the lake. Where the caribous' footprints stop," said Gennadiy absorbed, his mind already gliding on the untouched expanse of snow of that spot deep in the forest.

"Aha. Today we go hunting for the wrong pieces," Anton urged hinting a smile.

Both friends nodded solemnly before answering to the tundra's call.

My ending

The snow fell thickly, clinging to anything it touched. Anton watched safely from his porch. It had been swept clean less than twenty minutes ago but was once again collecting snow in drifted clumps. No matter how vigilant, it got everywhere. It blanketed and muffled everything, making even the air feel thick.

Like being buried, he thought and immediately made an impatient swatting motion in front of his face.

It was too late to ward off the idea. He swung his arms in semicircles at his sides as he stamped to and fro across the porch, like a man shaking something off. Characteristic gestures his many grandchildren laughed at outside of his hearing. He cleared his throat several times. Every breath and falling flake was another moment gone, bringing him closer.

The noise of snowmobiles cut through the air, snapping Anton from his suffocating thoughts. He concentrated on the sounds of his youngest sons, now adults like all the rest, returning in the midday twilight. They laughed and joked, careless and content, ignorant of any desire for escape or of its futility.

“If you stay here with these savages who choose superstition over salvation,” his father had warned, “you’ll grow hard as the earth.”

But Anton hadn’t. From his first incredible find as a boy which had rendered him rich as Croesus, he’d grasped at every enjoyment life offered because he knew where he’d end up, someday.

When the two boys spotted the gold torque, they yelled and tumbled together in the snow like puppies playfighting. This was real loot, not rubbish they’d have to pick apart like vultures. They dug quickly, too excited to question how inanimate Viking treasure had worked its way up near the surface, through several meters of packed snow.

Their elation held as dusk settled and they put on headlamps. They laughed as they worked until the ground rumbled and a hole appeared.

Anton was just quick enough to throw himself flat and grab Genna’s hands. He drove his boots into the snow and held tight.

“Genna! Genna, I’ve got you.”

Anton’s cries broke through Genna’s panic. The hollow he dangled inside couldn’t be too deep. If he fell, Anton would dig him out.

Suddenly he shrieked anew as his body jerked downwards with more force than gravity could account for.

In the hole, Anton saw the gleam of two pairs of eyes. They challenged him, weakening his hold, promising they’d get him too. Digging later with a whining Drogol by his side, he would find four coins that reflected back his headlamp, but he would always know the creatures had been real.

“Please, Anton…”

Genna’s voice was fading. The life or death struggle was quickly wearing away his energy.

“I won’t leave you,” said Anton waveringly.

Genna’s eyes held a glassy sheen but when he turned them directly up, Anton was surprised by their alertness. Behind the terror, he saw discernment and recognition, and beyond that love and understanding for his cowardice. It pricked so sharply he almost let go.

“I know. We’ll always be together, someday.”

He screamed as he felt Genna slip from his grasp.


The intertwining of temporal plans is what gives value to your story.
You have created a mirror game that deceives the reader more than once, until the final horror.
Really well done!
At first, the reader is confused because he thinks that Anton is still a boy (I had almost believed that Anton's grandfather had the same name and was expecting the return of his nephew and his friend Genna), then it looks like an absolutely positive flashback. There is a false supernatural hint (the two pairs of eyes), and then a bad reality that makes us think about the hints of guilt present at the beginning (and gone unnoticed).

Thank you! I rarely play around with time in stories but I should do it more. A lot of the participants in FtS are very inspiring that way.

The perspective you have chosen to cut to here brings to much to this story, at first it could be days later, but then as the realisation hits it had been decades and something dreadful must have happened. The language you use to convey that is as power as it is beautiful

Every breath and falling flake was another moment gone, bringing him closer.

The life he has lived, and having lived it all the more feels almost like part of the debt to his lost friend. The moment at the end is so strong, the rise of hope and possibly that precede it, the plummet into despair and then that moment between the two friends. It feels like classical music, fading out on the haunting strings.

Thank you. You always write the most beautiful takes on everyone's stories. They're one of the real prizes of participating :)

Hi sidequest,

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It took me a double-take to see that time had drastically shifted. How you got to the end of this piece was crafty.

I like this paragraph

In the hole, Anton saw the gleam of two pairs of eyes. They challenged him, weakening his hold, promising they’d get him too. Digging later with a whining Drogol by his side, he would find four coins that reflected back his headlamp, but he would always know the creatures had been real.

Thanks so much. That's someplace where the word limit really helped keep things simple but mysterious enough.

I didn't expect the finish like this. You are very good with choosing your words and I think that you are a natural storyteller. I don't think that I've seen your name before in the contest (forgive me if you're joining the contest for months :)) and I'm looking forward to reading more of your stories.

Thank you for sharing and have a good day!

He participated other times, always too little considering the pleasure in reading his pieces!

Thanks. I did some of the contests a while back but took along break. They're incredibly fun though, so I hope to keep up with it.

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The story is written with mastery and a mature style. Your pen, like a fine violin, is capable to intercept the many notes of the human soul and their modulation through the life's seasons. The themes unfold through different plans and layers. It's worth mentioning that of the rooting in a place dense of memories. Sense of discovery, adventure, tragedy, impotence and stasis are all deeply intertwined together, combined with a touch of mystery. Perhaps it's an idealizing leap, but your ending reminded me of the Dubliners, by Joyce. - @f3nix

That's funny, it made me think of the Dubliners too at one point - I think the combo of snow falling and a reminder that we're all going to die someday will invariably do that.

It was a great story start and I wish I had the space to deal with every layer presented in it rather than only a few. I actually have some stuff about Arkhangelsk bookmarked from a year or two ago when I ran across a bunch of photos or reddit or imgur, I think it was a day-in-the-life post from a university student there. It's on my ever-growing list of places to see.

A man that knows his final doom is a man that carries a heavy weight, you really gave life to your characters with your style, you really leave your readers a feeling that no matter what the gleam of gold, the eyes on the tundra and the face of his friend in the final moments will never leave Anton's mind, thanks for sharing!

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Thanks so much to you!

Did I say effective writing? You weave the mood in the very first paragraph. With only 500 words, can't waste space, and you don't.
I do love it when writers foreshadow

Like being buried, he thought and immediately made an impatient swatting motion in front of his face

Foreshadowing shows control and analysis. Good character sketches throughout and a tragic but compassionate ending.

Well done!

I love the time shift in this, and this part:

Behind the terror, he saw discernment and recognition, and beyond that love and understanding for his cowardice.

The attention to detail and the inner workings of the characters make it such a good ending.

Thanks so much :)

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