Letters From Anna This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 25, 2010
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The cold licked my face in the early morning. It was still dark and my toes were frigid. My body was still warm, snuggled into a cocoon of a homemade seal fur blanket. In a daze, I thought I was back at the station with my wife, Anna. I reached into the darkness, hoping to feel her soft hips or pull my fingers through her wispy blonde hair. I felt the hard, icy crescent of a banana clip for my rifle…no dice. I gazed down at my watch and with an unnecessary deal of effort, I pressed the little button down to light up the neon screen. It was a quarter past nine and yet it was still dark outside. I cursed at the top of my frozen lungs inside that small lonesome tent in the icy hell we called home, Antarctica.

Why I had my rifle with me, I couldn’t make out in the frozen crevasses of my brain. A war. Someone’s at war and yet somehow it involves me. I’m in a war that somebody started. Did I start it? No, wait. I was a scientist, I don’t start wars. Someone else started it. There are other people. Not a lot, but they got rifles too. Yes that’s why I have my rifle, because they have them too. It was coming back to me. I remembered sitting in the common lounge with my wife in my arms. The television was working at last and we were watching the news. It was from Chile but we didn’t care. I picked out the words that looked English while Anna found the words that looked French. It worked well for us like a well greased machine in summer.

The screen was rattling off pictures from the scorched insides of a research station. It was flying the Indian flag as the name was plastered on the screen in a flash. I didn’t see the name at first. I mean, I saw it, but I couldn’t make sense of it. It was a scribble of characters in a straight line. It seemed like Cyrillic to me and my brain was frozen. My wife gasped and woke me out of my cranial stupor and into the cruel reality of the new war. Our war.

I looked to my colleagues for extra comfort from these sobering pictures. My commanding officer, Jack Skelig, an old timer shook his head and called for the meeting.
“Come on. On your feet, let’s at least look a little lively here.” He rang the bell, signaling a meeting for the entire staff. Men and women in thick parkas squeezed through the skinny door going into the foyer. It was hard to tell who was who with the icy crust dangling from the edges of the fur lining. But one by one, friendly faces popped out eager as puppies to hear the big news. Jack Skelig never called meetings, well, except for the time that Bill Harsen released a penguin in the station and it took all of us to wrangle it and shoo it outside. But this was no laughing matter.
“I got Intel from the big wigs in Canberra. They say we got a real big problem on our hands, a real crisis.” The staff looked in puzzlement at each other as Skelig continued. “There was an explosion at the Dakshin Gangotri station over in Queen Maud Land. A lot of good people were killed there. No one really knows what happened, but they are convinced the Pakistanis are up to no good.”
“Pakistanis? Attacking? Come on Skelig, you know that’s bulls**t. The Pakistanis haven’t even finished their base yet,” Mary Bailey interjected, “and look: they are on an unforgiving continent that plays for keeps and they are separated from the Indians by over three hundred kilometers of barren ice. Why the hell would they go out of their way to attack the Indians? This is bulls**t I tell ya!” The crowd nodded in agreement as their leader pulled his hair back, showing his receding hairline, and sighed.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought but evidently the Indians had plans of their own. This morning they stormed the Pakistani base, Jinnah, and killed all of their staff. They told me that a Pakistani warship will be there in five days time and lord knows what else. I just don’t know what to say lads, but the waters and the skies are far too dangerous for our guys to pick us up. Not with angry Indians and Pakistanis running wild and all trigger happy and such. We might as well stay here and keep the penguins company this winter.”
“But some of us were scheduled to take ice measurements and repairs at Dakshin. Do you really expect us to go over there and pretend like we didn’t hear about what just happened?” Byron McQueen yelped. The captain nodded. He knew that meant he and I were going to make the long trek on foot from Mawson Base without the planes taking us. I swallowed hard. It was hell this time of year and trekking that distance was a death sentence instead of a transfer. I looked to Anna with puppy dog eyes. She gazed back and squeezed my hand.
I let go of the rifle clip, I gripped it too hard and is took a huge chunk of my frozen skin with it. Scarlet blood dripped from the gaping hole in my skin. It was no use screaming. When Byron fell in the crevasse, he took the medical kit with him. You son of a b***h Byron, why did you take my aid kit? I sure as hell hope you enjoy it down there because you deserve nothing better. I ground my teeth in agony. It was no use staying in bed rolling around in pain.
I packed the tent and seal blanket away into the sled. Slapping the skis together, ice rained onto the ice sheet as the metal clacked together, breaking the conversation between the wind and the mountains. I pulled my boots from under the piles of tarps and supplies. The sweat from yesterday’s trek had frozen into a thin sheet of unbearable coldness. Slapping the boots together only split the sides of my boots. The thick leather boots that had once been marketed as “the toughest boot on earth” had finally met its match. I sighed. I fetched a roll of duct tape to patch the splits. My fingernails cracked upon peeling off the tape. The pain was nonexistent but realizing that my fingernails popped off like beer caps only made me worry about how far I would get before my mind would do the same.
The first few strides burned my legs like fire. I still had lactic acid in my legs from the day before. The vast expanse of whiteness made me feel like I was walking on a sheet of clean paper. One couldn’t see the outlines of the mountains or the crevasses. It seemed like the sky just met the ground in a union of hellish visual deceit. Focusing on the ever shifting, nonexistent horizon induced the urge to vomit. The pinkish, brownish mass hit the ice scattering in all directions. The expired MRIs tasted no better going up than it did going down last night. I fumbled with the water bag. I had it strapped to my chest to prevent it from freezing. It was warm but thirst quenching, washing down the remainder of the vomit in a throat gagging slurry. Now, if only I could get a few ice cubes… I laughed; almost too hard where I felt like throwing up again.
I used the vomit stain as a reference point as to how far I was moving. Slowly but surely, the Technicolor mass seemed to disappear in the distance as my skis started to glide a little further with every stride. Focus on your feet, don’t look up. Watch out for crevasses, and don’t look for the horizon. With quiet sighs of my skis gliding along the ice, I tuned my ears finely to hear whatever might be around. I heard water. An ocean, on rocks! I realized after forty days on the ice I had almost reached Dakshin. I was going at a quicker pace when the ground erupted from underneath. The sheet exploded, sending ice fragments like deadly glass shards of shrapnel. I was sprawled out on the ground in a daze, wondering what had occurred when the explosions came again. Three more eruptions shook the earth as I tried to get back to my feet, only to stagger backwards with the rumbling earth. Lying on the ground, I broke my rule of not looking at the horizon.
Out in the distance where the white sky met the equally white earth I saw the Jinnah station. Behind the station, large trucks were parked outside the compound with large barrels attached. S**t! They brought some big toys! They sure as s**t ain’t hunting seals with that. My gear was scattered all over the place. I didn’t expect to see action on my trip but yet again, my expectations were scattered along the ice with the rest of my gear. I waved my arms into the air and screamed at them hoping they would stop firing. It had the opposite effect as the cannons lit the horizon in sequence. The ground came to life again as I found myself dashing from crater to crater dodging the shells as they rained from the white sky. I ditched my parka; the dark silhouette gave me away every time. I made a mad dash for my gear bag. It had white fatigues and my extra magazine clips. I knew I was only ten days away from Dakshin and could live on my reserve food. I pulled my seal blanket and my rifle from the wreckage. Under the cover of my fatigues, I strapped on my crampons. I would do this by walking if it meant a safer voyage.

I was able to skirt away from Jinnah, but I couldn’t help but wonder what had just happened. How did those guns get there? And why were they firing on me? They knew I was coming a month and a half ago. Did that Pakistani warship finally arrive? Was that why? Those questions haunted me as I trudged on in the wasteland, leaving behind my sled, skis, and a good percentage of my survival along with it.
The night wasn’t that bad as I had expected. The wind didn’t pick up as usual which was a blessing considering I had left my tent and sleeping bag somewhere in an ice crater. Curled up in the seal skin, I couldn’t help but dream of my wife. I hadn’t seen her in so long. Her face was now as blurry as the sky and the ground I walked on. It was all on touch and feel. My dreams were darkness, I would reach out in the darkness and feel the curves of my wife. It was comforting to know she was at least next to me for five hours when my eyes were closed. The end of my dream was always the same, I felt the warm soft lips kissing my cheek and gently whispering to wake up. And I would be left in the cold darkness with the wind biting at my ears and the hard outline of my rifle.
It wasn’t fair. If death was like sleeping then why can’t I just be with my wife? Why can’t I just go to sleep forever with my wife next to me in my dreams? It didn’t seem right, his friend Byron met his end only ten days ago and he’s probably sleeping next to his girlfriend back in Bogart. I shook my head, it felt like it weighed nothing after it being used to being restricted by the fatigues. I buried my head into the soft seal skin, cradling the rifle like a baby between my frigid hands.
Along the way I had met an interesting man named Jasper. He didn’t speak much. In fact, he wasn’t really there at all. He was a sidekick, my person to talk to so I could feel remotely human and not so lonely. I told him about my wife Anna too, if silence was consent then he too must think she is the most beautiful wonder I ever laid eyes on. He agreed that I was a lucky man as well. He had nothing to say really, he whispered every now and then but I had to ask for him to speak up. I could only get the same response out of that guy. I practiced jokes with him, telling him stories of my youth growing up in Darwin in the hot muggy air and the clear skies that spanned for miles upon the ocean. He thinks I’m crazy for being here in the first place; being that it’s Antarctica and all. It’s ok, I forgive him because I feel the same about myself.
We finally parted ways when I finally reached Dakshin’s observation post. I tried to yell for joy but my lungs were frozen. It would’ve been a good thing too after remembering the Jinnah incident. It was nestled along the ocean, by the penguin colony that took up residency. They never told me about the penguins there. I waddled through the crowd of the penguins. I felt like I was in a black and white gala event. I played along with the locals.
“Well it is a pleasant surprise to see you Mr. Hopper! - Yes, I do believe I have met your wife Mildred. How do you do? - I am doing just marvelous thank you! - My, my! What a party we have here no? - Oh by the way, where is the butler? I hope he’s going around with one of those shrimp platters,” I mused. I was answered by the squawks and whistling of the pairs as I made my way through the crowd. I was surprised to see that the staff wasn’t out taking measurements, or specimens, or coming back from the main base. The observation post was empty. Nothing was left inside of it. No journal, no equipment, not even a pack of cigarettes. I ventured over the last ridge before I would come to the main station.
I was welcomed by a door left in splinters to the foyer of the Dakshin base. I called out for anyone. No answer. This wasn’t happening. I made my way to the staff bunks and found that the entire room way shelled to pieces. Blood was still frozen to the walls and cots. I dashed out of the room, desperately searching for any survivors of the massacre, but to no avail. I sulked in a kitchen chair, pocked by shrapnel and bullets -it was the only thing not in fragments.
Papers were scattered across the floor: documents, journal entries, cards from home, and messages jotted down from other bases. I ruffled through the papers hoping that a fire could bring a sort of comfort to this icy and sobering reality. I had built up a small but decent fire, from furniture parts and birthday cards, and scientific journals. While rustling through the rubbish, pitching it all into the flames, and crude and hastily scribbled note grabbed my attention. “5/16: Radio transmission from Mawson Base: For Gus- It’s been three days but I miss you very much. Please come home soon and be safe. I hope you like the seal skin blanket I made you. It should keep you warm. I love you with all my heart. Hugs and kisses, Anna,” I held the note gingerly like a newborn, being careful not to let the paper get blown away. Being more careful to sift through the papers, I took great care as to not pitch any more letters from Anna into the flame.
“5/17 Radio transmission from New Delhi: we’re not sending backup. Cover up the missiles. Move quickly. Protect if you cannot move them in time. Pakistani ship will be there in less than four days.”
“5/18 Radio transmission from New Delhi: took three missiles from Pakistan. Returned three back to Islamabad. We’re keeping our ships in port. Fight the ship. If you cannot protect, destroy the arms.”
“5/18 evening Radio Transmission from New Delhi: our allies have sided with Pakistan. UK, US, EU, Russia, and Australia have turned on us. Send missiles to their bases as a warning. Make it quick.”
“5/19 morning Radio Transmission from Mawson Base: Gus- we are getting bombarded by missiles. We don’t know from whom right now but our military isn’t coming to evacuate us. Most of the staff is dead or wounded and our power has been cut to just a backup generator. Please reply soon, URGENT!!! Love, Anna.”
“5/19 afternoon Radio Transmission from New Delhi: their ship should be here by today. All or nothing!”
“5/23 evening Radio Transmission from Mawson Base: Gus – this will be the last letter you will get. Our power is out and I spent the last bit sending this to you. I’m not going to make and neither will the others. We got messages from everyone, they were bombarded as well. It was the Indians. If you get this message LEAVE! I will always love you as I know you have loved me, Anna”

I crunched the letter in a ball and pitched it against the wall. It is not fair, it’s never fair. I curled up into a ball next to the fire. It was slowly dying for I had run out of will and furniture to burn. Snuggled in my seal skin blanket, my eye lids felt heavy with tears and fatigue. The frigid winds were starting to pick up. At this time the fire was getting smoldered when I reached out into the darkness and felt her next to me.

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