Porcupine Station


A story by Ken Ramsley

Available on Amazon Kindle


 

February 12 – A New Earth.

For more than a half-century, humanity growled across a great divide of distrust until, for the sake of our own self-preservation, we succumbed to common sense and altered our course at the last minute. Then, perhaps rising from a wellspring of pure celestial spite, or maybe simply dissatisfied by our new-found willingness to face the consequences of our own actions – the Universe changed the rules at our expense and played a great joke on us before stepping back to watch how we might react.

Without warning, and with unimaginable violence, the Earth was completely transformed, leaving every commercial and scientific prediction about the future fate of our planet suddenly and entirely moot. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the world and all that we had ever known and loved and hated about it – the entire pattern of our daily existence – all of this was swept away.

In October, Dr. Gregg called from Vancouver to say that his flight north was canceled. He and the rest of our research team would seek alternate transportation and join me here in Alaska as soon as possible. I never heard from him again.
By then, high-altitude geosynchronous satellites were already dead. Soon after, lower-altitude Iridium and similar constellations dropped off the air. Satellite networks require stable and predictable orbits, and once the magnitude of the disaster came into focus, the idea of a ‘stable orbit’ became just another chapter in the great celestial joke.

Most likely, those high-altitude geo birds were torn from their orbits and tossed into deep space, whereas nearby satellites – like the Iridium constellation – were thrown into the Earth’s atmosphere. At least a few navigation satellites survived those two fates, and when they’re flying overhead, I’ll often receive a GPS time-stamp update. It doesn’t matter that I never see a plot of my current location because I don’t need a GPS receiver to say exactly where I’m stuck, or how far this is from home.

Why we had no backup communication system at this research station like a good ol’ fashion ham radio? After tearing into every storage room and rummaging through our entire collection of spare parts and obsolete equipment, I could find no sensible answer to that question beyond the obvious—we simply didn’t plan for a circumstance where every telecom satellite dropped off the air.

Unless I am also willing to indict the entire Universe for refusing to communicate its unforeseen intentions, I can’t fault our technology. By the middle of the 21st century, worldwide networks were so vastly intertwined that nobody could have turned them off, even if we had tried. We were ‘continuously connected’ – or so we once believed – and we never saw any other possibility, until the Universe played this joke on every last one of us.
Hours after my last telephone call, earthquakes began to arrive in waves—immense low-frequency tremors rolling through the Porcupine River valley, visibly heaving the solid crust of the Earth like the passing of giant ocean swells from a distant storm of immeasurable power. Barely able to sleep I began to envision the Titans of old escaping to ravage the land, chased through the night by Thor wielding his vengeful mallet. With each giant footstep, the crust of the Earth rose and subsided, and in response, the quavering Porcupine foamed and crashed against its riverbanks in thunderous waves.

Finally, after several days, the quaking eased, leaving the world deceptively at peace, almost ‘normal.’ In reality, the worst was yet to come.

Much faster and sooner than a typical winter season, the noontime Sun rapidly disappeared below our southern horizon, leaving the great northern boreal forest trembling beneath a sky no brighter than midnight. And then, from distant volcanic rifts, the plague released itself into an even darker form, filling the sky with an impenetrable cave-like overcast – black, mordant, and cold. By November, I read minus 40 Celsius from our weather station. On Christmas Day, temperatures hovered just below minus 60. Maybe those volcanic clouds were making things worse – or maybe they were keeping me from seeing even colder temperatures. I had no way to know.

By mid-January, the blanketing darkness was becoming unendurable. I did not want to believe that we had lost the entire sky—Sun, Moon, and stars. But then, without warning, the clouds began to part! And yet, when I gazed to the south – instead of finding newly minted sunshine or the rising of a crescent Moon or the slightest ray of morning gloom – I found only the faint and distant Milky Way staring back at me.

Tonight – this continuous night – Helios still wanders among the dead leaving incessant points of light to steadfastly orbit Polaris, while farther afield, other stars rise-and-set and rise-and-set. Overhead, I see no horsemen riding into view. Yet, little else would disappoint even the most ardent and unwavering prophets of the Apocalypse.

February 17 – Old Crow.

My name is David Evangelista. Alongside a ravine that extends south from the tormented and frozen Porcupine River, I am safely entombed within our massive boreal-science research station—a solitary traveler aboard a wayward planet. I won’t freeze or starve anytime soon. The well-provision facility here will see to that. Yet, I am trapped all the same by recent events, and no amount of food or firewood or diesel will fill this building with the slightest warmth of human companionship.

Where is my closest link to civilization? That might be Rampart House, an abandoned Van Tat Gwich’in village across the river just inside Canada. But the Gwich’in haven’t lived there for a generation, and the whole place would crumble to dust if not for the work of summertime preservationists.

More realistically, my closest connection will be found 80 kilometers farther upriver into Yukon Territory at Old Crow – a Gwich’in town with an unpaved commercial landing strip and several hundred year-round residents.

Is Old Crow still inhabited?

Probably.

The Gwich’in are an honorable and practical people, and on the strength of their family ties, their tight-knit community, and their traditional way of life, I imagine that they are persevering and binding together – and they will not abandon their town!

Of course, like most of my predictions these past weeks and months – verging on pure speculation – I won’t learn the fate of Old Crow or the Gwich’in people without an inconceivably difficult hike through an endlessly cold winter night.

February 19 – Sanity rescued by a ghost.

What is the value of this journal? Will anyone benefit from these observations, or am I simply collecting notes and measurements for historical posterity like Scott’s tragic Antarctic journal waiting decades for discovery after his icy demise? Even under ideal circumstances, this is not an easy question to answer, and in the absence of sunlight or any news from the outside world, it is impossible.

Worse by the hour, I am overwhelmed by incomprehensible hallucinations—over and over the same darkened room filled and refilled with people I do not know speaking fragmented words that make little sense. ‘Ghosts,’ I finally admit – conjured from a desperate imagination working to fill the inscrutable void of my uncertain existence.

“I live in a Twilight Zone,” I say aloud, except worse, because where I live there isn’t any twilight at all!

Tonight or today – or whatever time it is – in a trancelike haze I find myself awake within a dream at the rim of a yawning abyss that is both real and unreal. Hour-after-hour, the maw grows in size, dark and endlessly deep. I am losing my grip, slowly sliding into the vast chasm below. Despair clutches at my remaining will to live. And just before plunging into complete and utter madness – in my last instant of lucidity – I cry out for help one last time.

I do not expect a sensible answer. But this time, my fingertips latch onto something that feels genuinely solid, and the sliding stops and I am frozen like a painted picture engulfed within a host of swirling voices. Within the cacophony, I search for the one voice that ended my descent, listening for the words that suddenly dissipated my despair, strengthened my resolve, and filled me with hope.

Finally, I recognize the voice for what it is – my grandfather speaking about the essence of wilderness survival, just a few words:

Assume nothing!
You are not that smart.
Don’t force a solution.
That’s even worse.

For hours, I chip and chisel and hack and batter every desire to relinquish my sanity using the only words that I can find buried in the noise:

Assume nothing!
You are not that smart.
Don’t force a solution.
That’s even worse.

And then, all at once, a hidden door falls open, releasing a flood of memories that pour like an avalanche. My sanity has returned. The yawning abyss has been filled. The storm is over.
I pause.
I breathe.
I relax.

There is always a way ahead, says the voice, even when no clear steps can be seen.

This will help. He was talking about his work – how he kept people alive on the trail.

When something terrible happens, the ghost continues, we assume that we didn’t plan well enough. We promise to anticipate this sort of trouble the next time around, to learn from our oversight, to ensure that our mistake ‘never happens again.’ How many times have we said that? …as though some all-knowing trail guide could remind us about every possible pitfall?

Yes – Yes. But I am hearing too much of my own thoughts in this. I try to listen more and think less.

Experience doesn’t prepare us for every possibility because experience is finite, whereas happenstance is infinite.

His voice is beginning to fade. What did he just say? We can’t trust our experience? We can’t rely on our knowledge? The voice is like a recording, and continues without pausing:

People with a dog and a cat and a car and a job and a retirement plan assume that they know how to march through the daily routines of their lives. But they can’t prepare for what they haven’t seen. If we ever saw our lives the way that angels see them, we’d never get out of bed.

Okay, that’s one thing I know he said.

One day the unimaginable happens – something where no previous experience matches our immediate danger. To quench the unendurable fear, at first we freeze, and when that doesn’t seem to help, we flail at the growing void, feeling that action in some form – any form – must be undertaken, no matter how useless or counterproductive.

His voice is almost gone.

What else?
What else?
So much for my ‘sanity!’
WHAT ELSE??

When people drive their cars into a raging flash-flooded river, the ghost finally says loud enough for me to hear, are those people crazy? No, he says – answering his own question. They drive into a flooded river because they compare this water to the water they remember from the past – maybe a gushing downspout – or a slightly overflowing road from a year ago – and ‘why worry about that?’

Those people are stupid – I say.

We’re all stupid, the ghost responds, until we accept how much we do not know.

 


Sample End

Total Length: 105 pages


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: