Magnetic North

For the fourth round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that contain each of these words: "plant," "button," "trick," "fly."


a compass i i
iStockphoto.com
a compass
iStockphoto.com

"It's safer to fly, anyway," he told her. "Statistically."

"The pilots in those statistics have licenses." She put out her cigarette. "And they fly Boeings."

A single engine Cessna crop-duster was no Boeing. He'd never taken it over a mountain range. Still, he thought, with enough fuel they could get there.

"What do we have to lose?"

"What's waiting on us there?"

This was the part he could never explain to her. At the end of his life he felt an aching, debilitating attraction to the North Pole. Like he'd felt to her once. He kept a brass compass in his pocket. He'd read about a town close to the Pole called Grise Fiord, how it was the coldest inhabited settlement on Earth. Things might never thaw out there. Time might slow: the sun for tireless summer months unsetting. North of you only the icy, curved tip of the world.

"Ellesmere Island. Doesn't it touch something in you? How it sounds mythical?"

"Unreachable. That's what it sounds like." She stood from the table and stepped into the rubber boots by the door. "Your plane was built for plants, not fantasies. Come help me."

Outside they got on their knees and pulled yams from the ground. Retirement, not from farming but from life, was getting closer. That's what he felt in the aches. There was no 401k to live off. The dirt was cold and damp in his fingers, under his nails and wetting his knees through his jeans.

"There are narwhals there. They're the whales with the ivory tusk. Have you seen a drawing of a unicorn ever?"

"Are you scared of dying alone?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"I'm scared of dying here."

She put the yams in the basket of her held-out shirt. It'd been a long time since they'd bought new clothes. Long as he could remember.

"Here where you were born," she said.

He sat back on his heels, pulling the compass from his pocket.

Two thousand miles that way. They speak another language there. They have a motto: Much in Little.

She sat back too, taking the compass from his hand.

"When?" she said. "When are you going to quit trying to trick yourself? Is your mind going?"

Who knew the answer? He kept looking northwards, wondering if the strong magnetic pull had an effect on your mind. If it aligned things when you stood right on top of it. Spring was coming and he worried that this time his crystalline thought processes might melt, to where his brain was a runny, watery mess spilling into nowhere.

"Katie." He pointed.

On the edge of the field a lone deer appeared, a button buck straying into the clearing. They watched it until it looked up, and spotted them and ran, flashing its white tail high in the air.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: