The Polar Explorer on the Fourth of July

Imagine my joy when I saw them, in the grey distant zone between ice and sky, eating and rejoicing. Seven days I’d been out wandering the frozen wastes — my dogs were dead, my comrades dead, and I had despaired of seeing another living soul again. I rushed towards them waving my arms, and they greeted me with shouts and laughter.

They had a gas grill set up on the ice, and the smell of smoky beef wafted up. Someone offered me a cold beer. At first I refused, having been so cold myself for so long, but then I felt the blood move again in my frozen fingers, the feeling rush back into my numb feet. The others were clad in shorts and T-shirts. Two women in summer dresses danced to the strains of a guitar.

“What is this place?” I asked, “so pleasant and warm not twenty miles from the Pole?”

They only laughed, and handed me a hamburger. I ate and drank, and listened to the others tell jokes and funny stories. When darkness fell, we sat on the ice and watched red, white, and blue fireworks spangle the polar sky. The smell of gunpowder was sweet to my nostrils, and the explosions a welcome change from my long days of silence. But who lit the fuses that sent these marvels into the air? The others were lying down, tired and sated, to sleep in the snow. Uneasy, I shook the woman next to me and put my question to her.

“Get some rest,” she told me sweetly, “Tomorrow’s Christmas.”


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