Short Fiction | North

Captain Springsteen looked at her compass. The needle pointed north. Actually, compass needles always pointed north, but this one pointed straight ahead at the N on the compass, basically making it double North. North was dead ahead.

She wiped the snow from her brow, flicking it back on to the ground where it should have landed in the first place. Where it would have landed, if it hadn’t gotten in her way.

The plan was to find the North Star; the northernmost point, of the whole thing. Springsteen was puzzled at first when she realized that no one had ever been to the North Star – and now she was downright furious. 200 years of photography, and no one had ever taken a picture of themselves with the North Star. Disrespectful.

Five stout men and women had set off from Edmonton, five who were now two. Stewart had willingly sacrificed himself to be cut up and fed to the dogs as soon as Springsteen realized she had forgotten to bring the dog food. None of the dogs had been injured in any way and they weren’t even tired. They were very happy dogs, doing what they knew and loved.

Captain Springsteen herself was a force of nature. 6’3, covered head to toe in clothes and blessed with rugged good looks, rugged like the North Face of Mount Everest herself. Not that Springsteen had ever seen the North Face of Mount Everest; that would involve turning south, or at the very least south by south east. And that was for morons. No. Springsteen went north.

You name it, Captain Springsteen had been to the north of it. She split her time between Phibsboro and Manhattan above 34th Street. She lived a life of hard-won celebrity and well-earned, respectable privilege. Her first expedition, further north of the north pole than anyone had ever been before, even robots, had shot her straight to the north of her profession.  She attended only the most decadent parties on the north floors of the tallest buildings in the world. Her books had northed the bestseller lists for months on end. Many even suspected she was the subject of Billy Joel’s enduring hit, Northtown Girl. You might want to get to the bottom of a thing but wasn’t it better being on top of it? One phrase had steered Springsteen true in this life – the old saying, “Always go north.”

Jones had fallen down a crevasse 30 miles back. The crew had lost a day mourning and Springsteen herself nearly caused a small avalanche when she punched a cliff in anger. Cruel nature had taken Jones from them, but what really ticked Springsteen off was the indignity of his demise, shamefully falling south in his last moments. She had known very few men and women to die falling north, in any sense of the term. At the last they all staggered and reeled backwards in their final seconds, a shameful capitulation of retreat and surrender – and look at all the bloody good it did them.

The journey had only gotten harder since then. They were making less and less progress each day, or at least, that’s how it seemed. It was difficult to tell if a star was ever really getting closer. None of them were getting enough sleep, especially since they had to start pulling double-duty on polar bear watch in the absence of Jones and Stewart. It was during one of her all-night polar bear shifts that Franklin had deserted them. She had come to Springsteen’s igloo while was the captain was sleeping. Franklin calmly took off her night-vision goggles, and placed her spatial separation stick and the net of poison fish beside Springsteen’s sleeping bag.

“God damn it Franklin,” thundered Springsteen. “What about the blasted polar bears? What about the North Star!?”

Franklin stared at her for her a moment and then, quietly; “All things in moderation, Captain.” She leaned in and kissed Springsteen gently on the forehead. “All things in moderation.”

With that, she turned and left the igloo, and started south, back the way they came. Springsteen was furious. She made a note to have Franklin killed on her return to Edmonton.

The only man left was Charles Reed. Springsteen’s first mate, and her most trusted companion. He adored her, and he was as brave and as handsome as they got these days; but he was known to take the long way round to reach a thing when the mood took him. Springsteen would only tolerate shortcuts. But he was loyal to a fault, and would follow Springsteen through hell, if they ever decided to expedition there.

They had been walking for almost three hours that day. But visibility was getting worse, the wind was picking up, and there was an awful bite in the air. The dogs were all still fine, but Reed was flagging. He shouted ahead to Springsteen that they should rest here for a while, maybe even the night. Springsteen looked up from her compass, and surveyed what she could make out of the horizon. Maybe Reed was right. She didn’t know how many days Reed had left in him, to be honest. She wondered if she could keep looking forever, and concluded that yes, she definitely could. But she had come to accept the limitations of other people, and had decided she wasn’t deliberately trying to get anyone killed.

“Set up camp, Reed. Hack off a chunk of Stewart for the puppers. I’m going to scout ahead, just ten minutes this way.”

Reed set about popping the poles in place to set up the igloos, and Springsteen forged onwards. Then she saw the North Star, right in front of her.

“Fuck,” she said.

The light from the star danced around her, little trails of light orbiting her body. It felt warm. It felt like knowledge. It felt like home. It also made a sound like a 747 taking off, and Reed came running from the camp. He arrived just in time to see Springsteen being lifted slowly into the air in a bubble of light, rising North towards the sky.

“No!” cried Reed. “Don’t go! I love you.” For the first time in weeks, Springsteen turned south, to face him.

“Of course you do, you beautiful fool,” said Springsteen, booming yet serene as she ascended. “But I’m so dedicated to this one idea that you know I can never truly love another. In fact, right now I’m removing myself from this plane of existence in worship of my one true obsession. This probably seems impossibly noble and beautiful to you, but I doubt it’s the kind of life you had envisioned for yourself.”

She took her phone from her pocket and snapped a picture. A single tear rolled down Reed’s cheek, and he reached out his hand as Springsteen rose and burned and shone and in a brilliant flash of white light, she was gone.  Reed’s phone buzzed. He wasn’t sure he was ready to look at it yet. He wondered if it was quicker for him to keep heading north and go all the way around than it would be for him to go back. One of the dogs came to him, with Springsteen’s compass in her mouth. The needle pointed north.

North was originally written for and performed at Words With Teeth as part of the Lingo Festival

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