As part of a creative writing exchange I did with a dear friend of mine, after proof-reading and editing a book they were writing, they asked me to put my red pen down and instead, do some writing of my own. This was written in the space of about an hour and is just a playful piece they came to me as I wrote it. It’s not part of a wider story. However, as I was writing, I imagined it being the opening chapter to a book about a person’s journey into the history of the cosmos.
It was freezing. The chill in the air gnashed at his fingertips and the caustic breeze weaved in between each peak and trough of his self-styled quiff. Despite the layers upon layers of warm clothing he’d put on for the expedition, his whole body shook like an oscillating something or other. He couldn’t think of the word. It was far too cold.
Why am I outside? He thought. Why am I doing this? The truth was, he knew exactly why. This was the only night for it. For December 28th, 2022, was a night like no other.
Deep down, he knew this. He’d read enough about December 28th to know just how special it was. He’d wanted to talk to his friends about it, brag even, about what it was he was about to do. But he knew he couldn’t. This had to be a closely guarded secret. They probably wouldn’t have believed him anyway. “Whatever. You’re so full of shit,” they would say. Oh, how wrong they were. They’d always been wrong, though. They’d never taken what he had to say seriously. Time and time again, they’d dismissed things that he knew to be true. How arrogant, he thought, they haven’t even stopped to ask themselves why they don’t believe it. All they care about is what they can see with the naked eye. But anyone with half a brain knows there’s so much more to the world than that.
The comfort of knowing he was right brought a subtle warmth to his chest. Still, it didn’t manage to stave off the pins and needles that were now making their way from his fingers, along his arms and down to his toes. He stared up at the sky and winced as another gust of ice-cold wind lashed across his face. Well, my hair’s ruined now, he thought. It didn’t really matter, though. For whom he was waiting didn’t care one jot about the height, width, or structural integrity of his quiff. Just who was he waiting for, out in the cold on the 28thDecember 2022? Patience, my friend. We’ll get there. But first, a little more about our mysterious cold-dweller.
Most introductions start with a name. However, in our case, that’s the least important detail. “What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once wrote. I’m sure there are whole books dedicated to analysing what he meant. The simplest of explanations could be this: a person’s name does not matter. It is the content of their heart and the makeup of their character that defines who they are. A beautiful sentiment expressed by Juliet to reassure herself of the legitimacy of her love for Romeo. So, let’s just start by saying our cold-dweller, in addition to being cold, is a man. A thirty-something year-old by all accounts, although he never liked to admit it. He always felt much younger than the official number on his ID documents. After all, he liked things that typically younger folk enjoy. Video games; TV; science-fiction. Now of course, there’s nothing remotely youthful about these hobbies. In fact, as our cold-dweller knew himself, plenty of thirty-somethings made a much more lucrative living than he, playing science-fiction video games on the TV.
Despite his feelings of youth, he was also acutely aware that, in many respects, he was older than his years. He would never profess to having the wisdom or intelligence of someone older than thirty-something. More that he found he got annoyed by the smallest and most insignificant of things. Children playing, for example, annoyed him beyond any reasonable level for an adult human living on planet Earth. I definitely get that from my dad, he’d often tell himself.
His dad was his hero. Thirty years a police officer and the rock to which he turned whenever he needed guidance. Thankfully, unlike so many people he knew, his father was still on this earth. A fact for which our cold-dweller was eternally grateful. He would often catch himself thinking about the day when he’d receive that dreaded call. The call no child ever wants to receive, letting them know that one half of the reason they exist, has passed on. He’d imagine how he’d react, what he’d say in the eulogy, and the stories he’d tell people of his legacy. And then he’d cry. Without fail. Every time. That’s another thing you should know about him: he’s an emotional soul. Cries at everything, especially videos of cats. Not a particularly interesting fact, but one to bear in mind as we progress through his story.
I could murder a brew. He looked around and saw a point of light shining to his left. He checked his watch. Nah, I don’t have time for that. It’ll be happening any moment now. He knelt down and rummaged through his rucksack, trying to find the equipment he needed to make his mission a success. In the darkness of his surroundings, despite the fact he knew his rucksack and its contents like the back of his hand, it was almost impossible to find what he was searching for. Ah, there you are you little bugger! He removed a small cylindrical canister from one of the endlessly deep pockets from his rucksack, unscrewed the top, and delicately took out the apparatus that was inside. Gently does it. We can’t be having any accidents. Not like last time. Like a surgeon with her patient’s heart in her hands, he placed the delicate object atop the equipment with which it was used. Perfect. There we go.
Everything was ready and in position. There were no signals to look out for, no instructions on when to begin the operation. He just had to know. He had to feel when it was time. He glanced down at his watch to check the time. Nothing. He sighed. The battery of his smart watch had run out. Typical. He covered his wrist back up and placed his left hand into the pocket of his newly bought winter jacket. He looked around, checking to make sure no one was around. He couldn’t possibly be seen doing what it was he was about to do. Rocking back and forth on his heels, he threw his head back to look at the sky and took a deep breath. Right, this is it.
He knew the moment had come. He stepped up to his equipment. Carefully, he manoeuvred his body into the perfect position, closed his left eye and placed his right one against the eye piece of his equipment. There you are. I can see you. The timing had to be perfect. Easy…easy… His finger hovered over the trigger, waiting for the perfect moment. With every second that passed, his heart picked up the pace. His finger seemed to echo the beat. Almost there…I’ve almost got you… His target inched ever closer into perfect view. One wrong move and the whole operation would be ruined. He knew he wouldn’t get another chance to shoot this target. After all his hard work and research, he had to get it right. His eye began to water, as he fought off every natural urge in his body to blink. He knew he couldn’t take his eye off the target. Not even for a second. Bingo!
He pulled the trigger. The was a bright flash and a cacophony that alerted all the nearby cats, dogs, rodents and probably insects too. In that instant, there was another gust of arctic wind. Shit! His telescope fell to the ground, dragging his astronomical camera with it. His specialist lens tumbled towards the back door. He scrambled after it on all-fours; he knew he couldn’t lose it. It was his gateway to the stars. I can’t believe it – the bloody wind! The light he had seen earlier got suddenly brighter. He looked through the kitchen window to see a familiar face: “What the hell are you doing?” they asked.
He sighed. “The wind blew me and the telescope over. I was just about to get the perfect picture of the planetary alignment, and the wind ruined everything. I spent weeks preparing for this. And it’s gone. For God’s sake.”
“Oh, babe. You can’t blame Him. You know He doesn’t exist. Why don’t you come inside and I’ll make you a cuppa? Besides, you can always look at pictures of the planets on the Internet, can’t you?”
“You know it’s not the same,” he replied. And yes, He does exist.
“Whatever. Look, gather all your things and come inside. It’s freezing out there.” Her voice was soft and she spoke with light twang of an accent so delicate it couldn’t quite be placed. Was it northern? Definitely. The specifics don’t matter. All you need to know is that the she is our cold-dweller’s wife. And he loved her dearly. For as much as she didn’t understand his fascination with space, she had always supported and encouraged it. She’s a good egg, he would often tell himself.
“Are you coming inside or not?” she asked again, this time with a hint of impatience in her tone.
“Sorry! Yep. I’ll be there in a sec.” He gathered his equipment and with an uncharacteristic carelessness, stuffed it all back into his rucksack. He knew if he spent a second longer out in the cold, he’d end up coming down with whatever the latest iteration of man flu it was doing the rounds that week. He dusted himself down and walked towards the back door, the faint light from his kitchen getting stronger with each closer step he took. A glint caught his eye to the left. He quickly turned and looked in its direction. Hanging from his wrist was a bracelet. Inscribed on its silver face were the words:
Noah and Niamh Shepard – 20/11/2022 – <3