Jim Shepard, “HMS Terror”

A stoic lieutenant keeps a journal as his 1845 oceanic arctic expedition gets frozen in place.

(from Zoetrope All-Story, Fall 2011)

He saw me as one of those solitary and open-mouthed boys who possessed the gift of lethargy in its highest perfection, though he never glimpsed the comprehensive intransigence of my isolation, and he never lost an opportunity to provide me with what he liked to call moral hints to the young on the value of time.

I smirked at the sailors who looked across the ice at the companion vessel Erebus and pondered its name. Uh, guys? You’re on the Terror. I’d assumed no ship would be christened with such a foreboding name, but Wikipedia tells me otherwise. Turns out the real Terror got around quite a bit, making appearances in the War of 1812 and an Antarctic expedition headed by James Clark Ross (of Ross Ice Shelf fame). Both ships have apparently turned up in literature before, including shout-outs in The Heart of Darkness. The expedition described in Shepard’s beautifully bleak story has its own entry, Franklin’s lost expedition, and that should give you a clue as to the ordeals suffered by our poor narrator. But plot spoilers be damned; this story’s about the journey. You can read the first tiny bit of it here, but this hardly does justice to the sick sad events that follow.

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