A Million Shades of White by
Competition: Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, 3rd Round
Genre: Open Location: An
iceberg Object: A lighter
Original Illustration by
heard the world fall apart. Back then, when my radio still
worked and my satellite phone still had life left in it, news seeped
in every day. Tucked between the hissing, crackling blanket of
static, I caught words I wasnít expecting. While my foolish mind was
searching for stories on my daring adventure, I tuned into reports
of crumbling countries and dying people. On my 300th day, the voices
stopped. On my 365th, the chopper that was supposed to pick me up
and deliver me to an adoring public never came.
I didnít stop counting days though, not immediately. Hope clung to
me like a needy childó difficult, demanding, wretched. And then, one
day, when I was on my 122nd can of baked beans, it just slipped off,
slid into the freezing water and disappeared, like it had never
This suited me fine. Hope was exhausting. Back then, I was still
fighting and I needed my strength; needed it to fight the cold,
which felt like a thousand paper cuts with stings that crept under
my skin and stayed there, needed it to fight a hunger which wouldnít
quieten with dry, frozen, rationed food, needed it to watch the
triumphant iceberg glow like gold in the constant sun.
After all, it had won. My daring adventure, my bid to spend one year
on an iceberg, was so laughably arrogant that I cringe when I think
of it now. I was going to save the planet, all the way from an
iceberg I was convinced would melt after I left it. ďLook at this,
look at how we are destroying nature. Remember to save water,
electricity, trees!Ē I shouted at the world, my voice drowning out
the ticking clock on its last lap.
Today, I look at myself; I feel the firm, frozen ground I sit on. An
unyielding night has long since enveloped the North Pole, which is
triumphant even in its darkness. It doesnít need light, but I do. I
hold up my lighterís flame, so measly, so unnecessary, and I laugh
at myself. Nature wasnít dying. We were.
When I first arrived on this iceberg, my dreams were punctuated by
fault lines and glaciers, by disease and disaster. I feared the
relentless cold and the pain it brought. I feared death. The blank
noise that filled the space around me was intimidating, and I missed
people. I clung to reminders; to my little TV, my satellite phone
with voices I recognised and loved, photographs of the angry, proud
family I had left behind. I was human, and I was lonely.
The planet, though, isnít lonely without us. Soon after the end, the
blank noise stopped, replaced by strange, unfamiliar sounds the
Earth was remembering and reclaiming. Today, the thin air around me
throbs with noises it had forgotten. When they first began, I felt
embarrassed by them. Had we been that loud? Had we silenced an
entire planet so that we could speak?
I can feel the Earth celebrate, rejoicing in its victory. I wonder
if it knows that it isnít over, that I still live on this icebergó
the last human left in the world.
Surprisingly, Iím less lonely than I was when I first arrived.
Already, the memories have faded; the echoes of the life I once
lived feel ridiculous. I try to summon images of paved streets and
the water engulfs them. I try to recall the shape of my home and the
dark sky smirks. I know Iím being reclaimed too, swallowed by the
very planet I had tried to save.
And I understand. I am almost grateful, really. During my early days
on this iceberg, when I could still see the sun, Iíd been weighed
down by my own importance. I had only noticed beauty, had forced
myself to acknowledge it. I had praised only the sparkling water,
the endless white, spotless ice. I was a foreigner, taking in the
sites, storing them up for when I returned to my people.
Instead, my world ended, and it left me behind. My people vanished,
and all that remained were the dregs of human life I had brought
with me; dregs I didnít need, couldnít stomach.
And so, I started discarding them, one by oneó the cans of food, the
books, the TV, the phone. I slipped them into the water, watched
them slide under the surface quietly, unresistingly. With each loss,
I felt a little less human, and it made me laugh. Is this what I was
made of? Stuff and objects?
I donít know how long itís been since I offered my first piece to
the ocean. I have nothing left now. Nothing, except this lighter I
hold so tightly, so protectively. Its flame is weak, and it looks
ridiculous, held against a darkness it doesnít even try to fight. I
run my finger over it and the sharp heat reminds me of things Iíd
rather forget; of the photographs it has burnt and the ice it cannot
melt. I can read my name carved on it, still bold, still
unnecessary. I know that it is the last human name left, and I know
that when the Sun comes up again, it shouldnít be here.
This little flame, and my little life, must end. I am not arrogant
anymore. I donít feel the need to protect; to safeguard the memory
of the human race. I know, or at least I think, that I was left
behind to watch my world die, and to mourn it. As far as lifeís
purposes go, I feel like this one will do just fine.
When I enter the water, itís not as cold as I thought it might be.
In fact, I canít feel a thing. I choose to slip under first. I hold
the lighter above the water as it closes in over my head. At least
this way, the last thing we leave behind is a little light; small,
inconsequential, but nevertheless, light.