Aurora ~ Prologue
- Aurora ~ Prologue
I don’t believe in ‘happy ever after’. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, in heaven…or hell or any of the other garbage they spout to keep the huddled masses docile and obedient while they are waiting to find their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That particular rainbow is not likely to visit their neighborhood anytime soon, and when it does, you can bet it will terminate in a bottomless bog.
Not a particularly attractive viewpoint for a woman to have, I admit, but there you have it for whatever it’s worth. I believe that the light at the end of the tunnel is sure to be an oncoming train and whatever hell there is, it isn’t some sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, it exists in the here and now, and it’s of our own making.
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the front page of your local newspaper. The only thing that waits in the future is a long dark sleep and that’s as close to heaven as any of us are likely to get.
There is one thing I do believe in. I believe in destiny, or Fate, if you prefer, although sometimes Dame Fate has a really warped sense of humor. If you listen, you can hear her laughing. You might say that’s just the sound of the wind, but I know better. That howl is the bitch laughing her ass off.
No, our path through life, as well as our final destination, is set at the moment of birth. All we control is the direction of the few detours that lie between point A and point B.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the past few hours and now, more than ever, I know it to be true. We can challenge fate as much as we want, but she always gets her way in the end. I should know. As the saying goes, life was something that happened to me while I was making other plans.
My name, should you be interested, is Alexis StJames, and I was born in San Francisco in July of 1907. Wrong place, wrong time. My life has been just generally wrong all the way around. My mother, the former Bernice Wilmington, nice middle-class daughter of “the Nob Hill Wilmington’s”, was overjoyed when she had a daughter. That was just what she wanted, a pretty, petite little girl she could raise to be the proper society debutante. Instead, she got me. Poor mom.
The first indication of future heartbreak was the moment I pushed away the Cupie doll she bought me for my birthday to get at a neighbor boy’s Erector Set. She had a tomboy on her hands. To her credit, she never nagged me about it, at least not publicly. She would have considered that improper for her station, but she knew how to make her displeasure known, and never more so than when I fell in love at seventeen.
Only I didn’t fall in love with a suitable young man, as so many of my friends did and as mom must have hoped. I fell in love with the handsome silver shape of an Avro Baby, an aeroplane like the one that Bert Hinkler had flown in his attempt to fly from England to Australia only five years previously. It was a sleek, beautiful collection of nuts, bolts, and wiring that would eventually come to break my heart more thoroughly than any man ever could have.
Dad had been a flyer, first in an old Curtiss JN4, then later flying Nieuports as part of the 17th Pursuit Squadron during World War I. He had flown thirty-eight missions before retiring to take a job as a civilian mail pilot with Boeing Air Transport. He used to take me flying in an old Sopwith Pup crop duster and I had fallen in love with the freedom of flight. I grew up watching the sky, watching the stars and wondering what it would be like to fly among them; wondering what kinds of creatures inhabited the worlds that circled them.
When dad transferred to Boeing’s new commercial passenger service, I knew what I wanted to do. I was going to pick up where daddy left off. Oh, not as a passenger pilot, even I had known that was impossible. Even today, in the early months of 1933, commercial air flight is exclusively a male province. But I knew I wanted to fly and I dreamed that someday, I could do it for a living. In the end, that, too, turned out to be impossible. No one was willing to even consider hiring a woman to fly professionally. We were considered to be ’emotionally unsuitable” for the manly art of aviation.
Oh, I could have settled for crop dusting or giving free flights at local carnivals. Many women did and some made a fair living at it, but they were still considered ‘curiosities’ or aberrations, certainly not the so-called “normal” female. I had entered the National Women’s Air Derby in 1929, much to my mother’s chagrin, and had flown successfully from Santa Monica to Cleveland. I came in fourteenth, but that wasn’t enough. Nowhere near enough. I dreamed of the stars. I knew that someday, man would fly among them and could only imagine what that would be like. That they were forever denied to me was a tremendous disappointment that colored the rest of my life and, indirectly, eventually brought me here to this outpost in Northern Greenland.
Disillusioned by the future, you could say I rebounded into the past. While I was in my second year at the University of California, I had taken a job clerking for the Anthropology department. I found the work fascinating. Fickle though it seems, I put my dreams of flight behind me, switched my major from Aeronautics to Paleontology, and immersed myself in prehistory. No one was more surprised than myself, but I simply loved the work and I’ve been kept busy the last few years. Certainly, a scholarly vocation was much more acceptable to my mother than aviation and the friction in the household was substantially reduced. While I’m not exactly a “name”, I do have a certain reputation in the “trade” as they say, which is how I came by this…opportunity and ended up dictating my life’s story into this Dictaphone on the seat beside me in the futile hope that it will survive and that someone, eventually, will find it.
In 1928, Louise Boyd, a highly regarded local adventuress, had journeyed to the Arctic in search of the missing explorer Roald Amundsen. Although she hadn’t found him, the effort had ‘made her reputation”, so to speak. So much so that the American Geographical Society agreed to fund her further Arctic research. After attending one of her lectures, I was more than anxious to join her next expedition. To my great surprise, my application was accepted. Six months later, I found myself here in Northern Greenland near the De Geer glacier. And that is where, once again, Dame Fate decided to roll the dice.
Three days ago, the project leader dispatched a team to take depth measurements in a nearby fjord. One of the researchers noticed something protruding from the nearby glacier. Then the focus of the expedition took an abrupt change of direction and I found myself in the bottom of a trench digging out one of the most complete Mammoth specimens ever found. It wasn’t the stars, but it was almost enough. Almost.
I’ve never considered the concept of time travel a viable one. If Mr. Well’s fictional tale were possible, the time stream would be littered with those trying to undo past mistakes or right some imagined wrongs, myself included. But yesterday, sitting in the bottom of that hole, stroking those few tufts of shaggy reddish-brown hair, I could almost believe that it was possible to breach the barrier of time and that I was there, 20000 years in the past, when the land had trembled beneath the tread of the beast’s massive feet. It was an exhilarating feeling, a combination of wonder and triumph. And.. the kind of rush that I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid watching my father turning Immelmans over the Cheeterman’s cornfield. I think I fell a little in love with the beast at that point. Unfortunately, love has the nasty habit of making its’ victims do incredibly stupid things. It turns out that even an experienced field paleontologist was not immune to the phenomenon or I wouldn’t have wheedled our pilot into letting me take the airplane up so I could survey the entire area by air. Stupid…Alexis, really, really….stupid….
It should have been simple…I was a licensed pilot, right? One quick turn around the basin, under those magnificent Northern Lights, just to see what I might have missed, then back to base. Only a blizzard can come out of nowhere when you’re that far north. They have a term for it, a ‘white out’. The land, air, sea, everything, in fact, bleeds out into a uniform shade of gray and visibility is down to nothing. Only a fool flies in a storm alone. Say hello to a fool.
So here I am. The interference from those gorgeous lights, when coupled with the intensity of the storm, have combined to make the radio and compass useless. The fact that I am still in the air is a miracle that I don’t expect to continue. The gas in the tank won’t hold out forever and when it goes, this aeroplane is coming down. Whether it comes down on land or in water, the end result will be the same. You don’t last too long on the open ice up here, and a rescue party is impossible until the storm dies down. And then, well, they have no way of knowing where I am. In the water, you last an even shorter time, approximately 3 minutes. The human body just isn’t meant to survive at these temperatures.
Do I have regrets? Of course, doesn’t everyone? Is there anything I would change? Absolutely. But it wouldn’t be the usual things you would expect. It wouldn’t be the marriage, husband and children I never had, much to my mother’s disappointment. That was never in my vision of the future. I always felt there was something else out there for me, and even though I couldn’t put a name to it, I knew it was there.
I guess I never saw the point of marrying some presentable, well placed young man just for the sake of “doing what was expected” of me. Part of the problem was that I never found a man I found interesting enough to want to spend more than a few hours with, much less a lifetime. In college there were a couple of boys I found entertaining, but no one who caused the kind of fireworks that one equates with love… There has been only one great love in my life. That was the dream of the stars and that broke my heart.
It’s very quiet now. The last of the fuel is gone and this aeroplane won’t glide for long. I think the storm is breaking up. I can see something through the cloud cover…. it is a sliver of sky and in it, I can see the Lights. They are incredible, but they are not the thing that holds my attention as the cold and the dark and the silence settles down around me.
It is the stars. The stars are so bright and clear and beautiful, a million multicolored points of light spread across the dark velvet sky. And their beauty is reflected in the inky water that lies beneath me. They seem so close, as though I could reach up and catch them in my hand and hold them close. But I can’t. I never could. I tried to. I tried so hard… They’re out there waiting, but for someone else, not for me. It shouldn’t be long now and I’m hoping the end will be quick. At least that bitch, Fate, has finally shut up.