My earliest memories of the Antarctic region stem from my visit there with Cubby Spiruletti in '29. We set out from the Cape of Good Hope during an unseasonable storm in late November, and as a consequence did not sight the Antarctic coast until December 13th.
We went ashore in cold-weather jodhpurs and directed our Peruvian lackeys to assemble our sleds and pack our tents, which we'd deployed on the foredeck of the good ship Chlamydia to keep the spray off the lobster-traps. Then our badger-master released the plucky little devils who were to pull our sleds. Naturally, they had to be reconstituted, as we'd had them dehydrated at our supply point in Brighton, to save on weight during the journey. Our cook was up all the night, saving his spittle in jars for this purpose.
We set out the following morning, following the Ley lines we'd had plotted by our faithful soothsayer. The weather was good, though exceptionally bracing, so that we had to double-layer our jerseys and wear ham sandwiches over our foreheads. Our progress was smooth and steady, and at first we thought we'd reach our destination in less than a week. Despite the venomous local insects and a succession of pewter deadfall traps, we made good travel and set up camp within the wind-cover of an abandoned outbuilding.
Thus was the pattern established for our arduous journey. Though we'd brought numerous knick-knacks and shiny baubles to trade with the natives, we encountered none until the morning of our fourth day on the trail, when a plucky fellow in an imitation-felt bowler hat blocked our path. We attempted, through the use of hand-gestures and daguerrotype illustrations, to explain our journey and to negotiate for the purchase of any nubile offspring in his village. Unfortunately, that blackguard Peary had already spoilt the reputation of newcomers in this place, and so we had to settle for seven bottles of a potent local liqueur and a crudely-set treatise on the composition of New York Times crossword puzzles. In exchange, we left an antebellum gramophone with four lewd recordings made by the Society for Animal Welfare. I chuckled to myself as our counterpart waved us on our way, for I had not left him the wind-up crank to the gramophone--little did he suspect!
We pressed on in the face of daunting weather conditions. Three times our camera froze up; eventually, we had to abandon it altogether, and were reduced to scrawling crude line-drawings of our whereabouts. In the midst of a particularly nasty labour dispute, we had to kill and eat one of our Sherpa guides pour encourager les autres, as Thackway has it. Tough and stringy he was, too, and left me with indigestion for a fortnight afterward.
Finally, at noon on Christmas Eve, we came within sight of our destination: the miracle city of Z'dandi-Ish! Though our colleagues in the Geographical Society had chaffed us for our literal interpretation of the ancient legend, here now was our prize!
As we drew our little band up to the edge of the bustling metropolis, Cubby was overtaken by a wave of emotion in which I had the opportunity to lift his wallet, copy its contents exactly, and slip the duplicate into his opposite jacket pocket. Upon our return to civilization, his discovery of this mysterious occurrence would be cause for much mystification on his part.
We made our way toward the centre of town. Our footfalls echoed around us as we passed the deserted scenes of slaughterhouses, travel offices, and bulk food stores. Had we arrived too late? Had plague, or poor economic conditions, or perhaps a hail of nanoanvils destroyed the populace of this beautiful and eerie place? As we mounted the steps of the central edifice, our hearts leapt in our throats.
There, on the wall of the main government office, was a placard, carved from a sheet of solid copper. Its text was in an ancient dialect of Hlah-Sharny which our pedicurist was able to decipher. It seems that we'd arrived just after the completion of the harvest of trouser-brushes. Their coffers filled with the proceeds of foreign trade, everyone had set out for their vacation homes in the south of France.
Naturally, we were all disappointed by this turn of events, but we didn't leave empty-handed: from a display case in a shop-window, we liberated a rare scrimshaw, carved from the pubic bone of the mighty Antarctic sandfly. The piece depicts the socioeconomic forces leading up to the disastrous War of the Nickel Kettle, which killed thousands and scarred three continents.
As we made our way back to our landfall and thence back to Europe, I reminisced with Cubby about our earlier exploits: the Nobby Mesa affair, his abortive run for the Danish parliament, and of course our brief foray into the commercial arena with the clockwork thimble-vendor. Our laughter echoed across the tundra of that mysterious place, Antarctica, and I swore that I'd avenge myself upon him for his cavalier attitude about our berthing arrangements aboard the Chlamydia. Less than twenty-five years later, on a train near Prague, I was able to make good on my private oath of that day.
Though one can regret the indiscretions of youth, I cannot but look back on those times with fondness in my heart. Who can deny that the past is father to the present? Had things been different, who is to say how my condition might be today? Ah, yes, I believe I'll have the Malaysian brandy after dinner. Yes, indeed.
Herbert R. Duffleworm is an omnipresence on whiteboards and refrigerators the world over. His columns inHostage Taker Quarterly have made him the toast of the dinner-party circuit, and his seventh novel, An Antipodean Nandipratt, is under consideration as a Book Club of the Month alternate selection. His next project is a short pornographic film based, loosely, on the disappearance of the Donner party. Click here to see his cock.
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