As I relate the events of this last week, I can feel my life slipping away. My body grows cold, unusually so even for this forsaken place, the high north.
I was leading an expedition to the Arctic, though now I fear I will not reach my destination alive. I led a group of ten, the entire endeavour personally financed through my lucrative business dealings.
Ten men… and only myself I trusted. The others were a rough collection of soldiers and scoundrels. Untrustworthy yes, but available at a fair price. In hindsight, I should not have been so spendthrift. Perhaps it would have saved my life…
The expedition had been going poorly, even before the infamous events of this tale began to unfold. Johnson, strongest of my men, had fallen into a black crevasse, lost forever to the icy darkness. This loss burdened the others greatly, and weighed heavily on my mind. He was an asset to our expedition.
Just after the loss of Johnson, two of our dogs broke their bonds and fled into the night. The night, the night! It was everywhere. Our journey had taken much longer than expected and the Arctic had fallen into its eternal dark, a phenomenon we were wholly unprepared for mentally. One by one, the men began to unravel.
Dover was the first to break, bolting up one night and screaming off into the enveloping cold. We found no trace of him, with even our lanterns and remaining dogs.
I did not let these ill omens distract me from my goal. The rest of the men were not as strong of character or will. They demanded we call off our doomed journey and turn around. I had to threaten the lot of them with my pistol before they ceased their mutiny. This expedition would continue, at any cost!
On our one hundred and seventy-first day in the Arctic, the stranger appeared. The dogs were whining and barking, rolling their eyes as if they could smell a predator on the air.
The man, for that is what it appeared to be, walked straight to our camp in utter darkness. The lookout on watch nearly collapsed in terror.
The dark stranger was tall and lean, wearing a simple cloak, carrying nothing. The others could not believe a man capable of surviving the elements dressed as such. Each of us was heavily garbed in furs and thick clothing; we also carried with us innumerable supplies and provisions. Yet this stranger looked as if he was perfectly at home in
the frozen darkness.
My men ushered the stranger into my tent nervously, crossing themselves against evil. In the light of my tent the stranger seemed from another world, his smooth skin pale and white. His hair was flaxen and cut in a style of long ago. His gaze penetrated deeply and, I must admit, unsettled me slightly. The other men were terrified of the stranger, muttering under their breath.
‘I apologise for intrusion into your camp, good gentleman. I seek only shelter from the elements,’ spoke the stranger. His voice was lightly accented and carried with it a formality that appealed to my cultured sensibilities. ‘My name is Erikssen.’
I introduced myself and bade him sit. He moved with an easy grace I envied. I found it impossible to determine his age. Erikssen told me how he was separated from an expedition like our own and wandered in the darkness for days before finding us. I thought to myself it strange I had never heard of a rival Scandinavian expedition.
‘I prayed to the Gods to find someone out here… anyone,’ the man had said, eyes bright.
I felt myself moved by the stranger’s tale, someone of like disposition to myself, and ignored my misgivings,
The men, superstitious and weak-minded, objected to my acceptance of Erikssen. They believed him to be a devil sent by the Arctic gods as punishment for breaching their land.
I dismissed their claims as nonsense, a production of their feeble minds. Oh, had I only heeded their warnings.
A terrible storm arose shortly after Erikssen appeared and forced us to remain camped while we waited its passing.
It was during this storm that my men began disappearing. One by one the tents were found empty, with no sign of their occupants or indication as to their fate. After four days only three of us remained… three of the original ten.
Erikssen, however, seemed to recover much of his health in his short time out of the elements. His skin grew ruddier and retained a normal lustre. I remarked this to him. He smiled, his teeth white and sharp.
‘It must be the company of you and your men.’
The morning then came when only Erikssen and myself remained in the camp. There was no trace of the others. I cursed the weak-willed deserters. I laughed thinking of them frozen in the dark.
Erikssen seemed unconcerned with the disappearance of the men. ‘Some are not as hearty as you and I, yes, friend?’
Soon came my doom. I awoke one morning to discover I had been attacked during the night, doubtless by a wolf or other such savage animal. My throat was torn, evident by an angry wound red with infection.
I feel myself growing weaker. Who knows what disease the beast carried. I do not have much time left. I feel the need to document my downfall, for friends and family back home would undoubtedly be concerned of my plight.
My only thoughts are of proud Erikssen, who has since disappeared. The last I saw of him, he was walking calmly away from camp through a blinding blizzard, still dressed in his simple black cloak.
Pray he does not suffer the same fate as I. He is a good man and I pity him alone in the frozen dark.
Ah, the dark! The darkness comes and envelopes me…Colin Le Sueur