With only 20 minutes to write, I’ve learned from my writing group not to obsess over naming a character. I take character names seriously and they have to feel right before I can continue. That’s a problem with 20 minutes ticking down. So I’ll go with “she.” That said, I lucked out last week with Aurora Parula. I love the name and I’m thinking of finding her story to tell. It feels like it’s getting easier to slip into a story. That’s what regular exercise does for you—muscles or mind. So here’s the latest:
She reviewed her checklist one last time before descending the ladder to the ground. Her predecessor had been clear, take no chances, stay on the marked trails, and always wear your ear protectors. She absentmindedly adjusted the hard-shell muffs, making sure the dial was set to silent. All she could hear was her own blood pumping through arteries, amplified by bone. The occasional sigh.
“All systems go,” she said into her mic.
No one answered. This was a recording, not a conversation. She was on her own.
The metal ladder vibrated through her hands and feet. She stepped onto the ground and turned to take in her surroundings. Home for the next two years. A flat plain stretched in all directions, the grass trampled from past expeditions. The clear sky reminded her to put on her sunglasses. The air smelled familiar, yet not. Like August back home, redolent of wildflowers and damp earth. A soft breeze cooled her, the morning already hot.
She turned till she saw the cairns marking her path through the field to the forest beyond and hills that rose in the distance. Slinging her pack filled with equipment and food, she headed north. The path was easy to follow here, well worn by those who trod it before her.
Flat land and clean air combined to disorient distance. She’d walked for an hour and still had another to go before reaching the shade of the first trees.
Why did we have to camp so far from the edge, she wondered. She knew why, but still, it was inconvenient. She tried to whistle the song of the veery, but hearing only what was inside her skull was not nearly as satisfying as the clear flute of the original composer. She sighed and continued, sweat soaking her back and pits. While she walked she muttered notes of the vegetation she passed. Flowers, grasses, the occasional moss. All this had been documented. This wasn’t why she was here.
From cairn to cairn she followed the path, all the while keeping part of her mind conscious of the feeling of the ground beneath her feet.
When she reached the edge of the woods, she stopped to rest and have a snack. As she dropped her pack on the ground, like a trigger, it felt as though her leg muscles had spasmed. Reflexively, she grabbed her pack, ready to run, though that was the last thing she should do in an emergency here. Human instincts were useless here. The ground settled. All quiet. Well, that she couldn’t tell. It was so tempting to remove the ear muffs. What did this place sound like? Her heart, which had jumped with her leg muscles calmed, and she found a rock to sit. She reached into her pack for her water bottle. This time the jolt was stronger. She noted the time in her log and tried to ignore it. Nothing to worry about until it knocks you over, she’d been assured.
Right as she hefted her pack back on her shoulders, she saw the flash over the field. This time her reflex would help. She turned and braced for the boom to follow. Not a boom she could hear, for if she did, she’d die. Despite being prepared, the boom hurled her a dozen meters into the woods. Her muffs dislodged slightly on impact. The sound, a fraction of the entire explosion, felt like it was shattering her skull. As she rolled on the ground, being bounced like oil on a hot skillet, she refastened the muffs.
Damn, she said to herself. Welcome to the planet Thunder.