The Fourth River

Tributaries: “Emperor”

By on February 7, 2018

image by Christopher Michel



Pipes Froze. The bathroom at the ice runway near McMurdo was covered with inches of black water. Samantha suggested we clean in our bunny boots to keep our feet dry. In the van heading to the runway was Shuttle Tom and two Air National Guard guys. The guard guys wore uniforms, wore cologne for some reason, complained about powdered milk. Me and Samantha sat on one side, the guard guys across from us. Samantha ate from a Ziploc of Cheerios. One guard guy nudged the other, pointed at the cereal resting between Samantha’s legs. “I’d like to eat some of that,” he said. The other one smiled, nodded. The van rumbled through snow. I didn’t think she heard.  She tightened the bag’s seal, tossed it into the other guy’s lap. “Monsters usually take what they want,” she said.  As janitors, me and Samantha hadn’t left Station since we arrived, months before. Shuttle Tom stopped along the ice road near a penguin. This penguin, an Emperor. Samantha and I climbed out the back door of the van, were hit with the force of the wide-open Antarctic wind. We braced, watched that motionless penguin, breathed diesel fumes. Sun reflected from the whiteness all around us. Smoke plumed from the distant snow-covered Volcano, Erebus. The guard guys stayed inside the van. I could see their mouths moving, chewing.



Justin Herrmann is the author of the short fiction collection Highway One, Antarctica (MadHat Press 2014). He is the winner of the 2016 River Styx Micro-Fiction Contest. His stories have most recently appeared in Mid-American Review and Blue Earth Review. He spent 24 months living and working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. He lives with his family in Alaska.