Just don’t walk away from the group. How foolish to disregard the common knowledge every school child learns on their first field trip as they stand in pairs, lining up for the bus, wearing color-coded tags matching the one worn by their bathroom buddy.
He forces himself to stop thinking about the bathroom again. Gary would give anything right now to strip down and relieve himself, but exposing his skin to the biting wind would probably quell the urge to go anyhow. He chuckles at the only funny thing about his current situation.
With shrugged shoulders and head down, he presses on toward an unknown destination. Every labored step should take him closer to base camp. Damn this snow sucking at his legs, dragging him deeper and deeper.
Another pause to examine his surroundings reveals an unforgiving landscape that looks the same in every direction. The breath of cold air crystalizes in his mouth and sears his lungs. The dark glasses he wears are no longer sufficient against the knives of sunlight off snow. Pain hammers his temples, his eyes flood with tears, and he swears he can hear a sound like the strain of violin strings being misused. Panic swells in his throat like bile, but he swallows it and marches on.
He knew he was the Christa McAuliffe of the group. What business did a linguist from Manchester, England, have traipsing around a polar expedition when all his life he eschewed the very idea of camping? Days spent reading ancient texts and lecturing at prestigious universities formed the core of his existence.
His presence had been secured by winning an online contest. He knew he’d win even as he manipulated the English of his 500-word essay, fashioning a convincing reason why he was essential for the mission. Persian or Tamil would have made for a more interesting read. There certainly isn’t anyone in this godforsaken wasteland that requires the expertise of a linguist. Even the Russian chemist among the group speaks a decent form of English gleaned from YouTube and vintage MTV.
How arrogant he had been to believe that studying ancient languages had actually taken him somewhere no one else had ever been. He’d never set foot in any of the countries that gave rise to his beloved languages, never ventured beyond the stone buildings on campus. And why should he when his ego assumed there wasn’t anything anyone could teach him that he didn’t already know?
Nightfall slowly drapes her cloak across the sky, but he cannot tell; he is snow blinded. The falling temperature penetrates the wolverine lining of his gloves and boots, needling his fingers and toes. He no longer feels warmed by thoughts of home, school, or survival. Did he step away to prove that he could find his way back? He isn’t a risk taker. Never once did he desire to jump from a bridge tied only by a bungee cord around his ankles. Not even skydiving with a professional could lure him from the safety of Mother Earth. He laughs at fools who swim with sharks. Who’s laughing now?
Gary is the child tempted to see what happens when you stick a metal hairpin in an electrical outlet. The shock is not at all what he expected. He travels without the benefit of map or compass in a land he does not know and cannot navigate. Nothing in his education or experience prepares him for the classroom of life. Just don’t walk away from the group. Well, lesson learned.