An Author in Antarctica: A Short Story

Author's Note: This story is meant to be an artistic approach to criticizing my own work. It's not off-topic. It mentions Mexicans.

“Brr... it’s spicy out there!” Kalseru laughed as she entered Tecolotl’s lair, a room inside the Amundsen-Scott Antarctic research station. She unzipped her jacket, a stylish black windbreaker with the flags of Australia and New Zealand embroidered on its right breast-pocket, and hung it on the coat tree by the crackling electric fireplace with its ghostly, blue flame. She was mesmerized for a moment by the fire, its spooky flame dancing in her dark eyes. It didn’t burn any real wood, after all, where Kalseru and Tecolotl were there were no trees. It was much too cold for anything to grow at the South Pole. Kalseru removed her warm, woolen hat and gloves and held her hands in front of the fireplace. She also smoothed out her thick, curly hair that was such a typical feature of her people, the indigenous people of Australia.

Her loud arrival caused Tecolotl to stir, who had been curled up asleep by the fireplace while Kalseru had been out working for the International Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Committee. Her country, Australia, was one of the leading contributors in a project that was helping the world to better understand climate change. Though the outside world was indeed cold, 50 degrees below zero, in Tecolotl’s lair it was toasty and warm. Kalseru laughed when she saw that Tecolotl was wearing a thick Inuit parka. Tecolotl began muttering something from underneath the hood of the parka “I now understand why hell is cold in Norse mythology,” she said “this is a cruel, merciless wasteland that has claimed the lives of so many brave explorers. I admired them all, but I sure hope I don’t end up like that.”

“Like what?” asked Kalseru, amused.

“Dead at the bottom of a crevasse, or dead of frostbite with the soles of my feet detached and my hands fallen off, or starved to death out there,” she said, glancing out of the window and shuddering.

Now Kalseru was determined to cheer her friend up. “You know, I encountered a waddle of penguins today when I was helping with the ice core extractions. They were really cute.” Tecolotl ignored her.

“Every time I go out there, the icy wind howls in my ears like the blood-curdling screams of torture victims, filling my heart with dread. The wind carries small shards of ice with it that cut me like a wind of obsidian knives. I was granted permission to come here because I needed to research the setting of my novel. They said it was a worthy project that would lead to people having a greater understanding of this remote southern land, but now I’m not so sure I should be here.”  As Tecolotl spoke, she got up to feed her pets, some freakishly cold-resistant insects called Antarctic Midges. Their favourite food was algae. As she opened the tank, Kalseru gave her an affectionate smile and stepped closer.

“You’re not just here because of that book. You’re here because you have the spirit of an adventurer, like me, like Asbjørn, like all of us Chosen Ones.” Kalseru declared.
Tecolotl said nothing and silently observed the strange insects with their shiny, black exoskeletons as they consumed the algae sheets. She noticed they had laid eggs.
“Hey cool, they’re reproducing.” Kalseru said.

“That means they are almost at the end of their lifespan.” Tecolotl sighed. “I really hope these eggs will survive.”

“Sure they will. With all the care that you give them, how could they not? Now how about I make us some hot chocolate, and you show me how that manuscript of yours is going?”
As always, Kalseru had triumphed and made Tecolotl grin. “You’re a great friend. I am greatly indebted to anyone who offers to make me hot chocolate.”

Soon, the two friends were happily consuming the elixir, a rich, spicy, dark chocolate based on an ancient Mexican recipe that called for added chili powder. It was perfect for an adventurer. It uplifted your mood as well as well as made your senses more alert so that you weren’t surrendering to the numbing cold.  Kalseru skimmed over the pages of Tecolotl’s manuscript. Tecolotl had passed her a quill and some vials of black and red ink for editing. The yellowish manuscript was actually an authentic scroll of papyrus, which had been made from actual reeds that had been gathered along the Nile River. The blank papyrus had been a gift to Tecolotl from Taharka Aqenenra Imhotep, the leader of a cult that wanted to restore the ancient Kemetic religion in Egypt. Tecolotl had long been a supporter of this cult, which called itself the Society for the Restoration of Ma’at.Tecolotl’s mind drifted to thoughts of her stay in Egypt, the Jewel of the Nile, where it was much warmer.

“No offense, Tecolotl, but this sucks. It’s a terrible waste of papyrus.” Kalseru snapped, bringing Tecolotl out of her reverie. Tecolotl was shocked that her friend would be so blunt about the manuscript, which was Tecolotl’s life’s work.

“I am sorry, but as your friend I have to be honest.”

“I understand. Please, tell me what’s wrong with it. I thought it was good, and very descriptive.”
“Excessively descriptive. Every time you introduce a new character you spend pages describing their physical features. Your protagonists were all perfect and beautiful while you described the villains as hideous and grotesque, the stuff of nightmares, all of them!”

“Oh.” Said Tecolotl. She really couldn’t argue with that.

“I want you to read this part out loud and tell me what’s wrong with it.” Kalseru chided, circling a paragraph of the appalling story. Tecolotl sighed and grudgingly obliged, reading out the following in a dull, monotonous voice:

The Revered Speaker of the Mexica, a godlike man named Ce Tepuzmachiyopilcac entered the meeting hall, where delegates from all over the Land of the Eagle and Condor were gathered. They all rose from their seats when they saw the majestic ruler, overwhelmed by his divine presence and his tall and intimidating stature. This was the man who had united the indigenous people after 500 years of living under colonialism and mental slavery. There was a look of fierce pride in his shining, almond-shaped obsidian eyes. His ebony hair cascaded down in waves and bounced around his shoulders, straight and healthy and washed with dye made from the indigo plant to hide the few locks of silver that had sprung up due to his ancient age and the stress that he always carried.  His chest was bare but for a turquoise pendant shaped like a two-headed snake which he wore around his neck. It looked like a symbol of power against his flawless, dark skin. His whole body was framed by a magnificent azure cloak with crimson trim that was decorated in parrot feathers and swept the ground, trailing behind him. It matched the colour of his long, embroidered loincloth. His strong arms glistened, the skin on them was the colour of liquid bronze and he wore heavy gold armbands, but they weren’t as valuable as his earrings of pure jade. And of course no ornament was more precious than the turquoise circlet which rested proudly on his head. 

“The turquoise circlet which rested proudly on his head! Yes, stop. Stop right there!” Kalseru demanded.

Tecolotl’s finger paused next to the period beside ‘head’. She was bewildered. She really didn’t know what had sparked Kalseru’s harsh criticism. The description of Emperor Ce had been absolutely glorious.

“You see mate, you wasted an entire paragraph there to describe your protagonist, and you really didn’t even tell me about him at all.” She said.

“But I described everything... his hair, his eyes and-”

“What about his personality? Is he brave and charismatic? What character traits does he have that led him to getting this exalted position?”

“Of course he’s brave.” Tecolotl snapped. “He’s a hero.”

Kalseru continued flipping through the novel. “All these characters... they’re so flat, so unidimensional. Real people are supposed to be complex, Tecolotl. Where is the depth? Where is the complexity?” Her eyes darted to the painting that hung above the fireplace, a portrait of Jandamarra, and Australian aboriginal warrior who had led an uprising against the European invaders. Kalseru and Tecolotl had chosen it together for the lair, Kalseru because she carried some of the blood of Jandamarra’s tribe, the Banuba people, and greatly admired his deeds, and Tecolotl because she liked the way Jandamarra’s hair looked, long and curly. “Every good guy in your story is Mexican, every villain is a European. Listen to me, Tecolotl...”

The writer’s attention piqued.

“Think of Jandamarra. To my people, he’s a hero. To the government of Australia, a traitor.” She put her arm around Tecolotl. “Spice things up a bit. Add a few traitors to this story, some sellouts, some cowards, people who are completely different from how they seem at first. It will make it a more accurate representation of reality, and so much more interesting.”

Tecolotl nodded. It was an interesting proposition. She had encountered many people like the ones Kalseru was describing and was sure she could weave them in somehow. “But what about my meticulous historical research? Isn’t is amazing?” Tecolotl asked, getting defensive again.

“No. It just looks like you’re trying to show off, with tones of references to ancient civilizations and mythology that no one cares about except for you. Oh and another thing, this ending is ridiculous. The Europeans and the Mexicans face off in Antarctica in the end, for a final battle.”

“I thought it was cool.”

“Sure it is. But it’s random and unmotivated. The ending leaves the reader very unsatisfied, and it also feels like you’ve let the Mexicans win too easily. Raise the stakes. Give them a formidable enemy.”

Tecolotl began folding up the manuscript and putting it away, crestfallen. Everything she had felt pride for had been roasted to death by Kalseru in just a few minutes.

“You have so much potential to be a great writer someday. Do not despair, my friend. Just reflect on what you’ve written and make changes to it. This is your life’s work, your creation. It’s like your child. So just nurture it, help it grow, and someday it’ll be great.”

“Thank you so much, Kalseru. You’ve really helped me.” Tecolotl said. She hugged her friend.
“No problem. Now, tonight is a very special night. Asbjørn has invited the two of us to accompany him.”

Tecolotl thought of Asbjørn. He was part of the Norwegian exploration team and had very long, blond hair which was terribly unruly and made him look like he was part of some strange Scandinavian Death Metal band. He always wore a mjölnir around his neck, a silver amulet in the shape of Thor’s hammer, and was very knowledgeable on Norse culture and mythology. Tecolotl thought he sometimes looked like a real Viking who had somehow time travelled into the future. The thought of spending time with both him and Kalseru made her thrilled. “Where is the dragonborn taking us?” She asked.
“He has found a very good location for observing Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights. I know you’ve already spent time among the Inuit and observed the Northern Lights, but I promise these will be even more amazing. I’ve caught a glimpse of them in Australia before, but here we will get the best view for sure.”

“Alright. Let’s go.”



Books I've Read on Goodreads

Freya's bookshelf: read

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

really liked it

Saddest book I've ever read. I don't know why so many of the other reviews seem to hate the protagonist Tess or are saying she should have known better about Alec. In my opinion, she is an amazing character. She was the most mature, resp...


really liked it

The writing style evoked a lot of emotion. Joseph Boyden was just really good at putting himself in someone else's shoes. That's the only way I can think to describe it. The book is based on the true story of Chanie Wenjack, who died try...


it was amazing

My favourite Shakespeare play so far (I'm going to read all 37 of them eventually). I felt like it wasn't violent enough for a "revenge tragedy" though.

The Boy Who Played Tiger

really liked it

An amazing children's book set in a small village in Myanmar. Very entertaining to read. I highly recommend this to parents who want reading suggestions for their children as I think it's a good idea to start reading about other cultures...