Monday, January 14, 2008

Tunguska, Part 2 (fictionalized history)

(In 1908, the last major Earth impact from an asteroid or comet occurred in the unpopulated expanse of eastern Siberia. 830 square miles of boreal forests were leveled. In this latest fictionalized history series, we travel back to 1908 to experience the "Tunguska Event." Prior series: X-ray Martyrs and Westinghoused.)

Irkutsk Geomagnetic Observatory

Irkutsk, Russia
550 Miles Away

The young man sat on the weathered chair and unlaced his boots. Mud prints layered one over another near the door. The early summer ground was soggy and miserable.

In his dry work shoes, he walked through to the great room. Outside the windows, wires strung on crooked poles far down a cut in the forest.

He checked the instruments.

Magnetometer. Seismograph. Ambient temperature.

He opened the logbook and yawned.

He shut it again and leaned back in the squeaky chair.

At least the mice were active at night. Tiny eyes flashing in lamplight. Nothing moved now. His breaths sounded loud and distracting in the quiet.

It made him feel weak to start so early, but he went to the back of the obsolete equipment cabinet and pulled out a bottle of vodka. Back in the squeaky chair, he drank and pulled an envelope from his pocket. The paper was stained with a corner worn through.

Inside, the letter was eleven months old. That's how long it took. The cities in the west were so very far away.

His eyes jumped on words like stepping stones over deep water.

His sister.


Bedridden and wasting.

Asking for him.

Was she long dead by now? Was she buried with her grave already grown over?

He reached for the bottle and a bigger drink, but drew his fingers back. The Vodka rattled on the tabletop.

Metal tinkled in the cabinets.

His stomach quivered from a vibration traveling up his legs from the floor.

He wheeled over to the seismograph.

The needle stabbed high peaks on the paper.

An earthquake.

A significant earthquake.

He watched the ink squiggle, then slowly diminish to a quiet line.

Nearby, the magnetometer line dove.

He paged open the logbook and began to write.

On to Part 3.
Back to Part 1.


SzélsőFa said...

I like the contrast between the slowliness of the uneventful morning in the office (long sentences*) and the time when the meteor hits the ground.

It is strange that while he reads the letter, he seems to skim it: yet it does not give the reader a hurried feeling. It recalls a certain lazyness on his part, rather.
Perhaps I felt this b/c of the phrase 'stepping stones over deep water'. Otherwise, skipping and skimming would have suggested hurried reading...
Overall, a great second part.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Wow 11 months, what a fact. Am I right in thinking all of this is happening at the same time? I am eagerly waiting for the next section.

Sarah Hina said...

Your pacing is always superb, Jason, and here is no exception. The isolation and loneliness of your seismographer is palpable. Even missing the mice, poor guy...

He's so removed from the meteor's impact, but can still feel, and (wrongly) infer about, the reverberations. Just like with his sister. Brilliant juxtaposition.

Give me more! :)

Chris Eldin said...

I had never heard of this event until this series. What a fascinating to tell about it.
I love your opening paragraphs. They set the mood and tell so much about the character. Very nice.

Anonymous said...

Szelsofa, it sounds like you got the feeling I was shooting for. He is not skimming the letter quickly. The words he sees haunt him. He has read the letter many times already.

Ello, yes, these event are very close in time. Apparently, the distance between the west and Irkutsk is roughly the distance of the entire United States. Before railroads, it took a very long time to make the journey.

Sarah, it sounds like you were there. ;) Just as I imagined it. Thanks for that! When Aine and I were talking about this part to brainstorm, we looked for a picture to give us context. The whole thing came together when we saw the station (although I don't believe that was same station in 1908).

Church Lady, that's a high compliment! I do feel like I've developed a strong voice for opening scenes. I'm trying very hard to transfer those lessons to my novel.

Jaye Wells said...

Wow! Jason, this is great. I can see these stories very clearly, like a movie in my head.

Vesper said...

I like the idea of words being stepping stones over the deep water of our pains, our loves, our anguishes. We hang on to them, we use them, we put our hopes into them.
The young man’s drama goes well with that of the nature.
How fortunate we are to be living in an era of phones and e-mails.
Though, for me, nothing can equal the elegance and the deeper meaning of words written on paper. But I’m rambling here…

Well written, Jason.

Anonymous said...

Jaye, like a movie in my head.... More and more, I think I'm influenced by visual storytelling. Your comment makes me smile. :)

Vesper, yes, he's clinging to those words. They hurt, but they also connect him to a world he's lost. P.S. You can "ramble" anytime. :)