I first met Chris Clark while I was attempting to climb the ice wall at the edge of the world with Jules Verne and Com Truise. We were halfway up the hundred and fifty kilometre wall, bugs on the frosty-morning-windshield of God. We were climbing using crampons, ice axes and sheer determination. At the same time, Jules had insisted we bring The Beetle, a vehicle about the size of the average Winnebago that looked like an insect with legs that ended in ice-piercing spikes. It trundled along behind us as we climbed, serving as our home-from-home.
Com and Jules were viciously arguing about literature, a conversation I tried my best to keep out of as, to be honest, I found it all a bit too confrontational.
Get a room, I said.
Good idea, said Jules. Shall we Beetle for a quick rest?
You would say that, said Com Truise, continuing the argument as we climbed into the warmth of The Beetle. You have no proof that Frankenstein was mostly written by Byron. You are just trying to piss me off.
It seems to be working, I said.
If you are annoyed it is because you see the validity of my argument, said Jules. Byron’s hand is everywhere in the novel, with Frankenstein and his monster signifying Byron’s war with himself and the public personality he created to sell his work, a personality he knew overshadowed the real person, one he knew would outlive him. Also, to add contextual weight to my argument, Byron was obsessed with the clown Grimaldi who starred in the pantomime Harlequin and Asmodeus, where a man made from vegetables comes alive and destroys him. An obvious parallel.
Bullshit, said Com Truise. Byron wasn’t even in London when the show was on. It is more likely that Byron can be found in Frankenstein because Mary had many an occasion to talk with and share company with Byron. To say that Shelley did not write Frankenstein is to discredit her great accomplishment. I detect a jealousy at play. Her one book is more known than all your books combined.
You dare? Jules spat, rising to his feet.
I dare, said Com Truise, also rising.
Gentleman, I said, now is not the time. Let us eat and rest for we have a long climb tomorrow.
I will not eat with this man until he apologises, said Jules, his nose almost touching that of Com Truise.
I have nothing to apologise for, said Com Truise.
I was at a loss with how to defuse the situation. The two men were known for their violent outbursts and my skills as peacemaker were lacking. Also, I felt Com Truise was out of order and needed to be taken down a peg or two.
A duel, said Jules.
A duel, agreed Com Truise.
They each grabbed their ice axes and reattached their crampons to face each other on the sheer cliff. They gave me the dire honour of being both witness and referee to their duel, which would be fought with axes on the ice. I could not protest them down. I had to acquiesce to their demand and, when I gave the word, they proceeded to try and swat one another from the cliff.
The two of them hacked and slashed towards each other, ice raining down into The Beetle with every blow. Jules was the most adept and soon had Com Truise at his mercy, unhooking his legs and pinning him against the ice. Com Truise knew he was beat, but would not yield.
I am right, and know I am right, he said.
Jules held his axe up to deliver a fatal blow. You are an arrogant fool, said Jules.
I am sure that Jules would have shown mercy, but at that moment a sound like thunder crashed against us. The portion of ice cliff we were attached to sheered from the main body, cracking where Tom Cruise and Jules Verne had been fighting. The three of us and The Beetle began to fall. Jules swung himself and Com Truise into The Beetle and I managed to push the button to close the carapace, though I knew this would only allow us all to die together when The Beetle smashed down on the ice many kilometres below.
We were thrown about like peanuts in a tumble dryer until through cooperation and much bruising we managed to strap ourselves into the cockpit.
I hate you, Jules, shouted Com Truise.
Go to hell, Com, said Jules.
Stop! I shouted. I don’t want to die with you two arguing.
Com Truise opened his mouth to carry on his argument, but an ear-splitting screech of something scraping the metal hull of The Beetle shut him up. Impossibly, our descent slowed, stopped, and changed direction. The Beetle was moving up the ice cliff. Still strapped into a chair I tried to see anything that could have caused this change from out of the windshield, but all I saw was a huge, flapping shadow cast against the ice.
I don’t want to alarm anyone, I said.
I’m already alarmed, said Com Truise.
I’m not finished, I said.
I’m less than alarmed, said Jules Verne.
Still not finished, I said. I was going to say, we should prepare for a fight. Whatever has momentarily saved us may have done it for their own selfish needs.
The two men reluctantly agreed with me and we readied our ice axes. I checked my usually helpful pockets and found only a used cinema ticket stub(Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and a small, yellow rock.
Are you using that lemon? asked Com Truise.
It’s a rock, I said.
The question still stands, he said.
I gave him the rock.
As The Beetle crested the ice cliff, it once again tumbled through the air, this time only falling a few metres before coming to a stop on the ice plain beyond the edge of the world.
With ice axes held aloft we opened the dented carapace of The Beetle. What we saw once our eyes adjusted was magnificently unbelievable. A man in furs carrying an MPX submachinegun in one hand and a sword in the other was sat atop a robotic eagle, the body of the beast hissing and puffing with steam and smoke, it’s head twisting with gears, it’s beak glinting with reflected sunlight.
Com Truise relaxed his axe and laughed. Is that you, Chris Clark? Fuck, it is. Holy shit. It’s good
to see you, buddy.
The man in furs dismounted from the eagle and greeted Com Truise with outstretched arms. It’s good to see you, it has been many cycles. I was tracking you as you climbed the wall. Who are your friends?
Com Truise looked back at myself and Jules. Well, he’s a close, personal friend, he said, pointing at me. But this guy, he pointed at Jules Verne. Is a fuckwit, and no friend of mine.
Chris Clark looked at Jules Verne and myself. Let me guess, he said, addressing Jules. You brought up literature?
Your friend is a passionate man, said Jules.
He is that, said Chris Clark, slapping Com Truise on the back. I’m sure he will calm done soon.
Fuck that, said Com Truise, and he threw the yellow stone at Jules Verne, who caught it.
Wait, said Chris Clark, let me see that. Did you get this from The Goblin Market? Com Truise and Jules Verne shrugged.
I did, I said. I think. I’m not sure. I may have just been tripping.
Do you mind if I keep this?
Sure, I said. I have a few of them.
I owe you, good sir. You can fly with me. You two, he said, addressing Com Truise and Jules Verne, follow along in your contraption. My home is not far.
I climbed atop the steam powered eagle and flew with Chris Clark.
How do you know Com Truise? I asked when we were aloft.
I toured the US with him, he said.
You make music as well? I’d like to hear some.
Of course, said Chris Clark. He pressed a series of buttons on the Eagle and speakers the size of machinegun batteries started to play Winter Linn from the album Clark(2014).
Not bad, I said, when the song had finished.
How have your dreams been lately? asked Chris Clark. From the look on your face I don’t think they’ve been good.
Do you think Jules Verne and Com Truise will be okay travelling together? I asked, changing the subject.
I can tell when Com respects somebody, said Chris Clark, and he most definitely respects Jules Verne. Which isn’t to say they won’t fight all the way to my fortress. At least up here, we won’t have to listen to it.
I laughed at the truth in his words and we’ve been friends ever since.