Home > The Split

The Split
Author: Sharon Bolton

1


It’s not a ship. It’s an iceberg. Oh, thank Christ. She drops her binoculars and feels a thudding in her chest that might be her heart starting to beat again. There is no smoking allowed on the island, but she pulls out her cigarettes all the same, because if she can subdue the shaking in her hands for long enough to light one then she might feel like she’s in control again. The wind, though, won’t let the flame catch.

She checks the horizon again. The speck in the distance is still ice, floating east into the vast, cold emptiness that surrounds the Antarctic.

The ocean is troubled today, steel-grey as the sky and broken like shattered glass. Storms come so fast here, and sunshine turns black in the blink of an eye. The bad weather will be working in her favour, slowing the ship, but not for ever.

The last ship of the season. One more and she’s safe.

She thinks of the fear inside her like a cancer, eating away at muscles, organs, bone, growing all the time, until there is nothing left of her but a rotten, stinking mass in skin stretched like an overfilled balloon. How will the terror burst out, she wonders, when it inevitably does. A scream? A petrified whimper?

An alarm sounds on her phone, letting her know that life doesn’t stop, even when it’s on the brink of ending. She turns to walk back, knowing that she’s running out of places to hide.

The ends of the Earth. That’s how far she ran this time.

Not far enough.

 

 

2

 

 

Felicity


On a morning in late March, the end of the summer in the southern hemisphere, a woman stands high on the Konig Glacier on the island of South Georgia. She is as tall as an Amazon, with the long silver hair of a Nordic princess and a delicate prettiness that is quintessentially English, but none of that is visible for now. The thermal diving suit she wears renders her sexless and featureless, indistinguishable from the man crouched nearby on the ice. As he goes about his business, checking air tanks, valves and weights, Felicity stares into the depths of a glacial blue lake.

Beneath her feet, the packed snow groans as she moves to the water’s edge. The ice around her is so white, so bright, it burns her eyes, but the lake is the iridescent blue of liquid sapphires. Its depth is immeasurable, compelling and terrifying at once. It is like looking into eternity.

Her eyes drop to the letter she is holding.

My dearest Felicity,

Finally, I’ve found you. South Georgia? Wow! Know, my darling, that there is nowhere you can go that I won’t follow—

 

A hand lands on her shoulder and she leaps around in fright.

‘Sorry, sorry.’ Jack takes a startled step back. ‘Only me.’ He lowers his voice. ‘Are you all right?’

There is a lump in her throat that won’t seem to swallow away. ‘I’m fine,’ she croaks. ‘Just nervous.’

Jack’s eyes narrow before he bends to the ice. ‘You dropped something. You know this is going to get wet, don’t you?’

He’s got the letter.

‘It’s fine, I’ve got it. Please?’ Felicity grabs it back and bends to tuck it into her kit bag.

‘Flick, what’s up?’

She has to get a grip. She has time. She’s prepared, even if the worst happens. She just has to get through today.

As she straightens up, Jack’s voice is still pitched low, so that only she can hear him. ‘Flick, seriously. I can do this myself. You can talk me through it from here. You don’t have to—’

Normally, it isn’t hard to smile at Jack. His face is so open, so kind, so entirely dependable. Today, though, she can’t even force it.

‘I’m fine,’ she says. ‘Let’s do it.’

She takes her comms equipment and a few seconds later the sound of wind on snow becomes that of radio static. Jack hands over her mask and she waits a moment before fixing it in place, as though this might be the last time she sees the horseshoe of snow-capped mountains, the pale turquoise sky, and the shadow of albatross wings over silver ice.

‘Can you hear me, Flick?’

The voice in her ear-piece is that of their team mate, Alan, twenty yards back from the lake edge. He will direct the dive from the surface.

‘Loud and clear.’ Felicity allows Jack to lift the oxygen tanks onto her shoulders.

‘Konig Glacier team to King Edward Point,’ she hears. ‘22 March, 0915 hours. Flick and Jack are going down now. Thirty-minute dive to position depth sensor and underwater camera. Conditions good.’

‘Take it easy,’ comes the reply from base. ‘No unnecessary risks.’

‘You ready, Flick?’

At her signal, Jack steps out and a blue wave swallows him up. Felicity follows and falls into a world of pain. Cold-water shock. She forces her breath in and out and waits for it to pass. When she is calm enough to open her eyes, she sees Jack taking hold of the underwater camera. She looks up, sees the depth sensor being lowered, and grasps it.

‘Time to get moving.’ Jack’s voice, rasping over the comms system, is unrecognizable.

They leave the surface and are consumed by a world of blue and white, in which the only sound is that of heavy, laboured breathing. Felicity and Jack follow the ice wall down, their headlights picking out fantastical shapes. Faces peer at them, animals from legend spring and coil in the ice crevasses.

The blue lake, which forms every spring from meltwater, has been steadily accumulating for five months now. Sometime in the next few weeks, possibly even today, the ice of the lake’s bed will fracture. The lake will drain, sending a hundred thousand cubic metres of meltwater through an intricate, hidden drainage system until it reaches bedrock. From there, it will flow out into the southern Atlantic ocean. The release of so much water might be the trigger that forces the ice to break apart, to send another massive iceberg tumbling into the sea. Blue lakes, it is believed, play a crucial part in the movement of glaciers and the creation of bergs.

The alarm sounds on Felicity’s depth gauge. She and Jack have reached the flat shelf of ice that will hold both the camera and depth sensor to measure movement in the lake over the next week. She hovers in the water, and takes her time fixing the instruments in position.

‘I’m switching on, Alan,’ she says.

‘Hold on. Yeah, we’ve got it. Looking good, Flick. What’s it like down there?’

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