50-word Short Stories: Franklin Expedition Edition!


Sorry for this. I watched the first episode of The Terror last night on my brother’s instructions and I was hyped up. Of course, I loved the book by Dan Simmons, having been obsessed with the Franklin Expedition since I was a wee nine-year old. There will be no The Terror spoilers in here, because I’m not an asshole. There will, however, be history spoilers.

A girl-child entered the school library, as was her custom. She saw a certain volume in the new book display: ‘Buried in Ice: The Mystery of a Lost Arctic Expedition.’ There was a dead guy on the cover. Cool! She checked it out and it didn’t warp her at all.

The brave explorers returned from the most inhospitable corners of the world, certain of a hero’s welcome. “That’s all fine and well,” said the British public. “But really, hardly any of you died, so it’s not very romantic or dramatic, is it?” The explorers resolved to do better next time.

Sir John Barrow considered this weighty matter. Who would lead this inevitably successful assault on the Northwest Passage? How about a gouty old man famous for eating his boots? He demurred. “But his wife really wants him to go,” he was told. “Does his wife even like him?” he asked.

Lady Jane Franklin and her niece waved away the ship bearing away her beloved husband. “At last,” said Lady Jane. “None of that bore for a few years. Let’s enjoy ourselves!” Said Sophia, “You know you’ll have to act the grieving avenger if he doesn’t return, right?” Lady Jane frowned.

The young sailor punched the air. He’d been signed up for the Franklin Expedition! Double pay, a great adventure, a chance to make his name – all that awaited him! And then he’d come home, support his aged parents, and marry his bonny sweetheart. He smiled. This could not go wrong.

It is impossible, of course, to tell exactly what went through the brains of Franklin’s men as the inevitability of death – whether it be through cannibalism, starvation, scurvy, lead poisoning, botulism, fell nature spirits, etc. – dawned on them. A hypothesis: “Shit. Shit shit shit shit SHIT. Shit! Shit! Shit! SHIT!”

John Rae – physician, explorer, HBC man – huddled around the fire with the Inuit man. “So. You saw some white dudes,” he said. “Yep, a whole whack of dead white dudes and we think they’d been eating each other. Do white people do that a lot?” Who knew? Fashion changed swiftly.

Rae returned to Britain. “Sorry, guys. Cannibalism. Inuit told me,” he told the public. This led to outrage. British heroes did not eat each other! “The Inuit were probably just thieving lying barbarians who lie,” declared Charles Dickens. Who were the public to believe? A dirty Scot or celebrated novelist?

The new millennium arrived and the Canadians decided it was time to find the Terror and the Erebus. They achieved this through the bold move of asking the local Inuit about it. “Wow, they listened to us this time?” said the Inuit. “That’s a change.” A brave new modern age!

A haggard Fitzjames and Crozier trudged across the frozen wastes, the last living members of the Franklin Expedition. “I wonder if the world will ever know about the space aliens slaughtering us all?” mused Fitzjames. “No, they’ll probably think it was cannibalism,” said Crozier. Fitzjames nodded. Crozier was probably right.

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