[Spanish Ladies plays.]
DIMITRI STAMATIS—James Johnston
I’m sorry for my long silence. I’m sorry to have sent you such a dismal missive, so full of despair and black discovery. I’m sorry to have left you to worry over my fate these past months, especially after assuring you that I was on my way home. I’m sorry for so much.
Before anything else, I should assure you that I am as well as can be expected. It’s very cold here. And very dark. But that’s normal this time of year. It suits my mood, frankly. I recognize the fallacy of that, of surrounding myself with an environment that compounds my self-flagellation, rather than one that lifts me from it. But it’s not as though I chose this place. It is simply where I find myself. And so I accept it as where I belong for the immediate future.
When last I wrote, I had only just discovered the grim desolation of Atlantis. In hindsight, I can see how naive my hopes had been. It’s a *lost* city, after all. What was I expecting? A mermaid utopia? Well. You know what came of that.
And so I decided to come home.
My intention was true. The problem was that I was still adrift in a strange contraption that I could barely control. I did my best. I stayed in motion. But I could only go so fast, and hardly knew where I was headed. I struck land many times.
[Music fades out leaving only ocean noises.]
There are hundreds of islands in the ocean. Tiny, uninhabited, uncharted islands. They were a respite after so many weeks at sea. It was good to feel sand between my toes. To feel the sun, after months in the deep ocean’s dark.
Some of these islands were implausibly tiny. You know those cartoons, the marooned man on a little hump of sand in the middle of the ocean, with nothing but a solitary coconut tree? I found that island, Leon. That precise ridiculous cartoon trope, the Platonic ideal of the desert isle. It’s out there in the ocean, waiting for people like me. I curled myself around the tree to sleep, risked death by coconut braining, but there was nowhere else to lay but directly beneath those hazardous fruits. And I miss the chance to sleep on steady ground, bathed in sunlight.
I stayed there three nights, eating coconuts and drinking the milk. It was a contemplative time, an opportunity to mull decisions I had made and what those decisions had cost. My time in Atlantis was a trial for me, in the classical sense of the term. It tested me, my convictions, my sense of self. You know all of this already, Leon.
But I have not told Nica.
That is the great failure I saw in myself as I sat on that tiny island under the coconut tree. I have abandoned my sister.
Leon, you have never needed me the way I need you. I’ve tried to convince myself otherwise. I’ve tried to convince you otherwise. But it’s true. I rely on you in a way you have never relied on me. Even now, with you silenced by the muzzle of distance, it is still to you whom I turn with my confessions and ruminations.
But Nica needs me as much as I need her. I was so angry with her, Leon. So angry that she wouldn’t come with me. She was supposed to be my companion in adventure, my partner in discovery. I was so certain that she was meant to join my quest. But sitting there on my little patch of sand, I finally saw so clearly—I had never once considered joining hers.
And so, I have finally written to her Leon. I have finally written the letter that explains everything, and apologizes for all of it. And once it was done, I loaded up my craft with coconuts and set off again.
I had no compass, but I realized I must have been traveling north, hopefully, north-east, as the air and waters grew steadily colder. When the water became pocked with crusts of ice, I ceased my excursions from the craft. No trees grew on these cold islets, no food was to be found. Only the perils of frost and hypothermia.
I remained in my cozy vessel until it eventually and inevitably gave out on me. The vehicle had been designed for equatorial waters, not these frosty currents. Of course it eventually stopped running.
Fortunately, it automatically surfaced upon losing thrust, so I was not trapped beneath the depths. Instead, I was merely stranded at sea, in the long dark of arctic winter. I popped the canopy and stood to look out across the water for any sign of hope. Ahead, I saw only the ghostly silhouettes of icebergs, lifeless mountains of frigid death. But behind me…I could swear I heard the lapping of tide against shore. The lights of my craft didn’t reach far enough, but I was certain.
Salvation was so close! But how to get there? I had no oars, no paddles. It was surely too far to swim, even if the cold itself wouldn’t have killed me. I didn’t allow myself the luxury of worrying over whether I had travelled East or West at that moment. If I had somehow found my way to Russia—well I should be so lucky as to live long enough to suffer that complication.
I remembered one last possibility, a bit of equipment housed below the console of the submersible. A familiar looking thing that I had dared not use to this point. It was a bright pink coral thing, but the shape of it was unmistakeable—a grip, a barrel. A trigger. Only with great reluctance did I take it into my hand. But what else was left to try? I aimed it into the sky and fired.
[A wet explosive sound, followed by the whistle of a projectile.]
[To Atlantis music plays.]
A great torrent of green light blurted from it, reaching far into the sky, before spreading out. As I’d hoped, the device was not a weapon, but a signal, brightening the whole of the night sky. And I saw it, the intersection of land and sea that my ears had detected—an icy shore, not more than a hundred yards off, cast in an alien green glow. Moments later, I began to feel the rain. But not water—it was the light returning to the ocean. Glowing drops dotted my clothes, my craft, the surface of the water for a hundred feet all around me. The people of Atlantis had made their signal guns not with burning flares, but with the bioluminescent fluid of glow whales glands. Naturally.
Six hours later it was still shining, and I was counting stars, with little else to occupy me. I had counted more than a thousand before I heard a voice calling out. A distant and determined cry of “ahoy!” I leaped to my feet, waved my light-speckled arms and shouted back. I saw the light approaching, and could soon make out a simple rowboat with a single man powering it, following my voice.
He came right up alongside my craft, taking it in with a thoughtful eye.
“Son,” he said. “I’m going to go ahead and ask what the hell you’re doing out here, and how this whole curious situation came about, but you should feel free to not go into the details if you’d rather not.”
I told him it was no secret. That I had been on an adventure, but my submarine had broken down. He raised an eyebrow, but didn’t question me further.
“Well, you’d better come on in,” he said. “Name’s Darby. I’ll get you back to shore.”
He offered me a spare coat that he’d brought with him. Then he offered me the oars. “I just celebrated my 97th birthday,” he admitted. “So I hope you don’t mind if I leave the return trip to you.”
[Rowing in a rowboat.]
I told him I was glad to do it. I was glad just to be alive and headed for solid ground. I couldn’t even imagine how I would thank him. He assured me that I’d have opportunity, that he had walls to be mended. Fortifications to be buttressed. Guns to be cleaned.
That last troubled me, as you must imagine. I assured myself he was just a hunter talking about his hunting lodge. Nevertheless, I promised to do what I could, but stressed that I was eager to be off again, eager to return home. He laughed at that.
“You’re in Alaska, son,” he said. “In winter. There’s no planes in or out this time of year. No nothing in or out but the mail ‘chute.”
“You’re stuck with me until the thaw.”
And so that’s where I am, Leon. Back on land, back in the country, but still so far from home. So far from finally returning to you and Nica.
But I’m on my way. In spirit, at least, I am on my way.
[Whispers] It’s the ghost of Mr. Chicken.
Wait, do you know The Ghost of Mr. Chicken?
I have no idea what that is.
What!? Okay, I’ll tell you later.
Greater Boston is written and produced by Alexander Danner and Jeff Van Dreason with recording and technical assistance from Marc Harmon.
You can support Greater Boston by pledging to our Patreon campaign, where you can get early access to new episodes, annotated transcripts, and bonus audio, among other rewards.
This episode featured
- James Johnston as Dimitri Stamatis (he/him)
Spanish Ladies and Drive the Cold Winter Away recorded by Emily Peterson and Dirk Tiede.
To Atlantis by Dave Fernandez
Transcripts are posted online at GreaterBostonShow.com.
So The Ghost of Mr. Chicken is like this old Don Knotts film. Fillum. Um. In which there’s…god, the details are escaping me, the whole of the movie, but there’s this house, and there’s this ghost…and, and…it’s really for, I remember it just scared the heck out of my little sister, who was maybe like seven or eight when we watched it. But it’s Don Knotts trying to solve a ghost story, a ghost mystery in this house. The Ghost of Mr Chicken. Which is just a very weird type of funny Don Knotts movie-type name.
But I made the great joke—to which no one laughed, because no one knows this movie—um…when they brought back Colonel Sanders for the KFC commercials: why didn’t they just call him The Ghost of Mr. Chicken. Thank you.
Sorry. But it’s like oh no, that’s like an actual old people joke I just told, oh no! [Sips his water.]
- Non-violent use of a firearm.