Publisher's excerpt from THE TERROR
Lat. 70º-05' N., Long. 98º-23' W.
Captain Crozier comes up on deck to find his ship
under attack by celestial ghosts. Above him — above Terror
— shimmering folds of light lunge but then quickly withdraw
like the colourful arms of aggressive but ultimately uncertain
spectres. Ectoplasmic skeletal fingers extend toward the ship,
open, prepare to grasp, and pull back.
The temperature is −50 degrees Fahrenheit
and dropping fast. Because of the fog that came through earlier,
during the single hour of weak twilight now passing for their
day, the foreshortened masts — the three topmasts, topgallants,
upper rigging, and highest spars have been removed and stored
to cut down on the danger of falling ice and to reduce the chances
of the ship capsizing because of the weight of ice on them —
stand now like rudely pruned and topless trees reflecting the
aurora that dances from one dimly seen horizon to the other. As
Crozier watches, the jagged ice fields around the ship turn blue,
then bleed violet, then glow as green as the hills of his childhood
in northern Ireland. Almost a mile off the starboard bow, the
gigantic floating ice mountain that hides Terror’s
sister ship, Erebus, from view seems for a brief, false
moment to radiate colour from within, glowing from its own cold,
Pulling up his collar and tilting his head back,
out of forty years’ habit of checking the status of masts
and rigging, Crozier notices that the stars overhead burn cold
and steady but those near the horizon not only flicker but shift
when stared at, moving in short spurts to the left, then to the
right, then jiggling up and down. Crozier has seen this before
— in the far south with Ross as well as in these waters
on earlier expeditions. A scientist on that south polar trip,
a man who spent the first winter in the ice there grinding and
polishing lenses for his own telescope, had told Crozier that
the perturbation of the stars was probably due to rapidly shifting
refraction in the cold air lying heavy but uneasy over the ice-covered
seas and unseen frozen landmasses. In other words, over new continents
never before seen by the eyes of man. Or at least, Crozier thinks,
in this northern arctic, by the eyes of white men.
(...continued from News page)
Crozier and his friend and
then-commander James Ross had found just such a previously undiscovered
continent — Antarctica — less than five years earlier.
They named the sea, inlets, and landmass after Ross. They named
mountains after their sponsors and friends. They named the two
volcanoes they could see on the horizon after their two ships
— these same two ships — calling the smoking mountains
Erebus and Terror. Crozier was surprised they hadn’t named
some major piece of geography after the ship’s cat.
They named nothing after him. There is, on this
October winter’s dark-day evening in 1847, no arctic or
antarctic continent, island, bay, inlet, range of mountains, ice
shelf, volcano, or fucking floeberg which bears the name of Francis
Rawdon Moira Crozier.
Crozier doesn’t give the slightest God-damn.
Even as he thinks this, he realizes that he’s a little bit
drunk. Well, he thinks, automatically adjusting his balance
to the icy deck now canted twelve degrees to starboard and down
eight degrees by the bow, I’ve been drunk more often
than not now for three years, haven’t I? Drunk ever since
Sophia. But I’m still a better sailor and captain drunk
than that poor, unlucky bastard Franklin ever was sober. Or his
rosy-cheeked lisping pet poodle Fitzjames, for that matter.
Crozier shakes his head and walks down the icy deck
forward to the bow and toward the only man on watch he can make
out in the flickering light from the aurora.
It is short, rat-faced Cornelius Hickey, caulker’s
mate. The men look all the same out here on watch in the dark,
since they’re all issued the same cold-weather slops: layers
of flannel and wool covered with a heavy waterproof greatcoat,
bulbous mittens protruding from voluminous sleeves, their Welsh
wigs — heavy watch caps with floppy ears — pulled
tight, often with long comforters — scarves — wrapped
around their heads until only the tips of their frostbitten noses
are visible. But each man layers or wears his cold-weather slops
slightly differently — adding a comforter from home, perhaps,
or an extra Welsh wig tugged down over the first, or perhaps colorful
gloves lovingly knit by a mother or wife or sweetheart peeking
out from under the Royal Navy outer mittens — and Crozier
has learned to tell all fifty-nine of his surviving officers and
men apart, even at a distance outside and in the dark.
Hickey is staring fixedly out beyond the icicle-sheathed
bowsprit, the foremost ten feet of which are now embedded in a
ridge of sea ice, as HMS Terror’s stern has been
forced up by the ice pressure and the bow is pushed lower. Hickey
is so lost in thought or cold that the caulker’s mate doesn’t
notice his captain’s approach until Crozier joins him at
a railing that has become an altar of ice and snow. The lookout’s
shotgun is propped against that altar. No man wants to touch metal
out here in the cold, not even through mittens.
Hickey starts slightly as Crozier leans close to
him at the railing. Terror’s captain can’t
see the twenty-six-year-old’s face, but a puff of his breath
— instantly turning into a cloud of ice crystals reflecting
the aurora — appears beyond the thick circle of the smaller
man’s multiple comforters and Welsh wig.
Men traditionally don’t salute during the
winter in the ice, not even the casual knuckling of the forehead
an officer receives at sea, but the thick-clad Hickey does that
odd little shuffle and shrug and head dip by which the men acknowledge
their captain’s presence while outside. Because of the cold,
the watches have been cut down from four hours to two —
God knows, thinks Crozier, we have enough men for that on this
overcrowded ship, even with the lookouts doubled — and he
can tell just by Hickey’s slow movements that he’s
half-frozen. As many times as he’s told the lookouts that
they have to keep moving on deck — walk, run in place, jump
up and down if they have to, all the while keeping their attention
on the ice — they still tend to stand immobile for the majority
of their watch, just as if they were in the South Seas wearing
their tropical cotton and watching for mermaids.
“Mr. Hickey. Anything?”
“Nothing since them shots … that one
shot … almost two hours ago, sir. Just a while ago I heard,
I think I heard … maybe a scream, something, Captain …
from out beyond the ice mountain. I reported it to Lieutenant
Irving, but he said it was probably just the ice acting up.”
Crozier had been told about the sound of the shot
from the direction of Erebus and had quickly come up
on deck two hours ago, but there’d been no repetition of
the sound and he’d sent no messenger to the other ship nor
anyone out on the ice to investigate. To go out on the frozen
sea in the dark now with that … thing … waiting
in the jumble of pressure ridges and tall sastrugi was certain
death. Messages were passed between the ships now only during
those dwindling minutes of half-light around noon. In a few days,
there would be no real day at all, only arctic night. Round-the-clock
night. One hundred days of night.
“Perhaps it was the ice,” says Crozier,
wondering why Irving hadn’t reported the possible scream.
“The shot as well. Only the ice.”
“Yes, Captain. The ice it is, sir.”
Neither man believes it — a musket shot or
shotgun blast has a distinctive sound, even from a mile away,
and sound travels almost supernaturally far and clearly this far
north — but it’s true that the ice pack squeezing
ever more tightly against Terror is always rumbling,
moaning, cracking, snapping, roaring, or screaming.
The screams bother Crozier the most, waking him
from his hour or so of sound sleep each night. They sound too
much like his mother’s crying in her last days … of
that and his old aunt’s tales of banshees wailing in the
night, predicting the death of someone in the house. Both had
kept him awake as a boy.
Crozier turns slowly. His eyelashes are already
rimmed with ice, and his upper lip is crusted with frozen breath
and snot. The men have learned to keep their beards tucked far
under their comforters and sweaters, but frequently they must
resort to hacking away hair that has frozen to their clothing.
Crozier, like most of the officers, continues to shave every morning,
although, in the effort to conserve coal, the “hot water”
his steward brings him tends to be just barely melted ice, and
shaving can be a painful business.
“Is Lady Silence still on deck?” asks
“Oh, yes, Captain, she’s almost always
up here,” says Hickey, whispering now as if it made a difference.
Even if Silence could hear them, she couldn’t understand
their English. But the men believe — more and more every
day the thing on the ice stalks them — that the young Esquimaux
woman is a witch with secret powers.
“She’s at the port station with Lieutenant
Irving,” adds Hickey.
“Lieutenant Irving? His watch should have
been over an hour ago.”
“Aye, sir. But wherever Lady Silence is these
days, there’s the lieutenant, sir, if you don’t mind
me mentioning it. She don’t go below, he don’t go
below. Until he has to, I mean… . None of us can stay out
here as long as that wi— … that woman.”
“Keep your eyes on the ice, and your mind
on your job, Mr. Hickey.”
Crozier’s gruff voice makes the caulker’s
mate start again, but he shuffles his shrug salute and turns his
white nose back toward the darkness beyond the bow.
Crozier strides up the deck toward the port lookout
post. The previous month, he prepared the ship for winter after
three weeks of false hope of escape in August. Crozier had once
again ordered the lower spars to be swung around along the parallel
axis of the ship, using them as a ridgepole. Then they had reconstructed
the tent pyramid to cover most of the main deck, rebuilding the
wooden rafters that had been stowed below during their few weeks
of optimism. But even though the men work hours every day shoveling
avenues through the foot or so of snow left for insulation on
deck, hacking away ice with picks and chisels, clearing out the
spindrift that has come under the canvas roof, and finally putting
lines of sand down for traction, there always remains a glaze
of ice. Crozier’s movement up the tilted and canted deck
is sometimes more a graceful half-skating motion than a stride.
The appointed port lookout for this watch, midshipman
Tommy Evans — Crozier identifies the youngest man on board
by the absurd green stocking cap, obviously made by the boy’s
mother, that Evans always pulls down over his bulky Welsh wig
— has moved ten paces astern to allow Third Lieutenant Irving
and Silence some privacy.
This makes Captain Crozier want to kick someone
— everyone — in the arse.
The Esquimaux woman looks like a short round bear
in her furry parka, hood, and pants. She has her back half turned
to the tall lieutenant. But Irving is crowded close to her along
the rail — not quite touching, but closer than an officer
and gentleman would stand to a lady at a garden party or on a
“Lieutenant Irving.” Crozier didn’t
mean to put quite so much bark into the greeting, but he’s
not unhappy when the young man levitates as if poked by the point
of a sharp blade, almost loses his balance, grabs the iced railing
with his left hand, and — as he insists on doing despite
now knowing the proper protocol of a ship in the ice — salutes
with his right hand.
It’s a pathetic salute, thinks Crozier, and
not just because the bulky mittens, Welsh wig, and layers of cold-weather
slops make young Irving look something like a saluting walrus,
but also because the lad has let his comforter fall away from
his clean-shaven face — perhaps to show Silence how handsome
he is — and now two long icicles dangle below his nostrils,
making him look even more like a walrus.
“As you were,” snaps Crozier. God-damn
fool, he mentally adds.
Irving stands rigid, glances at Silence —
or at least at the back of her hairy hood — and opens his
mouth to speak. Evidently he can think of nothing to say. He closes
his mouth. His lips are as white as his frozen skin.
“This isn’t your watch, Lieutenant,”
says Crozier, hearing the whip-crack in his voice again.
“Aye, aye, sir. I mean, no, sir. I mean, the
captain is correct, sir. I mean …” Irving clamps his
mouth shut again, but the effect is ruined somewhat by the chattering
of his teeth. In this cold, teeth can shatter after two or three
hours — actually explode — sending shrapnel of bone
and enamel flying inside the cavern of one’s clenched jaws.
Sometimes, Crozier knows from experience, you can hear the enamel
cracking just before the teeth explode.
“Why are you still out here, John?”
Irving tries to blink, but his eyelids are literally
frozen open. “You ordered me to watch over our guest …
to look out for … to take care of Silence, Captain.”
Crozier’s sigh emerges as ice crystals that
hang in the air for a second and then fall to the deck like so
many minuscule diamonds. “I didn’t mean every minute,
Lieutenant. I told you to watch her, report to me on what she
does, to keep her out of mischief and harm’s way on the
ship, and to see that none of the men do anything to … compromise
her. Do you think she’s in danger of being compromised out
here on deck, Lieutenant?”
“No, Captain.” Irving’s sentence
sounds more like a question than an answer.
“Do you know how long it takes for exposed
flesh to freeze out here, Lieutenant?”
“No, Captain. I mean, yes, Captain. Rather
quickly, sir, I think.”
“You should know, Lieutenant Irving. You’ve
had frostbite six times already, and it’s not even officially
Lieutenant Irving nods dolefully.
“It takes less than a minute for
an exposed finger or thumb — or any fleshy appendage —
to freeze solid,” continues Crozier, who knows that this
is a load of horse cobblers. It takes much longer than that at
a mere fifty below, but he hopes that Irving doesn’t know
this. “After that, the exposed member will snap off like
an icicle,” adds Crozier.
“So do you really think there’s
any chance that our visitor might be … compromised
… out here on deck, Mr. Irving?”
Irving seems to be thinking about this before replying.
It’s possible, Crozier realizes, that the third lieutenant
has put far too much thought into this equation already.
“Go below, John,” says Crozier. “And
see Dr. McDonald about your face and fingers. I swear to God that
if you’ve gotten seriously frostbitten again, I’ll
dock you a month’s Discovery Service pay and write your
mother to boot.”
“Yes, Captain. Thank you, sir.” Irving
starts to salute again, thinks better of it, and ducks under the
canvas toward the main ladderway with one hand still half raised.
He does not look back at Silence.
Crozier sighs again. He likes John Irving. The lad
had volunteered — along with two of his mates from the HMS
Excellent, Second Lieutenant Hodgson and First Mate Hornby
— but the Excellent was a damned three-decker that
was old before Noah had fuzz around his dongle. The ship had been
mastless and permanently moored in Portsmouth, Crozier knew, for
more than fifteen years, serving as a training vessel for the
Royal Navy’s most promising gunners. Unfortunately,
gentlemen, Crozier had told the boys during their first day
aboard — the captain had been more than usually drunk that
day — if you look around, you’ll notice that while
Terror and Erebus were both built as bombardment
ships, gentlemen, neither has a single gun between them. We are,
young volunteers from Excellent — unless one counts
the Marines’ muskets and the shotguns secured in the Spirit
Room — as gunless as a newborn babe. As gunless
as fucking Adam in his fucking birthday suit. In other words,
gentlemen, you gunnery experts are about as useful to this expedition
as teats would be on a boar.
Crozier’s sarcasm that day hadn’t dampened
the young gunnery officers’ enthusiasm — Irving and
the other two remained more eager than ever to go get frozen in
the ice for several winters. Of course, that had been on a warm
May day in England in 1845.
“And now the poor young pup is in love with
an Esquimaux witch,” Crozier mutters aloud.
As if understanding his words, Silence turns slowly
Usually her face is invisible down the deep tunnel
of her hood, or her features are masked by the wide ruff of wolf
hair, but tonight Crozier can see her tiny nose, large eyes, and
full mouth. The pulse of the aurora is reflected in those black
She’s not attractive to Captain Francis Rawdon
Moira Crozier; she has too much of the savage about her to be
seen as fully human, much less as physically attractive —
even to a Presbyterian Irishman — and besides that, his
mind and lower regions are still filled with clear memories of
Sophia Cracroft. But Crozier can see why Irving, far from home
and family and any sweetheart of his own, might fall in love with
this heathen woman. Her strangeness alone — and perhaps
even the grim circumstances of her arrival and the death of her
male companion, so strangely intertwined with the first attacks
from that monstrous entity out there in the dark — must
be like a flame to the fluttering moth of so hopeless a young
romantic as Third Lieutenant John Irving.
Crozier, on the other hand, as he discovered both
in Van Diemen’s Land in 1840 and again for the final time
in England in the months before this expedition sailed, is too
old for romance. And too Irish. And too common.
Right now he just wishes this young woman would
take a walk out onto the dark ice and not return.
Crozier remembers the day four months earlier when
Dr. McDonald had reported to Franklin and him after examining
her, on the same afternoon the Esquimaux man with her had died
choking in his own blood. McDonald said, in his medical opinion,
the Esquimaux girl appeared to be between fifteen and twenty years
old — it was so hard to tell with native peoples —
had experienced menarche, but was, by all indications, virgo
intacta. Also, Dr. McDonald reported, the reason that the
girl had not spoken or made a sound — even after her father
or husband had been shot and lay dying — was because she
had no tongue. In Dr. McDonald’s opinion, her tongue had
not been sliced off but had been chewed off near its root, either
by Silence herself or by someone or something else.
Crozier had been astonished — not so much
by the fact of the missing tongue, but from hearing that the Esquimaux
wench was a virgin. He’d spent enough time in the northern
arctic — especially during Parry’s expedition, which
wintered near an Esquimaux village — to know that the local
natives took sexual intercourse so lightly that men would offer
their wives and daughters to whalers or Discovery Service explorers
in exchange for the cheapest trinket. Sometimes, Crozier knew,
the women just offered themselves up for the fun of it, giggling
and chatting with other women or children even as the sailors
strained and puffed and moaned between the laughing women’s
legs. They were like animals. The furs and hairy hides they wore
might as well be their own beastlike skins as far as Francis Crozier
The captain raises his gloved hand to the bill of
his cap, secured under two wraps of heavy comforter and therefore
impossible to doff or tip, and says, “My compliments to
you, madam, and I would suggest you consider going below to your
quarters soon. It’s getting a bit nippy out here.”
Silence stares at him. She does not blink, although
somehow her long lashes are free of ice. She does not, of course,
speak. She watches him.
Crozier symbolically tips his hat again and continues
his tour around the deck, climbing to the ice-raised stern and
then down the starboard side, pausing to speak to the other two
men on watch, giving Irving time to get below and out of his cold-weather
slops so that the captain doesn’t seem to be following hard
on his lieutenant’s heels.
He’s finishing his chat with the last shivering
lookout, Able Seaman Shanks, when Private Wilkes, the youngest
of the Marines aboard, comes rushing out from under the canvas.
Wilkes has thrown on only two loose layers over his uniform, and
his teeth begin chattering even before he delivers his message.
“Mr. Thompson’s compliments to the captain,
sir, and the engineer says that the captain should come down to
the hold as quick as you might.”
“Why?” If the boiler has finally broken
down, Crozier knows, they are all dead.
“Begging the captain’s pardon, sir,
but Mr. Thompson says that the captain is needed because Seaman
Manson is near to mutiny, sir.”
Crozier stands up straight. “Mutiny?”
“‘Near to it’ were Mr. Thompson’s
“Speak English, Private Wilkes.”
“Manson won’t carry no more sacks of
coal past the Dead Room, sir. Nor go down in the hold no more.
He says he respectfully refuses, Captain. He won’t come
up, but he’s sitting on his arse at the bottom of the man-ladder
and won’t carry no more coal back to the boiler room.”
“What is this nonsense?” Crozier feels
the first stirrings of a familiar dark Irish anger.
“It’s the ghosts, Captain,” says
Marine Private Wilkes through chattering teeth. “We all
hear ’em when we’re hauling coal or fetching something
from deep stores. It’s why the men won’t go down there
below orlop deck no more unless the officers order ’em to,
sir. Something’s down there in the hold, in the dark. Something’s
been scratching and banging from inside the ship, Captain.
It ain’t just the ice. Manson’s sure it’s his
old mate Walker, him … it … and the other corpses
stacked there in the Dead Room, clawing to get out.”
Crozier checks his impulse to reassure the Marine
private with facts. Young Wilkes might not find the facts so reassuring.
The first simple fact is that the scrabbling noise
from the Dead Room is almost certainly the hundreds or thousands
of large black rats feasting on Wilkes’s frozen comrades.
The Norway rats — as Crozier knows better than the young
Marine — are nocturnal, which means that they’re active
day and night during the long arctic winter, and the creatures
have teeth which constantly keep growing. This, in turn, means
the God-damned vermin have to keep chewing. He has seen them chew
through Royal Navy oak barrels, inch-thick tins, and even lead
plating. The rats are having no more trouble down there with the
frozen remains of Seaman Walker and his five unlucky comrades
— including three of Crozier’s finest officers —
than a man would have chewing on a strip of frigid salted beef.
But Crozier doesn’t think it’s only
the rats that Manson and the others are hearing.
Rats, as Crozier knows from the sad experience of
thirteen winters in the ice, tend to eat one’s friends quietly
and efficiently, except for their frequent screeching as the blood-maddened
and ravenous vermin turn on one another.
It’s something else making the clawing and
banging noises down on hold deck.
What Crozier decides not to remind Private Wilkes
of is the second simple fact: while the lowest deck would normally
be cold but safe there beneath the waterline or winter line of
frozen sea ice, the pressure from the ice has forced Terror’s
stern more than a dozen feet higher than it should be. The hull
there is still locked in, but only by several hundred heaped tons
of jagged sea ice and the added tons of snow the men have piled
alongside to within a few feet of the railings so as to provide
more insulation during the winter.
Something, Francis Crozier suspects, has dug down
through these tons of snow and tunneled through the iron-hard
slabs of ice to get at the hull of the ship. Somehow the thing
has sensed which parts of the interior along the hull, such as
the water-storage tanks, are lined with iron, and has found one
of the few hollow outside storage areas — the Dead Room
— that leads directly into the ship. And now it’s
banging and clawing to get in.
Crozier knows that there’s only one thing
on earth with that much power, deadly persistence, and malevolent
intelligence. The monster on the ice is trying to get at them
Without saying another word to Marine Private Wilkes,
Captain Crozier goes below to sort things out.
Copyright © 2007 by Dan Simmons