First published back in December of 2014, Ray Cluley’s novella ‘Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow’ was originally written for inclusion in the Spectral Press publication ‘The 13 Ghosts Of Christmas’ (2012), however upon submission, publisher and editor Simon Marshall-Jones saw a greater potential in the story, and instead released it as a standalone publication including ‘Bonus Material’ comprising of five additional short stories.
Being part of Sirius, Gjerta Jørgensen was part of the world’s only military dogsled team; responsible for patrolling more than eight thousand miles of Greenland’s north-east coast, the largest national park in the world and one of the least hospitable places on Earth.
Gjerta was travelling north to Danmarkshavn with Søren Olsen and their twelve dogs. Their sledge should have been thirteen dogs strong, but they had lost Lykee. A loss that had made more of a difference than they had expected.
Nevertheless they carried on. In December, five-hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, it was dark twenty-four hours a day. Average temperatures were around twenty-five below zero. And as beautiful as Greenland could be, the desolation of it, the isolation, could torture a weak mind.
Gjerta knew that being the only female in the Sirius team she would be treated different. It was a tough job. But one she had grown up with. When she was ten her father would take her out into the snow-covered woods at night to teach her there was more to the woods than what you could see in the day. But sometimes she heard other sounds in the woods. Sometimes she would hear words. It hid inside the wind, in the shadows, beneath the snow, and when it spoke its voice had no words, but Gjerta heard them all the same. It said it was coming, it was always coming, and she would never be ready, even though it warned her.
Gjerta knew there were darkteeth in the woods. They lived amongst the trees and in the shadows between them. And they were always there. Hidden. Quietly waiting. Out of sight, but always in her mind…
With ‘Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow’, author Ray Cluley has painted a deeply evocative and wonderfully atmospheric vision of the sub-zero snow-covered expanses of north-east Greenland during the relentless dark winter months. I’m sure it’s not doing the story any disservice in saying that Cluley’s depiction of this incredibly hostile backdrop itself is what really makes the short. It’s what defines the tale. And it enwraps every frozen sentence. Every snow-covered paragraph. Every frost-bitten chapter.
Cluley has taken what Michel Paver did with ‘Dark Matter’ (2010) and set in his own added element of human hardship and inner-torment. It’s a bleak vision. A cold and callous story that gradually seeps under the reader’s skin and ever-so-slowly chills you from the inside outwards.
A large amount of weight is put on our principal character’s psyche. Gjerta’s struggling mental battles with her past, and the hardship of the setting, causes bitter conflict and a near-constant sense of personal struggle. Indeed, Cluley has finely-tuned his principal character in order to evoke particularly strong feelings in the reader. Furthermore, the constant returning to Gjerta’s childhood effectively establishes deep-rooted connections with the reader, whilst creating a sympathetic bond via this (somewhat sketchy) understanding into the character’s past.
Ultimately what Cluley delivers with his tale is nothing short of a relentlessly bleak and cold read. Its oppression seems never-ending. The toil it portrays on those that attempt to endure the day-to-day hardship of this bitterly hostile environment is ever-present in the writing. And through the darkness of the snow-covered landscape, terrible and haunting whispers begin to emerge.
There’s sadness in these pages. The story Cluley tells is stark and honest and in some ways cold-hearted and brutal. But through its evocative prose and the deeply atmospheric rendering of this bleak environment, it ultimately casts an enchanting and strangely moving story that finally ends with the weight of a stomach-full of ice in your gut.
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like… - 4 Pages
They had been working their way around London hitting all the must-see tourist spots. Westminster Bridge. Big Ben. The Houses of Parliament. Trafalgar Square. Each spot they had a photo taken at together. Smiling for the camera. Enjoying themselves. And then the camera is stolen. All those pictures gone. The day almost ruined. But nevertheless they try to make the most of it. They keep going on. After all, there’s a lot worse that can happen to a couple of good-looking tourists in such a big city…
Cluley introduces the first of his bonus short stories stating that age-old saying “A picture paints a thousand words”. Indeed, as Cluley quips, it’s a good little idea to play around with, especially if you change the verb to ‘suggests’. And that’s exactly what Cluley has gone and done with this deeply sinister piece of suggestive flash fiction. Constructed through miniature freeze-frames as if a camera is snapping away this young couple as they move around the City of London, the delivery is clever and incredibly fitting. The gradual build-up of a sinister undertone which is slowly rising to the surface is nothing short of chilling. And the ending dulls your senses with the impact of a sledgehammer to the sternum. But as was Cluley’s intention from the outset, it’s what’s suggested at, what’s not said or shown, that lingers on the longest afterwards.
The Rain Deer – 4 Pages
Hurtling down the dark and winding country roads with the rain hammering down on the windscreen - this is what Leah did when she was stressed or angered. She drove. But all of a sudden there’s a blur of motion and she glimpses the outline of a reindeer in front of her. Too late to swerve. Too late for the brakes to halt the car in time. Then there’s an eruption of rain on the windscreen and the reindeer’s gone as if it was never there in the first place. The rain has also gone. And there’s nothing left but a parked car with its hazards on…
Bit of a weird one this. Again Cluley uses his prose as much as the words themselves to create the right atmosphere and correct delivery for his story. It’s fast-paced and purposefully disorientating. Cluely avoids giving too much away about the circumstances as to why Leah’s where she is. Again, it’s suggestive. Open to the reader’s own interpretation. Likewise, the symbolic-style ending leaves a lasting impression of mere suggestion, encouraging as much as prompting the reader to think deeper into what just transpired.
Mistletoe Wine – 5 Pages
Tina knew she shouldn’t get so upset about what Jake had done, but she couldn’t help it. He’d used her then gone off with some tart at the work Christmas party. Now here she was, staring up at the mistletoe hanging above her bed. Mistletoe. The instigator of their passion. The catalyst for their brief Christmas fling. But now, maybe it could have another role to play in their dwindling connection with each other…
Another short piece of Christmassy flash fiction with a delightfully horror-inspired ending. Not exactly the most pacey of offerings, the short spends the majority of its time fluttering around the collapse of Tina’s workplace fling. However, the two-pronged horror ending is what it’s all about. You predict one ending, but certainly won’t be expecting the other. Clever clever clever. I do like it when an author sneaks something up on you.
Turtledove – 3 Pages
Every Christmas Eve they would go down to the bridge together and each of them would throw one of their presents into the river. Over the years it had become a sort of family tradition. One they all hated, but did anyway. They had to. It helped with the loss…
This is a truly superb piece of short fiction. In just a few short pages Cluley manages to draw an abundance of sympathy, whilst saddening and touching the heart of the reader. Delivered in a purposefully cold and detached manner, the story is a touching reminder of the strangeness of how we cope with loss. And there is no worse time for dealing with loss than at Christmas. A time when families come together. It’s tradition.
Hans – 16 Pages
It was cold outside the car, nearly Christmas, and as they continued along the Autobahn snow began to fall. Hans didn’t know where they were going to. He didn’t bother asking. His father never told him anyway. Hans would just have to wait and see. But it didn’t make the journey any easier. Just the two of them in the car, forced conversation the only distraction from the boredom of their journey. But then Hans glimpses someone out in the snow. A small form that could only be a child. But why would a child be out this late and so close to the woods? Unless they were trying to get away. Which would mean they were close to where Hans had come from. Where his father had got him from…
Ending the bonus material with, Cluely offers up a strange but incredibly atmospheric short that once again dances around suggestion and elements of symbolism, rather than boldly laying all the story’s cards on the table. It’s one of those stories that slowly unravels itself, with details and information regarding our protagonist, Hans, gradually revealed piece by piece as the story progresses. However, it’s in the latter half of the short tale where the real atmosphere comes to life. In a sort of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2009) meets the cover artwork (and indeed the music) of ‘Black Mountain Transmitter’, the imagery that Cluely conjures up in the final half of the short is classic story time stuff, with that ‘Brothers Grimm’ style Germany backdrop furthering the no-doubt-purposeful fairy tale edge to the whole thing.
The book as a whole runs for a total of 76 pages (with the title story running for 44 pages).
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