Literature 2-16-2009

miniStories: “Al Gore’s Island” by Dan O’Neil

This week's winning short by Dan O'Neil (selected by Dennis Cass) is our final miniStories finalist of the fall-winter cycle: take a daring helicopter flight to a forbidding Arctic island with a one-time presidential contender in the captain's seat.


Al Gore’s Island

Flying over Greenland, the Northern Lights are enormous.

We’re in a helicopter, and Al Gore is at the helm. He has a full beard and, for some reason, an eye patch.



I can’t hear him over the constant thwack-thwack of the helicopter blades.

“I- an- d”

Or maybe it’s his full beard obstructing my view of his cracked lips that keeps me from understanding.


The Northern Lights are transfixing, and we can see them even through a thick layer of fog that rushes up at us like ectoplasm. It’s hard to imagine anyone surviving here. The cliffs of ice jut up against the sky, piercing the stars, and the ground is a mixture of rock and ice. There are no trees, no houses, no mark of humanity here, only ice stretching out as far as the eye can see, and Al Gore flying a helicopter.



“THERE!” He points up ahead, the fog clears for an instant, and in the electric night I see open water. The cliff of ice is cracked and violent here and falls off into the ocean, which looks like a black saw blade spinning away in the moonlight. I think of the explorers who dared come this far, in boats and eventually on foot, moving from mountain to glacier and hoping for the North Pole. Children would not believe in Santa Claus if they confronted this terrain.

Al Gore is becoming animated. He points angrily at the water, and almost crashes the helicopter.


I reply as best as I can. Yes, I see it in front of us. A huge glowing white mountain erupts from the sea, and Al Gore explains that two weeks ago the ice had bridged the gap here. Now it is an island, the ice having departed for some better place.


“YES!” I say. I nod vigorously. My eye patch falls off. I hadn’t even realized I was wearing one. Al Gore picks it up and puts it over his other eye. He almost flies the helicopter into the mountain.

“I CAN’T SEE A FUCKING THING!” he bellows.

We are close to the water now, so close that I can see the small bits of ice as they bob on the surface, the waves throwing them like toy boats. It is the last moment before we crash, and I suddenly react. I try to pull one of the eye patches from Al Gore’s swollen head, but I miss and the elastic thread that holds the patch snaps back.


Al Gore, enraged, jerks on the wheel. We are now looking up directly at the Northern Lights. They glimmer and dance across the sky, as if someone is playing them like the keys on a piano. They soothe me, and my heart slows as we soar up and up towards the energy in the sky. The island falls away until it is nothing, the ocean a black curtain of wrinkles on a deep arctic midnight.

About the author: Dan O’Neil is a Twin Cities playwright and occasional actor. His plays include Baggage, Desolation in America, and 10/14. He is the co-artistic director of The Players of Notorious Temerity as well as a founding company member of the Lamb Lays with Lion theater collective. His most recent play, Static, was performed by a group of middle-school students from Woodbury in mid-November.