Some people say that life is a sequence of random events, which is probably true because if it hadn’t been for chance, the outcome of this story and many others would have been quite different.

Consider Will Alva’s case… He wouldn’t have gone on his incredible journey if he had been born in a town with a name like Madison or Greenville. But his fate was determined, settled, and sealed by his parents’ decision to live in Ding Dong, Texas. Although the village’s population never topped 100, it gained notoriety when Ripley’s Believe it or Not featured it in one of its programs, garnering year-round tourist traffic from visitors posing for photos with the town’s sign in the background.

Will’s upbringing in a place with such a peculiar name molded his perspective on the world and piqued his interest in what lay beyond, but it also exposed him to situations that were not always pleasant. When he enrolled in college and inadvertently revealed his birthplace’s name, he became the object of constant mockery. His efforts to explain that it was inspired by two bells painted on the awning of a country store owned by cousins Zulis and Bert Bell were often met with a chorus of students chanting Ding Dong, the Wicked Will is Dead!

He was eventually able to put the bitter episode behind him and focused on the positive moments ahead, which ultimately paid off when he graduated and secured a position as a photojournalist for National Geographic. Thanks to his job, he traveled to far-flung corners of the globe, capturing magnificent images and sharing captivating stories about other cultures and landscapes.

Then, chance intervened again, as one evening, he joined his editor, Susan Hathaway, in El Rinconcito for tacos de pastor chased by tequila margaritas. Despite their age difference, Will felt at ease with her.

Against his better judgment and most likely due to the alcohol, he revealed his hometown’s absurd name to her. Much to his surprise, Susan’s eyes lit up as she pressed him to tell her his story.

“Our past experiences can sometimes fuel our greatest achievements, Will. Your unique upbringing and the challenges you faced shaped you into the talented journalist and photographer you are today,” she said when he finished.

“Keep pushing yourself to explore new horizons and embrace growth. And you know what? I’ve got an idea! Why don’t you write an article about how your town came to have such an intriguing name?”

“You could illustrate it with lots of pictures, including the sign and the residents’ photographs,” Susan said excitedly. 

“And you could even include some quotes from the people to really bring their stories to life.”

Will considered Susan’s suggestion, thinking it could make for a compelling narrative.

“I think it could work! And while I am at it, I could stop by Cut and Shoot, which is just a stone’s throw away from Ding Dong!”

“I think we have a winner on our hands,” Susan agreed.

“It might even grow into something more than an article. It would make a fantastic book! And you wouldn’t have to limit it to Texas. I know there’s a Boring in Oregon and a Santa Claus in Indiana.”

“And a Saint-Louise-du-Ha in Canada!” Will added. 

They laughed so hard they could hardly keep their glasses from tipping over.

Will met Susan for one more round of drinks a week before embarking on his fact-finding mission.

“I can’t let you go without a gift,” she said, reaching into her handbag.

“It’ll get you back into old-time journalists’ habit of writing in longhand. Do it at least once a day. It’ll help the creative juices flow,” she explained, handing him an elongated box bearing the Cross logo. Inside was a beautifully crafted fountain pen with a sharp tip, its sleek design and polished finish reflecting Susan’s generosity.

“This pen has been my trusted companion on my adventures,” she continued, her eyes sparkling with nostalgia.

“May it inspire you to capture every moment of your journey with the same passion it once inspired me.”

Holding the pen, Will felt a surge of gratitude, knowing this gift would become a cherished reminder of their friendship.

That’s how it all started, and that was the reason why he was now in the Santiago, Chile airport, waiting for a connecting flight that would take him closer to Puerto de Hambre, or Port of Hunger, in the Province of Last Hope, a short distance from Desolation Island.

The three names sounded so gloomy that he felt he needed a few stiff drinks before boarding. Sitting at the bar, waiting for his Chilean translator and guide to join him, he couldn’t help but worry about what lay ahead. The notion of exploring these remote regions hit him with a mix of excitement and dread.

The project he began with Susan over a year ago had taken him so far to places with amusing rather than gloomy names. He never made it to Boring and instead visited its Scottish twin, Dull. Although it had only one street, it was filled with quaint cottages and picturesque vistas, offering a refreshing departure from the usual urban settings. The residents welcomed him, sharing stories about the village’s traditions.

“You might think that Dull means boring,” one of the locals explained, “but it actually means meadow in Gaelic.”

As he immersed himself in Dull’s vibrant culture, he was grateful for the unexpected detour that led him to this hidden gem.

His next stop was Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a Welsh community with the longest name in Europe that meant “the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave.” He took dozens of photos of the local signboards and recorded the residents pronouncing this tongue-twisting wonder.

During his year on the road, he visited, among other places, the Australian Lake Disappointment, a salt lagoon named by an explorer who expected to find a freshwater source, Fart in Sweden, and Crapstone in Devon. He passed through Batman in Turkey and boarded bus number 666, which took him to the Hell Peninsula in Poland.

His last destination, the little-known harbor near the Magellan Straits, was supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful with its isolation, rugged cliffs, and pristine waters and would provide the perfect backdrop for his extraordinary journey’s final chapter.

He was on his second gin and tonic when someone tapped on his shoulder.

“Will? Will Alva?” a baritone boomed behind him.

Will turned to face a tall man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sporting a scruffy beard. His piercing blue eyes seemed to hold a hint of mystery as if they had seen more than their fair share of adventures. 

The man extended a solid handshake and introduced himself as Juan Stokes.

“Commander Pringle Stokes’ descendant, the captain of the Beagle that dropped its anchor in the Magellan Straits nearly two centuries ago,” he boasted.

Will was thrilled as he realized this man would take him through uncharted territory, revealing the secrets of the Pacific Ocean’s icy waters. He collected his luggage and followed Stokes to Gate 15, eager to begin the next stage of his journey.

Three hours later, the JetSmart Airbus 320 touched down in Punta Arenas, the world’s southernmost city and the closest to Antarctica’s eternal ice.

“Get your gear, and we’ll pick up the Jeep. I’m surprised you chose winter for your first visit to Puerto de Hambre. The roads are treacherous, and the weather can be unpredictable, but I guess it adds to the thrill,” Stokes said as he walked away from Will and toward the parking lot.

The guide remained silent for the first hour of the journey, his gaze fixed on the dirt road. The Jeep’s heating was on, and the vehicle’s steady movement sent Will into a shallow slumber. Before drifting off, he wondered if Stokes’ warnings about the dangerous roads were starting to make sense. He couldn’t shake off the nagging sensation that their expedition might be more difficult than anticipated.

“So why choose the end of the world as your destination?”

Stokes’s voice jolted Will awake.

“Not a typical place on a tourist’s to-go map,” he added, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

Will glanced out the window at the desolate landscape, with a few barren bushes bending under the force of the wind. The wind echoed Stokes’ cautionary words, intensifying his unease about what lay ahead. He could see why his guide referred to it as the end of the world—it felt like they were driving through Tolkien’s Middle Earth rather than a real place. The untouched beauty of the surroundings was unlike anything he had seen before, and he felt that this one-of-a-kind setting would be the ideal climax to his book.

“It’s part of my project. It began as a somewhat random idea and developed into something that I believe has the potential to be successful. I figured that since I had already visited about two dozen oddly named locations—such as Whynot in North Carolina and Eggs and Bacon in Tasmania—I could end in Port of Hunger, in the Province of Last Hope! Just the right type of spooky for the book’s ending!”

As he finished the sentence, something in the Jeep’s belly wheezed, coughed, and grumbled, and the car came to a halt.

“Well, that doesn’t sound good,” Stokes remarked, pushing open the door and jumping out. He stared under the hood, trying to figure out what was making the strange noise. A cloud of smoke billowed out of the engine as he inspected it.

“As I suspected, the engine overheated. It’s not ideal to be stranded here. Puerto de Hambre is still a half-hour drive away. We can’t stay here much longer. The temperature is about to drop below zero,” Stokes murmured before pulling out his phone, hoping to pick up a signal and call for assistance.

“Not even one bar,” he grumbled, glancing at Will.

“We should get going and try to make it to town before it gets dark. We’ll simply follow the road. It’s hardly a pleasant spot to stay until the morning,” he reflected, pensively scratching his chin.

Will nodded as he peered up at the darkening sky.

“Maybe we can flag down a passing car or find help nearby.”

Stokes roared with joyless laughter.

“A passing car? It looks like you didn’t prepare for the trip very well. We could wait a week and not see a single car on this route. Remember? This is where the world ends. The Province of Last Hope! Have you read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy?” Stokes inquired unexpectedly.

Will shook his head.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” Stokes quoted in Italian.

“It means Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Why do you think this place is called the Province of Last Hope?”

Will looked at the desolate landscape, devoid of any signs of life. The name “Province of Last Hope” suddenly made sense, as it seemed to be where optimism came to die.

“Get your rucksack out, and let’s start moving,” Stokes ordered.

“We must get to town before it’s dark or…”

“Or what?” Will prompted.

“Or we risk getting more than we bargained for,” Stokes responded, his voice tense.

“And I don’t just mean the cold,” he added, hinting at something sinister lurking in the shadows.

The urgency in his tone fueled Will’s determination to reach Puerto de Hambre before nightfall. With every passing minute, the sun sank lower in the sky, casting long shadows that seemed to whisper of danger prowling nearby. He was reaching into the boot for his backpack when a howl nearby startled him.

“Get back into the car!” Stokes shouted. “Now!”

Will hurried towards the Jeep’s passenger door and jumped in. “What is it?” he asked breathlessly.

Stokes turned the key in the ignition, but the engine spluttered, failing to come to life. 

“It’s no use! They’ve already seen us!” Stokes yelled, peering out the window into the descending darkness.

Will’s heart raced as he tried to figure out what Stokes meant. The howl grew louder, and terror set in when he realized something large was approaching the vehicle. He gripped the edges of his seat as the earth underneath the Jeep began to tremble. Stokes kept turning the ignition key frantically.

“What is it? What is out there?” Will repeated. 

Stokes returned his stare, his face blanched with fear. “We’ve got to get out of here! Quickly!” he shouted.

The darkness outside seemed to shut in on them as they waited for whatever lurked outside. Something or someone was shaking the Jeep, trapping him and Stokes inside like sardines in a can. Someone furiously trying to get them out and gobble them up.

Will was not religious, but he prayed he could return to one of the towns with strange names, even if it were just Ding Dong in Texas.

“Why do you think this place is called Port of Hunger?” Stokes shrieked.

“Do you think it was picked out of the hat? It’s not just some crazy name like your Bacon and Eggs, for God’s sake! The locals claim that people and animals have vanished here without a trace. Something out there is hungry and waiting for us to get out!”

Will stared at Stokes, saying nothing. The current situation seemed to confirm his initial premonition as if the name Port of Hunger held a dark secret about to be revealed.

As the Jeep continued to rattle, Stokes gripped the steering wheel tightly, desperately trying to maintain his calm. He stepped on the gas, turning the key, which made a grinding noise but had no other effect. Frustration began to consume him as he realized there was no way out.

“Start, damn you!” He banged his fist on the dashboard. “Start, you bastard!

The back window shattered, and something long and scaly lunged inside, grabbing Stokes by the collar. He screamed as the thing began to drag him out, its razor-sharp claws ripping his clothes. Will watched in horror as Stokes fought to remain in the car.

“Help me! Help!” Stokes shrieked.

Will grabbed both his legs and pulled as hard as he could. Despite their combined efforts, Stokes weakened and could not break free from the creature’s grip. Desperation fueled Will’s actions as he frantically searched for a weapon to help him in this life-or-death struggle. Then he remembered the silver pen Susan Hathaway had given him as a parting gift. With one hand still holding onto Stokes’ leg, he reached into his jacket pocket and grabbed the pen, unscrewing the top with his mouth to reveal the sharp, pointed tip. Gripping it tightly, he lunged towards where he imagined the creature’s face might be, aiming for its vulnerable spot in a last-ditch effort to free Stokes from its clutches. He thrust hard, once, twice, but the thing’s tough, scaly skin seemed impenetrable.

Stokes’s energy was draining as he tried one more time to find a way to penetrate the beast’s skin. He took aim and unleashed a final powerful strike, putting everything he had into his attack. The roar of pain echoed through the air as his weapon finally pierced the creature’s defenses. The scaly arm holding Stokes relaxed, releasing him from its grip. The creature stumbled back, visibly shaken by the blow. A thick ooze dripped onto Will’s hand, and then they heard a sharp wail as the beast writhed and thrashed around, trying to pry off the pen lodged in its flesh.

Suddenly, the wailing ceased. Will sat panting heavily, his heart pounding. The silence hung in the air as if the world held its breath, unsure of what had just transpired.

“Stokes? Stokes?” he whispered, his voice barely audible in the stillness. “You OK?”

Stokes moved weakly, then sat up, his face ashen. “I…I think so,” he croaked, then glanced down at his trousers, torn to shreds by sharp claws.

“We need to get out of here before more of them show up!” he exclaimed, bending down to look for the car key that had fallen in the struggle. His palms scraped the Jeep’s floor as he searched, looking nervously around as if anticipating another attack. Finally, his fingers brushed against the cold metal, providing a glimmer of hope. He turned towards his companion with a sense of urgency.

“If it doesn’t start, we will have to walk. We can’t stay here. There might be more of them around.”

He turned the key in the ignition, holding his breath. The engine roared to life, releasing some of the tension. As they braced themselves for whatever perils lay ahead, Stokes cast a glance at Will, his eyes still fearful.

“That’s one hell of an ending to my book,” Will exclaimed, bursting into hysterical laughter.

Stokes sped towards Puerto de Hambre, the place they almost didn’t get to visit, with a newfound feeling of purpose. A rush of relief surged over them as they approached the outskirts and saw the buildings and empty streets. The realization of their narrow escape filled them with gratitude. They drove around, aware that their unusual adventure would have an indelible effect on their future lives.


About the Author

Polish by birth, a citizen of the world by choice. First story short-listed for the Irish Independent/Hennessy Awards, Ireland, 1996. Her creative writing was interrupted as she moved to Latin America and started writing textbooks for Latin American Ministries of Education. Since she went back to writing fiction in 2020, 66 of her stories, flash fiction and non-fiction, have been accepted for publication. She has recently won 1st prize in the International Human Rights Arts Movement literary contest.



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