Contesting Attentions

A hard, gritty adventure story full of tough, competent, gritty characters, mostly male, who are engaged in some tough, dangerous expedition. Their leader, a man of undeniable experience, becomes increasingly terse and short with his team as the expedition proceeds, but not because the terrain has become more challenging than imagined, or through unforeseen assaults from unimagined foes, but because he keeps getting distracted by thoughts that have nothing to do with the rest of the story.

“Twenty metres to the right,” said Gnoll. “You see it? We won’t be able to take the ATVs through that ridge.”

Harshmann grunted. The second verse of the Flakey Bar advertisment, that he had seen when he was a child, wouldn’t come to him. It would need to end with a word that rhymed with luscious, and he wished to God that he’d packed a Thesaurus before he’d left Halifax Landing.

“We’re going to have to come up with something before nightfall.” said Gnoll. “We’ve got less than two hours.”

Harshmann nodded. He was having difficulty focussing on anything that Gnoll was saying. He shaded his eyes and gazed towards the gap in the ridge. Maybe he’d misremembered luscious. “Did you part your hair differently this morning?” he said.

Dak Harshmann’s inability to focus on the gritty, harsh realities of the expeditions must not be rationalised by some factor of local conditions or by a knowable personal flaw; it isn’t anything to do with the oxygen content of the territory or strange gravitational anomalies. Unusual phenomena may affect other members of the team, and flaws in their characters from predictable aspects of their past may lead the expedition into danger, but as far as Harshmann is concerned it’s simply that there is always something far more important for him to consider.

Raoul levelled his revolver at Harshmann. “Not even you are fast enough to reach your bootknife before I shoot you down. So don’t try it! I guess you probably knew all along that I’d killed Krueger back at the depot and swapped ID cards before you arrived. You didn’t say nothing but I could see that you knew something was wrong. It was just a matter of time, Dak, but now your time has run out!”

Harshmann’s face took on a sudden clarity. “She had a cilantro allergy! That was why she only picked at the food!”

“The hell?” said Raoul. It was all that he managed before Gnoll cracked his skull from behind with a monkey wrench.

Harshmann’s disconnection from his surroundings is a function of the shallowness of the world around him, but also that he is unwittingly a carrier of material that isn’t directly-related to the action at hand. If there is anything unusual about Harshmann’s plight, it is that he has found himself adrift in a trope that is impossible to take seriously, and that there is too little of him, other than a heroic-sounding name, to actively contest the masculine fictions that have somehow manifested around him.

His heroism lies in a form of right-attention to the manifold unrelated materials that drift through the space in the story that is named Dak Harshmann.