Abandon All Hope

by J.B. Polk

Abandon All Hope

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

Consider Will Alva’s case…He wouldn’t have embarked on his incredible journey if he had been born in a town with a common name, such as Madison or Greenville. His fate was set, however, when his parents chose to relocate to Ding Dong, Texas.

Although its population never exceeded 100, the town gained notoriety when Ripley’s Believe it or Not included it in one of its programs, attracting year-round tourist traffic from domestic and foreign visitors posing for photos with the town’s sign in the background. One could also buy goofy souvenirs like keychains, t-shirts, and postcards with Ding Dong emblazoned in gold lettering.

Growing up in a little town with an unusual name sparked Will’s interest in what lay beyond. But it additionally put him in somewhat unpleasant situations. Not only did he have to deal with the usual teen problems like zits and body odor, but he also accidentally spilled the beans about his birthplace when he went to college. His subsequent efforts to explain that the town’s name came from two bells painted on the awning of a country store owned by Zulis and Bert Bell were usually met with a chant of “Ding Dong, the Wicked Will is Dead!

When he finally graduated and became a photojournalist for National Geographic, he could put the ridicule behind him and focus on the future. Thanks to his job, he traveled to far-flung corners of the globe, capturing superb images and collecting stories about other cultures and civilizations.

Then, chance intervened again. One evening, Will joined his editor, Susan Hathaway, in El Rinconcito for tacos de pastor chased by tequila margaritas. Despite their age difference, he felt at ease with her, so he revealed his hometown’s absurd name to her against his better judgment and most likely due to too much booze. Much to his surprise, Susan’s eyes lit up instead of mocking him as she pressed him to tell her the whole story.

“Our past experiences can fuel our greatest achievements. It’s like they provide us with valuable lessons and insights that we can use to drive ourselves forward. Your unique upbringing and the challenges you faced played a big role in turning you into the talented photographer you are today,” she commented after he finished speaking.

“You know what? I’ve got an idea! Why don’t you write an article about your town? You could liven it up with lots of pictures of the sign and the residents,” she suggested excitedly.

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

Will thought Susan’s idea could make for a compelling story.

“It could work! And while I am at it, I might 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 and 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 barely keep their third margaritas 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 the old-time habit of writing in longhand. I know it helped my creative juices flow.”

She handed him a box with the Cross logo containing a beautifully crafted fountain pen with a glossy finish and a sterling silver nib.

“This pen has been by my side through all my crazy adventures. It’s like my best friend,” she continued, her eyes twinkling with nostalgia.

“I hope it inspires you to capture every moment of your journey with the same passion it once inspired me.”

Will accepted the pen with gratitude, knowing it would become a cherished reminder of their friendship.

That’s how it all began, and it was why he was in Santiago, Chile, 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 few kilometers from Desolation Island.

The three names sounded so gloomy that he decided to have a few stiff cocktails before boarding. As he sat at the bar, waiting for his Chilean interpreter and guide to join him, he couldn’t help but worry about what lay ahead. The prospect of exploring those remote regions filled him with both excitement and anxiety.

The project he started over a year ago had taken him to places with amusing rather than somber names. He never made it to Boring and instead visited Dull, its Scottish counterpart. Although it had only one street, it was full of charming cottages and picturesque vistas, providing a refreshing departure from the usual urban settings. As he explored the village, he was grateful for the unexpected detour that led him to this hidden gem, where residents shared stories about Dull’s traditions with him.

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

His next stop was Nlanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a Welsh community with Europe’s longest name 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 signboards and recorded the residents pronouncing this tongue-twisting wonder.

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

His last destination, the little-known harbor with rugged cliffs and pristine waters near the Magellan Straits, was supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful and would provide the perfect backdrop for his 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 introduced himself as Juan Stokes, followed by a firm handshake.

“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 to know the rugged-looking man would take him through uncharted territory and possibly help him discover the secrets of the Pacific Ocean’s icy waters. He gathered his belongings and followed Stokes to Gate 15, eager to begin the next stage of his journey.

Three hours later, the JetSmart Airbus 320 landed in Punta Arenas, the world’s southernmost city and the closest to Antarctica’s perpetual 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 because the roads are treacherous, and the weather can be unpredictable, but I guess it adds to the thrill,” Stokes said as he walked ahead of Will toward the parking lot.

The guide remained silent for the first hour and a half, his attention fixed on the dirt road. Will slipped in and out of a shallow slumber while the Jeep heated up, but before drifting off completely, he wondered if Stokes’ warnings about the dangerous roads were starting to make sense. He couldn’t shake off the nagging feeling that their expedition might be a bit more complicated than anticipated.

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

Stoke’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 leafless bushes bending under the force of the wind. He could see now 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 a project that began as a somewhat random idea and developed into something I believe has a lot of potential. I figured that since I had already visited about two dozen oddly named locations—such as 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 Stoked stopped the car abruptly.

“Well, that doesn’t sound good,” he remarked, pushing open the door and jumping out.

He stared under the hood, trying to figure out what was making the noise. A cloud of smoke billowed out of the engine as he inspected it.

“It looks like the engine overheated. 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,” the guide murmured before pulling out his phone, hoping to pick up a signal and call for assistance.

“Not even one bar,” he grumbled.

“We’d better get going and try to make it to town before dark. We’ll follow the road. It’s hardly a pleasant spot to stay until the morning,” he reflected, 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 do your homework well before the trip. What kind of a journalist are you? 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?” he 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 suddenly made sense. It was a place where hope came to die!

“Get your rucksack, 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 the guide’s tone spurred Will’s desire to reach Puerto de Hambre before nightfall. With each passing minute, the sun dipped lower in the sky, casting long shadows that seemed to warn of danger prowling nearby. He was reaching into the boot for his backpack when he was startled by a howl nearby.

“Get back into the car!” Stokes shouted.


Will hurried towards the Jeep’s passenger door and jumped in.

“What was it?” he asked breathlessly.

Stokes twisted the key in the ignition, but the engine coughed and failed to start.

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

Will’s heart pounded as he tried to decipher 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 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 seemed to close in on them as they waited for whatever was outside. Something or someone was rocking the Jeep, trapping him and Stokes inside like sardines in a can and desperately trying to get them out and devour them.

Will was not religious, but he now prayed to return to one of those towns with weird names, even if it were only Ding Dong in Texas.

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

“Do you think it was drawn out of a hat?” For God’s sake, it’s not simply some wacky name like your Bacon & Eggs! The locals claim that people and animals have vanished without a trace here. I’ve heard stories about enormous footsteps that could only belong to a gigantic creature. No actual sightings of the thing itself, just footsteps…” Something massive and hungry is waiting for us to get out!”

Will sat still, staring at Stokes. The current situation seemed to confirm his initial suspicion that the name Port of Hunger hid a sinister secret waiting to be revealed. And he’d rather not find out…

Stokes held the steering wheel tightly, trying to keep his cool as the Jeep rattled on. He pressed the gas pedal and twisted the key but got nothing apart from a grinding noise.

“Start, you bastard!”

An enormous arm furry reached into the vehicle when the back window exploded, snatching him by the collar. Stokes screamed as he was dragged out, the creature’s razor-sharp claws ripping his clothes.

Will watched in horror as the guide fought to remain in the car, screaming for help. Instinctively, he grabbed his legs and pulled as hard as he could. Despite their combined efforts, Stokes grew weaker and couldn’t break free. Terror consumed Will’s every thought as he desperately scoured the Jeep for a weapon, knowing that Stokes’s life hung in the balance. Then he recalled Susan Hathaway’s farewell gift that was supposed to allow his creative juices to flow… With one hand still clutching Stokes’ leg, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the pen, unscrewing the lid with his mouth to reveal the razor-sharp silver nib. Gripping it firmly, he lunged towards where he assumed the creature’s face might be, looking for a vulnerable spot in a last-ditch attempt to release Stokes. He thrust hard, once, twice, but the thing’s rough, scaly skin seemed impenetrable. He took aim and unleashed one final strike, putting everything into the attack.

The roar of pain echoed through the air as his weapon finally pierced the creature’s defenses, releasing Stokes from the scaly arm. The beast staggered back, clearly shaken by the impact, while a viscous slime trickled onto Will’s hand, followed by a sharp wail as the creature thrashed around, trying to pry out the pen lodged in its flesh.

And as suddenly as it had begun, the attack was over. Will sat panting heavily, his heart pounding. The silence hung around the vehicle as if the world held its breath, unsure of what had just happened.

“Stokes? Stokes?” Will called.

“You OK, Stokes?”

Stokes moved weakly, then sat up, his face ashen.

“I…I think so,” he croaked, then looked 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, anticipating another attack. Finally, his fingers brushed against the cold metal.

He turned towards Will with a sense of urgency.

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

He turned the key, holding his breath. The engine roared to life.

“That’s one hell of an ending to my book,” Will exclaimed, laughing hysterically.

Stokes sped towards Puerto de Hambre, a destination they almost didn’t see. As they approached the outskirts and saw the buildings and empty streets at this hour, it dawned on them how close they had come to death.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” Stokes whispered.

“Abandon all hope,” Will replied.

“I’ll never again complain about small inconveniences. And from now on, it’s only towns like Boring and Ding Dong for me!”

About the author

J.B. Polk is Polish by birth, currently living in Chile. Her first story was short-listed for the Hennessy Awards, Ireland, 1996. Since she went back to writing fiction in 2020, and more than 80 of J.B. Polk’s stories, flash fiction and non-fiction pieces have been accepted for publication. She has recently won the 1st prize in the International Human Rights Arts Movement literary contest for her story about Victor Jara, a Chilean folk songwriter.

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