Autumn Bettinger October 2023 Highly Commended

Train to the Last Iceberg

by Autumn Bettinger

His tangled blond curls flutter in the breeze kicked up by train wheels. The zoo slides by, passing a giraffe licking metal poles and an elephant staring into the sun. She points towards the polar bear, a great white blotch on a barren scene. She taps her son’s shoulder, calls his name, but he keeps looking at the plants and people that chug by.

She watches the water fall from the bear’s fur in soft sheets, pattering old plastic jugs that litter the enclosure. Even in a zoo, where great murals depict the ice melting in the arctic, they give Polar Bears trash to play with.

The train heads towards a tunnel. Kids squeal, a few toddlers burst into tears. They can sense the dark. She watches the back of her son’s neck for goosebumps. At six he’s almost fearless. She imagines the last fight they had, the one where she grabbed him, told him to listen. JUST LISTEN.

She scared him. She scared herself. She tried to apologize. She took him to the zoo.

The tunnel pushes in slowly, the light fading in a blast of shrill giggles and gasps. She and her son stay quiet in the black. Nothing but sounds. No polar bears. No slamming doors. No throwing ice cubes against the side of the house to try and break her anger apart.

The light creeps back in as a familiar pressure nestles into her palm. A small hand buried in the wrinkles and veins that puddle above her knuckles. The train sucks its last cars from the dark as the polar bears fight over an old buoy and the giraffe’s black tongue licks, and licks, and licks. She squeezes his hand and thinks about rising oceans. She squeezes his hand and promises not to melt.

About the Author

Autumn Bettinger is a full-time mother of two living in Portland, Oregon. When not folding laundry or slinging snacks, she can be found writing in the wee hours of the morning before her kids wake up. Her work has been audio adapted for The No Sleep Podcast and has won the Silver Scribes Prize. Her stories can be found in The Journal of Compressed Literary Arts, On the Run, Numnum, and others.
All of Autumn’s published works can be found at

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