Spirits in the stars...
Me and others
I am a spirit chaser. I follow the echoes of creatures and people long past, to find the secrets that they want to tell us. They dance on the ice and snow, beckoning to me, telling me to come closer. And I obey, because that is what I need to do. I wander on the ice without eating anything but snow, for days, until my family find me. I am always punished for my wanders, but that will never ever ever stop me. I’ll go on following the spirits as they dance up into the stars and beyond, streaks of coloured light in the sky. Enchanting me, calling me. No matter how many times I’m snow-blocked into my room or forced to look after my sisters or the animals (I can’t decide which is worse) or I have to miss my meals, the punishment will end eventually. My father will try to make me promise never to wander again. I will refuse. My little sisters,Tiilaqiia and Sialuk, will put on their sweetest faces and cry, pleading with me to stay with them. I will blatantly ignore them. My brother Iluq will threaten to break my arm if I ever leave the camp again. I will kick him and run away. And my mother will just stare at me, in the way only she can. I will meet her gaze and hold it, until she breaks away and goes back to cooking. That is what they will do, and how I will respond. Just like always. The smell of food cooking reminds me of what I’m supposed to be doing right now.I touch the crumbling snow beneath my feet. Yes. Perfect. This snow will let me walk on it, and hide my footprints from others as I go. I’m going to see Panuk, my one comfort in this icy wasteland. I raised him from his first days, when I found him on the ice. A tiny calf, with no mother or herd to care from him, only the wind and the wolves and the water, hungry to end him and feast on his bones. He looks up as I approach, mist streaming from his nostrils. I place my hand on his nose and keep it there, silently speaking to him. In our language, Panuk means ‘Island,’ and that’s what he is to me. An island of sanity in a frozen wasteland that is all we know.
“Yakone! Are you with that stupid creature again?! Come help with the dinner now! Or I swear I will personally feed you to the wolves!”
That’s my mother Ulva. Her name means ‘Wolf’ and it suits her down to the last detail. She’s fierce, highly aggressive, beautiful and she’ll defend us with her life if she has to. She almost did give her life once, apparently, when I had just reached my third winter. She was about to bring Tiilaquiia into the world, and Iluq was seven winters old. My father Tartok was hunting and Ulva turned away from us just for a minute to tend the fire, and looked back to see a massive white wolf staring at us, its blue eyes reflecting the fire as it stalked through the snow. She jumped in front of sleeping me and Iluq in his own little world, playing with a rock and a snowball. The wolf lunged and she hit it with a stick, but not before it bit her leg. Our father returned about an hour later, in time to treat her and save her from death, but the damage from the bite was done. It had crippled her and she would never again join her husband on a chase across the ice. She didn’t tell me. A spirit did, last year in my eleventh winter. I asked her why her leg was so thin and withered and she said,
“An accident, Yakone. Go feed Panuk.”
I did, and then I started crying because I knew that wasn’t true. No accident could do that. As my tears froze on my face I felt something touch my shoulder. It was a spirit, a woman, who said her name was Nigaq. She told me the story, and said that she was watching that day. She was the one who had made Ulva turn and see the wolf, or I wouldn’t have a brother. Then she rippled and vanished, and Panuk had nudged me for more food.
“Sorry, Mom! I’m coming!”
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