The wind is howling around us. Deacon moves so that I can get up.
I’m scratched and there’s some blood that I think is my own mostly on my leg.
My thigh. The Map.
The Map is gone. A ripped sliver of it remains, the rest of it shredded and blown away during the carnage.
I limp to the carriage and we search for our bags. Most of the luggage was ripped apart, but a bag or two remain intact. I pull out some more layers and huddling in the overturned coach, we pull together all the food we can find, eat a little bit, and dress my wound. Afterwards, with no other options, we set out in the direction of northeast, to walk until we die of hunger, cold, or stumble across a miracle somewhere in the howling chill.
We walk into the wind, atop the snow and ice, through the light of day, and then on and on into the darkness.
After a long, long time we put up a tent and sleep. When we awake it’s still dark.
We walk. We build the tent. We eat. We sleep. We awake into the Artic night, more and more exhausted each time.
I have no sense of direction. I follow the stars as best I can. Deacon guides. He is better then me. At times I lie upon the snow and stare up at the stars. I ignore the wind and reach out my ears, and sometimes, just for a moment, I can hear the faint, tinkling tones of the stars, calling the lost, the dreamers, the bittersweet romantics to a place far away; a shimmering world somewhere beyond. I smile then and cry.
And we walk. Daylight begins to peer at us over the eastern horizon and very nearly blinds us. We huddle in the tent until it goes away, leaving us once again in the comfort of perpetual night.
And slowly we walk.
I lay awake huddled in the tent, Deacon and I pressed together, my face buried in his fur. Blankets are wrapped and rewrapped around us, and the sound of the wind battering the fragile tent walls is unceasing.
I grasp my shins, which ache almost unbearably from the merciless walk through the snow. In clutching them, I press with my fingers beside the bone that lines the front of my leg. It hurts and I try to find a magic spot to press and kneed, to relieve the burden of pain they have wearily assumed.
There in the chilly darkness, as the tent shakes and rocks, I can feel the ghosts of my journey standing around me, the dark ghouls of my conscience who have trudged slowly across the snowy land in order to sit outside my tent with me here in the dark and remind me of all of my transgressions.
I have lied and manipulated and fled across my years. I have killed, both in passions and in cold necessity. I’ve sacrificed every lasting bond I might have forged in the ceaseless and vain pursuit of a lost child, to amend my first betrayal, my original sin. In the name of absolution and amendment of this first wrong I have committed legions of others.
I see the faces of lovers betrayed, friends abandoned, casual acquaintances coldly manipulated and sucked dry. They sit at the far circle around my tent. The dead sit much closer. The slain, the lives I’ve sliced and ended, ripped and broken in a barrage of slices and swings, severed chunks of meat and blood, the endless whispering rip of blade on flesh with which I have cut my pathetic path across the world. All in the name of mercy. So that I might give mercy to one long, lost child.
I have done few deeds of valor and goodness; I have one true friend, my furry companion truer than any Christ, whose love and loyalty far exceed any I myself am capable of, and whose companionship I can never, ever repay, and whose reward is now a cold, miserable doom.
One by one the ghouls slide noiselessly through my tent, parading themselves through my memory and anguish. I grimace. I clench my eyes and my eyes shut, but the ghosts remain until they’ve filled themselves to their satisfaction on my deep anguish and regret. One leaves so that another may enter. They come and go for hours and I bury my tear stained face in Deacon’s soft fur and in a lost, hoarse voice that makes no noise, beg for forgiveness over and over again.
And we walk.
We collapse and we wake and we walk.
Time is blown on the wind, and beneath the stars we are forever suspended in a cold, bitterly cold, unchanging moment of walking and sleeping and eating and walking. We stumble into each other. Often one collapses and the other builds the tent and drags them in. Sometimes we both collapse and lay sleeping in the snow. I dream of sailing in a boat of music amongst the stars.
Then I wake and walk. Then I dream.
I no longer differentiate between walking in the Icy Lands, and sailing in the night sky. I lose track of waking and dreaming. It is warm when I fall.
As I rose out of my long, deep, delirious sleep, smells cut through my sense before my eyes even opened. Fish oil, pungent and raw stained the air, and a dry musk wafted over it, the crackling of a musk incense softening the fish odor.
I opened my eyes and saw above me the soft, intelligent eyes of a walrus leaning over to see if I was awakened. He made a low, friendly, barumphing “yop”, and it looked to me like he smiled. He turned away and made some more deep noises, calling others over.
I was naked, lying in between piles of thick furs, inside of a large, domed yurt. Most of the walls were adorned with various furs and skins, many with intricate patterns crafted upon them. In some places the bare walls shown through, revealing an outer wall of ice which surrounded a latticework of whalebone that gave the yurt its structure.
The floor was covered in rugs, mostly from mammoth hide. Scattered about lay lamps, sea turtle shells filled with burning wicks in fish oil, casting a warm glow across the room.
Artwork hung from the walls, although instead of paint, they used different colored furs and skins, cut and patched together to depict intricate scenes of mostly underwater hunting dramas, and serene multi-colored seafloors.
I had never heard of either walruses with human blood, or perhaps hyper evolved pinnipeds, but these were them, living in the coldest climates, in close-knit tribes within villages of interconnected yurts. A great dome standing in the center of the village was for community affairs, and was surrounded by individual family yurts, all connected by a latticework of open doorways and short tunnels weaving their lives together. They were hunters and artisans who could swim and hunt far beneath the ice, and come up with ingenious uses for every scale and fin not eaten. On days of religious festivals, they would build immense, complex ice sculptures, often encircling the entire village. They could walk upright using their back flippers as sturdy boots, while their front flippers contained an intricate, delicate bone structure that allowed them to be used as long, dexterous fingers.
A number of walrus-people came shuffling in the room along with Deacon, who, always more durable then me, was already recovered and mobile. They brought me a bowl of thick, steamy, fish soup, which I ate slowly.
Finishing it, I smiled in thanks. They took the bowl away and one of them, wearing beads and necklaces, with swirling tattoos painted all over him, shuffled forward and began examining me. He turned my head one way, then another, pulled the blankets down to my waist, and patted the air over my stomach gently but rhythmically, as if he were drumming on an invisible drum. After about 30 seconds of this he stopped and pulled the spot upwards with an invisible string. A faint ball of light rose up out of me and hovered in the air a few inches above me. He continued doing this at my solar plexus, heart, throat, forehead, and tip of my head, until all of my chakras floated above me and I couldn’t tell whether I was in the bed or drifting upwards to the ceiling.
He gently fondled the six balls of light, making strange, fluid gestures around them, at times as if he was pulling on myriad threads of an invisible web. I felt very dreamy, surreal, as if I were fading, losing myself in the light and colors of the room around me. I saw him stand over me, pushing the spheres back down. He clapped his hands and
I woke up again, several hours later, feeling great. I hopped out of bed, dressed, and went to find Deacon.
As it turned out, we had been stumbled across by sheer accident as we lay dying in the snow by a hunting party returning to the village. Although they didn’t speak any language outside of their remote culture, they had run across the odd wayward wanderer a few times before. Perhaps once every 4 to 5 decades or so, some lost and desperate wanderer would stumble across them, usually delirious and close to death. A few generations ago, a man had stayed with them, living out his life within their village, but the language he had spoken wasn’t the common tongue I did, and much of it had been forgotten anyhow.
They were capable of sounding out the same syllables I was, albeit at a lower register in a muffled voice. Thus, I could teach them some words and vice versa, but their heavy, rumbling speech was very difficult for me to pick diction out of. I relied a lot on over exaggerating the rising and falling of my tones, which was the closest I could mimic them.
Friendly and curious, we spent the first several days working out methods of communication and storytelling. Deacon had made a lot of progress while I was asleep at working out a system of gesture based communication, so I followed his lead.
By now there was no sunlight whatsoever, and for a few hours each “day”, I would sit outside and stare into the vast, dark, empty tundra, looking at and listening to the stars, and wondering what to do. They didn’t seem to know of any old men living in the area, and I’d never survive wandering aimlessly about. We had almost died, it’s true, but now we had come so very, very close. He was out there, somewhere.
Finally I made the only decision I could. I told Deacon and he nodded. We discussed it. We slept cuddling together in the icy night, beneath the cobweb of sculpted ice that surrounded the village.
Every few days all the adults gathered in the center yurt for their own, particular town meetings. They made village wide decisions, and communed in some inexplicable group dynamic, lying in piles on top of one another.
I befriended one of the little walrus girls, and we taught each other different cat’s cradles and how to intone each other’s language.
As the adults lay in their community center, I taught the young girl a game.
We blew out all the lights in the room, so that only the moon shone down through the circular opening in the center of the ceiling.
We filled a bowl with water, set it so that the moon shone down into it, and she pricked her finger and let it drip a few drops into the bowl,
As Deacon and I watched her from beyond the two doorways, she looked into the bowl and recited the poem I had taught her. It was garbled and poorly executed, but unmistakable.
“Od Enry, Od Enry, come fough wa cwacks. Deh’s childen a’paying and pawents noh back.”