Under the Alaskan Ice

[mc]

((back in 2010, I was requested/challenged by robotunit8 in a thread entitled Two Things at the Garden of MC Forum to come up with a story that revolved around ‘Nome’ and ‘Inuits’. This story is the result of a long, laborious but ultimately fun process that stemmed from such a request, a supernatural, mind- control endeavour that mixes accurate elements of Inuit mythology and ways of life with my own hyper-active imagination. The erotic elements in it are very subdued, with just one or two references that can be perceived as such, but the emotional content is there and, though this may not be to the liking of many, I’m quite happy with how everything turned out. If you’re willing to go for the ride, who knows: may be you’ll end up feeling the same way, too.))


Stella Haynes looked through the glass dome that protected the semi-withered journal found recently in an ice cavity not very far from the outskirts of the city of Nome, and asked:

“Is it the real thing?!”

Phillip Lambert, a fifty-year old man who was not bald but liked to keep a clean, shaved head at all times, and the current director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, the only institution of the genre in the Alaskan city, nodded firmly with his head:

“The results of the tests we were able to conduct, have confirmed it. It is indeed your ancestor’s diary, Mrs. Haynes. Despite some damages, it is amazing how it survived this long!”

“I want it! I am willing to pay anything to take it with me back to Huddersfield!” she reached for the checkbook inside her purse whilst exclaiming: “Name your price, Mr. Lambert.”

“I am afraid things are not really that simple, Mrs. Haynes. I understand that is a significant part of your family history, but it is also a finding of extreme historical importance, as it tells the very detailed account of the first female Westerner explorer’s experiences with the Inupiat, the Inuit of Alaska. Our government is not willing to give up on it on any account, and we are ready to do what it takes to ensure that the original journal is kept here for future researches and as a priceless exhibit display.”

“That is not the answer I was looking to hear, Mr. Lambert! I have been fascinated with the stories about Mavis Haynes ever since my grandmother first told me about her; For many years, I have searched the world and all major public and private collections looking for materials related to her numerous expeditions, including the one where she and her companions vanished without a trace, and when I finally come to find the thing that can justify all of my life’s efforts, this is how I am treated?!”

“Believe me I understand your frustration, but surely you are capable of comprehending our position on this matter, as well It is not in our best interest to go into a legal fight that can drag for ages because all the money spent on it can be used to further our knowledge of a very important period in the life of this region. That is why we have prepared something for you today, to appease your mind and make sure you do not leave our beautiful city empty-handed.

Stella Haynes raised an eyebrow and blew a curl of dark red hair from her face.

“And what something might that be?”

Lambert made a gesture to an intern standing across the room they were in, and the young man disappeared into an office very quickly. He was also fast to return, bringing with him a leather-bound small volume that he gave the director without opening his mouth.

“An offer of peace, Mrs. Haynes.” the man continued. “Inside it, you will find all the contents of the original journal, something made possible by the latest scanning techniques that were able to record all the information without any noteworthy damage. I want you to have it, even if you decide to go the extra mile to secure possession of the finding.”

Stella Haynes took the book in her hands and smiled ever so gently. It was not the same thing, that is for sure, but still it was a source of information like no other she had had access to in over twenty years of inquiries. She was more excited with the prospect than she led to believe, and did the best she could to maintain the aura of opulence and self- control all the people she knew had come to expect.

“I will accept your offer for the time being, Mr. Lambert, though it is safe to say we will meet again to discuss the fate of the original in the future.” she said.

“Very well…. I will look forward to those discussions, then.” he lied subtly. “Will you be returning to your hotel now for a first examination of the journal’s contents?”

“That is exactly what I am going to do! Good day, Mr. Lambert.”

“Good day, Mrs. Haynes.”

They parted ways with this illusion of cordiality, yet perfectly aware of each other’s true feelings in the matter. A conflict was definitely brewing, though perhaps it never came to be….

* * *

Stella was staying at the Aurora Inn & Suites, a lodge built in 1999 by a regional Native Alaskan corporation. To say that it offered sumptuous accommodations of the kind she was really used to would clearly be an overstatement, but they were clean, well-built, and quite spacious, with her own executive suite being a proof of that. It served its purposes for her stay in the city, and that was all that really mattered in the end.

Upon reaching her quarters, she locked the door on the inside, took off her exceedingly warm jacket, and sat on the bed with the book on her lap. She was electric as her fingers touched the binding, her curiosity and thirst for knowledge reaching maximum levels. Mavis Haynes’ apparently last writings in life were waiting to be eagerly assimilated by one who got to live more than hundred and fifty years in the future. Stella took a deep breath, opened the journal, and began to read.

The first twenty pages or so, whilst somewhat interesting, were also the dullest of them all, focusing mainly on the preparations for the expedition and the various difficulties associated with it. It included some remarks about her husband Alan, and their five-year old daughter, Elizabeth, and how both of them had been disappointed by her desire to leave them to go on yet another adventure. Mavis also talked about her two travelling companions, Pierre Lefevre and Oscar Higgins, but the references to them were pretty scarce. Stella meant no disrespect to her ancestor, yet could not help but yawn a couple of times. It was getting dark outside and she was beginning to have trouble reading the delicate words so she turned on the lights, infusing the room with a warm, white glow and adjusted herself to continue her exploration. Soon, things started to get much more interesting and worthy of note.

 

* * *

She read:

(…)

It took us many days but me and the rest of my expedition finally managed to reach an Inuit settlement, and we will now try to establish friendly contact with the locals and learn as much as we can about them and their way of life. I have a feeling it will not be an easy task, seeing they are a people that fear a lot of things, and it is only natural they get suspicious of a group of strangers such as ourselves. It’s the challenge that drives me though, and I will not give up until I learn all that I want to learn, unless of course, the foul weather does not allow it.

(…)

Our camp has been looked upon with eager interest, today. The Inuits are keeping a safe distance, examining everyone of our movements with sharp eyes, no doubt trying to ascertain if we pose a threat to them or not. We have been careful enough to not make sudden gestures, or exhibit any of our particular tools in ways that could be misconstrued as a preparation for an attack of sorts. It is impossible to predict what is going on in their minds at the moment, but I am hopeful that we are going to find out soon enough. I am also hopeful that such discovery will be a rewarding one.

(…)

The temperature dropped considerably last night, and it is still very cold as I write this. Despite our combined finest efforts, it is been very hard to retain the little heat that keeps us alive and motivated for our primary enterprise. I thought we came well prepared, but now I am having second thoughts. The Inuits continue to observe us, and I am pretty sure that the distance between the appointed scouts and the place where we set our base of operations is diminishing. Let us see what tomorrow brings.

(…)

A young hunter came very close to the perimeter, less than twenty minutes ago. It was really amazing watching him do that! The sight of him, so proud and resolute, is something I am sure to commit to memory and have it stay there for a long, long time, but, most important of all, I will remember what he brought with him and left as a gift: three warm coats and trousers made of caribou fur, like the ones he and his tribe use. They must have seen the weather was giving us a hard time and decided to make the first friendly gesture since we arrived, two weeks ago. I have no words to explain the feeling I am experiencing right now, so I will not even try, but it is nothing short of wonderful.

(…)

* * *

Confronted with these lines, Stella found herself suddenly sighing, no doubt also moved by the strange account. Her curiosity was even more stirred, but she was feeling kind of hungry and took a break to grab something to eat.

As she got up of the bed, she caught a glimpse of a faint glimmer by the main bedroom window, and could almost visualize the young Inuit Mavis had seen, holding an atlatl, or spear-thrower, in his left hand, and the offering clothes in the other. The ghost-like impression was as ephemeral as expected, lasting no more than a fraction of a second, yet leaving quite an impression on her.

Instead of going out as she had initially decided, she ended up using the commodity of room service. Stella did not want to lose her ancestor’s journal out of her sight until she had read every page of it.

The meal was good, and warmed both her stomach and her soul, preparing her for the journey ahead. Some surprises were definitely in store.

 

* * *

(…)

As a sign of good faith, and to thank the Inuits for their generous present, we gave them some of our supplies in return, today. After some careful examination, the same hunter who had been close to our camp before, collected them and took them away. I want to believe I saw half a smile from him in his hardened face, but it is not just the heat that makes you see things; there are also mirages of snow and ice and it is possible I only saw what my mind wanted to see. Still, it was a very important achievement, another proof of trust. I hope to be allowed inside their current settlement, soon.

(…)

It happened! I was invited with a firm gesture to walk the distance that separated us, and I could not be more exhilarated at the time. Nonetheless, the truth is I also felt a bit bad with it all, because I was the only to receive such an honour. Pierre and Oscar were not included in the deal, for reasons unknown. I speculate that the Inuit somehow realized I am the leader of the expedition, and this is the beginning of a diplomatic exchange. Anyway, I am leaving with the hunter in just a couple of minutes. I will continue this record when I have the chance.

(…)

It was truly an otherworldly experience, and I am still brimming with enthusiasm as I register these lines. Men, women and children gathered to see me arrive and I was immediately taken to the presence of an elderly woman, whose icy wrinkles revealed the wisdom of ages long forgotten. She spoke to me with such strength and candour that immediately captured my attention, and the strangest thing is that, even though I didn’t understand the phonetic sounds coming out of her mouth, my brain was capable of translating everything to my own language in less than a heartbeat. It was as if a part of her had slipped into my mind, and was now dancing inside my thoughts. When I told Pierre and Oscar about this, they shrugged their shoulders in utter disbelief, but I swear in the name of everything that is Holy, that it indeed happened the way I just described. If it had not, how else could have I learned all the things I did in such a short amount of time?

First, I came to know that the woman was that particular community’s angakkuq, not exactly their leader, but somewhat of a shaman, a healer, someone who tends to other’s wounds and offers helpful advice, someone with the power to invoke the spirits to help people in their lives, or fight them if needed. The Inuit believe that all living creatures possess a form of spirit or soul, to which they give the name of anirnitt, the plural of anirniq. These spirits are able to live on after death, and once they are released from the body to which they were linked, they can act in a benevolent or malevolent fashion, depending on the situation that caused their psychic connection to cease.

I also heard about the tuurngait, which are a different kind of spirits altogether, by nature unconnected to physical bodies. Some are helping and good, and can be called upon in times of need. Others, on the contrary, are evil and monstrous beings, responsible for bad hunts and broken tools, and some even have the power to possess humans for a while. If a Catholic Priest was here with me, he would no doubt use the word ‘demons’ to refer to such fantastic entities, but there is more to the concept than that simple translation, I am sure.

The angakkuq confessed she had called out for me, because a tuurngaqhad spoken to her in a vivid dream, telling her the good nature of my intentions and how I wished to be taught the ways of their society, their rituals and their taboos. She was right, although a part of me doubted the true mystical origins of the revelation at the time, even with all the information being absorbed by my brain by means of invisible psychic strings.

After almost an hour, the woman dismissed me quite harshly, something that surprised me even further. Did she sense my doubts? Nonetheless, I am to return the next day to learn some more, and that is something I dare not dream of not doing.

(…)

* * *

Stella sighed once more, louder this time, and repeated the weird-sounding designations she had just read like they were part of a powerful mantra, the first gate on a majestic road to the unknown. She saw no human apparitions this time around, but heard a billowing wind like a prelude to an ice storm of fierce intensity. The echoing din played with the drapes and the bed sheets below her, and sinuous lines wiggled and cracked.

She jumped out of bed as strange icy maps were sketched and receded into nothingness shortly after. Her heart raced like a train out of control, about ready to crash into the station and claim as many lives as possible, but she did not scream. Instead, her feet remained glued to the carpet, her eyes slightly defocusing as a result of being transfixed by what was happening. And then, she blinked, and was free from the stupor again.

“Your brain is trying to tell you to get some rest, Stella. You better listen to it.” she rationalized the whole thing.

Heading into the private bathroom, she agreed to the resolution of getting a good night’s sleep, and made all the necessary arrangements for it to happen. She took a warm shower, cleaned herself and dried her hair, looked at her mid-forties face in the mirror for a couple of minutes, and tucked herself in, the copy of the diary firmly placed atop the nightstand to her right.

It did not take her long to drift into the dimension of dreams, where a combination of rhythmic drums and exotic chants were a constant that couldn’t be avoided, let alone resisted.

 

* * *

(…)

As agreed, I went back to the Inuit settlement to learn more about their ways. Today, the angakkuq whose name I came to know as Kirima, was astonishingly welcome once again. I was given insight into many things by means of her strange telepathic way of communication and enigmatic drawings made on a section of flurry snow. I can not possibly put down in words all that’s now imprinted on my mind, but some things need to be registered.

Inuit mythology encompasses many forms of deities so to speak, but these are the most important ones: The Old Woman, Sedna, is the mistress of sea and marine animals such as the seals and, accordingly, lives beneath the sea. She is also the ruler of Adlivun, the Inuit Underworld. Her companion, usually depicted as ‘a large woman of very heavy limbs’ is known as Qailertetang, the weather spirit, guardian of animals and matron of fishers and hunters. The master of polar bears is called Nanook; he decides if hunters follow all ritualistic taboos regarding the hunt, and if they’re deemed worthy of being successful in their enterprises. There is also a master of caribou that goes by the name of Tekkeitsertok who is also the protector of any creatures that enter any parts of the northern sky. And then, there is Silap Inua, or Silla, the formless deity of the sky, the primary component of everything that exists, the ‘breath’ of life, if you like that expression.

In return, I told her about my own beliefs, and the development of Christianity throughout the ages. She seemed genuinely impressed by some of its implications, but I believe I was more taken by her teachings. The more I think about the names of the Inuit pantheon and what they represent, the more I feel that my initial impressions and doubts were completely inappropriate. Kirima has an uncanny influence over me, I… I can not explain exactly what it is. Truth be told, I do not know if I want to find the answer, either.

(…)

Pierre and Oscar are clearly mad at me, although they do not admit it loud. It has been four days since I was allowed free access to the Inuit camp, but they continue to be left out. I tried talking to Kirima about it because it is obvious she understands the flow of my thoughts in the same way I grasp hers, but it did not work at all. All I got in return was a cryptic response that their presence would ‘upset the balance’ whatever that means. I fear that if things do not change soon, they will consider going back the way we came and leave me all alone as some kind of retribution. I do not want that to happen, so I will keep insisting whenever I can so they can be given the same opportunities that I am having.

(…)

A group of hunters returned today from a very successful expedition, bringing along two dead seals with them. I watched in fascination how the animals were handed over to the women who immediately went on to use their uluit, crescent-shaped general- purpose cutting tools for preparing skins, skinning, butchering, eating and even sewing. These are very highly valued and highly personal in their society, often made specifically to fit the user’s hands. When the owner of one such tool dies, it is given to a family member or a close friend and used with pride, because in it, the knowledge is passed from one person to another. I started wondering what would it be like to have one of my own, but I don’t think that is not going to happen anytime soon.

(…)

I am in awe as I write this, for tonight I got to see a mesmerizing spectacle up close! A majestic green-tinted aurora borealis swept the sky, its phantasmagorical radiance giving a whole new meaning to the world I thought I knew. The northern lights have a somewhat controversial nature around here: I have come to understand that for some, they carry along the anirnitt of the deceased and, if you look closely, you can see your family and friends dancing in the next life. Others believe them to be sinister things, and stories are told that if you whistle at them, they might come down in an angry rampage to cut off your head. I saw a natural beauty like no other and drifted away someplace else for a while. Kirima told me I was in a trance-like state similar to some of hers for several minutes straight. It is probably true, though I do not remember it. I am getting tired so this is my last line for now.

(…)

* * *

Stella woke up suddenly, only to realize she had slept less than an hour. She felt exhausted, as if she had been living on the edge of Life itself instead of resting. The world to which she had just returned to had also suffered some slight modifications once more.

The first thing she noticed was that the copy of the journal was next to her pillow, and not on its original place atop the nightstand. It was also open wide instead of closed. The pages that were being shown were ones she was sure not to have read yet, despite the fact she knew its contents by heart, seeing she had just dreamt about them!

If that was not bizarre enough, then what was the meaning of the open bedroom window, combined with the dancing auroras in the sky? Not one, but several that intersected one another, not just green, but also red, blue, pink and yellow, this wide chromatic spectrum phasing in and out in a supernatural ballet that enticed her whilst making her shiver at the same time. Were those impressions of disembodied faces, some smiling in recognition and others glowering as if she was nothing more than a living target for their capricious preternatural whims?

She was absolutely certain that the multi-hued phenomenon before her eyes was impossible seeing that the various types of luminescence are only possible at different altitudes. Scientifically speaking, auroras are the consequence of emissions of photons in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, as well as ionized nitrogen atoms regaining an electron, and oxygen and nitrogen atoms retuning from an excited state to ground state. However, in that particular moment of Time, they were like passages to other dimensions of reality. If those faces had a voice, she was sure they would all be whispering just one word:

Stella…

She got up to close the window, stopping midway as the lights outside intensified and bathed the entire room with their iridescent splendour. Just like Mavis many years before, her mind froze for a while, pupils becoming larger, heart rate considerably slowing down. She drooled ever so slightly as the always changing glows appeared to examine her in the most thorough way possible. Jumbled signals clashed into each other inside her brain and, from the resulting chaos, syllabic atoms were formed, which then combined into a higher grammar unit in the form of a commanding sentence:

Keep reading!

That is exactly what she did.

 

* * *

(…)

Kirima finally listened to my appeals! I convinced her that my expedition colleagues were people that should be trusted for their only goal was to learn, just like me. I admitted they could be quite narrow-minded at times, but that should be considered a challenge. I even went so far to say that the tuurngaq that had spoken to her would most certainly be proud of their ways and of what they could add to our cultural interchanges. After conferring with the strongest hunter, I was told I could bring them with me the following morning.

Upon hearing the news, Oscar and Pierre weren’t as happy as I thought they would be. “It is about damn time!” said both of them in unison and giving me the coldest of looks. They really are convinced that this is all my doing, that the Inuit have been misled by me ever since the beginning of my visits to their camp. Trying to reason with them was a redundant failure, but tomorrow we’ll do our best to give off the impression that everything is fine in our midst.

I know it is not, however, and so do they, even though all these misunderstandings and veiled accusations are tremendously unfair. I did not like their antagonistic complicity towards me as they went to get some sleep. Have I done something wrong sticking up to them the way I did? It seems obvious now they would not have done the same for me, if they were in my shoes. I know that the cold can change people’s hearts, but why is it that there is so much warmth near the Inuit and so much contempt, here?

(…)

They can hear her, but not understand her like I do, or rather like I claimto do, they said today after meeting Kirima. Nothing. Not a word. It is all meaningless gibberish. At the same time, she positively loathed their body language, their rude vowels and sharp consonants, the language of those that will never be ready to comprehend the Inuit way of life. She dismissed them rapidly, but allowed them to stay within the perimeter of the camp, and did this only out of respect for me, I am sure. This is not a good start. I am more and more repented of all my diligences on their behalf.

(…)

Perhaps, I was a bit hasty in what I wrote yesterday, seeing things took a turn for the better, and the tense atmosphere seems to have dissipated. Oscar and Pierre decided to make good use of some of their personal interests in order to establish meaningful relationships with the Inuit. I ended up helping as well, because it seems I am starting to understand what everyone is saying at all times, and not just Kirima’s mental projections. I still can not explain why this is happening, but if I am to believe what I have been told, then I have to thank the tuurngaq that wants me around, and I do that a lot.

Oscar is quite a skilled hunter and as such, weapons of any kind fascinate him to no end. It was quite pleasing to me to see him go to so many efforts to understand how exactly the Inuit build their weapons, like the kiipooyaq, the atlatl and the kakivak. He even held some of them and is keen on demonstrating he has what it takes to wield them successfully.

Pierre, on the other hand, looked up to his wide interest in ornamental goods, and tried to come to terms with the main techniques used in Inuit carvings, usually made out of bone and ivory. A young woman, nearing her twenties, whose name I forgot to ask, made quite an impression on him, due to her very skilful hands, capable of capturing the essence of the world all around us, almost effortlessly. He spent all day watching her give life to the raw materials and seeing this is a laborious process, I am certain that his interest is not going to be a fleeting one.

All in all, it was a really good day for all of us, the first time when I felt a sense of harmony between the three of us and the rest of the tribe. If it is not too much to ask, may this feeling continue to grow.

(…)

Another good day is coming to an end, and the sense of community is growing between us all. Everything just felt so right most of the time that I do not know how to write it down without being incredibly redundant. Instead of dwelling on those matters, I think I will just state the only thing I did not like, the one event that tarnished an otherwise perfect set of memories.

Today, I tasted seal meat for the first time and it was… greasy and it almost made me puke. Fortunately, I was able to restrain myself for making a scene would have had a devastating effect. I pretended to eat and enjoy, but the problem is now I am feeling quite hungry. It is time to hit the old rations again.

(…)

It was a very sad and emotional day, today, for an Inuk (that’s the singular of the common designation Inuit) was found dead in the morning. He was already old and it seems that natural causes are the only ones to blame for what came to be. We had to watch their grief and their burial rituals to deal with it. Although fascinating, they still made me feel bad and yes, I admit I cried. He left behind a wife, a young boy and an older daughter.

They do not have special tomb sites, much less cemeteries like we do. Before burial, the women of the camp washed his body, and adjusted his hair. Afterwards, they wrapped it in a large blanket of caribou hide and laid it down, face up, near an inuksuk he had helped erect. This is a stone landmark or cairn that serves the purpose of navigation or of marker for hunting grounds. The stone protection will make it harder for animals to feast on the body, though it is not a guarantee of success. Kirima told me that, sometimes, scattered human bones pop up here and there, testifying to the work of the carnivores that live in this region.

Oscar demonstrated great sympathy towards the family of the deceased, especially the daughter who seemed to be the one that more fragile with what had occurred, and even offered some prayers. I was surprised, but did the same and the union of our customs made everything seem a little less heartbreaking. Regardless, I am still sad and my frozen tears are preventing me from wanting to write more.

(…)

It seems bad things are not isolated events here, as well. This morning, the camp woke up in a frantic state, after the primary food cache was found looted by two bears, a mother and its cub. They are long gone now, but the damages left behind were severe. In fact, they were so bad that there is an undeniable need for a new hunting expedition even though it feels like the last one only happened yesterday, or so. Weapons are being prepared right now, and a group of capable men carefully selected. The provisions must be replenished before the weather takes another turn for the worse and the whole tribe is left almost blocked and facing the risk of starvation. Oscar wants to go along, though I am not sure if they will allow it, yet. After all, they do not want him to use the two rifles he brought along, and he only has little more than a week of practice when it comes the wielding of their weapons. Experience does weigh a lot in these matters of survival in an adverse region….

Pierre continues to learn the ways of the carving, and is relentless in the pursuit for additional information. I used some of my recent expanded communication skills to help him with that, and he seems to like his teacher – whose name now I know is Anana – very much. How much exactly is something I will have to wait and see, but he seems happy. Despite the not so famous recent events around here as of late, I can certainly be happy for him, too.

(…)

A group of ten hunters left today for an expedition that is to last up to seven days or more, seeing they have to cover a lot of ground and bring in as much food as possible. Oscar did manage to get included in it, and I was pleased about it for a couple of hours, but not anymore. Not after what has happened, something so dreadful that I am more enraged than I ever felt in my life.

The widow’s daughter came to Kirima’s igloo after the prescribed rituals for a well- successful hunt, her face contorted in a mask of pain and tears, part of her clothes stained with blood, though she had kept them hidden from everyone else’s view until she was face to face with someone she could trust. I was just leaving to gather some things at our own camp site when this happened, and this was a good thing for things got ugly.

There is no easy way to write this, so I guess I have to be blunt. Oscar raped her! He forced himself on her before setting out on the hunt. Why he did that is beyond me, and I can only suspect he was counting on the young girl’s mourning period to secure her silence and complicity with the whole nefarious act. Well, if that was the case, then his schemes failed miserably. Kirima had to announce it to the whole tribe discretely, but chose to tell me what happened first, to honour the trusting relationship we had come to build. Her hands had specks of the girl’s blood in them and a single touch was enough to convince me of his guilt. It was not a true mystic vision what I experienced, more like a series of still flashes that popped in my mind, but all of them were excruciating in their own way.

It is too late to warn the hunters of what has transpired but, when they return, justice will have to be served. It will not be pleasant, of that I am sure!

(…)

Suspicions are starting to abound. Some members of the tribe now look at me the wrong way. I may have gotten close to them, somehow, but the truth is, I am still an outsider. Pierre has also been having a hard time. At least, Anana seems to trust him. She was in our camp with her tools just now, in a diligent effort to show us the peculiarities of the ancient art. It was a nice gesture, and yet all I could think of were storm clouds brewing above our heads.

Ah, what I would not give for a little peace, right now! Try as I may, I can not shake the feeling that the expedition is ruined and that things can only go downhill from here!

(…)

But what madness is this?!! What exactly is going on? Four bone carvings and three ivory ones, all of them Anana’s work, have disappeared, today! Naturally, all of the tribe’s eyes fell upon Pierre. Even though he promptly claimed he had nothing to do with it, I could not really be sure! I know him for over ten years, and we have travelled to many regions of the globe together, already. If we were anywhere else, I would refuse to even consider the idea of him being a petty thief, but here things seem to have their own set of rules, and impossibilities become possible right before our eyes. I am still in shock at the fact that Oscar raped a young girl. If Pierre is lying to my face, I do not know what I will do!

Anyway, searches have been conducted and some of my things checked over as well. Nothing was found anywhere for the time being. Kirima was powerless to stop the most irascible young males and even some of the women of threatening us with all sorts of nasty words imaginable, some of which I had no idea they were part of their vocabulary. Some physical pressure was also suggested, but did not come to pass for now. I am extremely frustrated for being treated like a criminal, miserable beyond measure to see my dreams of white becoming dark and gloomy with each passing second. The hunters are to come back, soon, and I already know Oscar will be punished accordingly for what he did. However, in face of what transpired today, I have no choice but to ask myself: will the snow and ice be tainted with Pierre’s blood, as well? What about me?

So sad… so lonely…

(…)

* * *

Back in the present day, Stella was crying copiously. The exacerbated emotional reaction made as much sense as everything else she had lived until that precise moment: it was a by-product of a fantastic tale breaking the boundaries of Time, the fusion of memories from two distinct generations, united by the desire to know more and more, to live more and more. The hidden realities in the copy of the journal fed on her own dreams and delusions, on the fact that she was of the same family, part of the Inuit equation even if an unwilling one.

Nonetheless, they were not as strong as they could have been. A copy, no matter how perfect, does not elicit the same kind of response as the original thing, and that one was tightly secure inside the vaults of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum. Perhaps, that had been a good thing, after all. Just imagine: what power would have been unleashed if she had started reading from there instead of that 21st century digitalized version? That was something she would never know the answer to, something far beyond the necessities of the moment.

Completely spellbound, Stella continued to read.

 

* * *

(…)

Pierre is dead! The ice claimed him and he drowned. Everything happened so fast that I… I…

Where should I begin? I guess there is only one possible answer. It began with a dream. I dreamt that there were more things near the inuksukthan just the body of an old hunter, that it was the perfect place to hide stolen goods. When I got the chance, I immediately asked Pierre about it, and this is pretty much what happened:

“I don’t know what you are talking about!” he exclaimed, disdainfully.

“Are you sure about that? If I go there right now and dig next to the body, I will not find their art?”

“You are delusional, Mavis! What exactly have these people done to you, anyway? That witch, Kirima… has she been poisoning your mind against me, now?”

“She is not a witch, Pierre, so I advise you to be very careful with the next words you choose. Answer my question, and make things easier for both of us! Did you hide the carvings by the inuksuk?”

“No, I did not!” he shouted in return, and as I am sure he already expected, I did not believe his outrage to be real.

“Then, I am sure you do not have a problem with me checking it out anyway, even if I am just wasting my time!”

“Suit yourself!” he spat, my long time travelling companion suddenly transformed into an unknown nemesis. I wanted to believe he was out of his mind, that he had been possessed or something, but that was not really the case. His actions were just a way to show how much he resented my special privileges within the tribe.

I dashed for the inuksuk, and he eventually followed me. He just smirked when I dug up the small ornaments he had tried to take for himself, breaking my trust, Anana’s and the one of the whole tribe.

“I did nothing wrong, you know? It is not like they need those trinkets for anything around here!”

“I can not believe you are serious! You are clearly not the man I thought I knew. You and Oscar were the ones that changed, not me!”

“Keep telling yourself that!” he growled and spat once more.

That is when it happened. The icy surface he was standing on cracked unexpectedly, and I watched in horror his body being dragged under. I ran to him, but I tripped on something invisible and, for some strange reason, found myself unable to stand up. He screamed, flapped his arms desperately trying to hold on to something, but it was a futile struggle. The water was too cold, and the hole he had fallen into was already crystallizing. His mouth opened wide as if cursing me and the Inuit in general and then his eyes froze, staring into the cold sky. Pierre became a grotesque part of the frigid landscape for a few seconds, and then disappeared into the depths, into the realm of Sedna.

When I was finally able to get up, I was being surrounded by a group of young women who had seen what happened but, like me, were powerless to do anything to save him. I was taken back to the camp, in utter shock. I still see dark clouds all around. This is not over, yet.

(…)

Why am I always right as of late?!!! Am I really no longer the same person I was used to be? The hunters returned less than an hour ago, but of the ten that left, only nine returned. Just like Pierre, Oscar is gone….

“Bear attack.” that is what I heard. He was relentlessly targeted by a large male that came out from behind the main hunter’s line and literally shredded to pieces. He probably did not even have time to choke in his own blood such was the ferocity of the attack. The Inuit brought his remains alongside with the ones of the bear and two more seals. When I touched the fur blanket he had been wrapped in, I had yet another series of flashes.

If I am to believe what I saw, then what Oscar did here was nothing more than the perpetuation of a cycle. He had engaged in defiling activities of the sort at least in five other expeditions in the last decade. I guess I never really knew him.

My world is literally torn asunder, now. Everything changed, and changed so fast that I do not know how I am supposed to come to terms with it all. If there is a meaning, I am not seeing it. All previous certainties have become frail and I feel like I am going to shatter like glass at any moment.

There is an angry wind outside, a raging snowstorm in the making. I am looking at the food next to me and seeing something rotten, disgusting. I need to stop. I need to clear my head, somehow.

(…)

I don’t feel that well, today. Stomach aches and… it almost seems like I am being eaten alive from inside! Make it stop, oh….

(…)

The pain is unbearable… temperature rising… I…

(…)

* * *

Stella was burning up in fever, and she barely had strengths to hold the copy of the journal in her hands. Nonetheless, she knew she had to keep on persevering. The lights that still played inside the bedroom, and turned her mind into mush,demanded it so! Once started, the story being told could not be stopped, even if she tried….

 

* * *

(…)

A week has gone by ever since my strengths abandoned me, and my body started fighting me with murderous intents. Kirima has barely left my side during the whole ordeal, and I have no doubt in my mind that if I am feeling somewhat better in order to write this down, it is because of her cares. I have some vague recollections of her chants and the horrible tasting drinks she forced down my throat to fend off the progress of the sudden disease. I also remember hearing her standing up for me in front of the hunters who wanted me gone as soon as possible, before more ill-fated occurrences came to pass. At the time, I could not say anything in my defence, but now that I am capable of articulating coherent thoughts again, I had no trouble asking her everything I wanted to know. I did not like what she had to say.

“It seems obvious that the tuurngaq is angry, it no longer seems to stand your presence because of all the things your friends have done to our tribe! Vengeance has already been served in regards to them, but I fear that now he wants you, too! I know that none of what happened is your fault, even though you did insist we could trust them the same way we trusted you, but you have to understand that it lives by a different code altogether, due to its uncanny nature. Primeval, raw feelings are part of it, and when it is angry, one needs to exercise extreme caution in order to stay alive.”

“So that is why everybody wants me out… I suppose I can not blame them. When I am fully recovered, I will leave you for good!” I responded, even though it broke my heart to say those words.

“I do not think that is wise. Unprotected, you will die. There is another possible course of action, but I would be lying if I told you it is not a dangerous one.”

“Tell me more.”

“This tuurngaq, like others of its kind, understands the importance of atonement and sacrifice when it comes to the balance of the world. The taboos that have been broken by the actions of your companions can not be mended, but new pacts can be forged. It knows much more than what I can possibly teach you about our ways. If you go to it, and humbly ask for guidance and wisdom, you may gain its favour once more, and be allowed to carry on your life. However, you may also be signing your own death sentence in the process.”

It certainly was not a pleasant thought. It was one thing to have heard the stories about the supernatural entities that permeated the Inuit world, and another to set out on a trip to actually confront one of them in the hope of not suffering the same fate as Oscar and Pierre. Kirima was adamant when she said that it was something I had to do alone, and that no means of defence were allowed whatsoever, as those would be considered disrespectful, and would lead to my demise before I could reach my destination. Even though it did not seem that way, the tuurngaq was still being nice towards me, by hitting me with treatable sicknesses instead of a prompt death. If I did not keep that in mind, then I was already doomed.

I need some time on my own, to reach a decision. I told her just that, and now I am alone inside her igloo, as she waits for other signs from the mystic realm. I am not going to lie, and write that I am not scared, but I can not let fear control me, either. I will sleep on the matter, now, and regain even more strength. Tomorrow, I will announce my decision in front of the whole tribe.

(…)

It is probably madness, but I am going to do exactly what she suggested. I am going to look for the tuurngaq! I am going to face this strange spirit, imbued by the most honest of repentances. It is said to live on a cave underneath a vast layer of ice to the north of where we are at the moment, a place that can only be found by those that have been specifically summoned there, or have been tainted by some of its power, recently. Such is my case and so, if I do things the way they are supposed to be done, Kirima believes I should not have any problems finding the only opening into its preferred underground chamber. She does not know what I am to find there, but believes I will be able to pull through. Her trust is very important to me.

I spent most of the day preparing myself physically and mentally for the perilous journey across the vast plains of white, one that can last five days or even more, depending on the weather conditions. I will take nothing with me except my warm clothes and boots. Supplies are also forbidden, for hunger and thirst will serve as a testament of my true commitment to this enterprise. This journal will also be left behind, so if I do not return, this is certainly going to be my final entry.

I am not going to waste time with big words or anything. Instead, I will only say that whatever comes to pass, I have no regrets. The Inuit are a wonderful people, and it is my heart’s desire that they thrive like they deserve to. Alan, Elizabeth, I wish you were both here to see them and know their ways. I hope, someday, you get to do just that…. It is time to put this away, now.

* * *

“No, it can not be over!!!” Stella shouted, her eyes darting nervously as she looked at the last page, and felt a void like no other. She was also having a hard time breathing, lost in the delusion that nothing else mattered except getting to know all the things the journal had no record of. Mavis had disappeared in the course of that expedition, but why? Had she perished on her journey to the strange cave? Had she encountered the tuurngaq and suffered the consequences of her boldness? What did it all mean? She needed answers!

As she laid down the book, the fantastic lights began to recede, allowing her to regain some of the control she had momentarily lost over her thoughts and emotions. However, the same disembodied voice she had heard before, returned with more intensity than ever, announcing a challenge within an incomplete sentence:

If you really want to know…

“I have to go search for that cave!” she found herself saying out loud.

Exactly! concluded the tantalizing entity, the echo of this single word reverberating within her temples. One by one, the luminescent points cleared the atmosphere of the room and, up in the sky, the auroras no one could see except her, fused together in a single shining beacon that pointed the way beyond the city of Nome, straight into the ice fields north of the hotel.

It was madness to conceive setting out on such a journey late at night, and without any kind of assurance, yet Mavis had done so and, upon reading her words, Stella identified with her in many ways. Reasons outside the implications of pure rationality had a life of their own, and a way of presenting arguments that escaped the commonalities of logic. Though Stella was more attuned with herself at that moment, she was not the same person entirely, but rather a sort of doppelgänger, born out of the desire of fully explaining what should be left alone. She left the room in a heartbeat to chase the celestial flare, wherever it was meant to take her.

Though she ambled until she reached the outskirts of the city, when her feet touched a fresh layer of snow she gained momentum, completely oblivious of the strain exerted on her muscles to keep up such a lightning pace. Faster and faster she walked, leaving behind subtle impressions of footprints that were not to last long. In fact, only a few minutes after being created, a small wintery breeze was all it took to wipe them out of existence. Stella was trailing down a path specifically designed for her, and the forces in charge had no interest in leaving any traces of it for uninvited eyes to follow.

As she continued pushing forward across the whiteness, she would look at the sky frequently, realizing with each look that the alignment of the stars was clearly changing. Behind her, Nome was becoming more and more a fleeting illusion, its houses and artificial lights threatening to disappear like the fire of candles caught in a sudden gust of wind. It was as if she was not only distancing herself spatially, but also temporally , going back into the period where her predecessor had lived her courageous life. She did not know how far she would have to go, yet dwelling on the subject was always a short-lived experience, as expected of all things that are, ultimately, devoid of meaning.

The sun rose and set again, but she did not stop a single time, not even to catch her breath. Deeper and deeper, she travelled into the core of recklessness, her feet swollen and sore, her arms dropped to the sides, her face looking pale and sick under the accumulation of tiny specks of snow and crystals of thin ice. Even when the light of day conquered all, she could still see a glowing shadow underneath the sun, the marker that told her silently she was getting closer and closer to the revelations she sought so dearly.

It was already in the dead of a new night that she started experiencing other types of hallucinatory phenomenons. Two sloths of ghostly bears appeared to the left and right, escorting her silently for about three more kilometres, whilst underneath the frosty surface she was now traversing, she could see the undulating mammoth creature of indefinable shape, undoubtedly Uentshukumishiteu, the water monster that feeds on human flesh according to the Inuit stories of old. She knew then, for certain, that her journey was coming close to an end.

Indeed, that came to be, as the almost flat landscape morphed abruptly into a narrow corridor created by the gap between two gigantic mountains that only existed when a willing creature was close to them. Following it was the easiest part of the whole walk, and the subsequent descent into the darkness of the underground icy cave ahead felt like a gentle, balmy caress in her eager mind.

The inside of the mystic place consisted of many things, starting with a dozen irregular shafts than ran perpendicularly to one another by means of massive passageways. No human hands had helped in the creation of those tunnels. Beyond those, one could see a larger avenue that resulted from the intersection of four different stone paths. This new route was alit by gleaming blue ice stalactites and travelled along a gruesome ravine whose bottom would forever remain a mystery. Stella circumvented this section carefully, crossed a frozen bridge to the right and then another straight forward, until she hit the final descent point that led to the cavern’s supernatural heart.

It was there she saw a crystalline, globular fountain, surrounded by blocks of ice with contours vaguely reminiscent of dead animal and human bodies in the oddest of positions. Another group of glowing stalactites hanged from the rock ceiling above the water source, just like a natural chandelier reflecting its radiance all around. This division was a bubble of silence, which didn’t exactly mean that all things inside it were perfectly still.

The water stirred, and the air grew colder. Stella approached the fountain and saw ripples rising, combining into a delicate web of spirals. Something insubstantial below them somehow deflected the brightness from above, and a whirlpool was born, its centre spreading wide, and fast.

Some of the water splashed along the geometric edges of the fountain, whilst the rest continued to gather, a reunion of dreams and nightmares coming to fruition right before her eyes. When the whirlpool rose, just like the mouth of an hungry beast in search of its next prey, she could not help but tremble, and lose her balance, which resulted in a nasty fall and a major headache.

The worst part was looking straight into what she had collided with. It was one of the creepy blocks of ice that had preserved the remains of the only one of her bloodline that had ever been there, before. From what she could see, Mavis Haynes looked old, withered, and nothing like a 19th century Englishwoman inside that cold prison. Stella jumped, and came to her senses, instantly slipping into the panicky awareness that she had indeed entered there to die. Without looking back, she dashed in the direction of the chamber’s exit, but it was already too late. A wall of reflective ice had already covered the tunnel entrance. It was in this unusual type of mirror she saw the fountain water transform again.

The new manifestation of the tuurngaq resembled a floating bubble, with four wiggling liquid protuberances stretching out to the left and right. It had no outlines for a mouth or eyes, and yet she could almost visualize those traits there, a menacing expression of energy too big to be contained.

“What do you want?!” she shouted as the animated water mass drew closer. One of its tentacles lashed the surface beneath her feet, infusing it with traces of deep, deep blue.

“The balance must be restored”, said the thing, gutturally. “Just like before, so it must be again!”

“But I did not do a thing! And neither did Mavis! She did not deserve what happened to her!” Stella tried to run somewhere else, but couldn’t. The tuurngaqwas already too close, and the strange protrusions emanating from the central core were blocking access to the rest of the chamber.

“Everything requires balance, including knowledge. That is what she came here for, and exactly what she got in the end. You are no different from her, otherwise you would have not made it this far. Do you deny that to be your heart’s desire?”

The question caught her completely off-guard. Saying ‘yes’ would be an utter lie, seeing her fascination for everything that was happening was a truthful one, but so was the terror of the unknown depth before her eyes. Saying ‘no’ would most likely speed up her demise. She was trapped inside an insidious sacrificial chamber, a strangely beautiful yet nonetheless perpetual burial ground. Even if the tuurngaq shared all of its secrets with her, what good would that knowledge be if it was to last just a fleeting moment before she became a frozen statue?

“I do not wish for my desires to be warped!” she replied after some careful thought. “My heart is my own alone, spirit!”

“Yes, it is, but can you see the truth in it? Are you even aware of what it all means? It seems you are not, and that is why there is no balance within these walls at the moment. That can not be allowed to continue!

And as it said this, the bubble, and its wriggling limbs, lost its peculiar solidity, exploding in a wave of clammy fluids that pinned her to the ground. Stella shivered with revulsion as she felt the wintry stickiness everywhere. The buttons on her coat came undone and then dissolved, the same thing happening to her boots and all items of clothing she had on her. In less than a minute, she was completely naked, arms and legs spread wide, her exposed body much warmer than it should be, if the laws of nature had any place, there.

Like mercury, the soggy fragments began combining once more, and gave rise to something entirely different: an emaciated organic layer, hell-bent in turning everything she knew upside down.

She had no doubt that was about to happen was pretty much the same thing Mavis had gone through after daring to confront the tuurngaq. She could almost see it happening inside her head, a mental film of the past to be relived in the present. She should have never travelled to Nome, she should have never started reading the copy of her ancestor’s journal, she….

The supernatural coating descended upon her, and it touched her intimately as it did so. Stella’s toes curled, her hands clenched, and her chest convulsed from within. However, the initial resistance soon became a rhythmic sequence of uncontrollable moans, as she experienced the union of flesh and otherworldly essences, and avid fingers and lips that weren’t really there, played tantalizing seduction games on every inch of her body.

Eyes starting to roll over, she imagined that the beckoning auroras had returned, and were now lighting the ceiling and igniting like fireworks, their cascading rain carrying along messages of aeons past, the very principles of all of Life, the keys of the Balance she was a part of.

“Oh, my….” she whimpered, ecstatically. “This is…”

Slowly and surely, adrift in unexpected seas of delight, Stella Haynes began to fade….

 

* * *

Phillip Lambert stepped out of the Museum, holding a briefcase in one hand and the car keys in the other. A month had already gone by ever since he had met Mavis Haynes’ descendant, a month after the fiery woman had disappeared from her bedroom at the Aurora Inn & Suites in the middle of the night. All police efforts to locate her up until that moment had been fruitless, and a lot of people were baffled. He was definitely one of them, seeing such behaviour contradicted everything he had learned about her personality during their brief interlude.

His vehicle was parked around the back of the building, and he was anxious to get home, take a bath and watch NHL on cable. The week had been incredibly extenuating because of all the preparations required for a forthcoming exhibit. Although he loved the Inuit people and the great majority of its traditions, at that precise instant, he simply wanted to forget everything he had learned about them.

Imagine his surprise, not to mention utter shock, when he saw a woman of the tribe, probably in her mid-forties, standing next to his car. Her clothes were old and didn’t seem to fit her that well. Her eyes were sharp and penetrating, her hands and fingernails were rough, hardly feminine. She was definitely someone that preferred an igloo to a modern pre-fabricated house.

“Excuse me? Can I help you?” he asked upon seeing her standing there, in utter silence. The woman challenged him with her incisive stare. It wasn’t enough to intimidate, but not something pleasant, either. She seemed to understand him just fine, but failed to respond in proper English. Instead, all the words that came out of her mouth were spoken in Inupiat language, also known as Inupiatun, Inupiaq, Iñupiaq, and Inupik. Luckily, years of studies had allowed him to reach a level of understanding that was more than enough for the purpose at hand. She said:

“No, you can not, for I do not need any help. Things are just the way they were always meant to be, with the exception of one thing.”

“And what is that? I am sorry, but I do not understand what you want….” Phillip confessed, truthfully.

The woman smiled and moved away from the car. On top of the hood, there laid to rest, was a small leather-bound book he would recognize anytime, anywhere.

“Keep it.” she said, scurrying along. She moved so fast that his reaction time felt like the one of a snail by comparison.

“Wait!! How did you….?

The sentence died in his lips the moment he realized she was gone. He never saw her again.

 

* * *

It is a known fact that appearances are deceiving, that things do not always play out the way our eyes and our mind think they do, and there are surprises literally everywhere, even within the confines of magical caves unbeknownst to the majority of mortal kind.

More than one hundred years ago, Mavis Haynes came back to the snowy surface three days after crossing the threshold that separates physical creatures from the dimension of incorporeal entities. She returned an entirely different person, both in mind and body, someone who no longer felt the need to register her thoughts in a journal, let alone use a language that was not adequate enough to comprehend the importance of the Inuit taboos in the balance of the world. She headed towards the camp where Kirima welcomed her as a full member of the tribe with open arms, and the first thing she did was bury the writings of her former life in the place where they were to be found in the future.

She lived alongside the hunters and their wives for many, many moons. Eventually, the knowledge she had been imbued with, allowed her to be chosen as the angakkuq’s successor when she left her mortal coil. It was an honour like no other, one she strived to live up to with all her strength and, for all purposes and effects, she was successful at it, most of the time. However, like everyone else, Mavis was not immune to the decay of the world and, after watching so many others she had grown to love pass away as well, the day finally arrived for her last journey.

She left the tribe one morning, and without warning, to return to the place where everything had truly started for her, and thus reach full circle. That is how the dwellings of the elusive tuurngaq became her final resting place, and the reason why her descendant found her frozen there, so many years later. Though it appeared that way, her death was not horrible nor tragic, but rather peaceful and inviting, a way of passing that no one should be afraid of, if the beliefs in the Old Ways are unwavering.

Blood calls out to blood, that is another thing that is customary to say. There are certain types of bonds that survive countless generations in a dormant state, only to be reawakened when the moment is right. Such was the fate of Stella. Though born in Huddersfield, by means of supernatural influences, she was now a daughter of the cold regions, destined to protect the importance of bygone rituals in a world where most of the Inuit have chosen the path of Christianity, sacrificing the legacy of their ancestors to eventually become mere shadows of their former potential.

It is uncertain how exactly she will carry out such a daunting task, but it is what must be done. There is no point in trying to reject that. The same goes for what is to happen when her new body begins to falter. When her final days are imminent, she too will return to the spring of rebirth, this time to look death in the eye without hesitation. The tuurngaq will be waiting for her, under the Alaskan ice.

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