Fjord’s foot bounced off one of the family’s dogs where it was half buried in a snowdrift. He watched
snow settle in its eye for a moment, even its lips were pulled back in a snarl.
Empty was beginning to sound the same as the ice creaking underfoot, and Fjord was beginning to
wonder how much longer he was going to last.
‘Two, maybe three days.’ He avoided Empty’s eyes. ‘They won’t all make it.’
‘You knew that back at the start. We agreed it didn’t matter.’
A week ago, Fjord would have agreed with the family’s Medicine Man. But now was different. He
couldn’t see the girl, but she itched under his skin. If it hadn’t been for her, he’d have left them to it, no
matter how much plague swirled in the tribes wake. Even the sun had disappeared at one point;
swallowed by the burning as the sick set fire to their camps.
‘Maybe you only have a heart for some of them.’
That got Fjord’s attention.
‘Mind your manners, if my father hears you, he’ll have your tongue.’
Sometimes Fjord wondered why he was so loyal to him. His father was a lecher who’d beaten his
mother into an early grave. He’d been laughing when he did it. There was more than one reason his son
was wary of approaching the new arrival. If the man saw where his eyes were going he was liable to take
an interest himself.
He checked behind him, saw the rest of the family strung out in dots against the snow as they made
their way down the cliff, and wondered which one of them was her. The girl he’d found in the snow staring
at the offal that was all that remained of her companions had made him want to howl as soon as he saw
her. Just like the scavengers that had been prowling close. There’d been blood on her as well as the snow,
and he’d cleaned as much of the mess off her as he could without licking. Neither of them had said a word.
Then they’d sat and waited until his family began to appear. Later she’d told him her name was ‘Styl’
although she’d kept the rest to herself, and her eyes stayed hidden under her hood. The others had found
them back to back on the blood soaked snow staring at the horizon. Empty coughed, spitting another bit of
lung onto the snow.
‘And the rest of us? What about our safety? We’ve watched you grow from a mewling kid into the spit
of whatever barbarian really sired you. When are you going to bring us good news? You’ve been out there
for days now. What have you found?’
Fjord felt old resentment bubble inside him. It wasn’t his fault he looked nothing like the tribes
patriarch. He pulled his wolf skin round his shoulders trying to find a nook where it couldn’t find him.
‘When you can walk faster. The news is what it is, we’ve a few days more to travel. I don’t know if we’ll
be alive at the end.’
Fjord was still in nowhere near as bad a condition as the rest of his family. Besides their safety wasn’t
the responsibility of its leader’s bastard. Fjord was littered with enough scars. The plague surgeon’s
knives had cut plenty from his skin in payment for his life, and he’d been one of the lucky ones.
‘There… do you see that? We’re closer than I thought.’ All thought of fires and what lay hidden in their
midst was forgotten. In front of them the ice sheets monotony had been broken.
‘It’s their camp. You found it.’
Fjord felt himself exhale, he’d been more worried than he’d thought.
‘I knew I would.’
Bones as high as the ‘bergs calving from the pack ice had been dragged ashore and stacked against
the cliffs. What was left spilled across the shingle until it looked like the whole sea’s frozen contents had
been wrecked on the shore.
‘There are people there who’ll help us. They hunt those beasts to live.’
Empty, sounded like he was trying to keep the hope out of his voice. Fjord didn’t blame him, his wife
had been the first to go and the sickness had taken his kids one by one.
‘Why would they do that?’
‘Because, I’ll fight them.’
‘You?’ There’s scarlet on the snow when he’s finished laughing. He scuffs it with his foot. ‘You’re
nothing but piss and wind.’
‘We’ll see, I’ll ask the drowned on their towers for help. They’ll come when I call.’ Fjord has the feeling
he’d have said more, but Empty has grown quiet. He’s staring at the ocean’s depths like he’s following the
sunbeams into the deep where the light dies.
Empty’s quiet a long time after that as they trudge the last of the distance to the rocks, and his eyes
stay on the icebergs heights not on where they’re going.
Fjord’s aware someone’s staring at him. He knows who it is before he turns his head. When he does,
the girl he’d found in the snow’s looking at him.
Eyes glitter as she turns her hood. He’s only caught her face uncovered a few times, back when he’d
first stumbled on her. He thinks the daylight hurts for her. Fjord’s heart beats a little quicker.
‘I’ll tell you, but not now.’
That brings Empty back from wherever he’s been hiding.
‘What are you? Are you one of them?’
‘Maybe.’ She smiles as wide as the ocean, as dry as ice. ‘Stay away from me old man, this has
nothing to do with you.’ She’s looking at Empty but the buzzing in Fjord’s ears grows so loud he can see
the world vibrate. ‘I’m surprised you’re still with us. They haven’t told you what they’re going to do to you?’
He ignores her; and makes the sign against evil behind his back. It’s Fjord that answers.
‘We should ask the same about you.’
‘Let’s just say it’s been a long time since someone let me in.’
She lifts a hand with skin so pale it’s almost translucent and scrubs at something on her neck he’d only
glimpsed before. The flesh has been scraped raw leaving a rash interlaced with mottled bruises.
‘Are you hurt?’
‘A gift from the people you found. They weren’t as enlightened as you.’
Something glitters in the smile she gives him then, bone white and twice as sharp.
The beach’s residents came out to meet them as Fjord and his family got close. The beach spilling
anaemic figures that were as pale as the stones it was made of. Their leader: a pale sun starved man with
tattoos crawling across his skin was the first to speak.
‘I‘m Whale, what do you want?’
‘We’re sick,’ A sneer crawls across his face as Fjord continues, ‘I haven’t told you what from yet.’
‘You’re always sick, living out there on the ice, how can you be anything else? And now you want our
help. For what? So you can run away again?’
‘We saw what happened.’ A look crawls across Whale’s face like he’s stepped on something bitter.’
‘You have it too, and you….you ran, same as all the rest of them when they saw what was coming.’
His eyes slip to the village at the man’s back as the stench of decay fills the breeze for a wing beat. He’
s not quick enough; Whale’s seen where his eyes go.
‘We found the first months back…thought they were dead.’
‘They are, we tried cutting. It doesn’t work very well. This is what’s left.’
Fjord’s arm embraces what’s left of his family drawn up on the beach, and he raises his hand as he
lets his eyes fill; white as a corpse. ‘Some of it’s mine now.’
It’s a cheap trick, but by the look on Whale’s face a worthwhile one.
‘Stay away, you should put yourself out of your misery, but if you won’t I’ll do it myself. I wouldn’t expect
anything else from a scavenger who spends his life picking through the tide.’
‘Try it.’ Fjord doesn’t drop his eyes. ‘If I defeat you, you’ll let my people past.’
The figures round the warrior’s back stay silent, and it takes a moment for him to nod assent. Fjord’s
not finished yet, ‘and you’ll give them food for the winter.’ This time the agreement’s more grudging. It
seems even the whale hunters have found the season hard.
Whale’s smile’s returned.
The first blow wickers past him before he’s time to draw his tomahawk, and he rolls back before the
stone can open his chest. Another slices past his eyes, and spots dance everywhere he looks. He’s up on
the balls of his feet before he can be skewered. There’s more than one reason why he’s still alive. He’d
never been strong, but when it came to speed it was a different story. But his opponent is good, too good
for this to go on much longer. Whale’s driving his blade towards Fjord’s belly while his opponent’s brain is
on the floor. Another stab nearly scalps him, blood and scraps of hair are left along Whale’s blade, but at
least Fjord’s still breathing. He looks for the girl’s face in the crowd, if she’s there, he can’t see her.
‘There’s no one coming to save you boy. If you lay still, I promise it won’t hurt much.’
Fjord doesn’t bother replying. The world would have to freeze over before he stretches out his neck to
be murdered like a dog. He just needs to stay alive a few moments longer because he can feel the first
stirrings beyond the shingle. He glances at Empty. His eyes are shut, Fjord grins. He knew they’d answer,
he can already feel the blood stir faster in his veins.
Wind whistles past his ears, shrieking through the bones lined up on the beach and Fjord can see
Empty’s eyes go to the peaks as clouds pour down the ‘bergs sides. Soon fog boiling its way toward them
fighting against the wind in fits and starts. The whale hunter’s a brave man. He doesn’t run.
‘What have you done?’
‘Let them free. We had to keep them somewhere.’ Fjord’s expecting laughter, but he doesn’t get it not
now the smell of meat that’s been left out too long is back. ‘You can smell them can’t you?’
‘It will be quick for you. How long have you been sick?’
Fjord shakes his head, he’s a little sorry he supposes. It’s not the Whale Killer’s fault they’re in the way.
‘I’m not sick.’
Fjord shrugs, ‘then be dead.’
The fog is nearly on them, and he turns to face the figures reaching for him in its midst. Whale turns to
‘What are their names? I like to know who I’m about to kill.’
‘They don’t have any.’
When the scream comes its flat and muffled. Fjord’s glad it doesn’t go on long. His ancestors respect
bravery as much as anyone.
Once the shreds from the other world have lost themselves amongst the pebbles. Fjord’s out of breath.
He doesn’t have enough power to keep the door open long. The last wisps of smoke crawl through Empty’
s skin. He’s tempted to wake him, but he doubts he’ll be thanked for it.
Shouts float toward him from the scattered huts.
‘I wouldn’t if I were you.’
It’s the girl, he can’t keep the awe from his voice as figures burst from the huts.
‘They’re being killed.’
‘Your families gone Fjord. It was only a matter of time. This way is quicker. They won’t survive the
A bellow bounces from the storm clouds.
‘That’s my Dad.’
The girl’s sat cross legged on the shingle examining her fingernails.
‘What are they doing to him?’
‘Ripping him apart. I expect, you can’t do anything for him now.’
Fjord shook his head.
‘It looks that way doesn’t it?’
He’s finding it hard to think. He’d wanted to be free of it all, and he’d imagined himself slipping off one
night, disappearing under the starlight with the wilderness for company, but not like this.
‘You’re right, there’s nobody left to pay the debt too. What now?’
‘Up to you. You can tag along with me if you like, but first I want a kiss, and it has to be given willingly.’
Fjord’s kissed scores of girls, round the campfires when the night wrapped itself around you. Yet right now
and with this woman things feel different like a pebbles dropped through him, cool, and calm, and still. ‘You’
ll be like them afterwards. It’s how I make them.’
She grins, and her teeth look as sharp as the thing they’d dragged from the sea with their nets, the one
that had bit his sister.
‘Is that what you want?’
Fjord doesn’t have to think long before he answers.
‘Yes, oh yes.’
The first shambling figures are dragging themselves past the spatters that are all that are left of their
victims. Soon they’re lurching their way toward the couple on the beach. Fjord’s look of horror draws the
first laugh he’s heard from her.
‘Don’t look like that, you won’t be exactly like them. You’ll be like me. I was the first.’
‘But you look…’
‘Beautiful? Maybe, but I’ve more in common with them than you know.’
Her face emerges from her hoods shadows. This time he does more than howl.
In my twenties I was living
in vehicles and caravans
on the continent as part of
the European travelling/
squat/ teknival scene. Now
I write, I've brought it from
squatting, and sleeping in
a van in one of Bristol's
pub car parks... to here.
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