Saima knew the way home; he had traveled this route before. But the scattered light twisting on the icy raindrops warped the landscape, moving landmarks from where he expected to find them. Looking back over his shoulder had distracted him. It was not a time to be far from shelter. Not a time to be worrying about something behind him.
His father Jako had died many years ago in weather like this. The tempest had carried on for days; they had run out of meat, they had run out of oil for the lamp. His mother's breasts had dried out from hunger; his baby sister had only stopped wailing when she ran out of strength. His father and uncle had gone to the seals' breathing holes. After a day of standing patiently in the raging sleet, Jako had said he was tired, and lay down in the shelter of a snowdrift. His brother begged him to get up, but Jako spoke blissfully about how warm and comfortable he was feeling. There was no point in both of them dying, so the brother left him. On the way back home Saima's uncle tried another breathing hole, and caught a fat seal; enough meat to feed the families for a few days, enough fat to light their small homes.
Freezing to death was a well-followed tradition amongst the Eber people. Food was often hard to come by, warmth was rare, storms were frequent. Sometimes it was just bad luck. You'd be out on the edge of the sea ice, and it would crack. The piece you were on would become a raft, and you would float out to sea to die.
What was the death rate in their land? High. Nothing of course like right after the Trail of Tears, when the Ebers were moved to their new home. They had learned much since then.
Where the hell was he now? Nothing looked familiar, nothing smelled right. Had his daydreaming led him further off course? Now Saima was feeling silly. No one in his family got lost. His people always had a sense of where they were. On land they could read the wind, the sun, the stars, or even the clouds. On water they could sense the direction from the slap of the waves against their flimsy boat. Here the wind swirled from all directions. The few bits of light broke against the icy water that attacked and coated everything around him. It wasn't a landscape he could feel in his bones. It was alien, alive, twisting and threatening.
Not only did his family never get lost; they didn't panic, either. He might have done the first, but there was no point doing the second. He took a deep breath, shut his eyes, and listened intently to the screaming gusts of sleet. Realizing that it wasn't just the wind that was howling, he resumed running. A huge, shivering, black, waterlogged dog cried into the storm, eyeing him suspiciously from a distance. A fellow despondent traveler. Saima grinned, whistled and beckoned to the miserable creature, lost and cold. Approaching cautiously, it was soon nuzzling forlornly again his legs as Saima held his hand out for the dog to sniff. Winning its trust, he ruffled the fur on its head, making calming sounds. He squatted, and whispered soothingly to the dog's face, thanking it for coming to him. Saima rose and rubbed the pitiful animal's neck. His knife blade sliced swiftly through its windpipe, and the dog crumpled to the ground. Turning it over, Saima quickly slit its belly open. He removed his mitts and stuck his hands inside, luxuriating in the soft heat of the now-dead flesh. He wasn't particularly hungry, but cut off a piece of muscle, knowing the morsel of food would keep him warmer for the rest of his trek. That is, of course, presuming he found his way back.
As he chewed the soft meat, he concentrated on the wind. He shut his eyes, and tried to match the feel of the icy rain with how it felt before he went off course. The storm roared around him, as if Saima's life was a big joke, and the wind was tired of hearing it.
There were three ways to deal with a storm. One was simply to endure it. The second was to choke the life out of it. The last was to appease it. Saima wasn't equipped to choke it, so appeasement was his best choice.
"Calm your tears, child," he addressed the storm assaulting his face. "Quiet your breaths, child," he spoke to the wind. "Your family is gone, but not by my hand. I have brought you food." He swept his hand over the carcass lying at his feet. This wasn't the best way to do it, but it was all he had to offer.
The tempest eased a bit, pondering Saima's offering. He knew he didn't have long till the wind and sleet would be at it again with a vengeance. He closed his eyes, shut out the sounds, and felt for home.
© Nathan Elberg