Monday 15 December 2008

Chapter 2

This is chapter 2 - let me know what you think. This is a lot darker chapter than the last.

The wind speed had dropped outside the den as the ferocity of the storm had at last begun to abate, whilst the level of the light outside had begun to rise as the snow and cloud cover began to thin. The storm had blown itself out and calm had begun to settle upon the exhausted landscape.

Nanuk began to stir from her slumber. As the ambient air temperature outside began to increase her body heat also began to rise increasing her respiration rate. Her eyes began to twitch as she started to wake up and long yawns began to be emitted from her maw.

Nanulak also began to awaken. With the precocity of youth his eyes opened wide and he sat bolt upright, blinking in the gloom of the den.

He yawned a few times, rubbed his eyes with his paws, and then stood on all fours sniffing the air.

Outside the den he could sense that the darkness that had swaddled the land for the past three days had lifted and the light of the unfettered sun was now beginning to shine forth.

Impatient for his mother to awaken he dug furiously at the den entrance with his front paws until the snow at the entrance collapsed outwards and a small hole appeared through which a golden sunbeam burst and illuminated the den.

Nanulak blinked at the intensity of the light, and then dug away until his head and upper body were able to protrude out of the hole.

He looked around him with delight. The snow fall from the storm had formed deep drifts up to ten feet high all along the lay of the hills, forming a ridge of compacted snow perfect for sliding down.

The sky was cobalt blue and the air crisp, cold and clean. The storm had swept away any minute particles of dust that had been present in the air and now the sun was shining with an almost liquid intensity. Rays of aureate sunlight were sweeping across the landscape illuminating the snow and ice fields that now glimmered as though gilded with gold leaf. On the shore below the hill he could see from his vantage point the seals who were his old enemies were snoozing on the beach, their bodies lain prone on the sand and their fat bellies pointed at the sun as they absorbed the heat. Occasionally one of them would yawn out loud revealing their sharp teeth and then flap a flipper at a fly that was bothering them or one would fart whilst asleep and then wake up and look around with a mixture of shock and embarrassment as the other seals looked at them.

Sea gulls chattered and wheeled overhead, whilst a flock of feuding black crows tussled amongst themselves on the foreshore over who would eat the gnawed remains of a dead fish discarded by one of the seals. The waves in the bay lapped gently upon the beach whilst in the distance an mighty iceberg, majestic and massive was rising out of the shining waters. Over fifty feet high and pyramidal in shape it had been driven by the Northern winds of the storm into the bay, and now drifted as a white monolith in the tidal currents of the Atlantic, slowly melting in the light of the effulgent sun.

Nanulak pushed himself out of the den with his paws, and then perched on the lip of the hole. As he shifted to get a better look around him, the snow on the lip of the hole gave way and as he struggled to regain his balance gravity took charge. He slipped over onto his back and slid all the way down the hill, his legs kicking in the air as he travelled ever faster down the hill. The curve of the hill took him out of sight of the den and he eventually stopped by impacting with a snow drift at the base of the hill that swallowed him up whole with a puff of glittering flakes.

Nanulak lay in the snow drift on his back with his legs in the air. The seals on the beach had heard his cries as he fell and were watching with wry amusement as he dug himself out of the drift. With as much dignity as he could muster he blew the snow that had become stuffed into his nostrils out of his nose, shook the snow from inside his ears and then began to pad back towards where he had come from.

He could hear his mother in the distance digging herself out of the den hole and then her cries of alarm at her missing cub. She called out to him and Nanuk barked back. He looked back at the seals and saw them one by one slipping back into the waters. He wondered what had alarmed them and look around him.

Then suddenly a loud noise crashed through the valley unlike any sound he had ever heard before, its echo drifting into the distance raised the crows from their carrion and scattered the gulls and seals from the beach. His ears rang with the loudness of the sound and he whimpered in shock.

It was a sound he would come to know well, a rifle shot.

Nanulak shook with the shock of the sound as if to dislodge the ringing in his ears, and then heard the angry bellow of his mother.

Another shot rang out and Nanulak lay cowering on the floor covering his ears with his paws trying to stifle the sound that had set his ears ringing with tinnitus. He suddenly felt very afraid. His mother was now silent.

He cried out to her with his plaintive wail of distress and yet for the first time in his life there was no response from her. He got up from his prone position on the ice and ran around the corner of the hill to where he knew the den was.

There at the base of the hill, about 500 yards away lay his mother.

A trail of blood led from the entrance of the den all the way down the hill to where she lay in a blody crumpled heap. The first rifle shot had hit her in the lower right side of her jaw and blown half her face away, yet still she had sought to charge her attacker. She got ten years before the hunter fired again.

The second shot had entered under her the ribs of the left hand side of her body and penetrated the heart. She had then collapsed and fell, as Nanuk had done, and slid down the side of the hill leaving a long blood spoor behind her.

Nanuk whimpered and lay down in silence as his mother had trained him to do.

As he watched a strange figure arose from the brow of a nearby hill to the south of where he lay. It wore a smock of white caribou skin and carried what appeared to be a smoking stick, and was standing at the back of a toboggan made from birch bark pulled by a pack of eight husky dogs.

This was the first human Nanulak had ever seen.

His mother had been careful to avoid any areas where men would be during her hunting expeditions and therefore Nanulak had never encountered human being before in any of their travels. He had sometimes caught their scent in the distance, but this was the first human he had encountered in his life.

The toboggan moved swiftly down the hill upon its runners hissing in the fresh snow and then stopped next to where the body of his mother lay. The husky dogs that pulled the sled sniffed the corpse and then began to fight amongst themselves, growling and kicking up snow as they locked their ice fringed jaws in some fratricidal struggle for dominance.

The hunter stepped from the toboggan and with a leather whip struck at the dogs until they stopped squabbling amongst themselves. The dogs then lay still on the snow, panting and growling amongst themselves or pretending to scratch at themselves in order to save face within the pack.

The man then removed a knife from a scabbard on his right hip, knelt down and began to remove the pelt from the dead bear.

With expert skill the pelt was detached from the body of the bear within minutes, then hunks of meat were cut from the body and wrapped up in caribou skins and placed on the sled. The man then removed the bears liver and dug a deep hole in the snow in which he buried the organ far from the dogs so as to make sure they did not eat the organ as it was packed with so much vitamin A that it was poisonous to them. He gave the heart and the rest of the edible meats to the dogs and allowed them to gnaw at the bones.

The bloody pelt of his mother was folded up by the figure and then tied to the back of the toboggan.

Nanulak could smell the blood of his mother on the wind, and tears of pain and shock were rolling down his face. Instinct had now kicked in and he lay in silence.

After the dogs had eaten their fill the man tied them back onto the toboggan and with a crack of the whip, the dogs rose from their haunches and pulled the snout of the sled back up the hill from whence they had come.

Nanulak lay there for a moment and then once again deep primal instincts took over.

Once the sled had gone over the brow of the hill and was out of sight he got up and ran to where the remains of his mother lay. The grotesque pile of flesh, bone and blood left behind by the hunter had begun to attract the crows that now lay atop it, busily pecking the red ribbons of flesh that still stuck to bones of the violated cadaver. As he drew near to his mother the crows threw themselves at him, their sharp savage claws striking at his face and their wings flapping at his eyes until he backed away from the remains. They were not going to surrender their prize to this cub.

Nanulak sniffed the snow where the man and dogs had been. His brain instantly recorded both the smell of the individual human being and also the individual scents of the dogs themselves. He would never forget their smells.

He watched as the toboggan crested the hill and then disappeared over the edge, leaving two thin trails from the running edge of the sled on the snow.

Without looking back he began to follow the sled. Something drove him to follow what remained of his mother, and without hesitation he obeyed the urge.

Nanulak followed the hunter and the dog pack across the tundra as they traversed the ice and snow. He would watch the man hunt and kill other polar bears from the safety of a hidden ridge and note the way the man stalked the bears and how we would move upwind of the unsuspecting beasts.

As he watched, he learnt the ways of men.

In the evenings as the man made his camp for the night Nanulak would watch from a hidden vantage point as the dogs would settle down and sleep and the man erect his tipi and light a small camp fire. Nanulak would then lay beneath the stars and watch the shifting vivid green, blue and purple curtains of celestial light cast from the aurora borealis until the man and the dogs were asleep and then he would collapse exhausted in a small scrape of snow he had dug out and try to sleep until morning.

For three days and nights Nanulak follwed the man and the dogs until at last they came to a small village by the Koksoak River, which flows North East to Ungava Bay at Kuujjuaq. He could smell the village before he could see it. He recognised the stench of dogs and human faeces, but also the scent of wood smoke. The village lay in the distance a motley collection of wooden huts lit with oil lamps where puffs of grey smoke were rising from the roofs of the dwellings.

Nanulak watched as the hunter let off a single rifle shot and the villagers left their simple homes of stone and earth, running out into the snow and greet the hunter. He knew now that the rifle meant death in the hands of men. He could hear their laughter and the happy yelps of the dogs as the villagers gathered. As he watched one of the villagers unfurled the pelt of his mother from the back of the toboggan and held up it so that the others could admire it. He could still smell her familiar scent as the wind whistled to where he lay.

The women of the village began their traditional Naskapi greeting songs for the return of the successful hunter, and as he watched the women took the bundles of bear meat from off the sled and built fires in the centre of the village and began to cook it.

Suddenly Nanulak felt himself go dizzy and collapsed onto his belly on the ice. He hadn’t eaten for three days and was exhausted by the trek.

He lay there and wept with shock at the events of the last few days, the death of his mother and the horror of what had happened to her. Her loss had torn a hole into his heart and he now felt nothing but the cold gnawing at his flesh.He closed his eyes and felt the human voices in the distance begin to fade away.

Then suddenly voices could be heard nearby to where he lay. He rose on to his front paws and looked out over the edge of the hill. Three people from the village could be seen leading a toboggan with four dogs up a hill nearby.

Leading the dogs before the toboggan was a figure dressed in long fawn flowing reindeer robes and leggings that were intricately inlaid with thousands of coloured red, blue and green beads that had been made to resemble animals such as wolves and bears, whilst the figure wore a face mask and fur cap from which protruded a pair of reindeer antlers. The skulls of small birds, voles and white bald eagle feathers were sown onto the robes, and as the figure danced small bells could be heard jingling upon his moccasins. The fur of a white wolf fringed the figures smock and a pair of ravens wings were sewn into the back of the robes.

The figure banged a large wooden hand held drum and sang a lament whilst dancing around the toboggan. The man would occasionally stop drumming then lay his hands upon a large bundle wrapped in caribou skins laid atop the toboggan and then dance away again chanting at the sky.

Nanulak followed the figures to the top of the hill and watched as they stopped the toboggan and then lifted the large bundle carefully from it.

The shaman was banging the drum and chanting at the sky as the other two figures carried the bundle through the snow into a small stand of spruce and birch trees. One of the figures then climbed up one of the trees and stood upon on a wooden platform built within the lower branches. The other figure then passed the bundle up to the figure on the platform and the bundle was laid upon gently it. The figure in the tree then climbed back down and the shaman led the men away and all walked back slowly to the village.

Nanulak waited until the figures left the area then ran over to the trees. In the trees lain on platforms of wood built amongst the branches were other bundles tied up with caribou and reindeer skins. These had been out in the open for a while and were frozen solid and rimed with frost and snow, as though carved from the ice itself. Nanulak knew that this was a place of death, for he was now familiar with the smell of death as a result of what had happened to his mother.

With his long claws able to grip the tree bark he easily climbed up the tree to where the bundle had been lain. He then hoisted himself with his front paws up onto the platform and sniffed at the bundle. He smelt the scent of man beneath the familiar scent of the animal skin that covered it.

He tore away the caribou skin covering on the bundle with his claws and revealed the pale bare skin of the human body beneath. Then he pulled at the covering with his teeth and as he drew the sheath away from the body he could see it was a male human figure, an old man in his late seventies perhaps.

Nanulak felt a sudden flash of hate in his heart for these humans that had killed his mother and instinctively he bit into the flesh of the belly of the body. He felt his teeth slide deep into the meat and sunder the skin. In a frenzy he began to bite and maul the body.

As he tore a long strip of flesh from the body with his fangs he began to chew on the meat. His hunger kicked and with a sudden fury Nanulak began to devour the body, his claws ripping away the skin and meat from the bone.

Nanulak could feel his strength returning with every mouthful of the meat he swallowed, and as he savoured the taste of the flesh he thought again of his mother.

When he had finished feasting Nanulak climbed down from the tree and stared back at the village. He could hear the humans laughing in their huts and he could smell the meat of their feasts roasting on their fires. The pack dogs were barking and scuffling amongst themselves over discarded bones, and singing drifted out across the star sprinkled hills.

The meat he had consumed now lay heavy in his belly and he needed to sleep and rest, but he knew that first he would have to flee this place and get far away from the humans and their weapons.

The wind had begun to pick up and snow flurries were curling and drifting across the hills presaging an imminent storm.

Nanulak looked down towards the village lay in the distance. He then began to stalk carefully down to where the husky dogs were penned on the outskirts of the village itself, each of the packs tied into simple shelters of wood.

Nanulak lay upwind and watched. The dogs had eaten their fill and now slept in snuffling piles of fur, groaning and belching in their sleep. He recognised the scent of the dogs that had feasted upon his mother and he moved slowly towards them through the drifts using every inch of cover.

Nanulak entered the entrance to the kennels and crept slowly to where the first dog lay asleep making sure that he made no noise on the impacted snow. The first dog lay fast asleep in a tight curled up ball, its breath rising in soft warm plumes from its nostrils.

Nanulak leant forward and with a single bite locked his mouth around its neck and then crushed the skull of the dog. The dog died without even waking up. Then one by one he moved slowly and carefully to where each of the other dogs lay and dispatched them all with a similar bite to the back of their necks.

Not until all the dogs of the pack that had killed his mother were dead did Nanulak leave the village.

Nanulak, now covered in the blood of the dogs, ran swiftly from the village and stood atop a nearby peak. He looked back to the far north from where he had come then with the decision made, walked away into the darkness as the snow began to cover and fill his paw prints.

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JPT said...

My God that was quick!

alanorei said...

Again, a very vivid and well-crafted chapter. Only a couple of points for refinement:

1. Near the end, you've started five paragraphs with Nanulak, four in a row at one point.

May be useful to vary it a bit.

2. Hunters etc. are in the chapter. Dialogue would be very useful to break up the lengthy prose and emphasise either cruelty or compassion or both. Dialogue can also help the description e.g.

"Got her! See that? Took half her jaw off!"

"Well, get her again, stupid! Or she'll tear you to ribbons - she's charging, see? And put the poor critter out of her misery!"

I just think it liven things up a bit.

Is there going to be a tall, tough Alaskan Ranger who sorts things out?

Defender of Liberty said...

Thanks for the tips and comments folks. They are all appreciated.

I havent varied the chapters too much as I dont want to give the full story away. Needless to say the actual meat of the story hasnt even been touched upon yet. That is the main part of the narrative.

No tough alaskan rangers though there will be a WW1 veteran of the RAF, the return of the Naskapi shaman, the story of a Naskapi trapper with a terrible past and an encounter with pure evil out on the ice. Other parts of the story have to be kept hush hush until the story is sold.

Canty give too much away as I have try and sell the thing yet !

I will post one more section about the Naskapi trapper and then maybe a bit about the main storyline.

all the best,


alanorei said...

Thanks, Lee, looking good.

Hope the WW1 RAF veteran* (I had overlooked the historical setting) gets the girl in the end - ignore that if you prefer, I'm just an incurable romantic.

*I guess you'll decide in due course if he's Canadian or an English ex-pat.

Anonymous said...

Lee there are 8 begans or beguns in the first two paragraphs. Lots of hads in the first - I realsie these are written quickly but also remember to edit. get the writing so tight it almost snaps.

Anonymous said...

Again, terrific descriptions and use of the imagination. It is not easy to be so descriptiveso that the reader can actually feel and see themselves in the scene - but you do it with seemingly consumate skill.

Now is the time, however, to discipline the imagination as at times it begins to seem as if it is unravelling at the seams as the imagiantion runs ahead of the literay discipline.

Watch your paragraph beginnings which betray a lack of thought and literary discipline eg starting off with the same word, or reepating a certain word over and over again which lets the overall story down. Each sentence must be self-contained and fitted in succinctly within its own paragraph to read crisply and to hold the readers attention. Any irregularity in literary expression serves only to let the reader down and breaks that essential psychic link between the author's own imagination and the imagination of the reader. Always try and bear that in mind when transposing your imaginary constructs on to paper. You have such a terrific imagination and creative abilities that it can be let down by breakages in discipline annd patience.

I shall read it several times more and if I can offer any furtyher constructive criticism I will gladly do so. if I don't then obviously as far as I am concerned it stands as it is.

I am happy to assist you with you with editing and proof-reading as the hastiness of the writing sometimes shows through and spelling mistakes and typos spoil what is a terrific piece of writing eg chapter 2, para 20 " She got ten years before the hunter had fired again". I think that should be ten feet (hopefully not metres) rather than years.

Anonymous said...

Your research really gives this chapter punch and a sense of reality that enables the readre to get drawn into the story that you are conjuring up.

I wasn't too certain about the foxes and crows being part of the Arctic ecosystem. However, when I checked it seems that the Arctic Fox is an adaped form of the fox species that lives in the Arctic, whilst corvids are also sub-Arctic avifauna.

So I can see that you have done your essential background research very well.