TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
Winter was always brutal for the coastal villages of Greenland but this had been the worst that anyone could remember. Mardis sat in her hut, wrapped in a sealskin, staring at an empty bowl.
“The fishers have returned!” someone shouted outside.
Mardis rushed to the doorway. Three men staggered into the center of the village, their parkas stained by the bundles of meat on their backs. Only three men, Mardis realized. Four had left. She rushed up to Juulut, the tallest of them. “Where is Innisaq?”
“Mardis,” said Juulut, his face growing somber. “We lost him.”
“What? What do you mean? How?”
He averted his eyes, uneasy. “A blizzard struck us fierce. Caught us by surprise. We took shelter, but in the morning, we were barely alive, and, Innisac was…” he shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
“No!” gasped Mardis. She staggered backward, stunned.
Another of the fishers spoke up. “Your husband’s death was a worthy sacrifice.”
“We got through the ice near Torluk Strait,” Juulut explained quickly. The men lowered bundles of red flesh to the ground. Mardis stared in a stupor of grief as a swarm of women emerged from their huts and gathered around the spoils, buzzing excitedly.
“It’s fish!” said one woman.
“What kind?” asked another.
“Arctic Char,” said Juulut. “Enough to delay our starvation.”
When Mardis asked Juulut for the ceremony, he said they could not conduct it without the body. More likely, she thought, they refused to ritually honor an outsider, a man who was not a native of the village.
When the worst of deep winter abated, Mardis decided to attempt the trek to her husband’s old village. They needed to know. And she needed someone to mourn with.
The sun was already waning when Mardis reached the strait. She looked out across the plateau of ice, smooth as glass. Torluk, usually flowing water by this time of year, was still frozen solid. She squinted across the horizon in search of the tiny village of turf-roofed huts.
How was she going to tell Innisaq’s family that he was dead? She winced bitterly at the thought. Against her will, the memories flooded in: His smile the first time they met, when he came on a trading expedition from his village. Their secret trysts at the stream on each of his subsequent journeys. The warmth of his strong embrace. The way he had shouted in triumph when her father had reluctantly agreed they could be married. The home he had built for them in her village.
Mardis shook her head as if to shake loose the images. “Enough,” she told herself. “Keep moving.” She trudged down the side of the hill toward the bank, her boots crunching the snow. Suddenly, her boot caught on something and she fell with a yelp, tumbling down the slope. When she rolled to a stop, she raised her head and was met by a harpoon point staring back at her, protruding from the snow only inches from her face. Black crusts of blood stained its tip. The harpoon struck her as familiar.
“Must you go, Innisaq? It’s the deep of winter. It’s not safe!”
Innisaq picked up his harpoon. “There is no more food. We have to find a place where the ice is thin enough to fish. And Juulut specifically asked me to go. Maybe he trusts me more now.”
Mardis bowed her head in resignation. “Here. Take this, for luck.” She removed the whalebone necklace from her neck and tied it around his. “Be safe.”
“I will,” he said, kissing her on the forehead.
Mardis regained her composure and stood to her feet. Now was not the time for nostalgic paranoia. She bypassed the harpoon and stepped carefully onto the Torluk Strait. She examined the ice: it was thick. Maybe two feet, she guessed. Too solid.
The fishers said they had found fish near Torluk. How could the fishing expedition have cut through ice this thick?
A few steps out into the strait, the ice groaned slightly beneath her feet. She instinctively looked down, looking for cracks. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed.
There in the ice was her whalebone necklace. She scraped the surface clean. Bones surrounded it, suspended in the ice. Streaks of ice were the dark red of frozen blood. Innisaq’s remains. But no body.
Reality gradually dawned on Mardis. Her husband had not died in a blizzard.
The men had not cut through this ice to find food.
Instead, they honored the outsider with a chance to help feed the village.
The fish had tasted strange, Mardis remembered. It was different from any Arctic Char that she had eaten. But she had been too hungry to be concerned. It was sustenance, and that was all that mattered. She remembered the stew, the bits of flesh floating in the broth. It had been strange fish indeed.
A knot formed in her stomach. How could she tell Innisaq’s parents that she had eaten their son?