This story is a scene I wrote almost three years ago as an exercise to get to know my characters for The Ice Star. The scene is set between the ice floes on Greenland’s east coast. The Ice Star is a Scandinavian Thriller and not written in the same style as this scene. (Note: the photo is from Qaanaaq – in the far north of Greenland.)
Kula and Dina
Originally published on The Author Lab.
by Christoffer Petersen
The pack ice pressed the hunter’s dinghy from all sides. Dina heard the creaking of the fibreglass hull; she felt the dinghy twist in the grasp of the ice.
“Ata,” she said, “how are we going to get home?”
The hunter, Kula Maqi, fiddled with a knot in the cord sling attached to his rifle. A small calibre .222 Sako rifle – old and rusted. He finished the knot and rested the rifle across his knees. The dinghy twisted in the ice. Kula smiled at Dina.
“We will wait,” he said.
“For what, Ata? I want to go home.”
“Look,” said Kula, he pointed at the ice to the left and right of the boat. The hunter twisted on his seat and pointed behind them. “The ice is all around, Dina. We must wait until the tide turns. When the tide takes away the ice, we can go home.”
“Ata, I am scared.”
“Dina, favourite granddaughter, we are in my dinghy, we have food, we have my rifle, we have water. You need not be scared.”
“But Ata, what about bears?”
Kula lifted the rifle from his knees and leaned it against the wooden seat. The sea water in the bottom of the dinghy lapped at the rifle butt as the boat twisted left and right in the pack ice. He pointed towards the ice. The three and a half fingers of his right hand, weathered and wrinkled, steady in the cool air slipping off the ice. “He comes that way,” Kula jabbed in the air towards the bow of the dinghy, “I will shout go away, Dina is here.” The hunter squeezed Dina’s arm with his left hand. “And he will go away.” Kula looked to the right and left of the boat, jabbing his fingers he said “go away. Go away.” He nodded at Dina, the wrinkles creasing around his eyes; he hissed a laugh between the gaps in his teeth. “Go away, eh?” Kula said and raised his eyebrows.
“What if he comes that way?” Dina pointed behind them, towards the stern of the boat, past the small outboard motor tilted upwards away from the ice.
Kula turned, twisting his body within his sealskin smock. “That way?”
“He won’t come that way.”
“Why not, Ata?”
Kula hunched his shoulders. “I told him not to come that way. I asked Imap Ukûa.”
“Yes. The Mother of the Sea. She said nanoq will not come that way, only this way, this way,” Kula jabbed with his fingers, “this way.” The hunter turned to Dina. “He will not come that way.” He patted Dina’s knee. “Find the binoculars. Look for seal,” he said.
Dina stood on the plank seat in the bow of the dinghy. Her knees bent, Dina rocked with the movement of the ice, scanning the horizon with the binoculars, seeking seals between the floes, the strap of the binoculars hidden within her ink-black hair. Kula lit a cigarette and placed it between his lips. He pulled a wooden box from beneath his seat. The cigarette in the corner of his mouth, Kula opened the box and pulled out a primus stove. He closed the box and set the stove on top of the lid, primed and lit it. With a metal bowl Kula scooped chunks of ice from the sea, draining the sea water. He set the bowl of ice on the stove to boil. Dina peered at shadows between the bergs. Kula made the tea.
“Ata?” Dina said. “I think I can see something.”
Kula moved the cigarette between his lips with his tongue.
“I think it is a seal on the ice. Look there,” Dina said. She held the binoculars with one hand, pointed with the other. The binoculars shook in her grasp and she let them fall to her chest. “Do you see it, Ata?”
Kula stood in the boat, shading his eyes for the sun, he stared in the direction Dina pointed. “Yes. It is a seal. Do you want to shoot it?”
Dina whirled around to face the hunter. “Can I, Ata?”
Kula puffed a cloud of smoke through his smile. He stretched out his hand and took the binoculars from Dina as she tugged the strap out of her hair. Kula swapped the binoculars for the rifle. He turned the stove off and joined Dina in the bow of the dinghy as she pulled the rifle butt into her shoulder.
“Steady,” said Kula. “Put a bullet into the chamber.”
Dina lowered the rifle and tugged hard at the rusted handle. She forced a bullet into the chamber and pulled the firing bolt back into place.
“Check the safety, Dina.”
Dina held onto the forestock, pushed the rifle into her shoulder and pinched the safety switch between the finger and thumb of her right hand. She pushed the safety off.
“Good, Dina,” Kula said and moved behind his granddaughter. The cigarette burned between his lips as he placed his hands on Dina’s shoulders. “Steady now. Aim for the head. Aim a little lower, Dina. That’s it. Breathe in. Breathe out.”
The rifle wobbled in Dina’s grasp. She lowered it, lifted it again, and moved so her right eye was closer to the scope.
“Breathe in,” whispered Kula. “Breathe out.”
Dina rocked backwards with the shot, the small report of the rifle echoed around the icebergs. She leaned forwards. Kula puffed smoke with a chuckle.
“Good girl,” he said.
Dina lowered the rifle and turned to hug the hunter. She pressed her nose into the fur of Kula’s smock, soft; the hairs of the seal tickled her nose. Dina grinned up at him and then stopped.
Dina trembled, almost stumbled as she took a step back from the hunter. Kula turned around and saw the tiny black eyes and tip of a black nose in a large white head moving towards the back of the dinghy. Kula pressed Dina into the bow of the dinghy, behind the seat. He took the rifle from her grasp, ejected the spent round and loaded another bullet into the chamber.
“Go away,” he said. Kula took a step towards the stern of the dinghy. “Go away,” he jabbed the three and a half fingers of his right hand at the polar bear, the rifle held loosely at his side in his left. The polar bear swam to within a metre of the dinghy. Kula raised the rifle and aimed at the head of the bear.
Kula breathed in. The stub of cigarette in the corner of his mouth glowed. “Go away,” he breathed out. The dinghy rocked as Dina wriggled further into the bow. Kula tracked the bear as it swam past the dinghy and between the floes. It heaved itself up onto the ice and shook at the water tugging its creamy fur tight against its body. Kula twisted his body to follow the bear’s path along the floe, past the dinghy, towards the seal. Dina lifted her head and peered over the gunwale at the bear.
“You said ‘go away’, Ata.”
Kula lowered the rifle as the bear splashed into the sea to swim the gap between the floes. The hunter slung the rifle on his right shoulder and lifted Dina out of the bow of the dinghy. He set his granddaughter on the seat, turning her body in the direction of the bear.
“Look how hungry he is, Dina.”
Dina looked. “That’s my seal,” she said.
“Yes, but he needs it today.”
“What is the black stripe on his front, Ata?”
Kula flicked the butt of his cigarette onto the floe of ice pushing at the dinghy. “Oil, maybe. See how thin he is, Dina.”
“Why did he come? Did Imap Ukûa not hear you, Ata?”
Kula laughed and hugged his granddaughter. “Imap Ukûa hears everything, Dina. She knew today was your big day. Did you forget to speak to Imap Ukûa?”
Kula pointed at the bear. “Big hunters must be nice to Imap Ukûa. They have to make her happy. I think you just made Imap Ukûa very happy, Dina.”
“But what about my seal?”
Kula smiled, let go of his granddaughter and picked up the binoculars from the lid of the wooden box. He pushed the binoculars into Dina’s hands, moved to his seat at the stern of the dinghy and lit the stove. Dina watched the bear through the binoculars while her grandfather made tea. The ice floes bumped and twisted the dinghy while the bear ate and Dina and Kula waited on the tide.
January 12th, 2014
(revised January 3rd, 2017)
The Ice Star is available on Amazon.