Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022 (Now available for pre-order from Amazon)
Aassik continued its journey south, and, for a while, Luui forgot all about her purpose, the challenge. She even forgot about Christmas. There, inside the belly of the beast, she found peace. A chapel of contentment in the presence of her father. She reached for his spectral hands. She tried to squeeze his vaporous fingers, only to pull back as the dust and mites that spun his body into an almost corporeal form dissolved.
“I’m tired, Luui,” he said.
“It is time for me…”
“Naamik,” Luui said. She grasped his hand. Her breath caught in her throat as his fingers splayed and splintered into atoms of blue light. She let go.
“And you have been here too long, already.” Tuukula’s hand reformed and he reached for yet another hand rolled cigarette from behind his ear. “You have spent too much time in Aassik’s belly. Only you can’t feel it, daughter.”
Tuukula’s face lit up in the glow of the cigarette and his lips creased in a sad smile as he said, “Digestion. The worm is eating you up, Luui. It’s time to let go.”
“You don’t feel the tingle upon your skin?”
Luui lifted her hand and there, in the blue glow of her father’s cigarette, she saw a sheen of something upon her skin and a flurry of breath and dank air around it as Naalanngitsoq tried to wick away the worm’s acid.
“You have a good friend,” Tuukula said. “But she can’t stop the acid. Aassik is weak. It has spent too many years in the mountains, too hungry to remember how to eat. But it grows stronger at the taste of you, Luui. Soon,” Tuukula said as Luui looked at her other hand. “Soon you will feel the itch and then the bite. It is time to leave, Luui. You can’t stay here.”
“But you’re here,” Luui said, looking past her hands at the shimmer of her father. She saw through him in places, saw the black walls of the worm’s innards. “I don’t want to leave you.”
“You’ve been here too long, already,” he said, repeating himself once more, and not for the last time. “It’s time to go.”
“I won’t leave you.”
“I have already left,” Tuukula said. “I left a long time ago.”
“But you’re back. Don’t you leave me again.” Luui reached for Tuukula, only to wince at a burning sensation on her skin, as Aassik’s gut juice bit into the emotional bond to her dead shaman father to remind her of where she was and how she was going to die.
Luui reached forward again, ignoring the tingle now a burn, now acid on her skin. But Tuukula drifted away, and the light of his ethereal cigarette extinguished casting Luui back into the pitch-black belly of the worm, back into reality, close to death.
And then, exhausted perhaps, even Naalanngitsoq deserted her, and Luui was suddenly all alone.
Time had passed but how long, how many days she could not tell. Such was the entirety of the beast’s belly. Time stood still. There was no visual reference to measure progress of any kind. Even with her father glowing before her, Luui’s focus had been upon him, the shimmer of the shaman, the man she loved, missed, and longed for.
“Just to hear his voice.”
Her own voice, muted, moist even, as the worm’s digestive juices strengthened, reacting to the first proper meal Aassik had eaten in decades, centuries even. For Aassik was as old as the mountains, too stubborn to die of starvation, it lived on the bacteria it inhaled from the air, the lichen it scraped from the rocks, and what nourishment it could glean from tonnes of dust and grit it sifted through its body each endless summer before the eternal winter to follow. A shaman’s daughter was a catch indeed, and as Aassik grasped what was in its belly the juices flowed.
“Okay,” Luui said. She gripped her axe, tested the cord looped around her hand, found it soft and slathered in gut slime. “I need to move. The beast needs to move.” She stabbed the spike of the axe into the belly floor and pushed herself to her feet. “Ataata can wait. I’ll find him later. But I just need a little help to turn the worm.”Luui felt her breath on her skin, cooling the acid bite for a moment, as she wondered who would help, and how on earth she could entice a spirit into the gut of the great ice worm?
There was one helper spirit who might help.
She wasn’t so fussy.
A little demanding, perhaps.
“But under the circumstances…”
Luui considered what she might offer the spirit when she called upon it for help, knowing that payment was not always required, but that it was polite to exchange services, to give back.
“Tupilaat,” she said, nodding as she thought of the creatures a shaman might create to do good, often evil, when a Greenlander wished and paid for their services. A single Tupilak might bring ill fortune to a person, charged as it was with both the power of the shaman and the essence of the intended victim. But as powerful as a Tupilak might be, there was always the chance they might be intercepted before they could inflict bad luck or injury. “Because she eats them,” Luui said. She pressed the fingers and thumb of her left hand into a pincer and smiled at the snapping movement she guessed she was making in the dark. “And I suppose I can help her find a few Tupilaat, in return for…”
Luui spun around at the sound of a dry tongue rasping within a parched mouth.
Luui blinked as the helper spirit with a human head atop the body of a large crayfish scuttled towards her. Aassik’s digestive juices reacted to Assagissat’s shell and lit the belly of the worm with a faint orange light.
“You came,” Luui said. “I was only thinking of you…”
“But I am hungry,” Assagissat said, tongue rasping, pincers snapping. “You promised food. Where is it?”
“I promised nothing.”
“Then I can go again.” Assagissat started to fade, until Luui reached forward.
“Wait! I can do more than promise.”
Assagissat returned and Luui saw the hunger in the spirit’s eyes – keen, sharpened by the promise of dark magic wrapped inside a crude figure fashioned from blood, bone, hair, and tiny strips of thin sealskin cord.
“I can make a Tupilak,” Luui said. “I can make many.”
“Until you are full.” Luui smiled as Assagissat tilted her head to one side.
“And how can a girl…”
“Woman,” Luui said.
“Young female thing,” Assagissat said. “How can she make Tupilaat?”
“I am a shaman,” Luui said.
“You don’t look like one.”
“Assagissat,” Luui said. “I am in the belly of Aassik…”
“A strange place, to be sure,” Assagissat said.
“And you came when I called…”
Assagissat’s pincers clacked as she thought. “I did.”
“Would you have come if you didn’t think I could feed you?”
“I feed myself, strange female thing. I don’t need feeding.”
“And yet…” Luui said, with a barely suppressed smile. “Here you are, together with me, inside the worm.”
“I can leave again.”
“Try,” Luui said, taking a chance.
She held her breath as Assagissat scuttled back and forth, testing the walls, spinning up, twisting down, swimmerets fluttering. Luui felt another bite of Aassik’s acid – stronger now. She swallowed as Assagissat found purchase with her pincers, only to breathe again when the spirit gave up and scuttled back to Luui.
“You tricked me, young female thing.” Assagissat clacked a pincer in front of Luui’s face, barely missing the tip of her nose.
“No trick,” Luui said. “I thought about you, about what I might offer you, and you came before I called.”
“Not intentional,” Luui said. “But, seeing as we are both trapped here. Perhaps we could…” Luui let the thought drift into Assagissat’s mind, hoping she might see the benefits of helping each other to turn the worm, perhaps even climb the mountain. “And complete the challenge,” Luui said, louder than she intended.
“Qaqqaq,” Luui said. “I am to climb the mountain, to help a friend.”
“You are going to climb Qaqqaq?” Assagissat scuttled from side to side, tongue rasping and pincers clacking as she laughed. “Foolish young female thing. The mountain ever grows, never stops. You cannot climb it.”
“Maybe not,” Luui said. She raised her axe and gestured at the walls of Aassik’s gut. “But he can. With your help.”
“Your pincers over there,” Luui pointed. “You pinch. He turns.” She pointed at the opposite wall. “I correct the worm’s course. Together, all three of us, we climb Qaqqaq.”
“Before you dissolve?” Assagissat plucked at Luui’s arm, pulling back her sodden sleeve to reveal the reddish glow of Luui’s skin as it reacted.
“That’s the plan,” Luui said.
“And you know, young female thing, who lives on the mountain?”
“Aap,” Luui said after a moment’s pause.
“And you are ready to face him?”
“If I have to.”
“It will require magic,” Assagissat said.
“I have magic.”
“It will require Tupilaat.” Assagissat clacked her pincers. “Lots of them.”
“I will make them,” Luui said, nodding as it made sense. She would need allies. She could make them, just like the shaman of old. “I will make lots.”
“And I will eat them…”
“After they have served their purpose.”
Assagissat shook her head and said, “No promises, young female thing.” She scuttled to Luui’s left and raised her pincer. “But I am hungry. I will help you climb the mountain.” Assagissat opened a pincer and pinched a roll of gut skin. Luui stumbled as Aassik began to turn. “You will make Tupilaat,” Assagissat said, pinching harder. “And I will eat.”
“Aap,” Luui said as she found her feet. She raised her axe and drove the pick hard into the wall of the worm’s guts, turning and twisting it to direct the worm to the right when the pinch of Assagissat’s pincers sent it too far to the left.
The worm turned.
And Luui started her ascent of the ever growing mountain.
To be continued on December 13
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
Don’t miss tomorrow’s episode!
Ana Catarina Palma Neves says
The story is not what I expected. Very interesting and imaginative! I like it!
Christoffer Petersen says
It gets a little weirder as you keep reading. 🙂
Ana Catarina Palma Neves says