A Shadow In The Ice: A Short Story
by Narcisse Navarre
She spied him from a distance—a specter on the brilliant snow. His presence was as suffocating as the ever-present stench of burned flesh. The elders whispered his name away from the women and painted images on the walls of the cave for protection. There were others like him, watchers among the mists. Their bizarre faces came to her in dreams after nights when she lay consumed by the hunters’ primordial passions. She was their radiant queen; forever young in the heat of soft furs. She guided them through the rituals that ushered in the seasons and made them strong. In orgiastic bliss, they celebrated each kill, each birth and each other.
She gazed over the frozen expanse and for the first time in a thousand years, shivered. The red sky signaled snow.
Slowly, food grew scarce. Hunters ventured far and returned empty-handed. The mammoth and the great bear vanished. The tundras where game once roamed became a wasteland of jagged ice and bitter cold. In two moons’ time, the reek of death replaced the scent of roasting meat, sweat, and sex. Strong men succumbed to shifting glaciers and frozen seas. The children perished from hunger while the elderly withered from disease.
An old woman’s dying words accused her, “Look at her!” she signed in their primitive dialect. “She does not suffer; she does not age while we die. She is cursed.”
They needed someone to blame and so they turned against her.
Kneeling before the strongest of the warriors, once a lover, the ancient queen bowed her head. The flint knife sliced through her long mane and the furs were stripped from her body. Banished from the cavern, she walked into the frozen wilds to die.
Reddened eyes watched as her hair grew back, glorious and black against the savage wind.
The frost battered her limbs, and she wandered without direction. Thoughts of hot nights spent among sprawled, sweat-slicked bodies gripped her mind. Visions of thighs, breasts, lips, and ardent caresses howled inside her with dolorous hunger. When carnal need became unbearable, she cursed and clawed and bled while the watcher trailed her from a distance.
Days passed. Stars shifted. A hole opened in the ice.
As the sunlight faded, and she sank beneath the frozen waves, she thought of the cave paintings drawn with soot. The hunters had worked feverishly to summon the stark figures of animals as though divining the fate that would befall them. In her liquid tomb, the queen sang the songs she taught the women to sing while they sewed the hides with sinew reaped from dried tendons. Bone awls zigzagged in and out in unison. She held her knees and curled against her cooling embers.
Anger washed away and she breathed her final breath.
(Salten Fjord, Norway, 7000 BCE)
Glaciers receded and oceans rose. For five thousand years, the nameless queen drifted in her frozen tomb across a distant sea. With the onset of spring on the steppes, the iceberg shattered and revealed its prize.
The shadow in the ice beat in the hearts of men and the wind whispered the mountain’s call. Lurid dreams came to the dwellers of the tundra. Warriors and children gazed at the icy peaks with fear and fascination. Some claimed the susurrations were an omen of the gods. Others spat on the ground or busied themselves with the weaving of wards.
In the spring, when the snows melted and became raging rivers, the warriors departed for the hunt. The women parted with their mates with wreaths of blooms, hand-sewn blankets, and satchels of smoked meats. The children ran with the men as far as their legs would carry them. The village grew silent in their wake.
Nightfall brought with it the eerie howling of wolves which unsettled young men accustomed to the warmth of the huts. Seasoned warriors mocked their inexperience and hardened their nerves with drink. As the meat roasted and the pungent scent of arrowroot and pine filled the air, they gathered around the fire and told ancient stories.
“There was once an immortal race of giants from the sky. They walked the earth when it was lush and green and bedded our women. They wrought calamity and eternal ice; begot offspring who feasted on human suffering.”
They slept fitfully under the stars. Dug caches for their kills.
Determined to reach the mountain, the hunters pressed on. Many days after leaving the village, a young warrior slipped and fell in a crevasse. The party found his broken body on a ledge and dug a grave for him in freshly fallen snow.
The moon climbed full and painted the land with stark blue shadows. The uncanny cries of mating foxes joined the high pitched wail of the wind. As the hour grew late, the men’s inebriated voices rose along with the wayward, spiraling sparks of the embers. They petitioned spirits and burned shards of sacred bark.
All mourned the boy’s death.
Sunrise came with the terrible brilliance of a night steeped in drink. As they rubbed sleep from weary eyes, stillness fell over the camp. The men looked at each other, then to the shallow grave. The snow had melted from the cliff face to reveal the mountain’s secret–a sinuous shadow in the ice.
Sweat burst from their pores and soaked their furs. What lay hidden in the ice consumed their minds and swelled their loins. For a cycle of the moon, they toiled feverishly and hunted only when hunger beckoned. No one spoke. No one questioned. Stroke after stroke, they labored, until their picks and axes dulled and became impossible to lift.
When they reached the source of their obsession, they fell to their knees. Tools dropped from chapped hands as they gaped upon the ancient queen. They marveled at her raven hair and breasts ripe with mother’s milk. Soft and luxuriant, her body carried with it the essence of earth and jungle, heat and sensuality, fire, and molten flesh.
Despite her cold, crystalline grave, her skin glowed with life; rippled with conception.
In their lust, the hunters forgot their women and children. Blood flowed as friend turned against friend, father against son.
Moonlight stung the woman’s eyes and she squinted. Blurry points of light sharpened and became stars. She breathed deeply; stretched her arms. Her ears picked up the distant sound of running water and her nose the odor of moist loam. Pebbles dug into her back as a wave of warmth and feeling washed through her. Spring had come. She was alive.
Around her lay the remains of broken bodies; some young and some old, all of them desiccated—their skin stretched tautly over their skeletons.
“Do not mourn them.” The resonant male voice was strange yet familiar.
She rose from her bed of bones and faced the apparition. “Who are you, spirit?”
Majestic horns and wings shone blinding in the sun. The entity’s eyes, pyres of chaos and mischief, glowed hot. “I am a Watcher. Do not fear me for you are of my blood.” The immortal extended his hand. “Walk with me.”
As his wing enveloped her, the ancient queen remembered her name. She was Eisheth bride of Semjâzâ, created to lure the unwary into the sins of the flesh and feed on the souls of the fallen. “I hunger.”
“And you shall feed.”