Aurora, p.1

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Aurora
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Aurora
Aurora

  by Sean Krick

  Copyright © 2014 by Sean Krick

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  “Can't you just patch it up? Put it back in place and work your magic?” Kamik pushes the smoldering nub of a cigar from one side of his mouth to the other with his tongue and leans forward over the levers to peer through the ice-encrusted windshield of the snow cat. He keeps doing that, like he’s expecting to see something through the darkness. His beard is curly and unkempt and it twists against his coat like a tangled mass of razor wire every time he turns his head.”What about the instrument you used – the fork – can’t that help?”

  “It's not that simple,” I say.”The fork only scares it away. You were here last time. You saw what it did to Allie.”

  “Yeah.”

  “You saw her try to kill me.” Kamik falls silent for a stretch.”These things get more powerful, Kamik.”

  “Alright.” He gestures wildly with his gloved hands, ignoring the wheel.”You know I would’ve taken care of the markers if it was up to me.”

  “It was Sirmic. I know.”

  Kamik pushes the window open and the roar of the snow cat's engine rises to a crescendo. Cold air cuts into the cabin and takes hold of me, reinvigorates my senses as the darkness undulates beyond the window. Kamik flicks the haggard butt of his cigar out into the night, a tail of orange sparks exploding on the ice and disappearing into the darkness. Before the smoke clears from the cabin, he has another cigar primed and ready. He pulls the window shut and the warmth spewing from the vents dulls everything again.

  “How many of those do you go through?”

  Kamik tugs at his jacket and reveals an inner pocket stuffed with a thick bundle of cigars.”Need one?”

  “No, thanks.”

  I can’t see anything outside the yellow patches of headlight that scrape across the snow ahead of us. Even the stars are veiled. On the horizon, a lazy tendril of green light shifts high above.

  “You know what that is?” Kamik asks, flicking his eyes toward the aurora.

  “What?”

  “The aurora borealis.” The words are wooden, almost broken by Kamik’s accent. A flash of purple joins the green for a second then fades to blue.”Caused by light reflectin' off the snow.”

  “What light?” I ask.

  “I don't know. The sun or some star. The moon?”

  “That what they teach you out here?”

  “It's the truth. We live with the aurora year round.” He shoots a stern glance across the cabin to prove his point. I don’t bother to correct his people’s theories.

  “How far to the first marker?” I can't see anything I recognize; no buildings, no marina, no beam of light from the lighthouse tumbling through the curtain of darkness.

  “Should be just up ahead.”

  The second he says it, the headlights catch on something off to the right.

  “Ho!” Kamik pulls back hard on the levers and we slow to a crawl as we approach a metallic pyramid jutting from the ice. It's the marker, but it's lying on its side. Sirmic hasn't even bothered to check it.

  “What about the others?” I ask.

  “Haven't seen 'em since you were last here.” He pulls up right next to it and stops.”All you.”

  “You’re too kind.” I wrench my door open and hop out into the frigid darkness.

  Icy spears of wind disregard my parka and push straight through to nip at my flesh. I inhale and the brisk air numbs the sting of Kamik’s second-hand cigar smoke in my throat. The snow cat roars behind me, its headlights shimmering off the ice as it vibrates.

  The first six inches of the marker’s base is encased in ice. The tip points off at a sharp angle, toward some random stretch of cosmos.

  “Goddammit,” I mutter.

  I close my eyes and breathe. They don’t know any better; no one here does. Most of them only experienced the weakest echoes of distress; dead livestock, an eerie howl cutting through the night, an unsettling scent in the air. But Sirmic and Kamik both saw Allie change. That should have inspired more caution than this.

  I stare at the submerged surface of the pyramid. The black symbols etched into the metal are dull and lifeless. The faint sense of control the markers afforded me has evaporated. Now I don’t know if I can protect these people. It occurs to me that I don’t even know the town’s name. I wonder if it has one.

  I step outside the headlights and let my eyes adjust for a moment. Sprawling, gray peaks resolve on the horizon, sawing through the atmosphere like stone spearheads. A vast stretch of level ground indicates the sea, but the ice must still be dozens of meters thick. Everything pulses with a faint, blue glow that flirts with the boundary of visible light. The breeze dies and everything is still except for the vibrations of the snow cat’s engine.

  I pull the door open and hop back into my seat. Kamik looks over at me with interest, his cigar nearly spent.

  “Salvageable?” he asks through his teeth.

  I shake my head.”Not anymore.”

  He pushes the levers and the snow cat lurches forward.”Don’t know why it chose Anyok.” So the place does have a name.”Nothin’ here but ice and ancient fishermen.”

  “Your skrimsli is born of the ice,” I say.”This place is its womb. It will feed here, and grow, and then move on.”

  Darkness stretches before us once more. Thick coils of smoke rise from Kamik’s cigar and pool in the air and I yearn for the crisp, clear oxygen outside. I can’t think in here.

  An orange glow suddenly sparks into existence and spreads as we draw closer, illuminating a cluster of roofs with gnarled shingles. The rough silhouettes of buildings are just barely visible against the tapestry of darkness.

  “Huh. Wonder why he opened the bar,” says Kamik.

  “Sirmic?”

  “Yeah. Can’t be much business.”

  “That’s where we’ll go.”

  “Sure.”

  Kamik veers toward the orange light and the headlights collide with a row of massive, yellow shapes. We careen past a line of identical snow cats parked at the edge of town by an ancient refueling station. I wonder if they work.

  Between the buildings, our cone of light catches on weathered boards and shuttered windows. The houses are falling apart, crumbling into the ice. A machine shop with a huge wooden sailfish hanging from the veranda leans to one side, the door twisted into an awkward rhombus. A sickly, red barn towers to the left, paint peeling to reveal battered wood. The doors and windows are boarded up.

  “It took the cattle and the chickens,” says Kamik.”Every last one. You know what that means?”

  Perhaps he’s beginning to understand the gravity of the situation.”What?”

  “No burgers.” Kamik laughs a guttural laugh.

  Deep holes punctuate the thick layer of ice spread across the road, and the snow cat’s treads catch on the edges. This is a new development. It hasn’t snowed recently. Highly unusual.

  “You know why Sirmic’s mama named him after a glacier?” Kamik continues. He doesn’t wait for an answer.”Cause he’s cold as one and he came out nearly as big.”

  I spare him a laugh, though I can’t stop thinking about the hollow barn; about the dozens of healthy cattle and hens packed into the space the
last time I was here.

  The center of the town is a jagged grid of slightly nicer buildings. In high season, this place is bustling with fishermen, but with winter, everyone flees for warmth and sunlight. We cross another street and the buildings open up to reveal a blank patch of ice at the center of town. Orange light from the bar spills from crooked windows to fill the opening and lend a façade of warmth.

  We pull right up to the side of the bar. The windows are plastered with condensation. I can just make out a group of three men gathered around a table inside. They look up as the snow cat groans to a stop. Fatigues hang from their chairs. They’re army.

  “What’re they doing here?” I ask.

  “Probably headin’ up to Fort Greenly. Maybe they can help if something goes wrong?”

  I sigh for effect.”They never help. They shoot.” I retrieve my bag from the floor and shoulder the door open.

  “I’m going to refuel,” says Kamik.”Might be by after that. A little ale doesn’t sound so bad.”

  I nod and thank him then slam the door shut. The engine roars as he pulls away. The smallest of the men at the table, a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid, stares at me through the window.

  I sling my bag over my shoulder and walk around to the front of the bar. The wind is back. I flip my hood up and tighten the drawstring till I can barely see the mass of barren ice that marks the center of town. On the other side, the houses are tightly packed. A few tiny alleyways slither between the walls. The aurora shifts behind it all. It’s the only thing that moves. Mother Nature’s false beacon.

  My boots crunch like thunder on the ice as I walk past the door and trudge through a snow drift to the back of the building. There’s a back door situated in the far corner.

  I return to the front. Muffled voices seep through the walls. I pull off my gloves, tuck them in an inner pocket, and twist the handle. Heat radiates from the bar to embrace me, but there’s something else. The instant I’m inside, I feel the skrimsli’s energy, dark and vast like a stain on my consciousness. It permeates everything with its nauseating stench. This is worse than I expected. It kept its distance before, but it’s learned not to fear these people. It’s closer. And stronger.

  “Told you!” yells the blond kid at the table by the window. He’s talking about me. The other two, obviously older, take huge gulps from their mugs. Three rifles lean haphazardly against the wall behind them.

  An open fire crackles in an enormous stone fireplace cut into the far wall, throwing enough heat to make the whole room cozy. Sirmic stands behind the bar, holding a colossal mug to his lips. A burly man, still wearing his coat, hunches over the bar, absorbed by his drink. It takes me a second to notice a girl sitting in the stool at the far right end of the bar. It’s Allie. She glares at me through dark eyes that dart away just before contact.

  I plop down in the stool beside the burly man and set my bag in the empty seat next to me. I can feel the army men staring.

  “Sirmic.” I hold my hand out.

  He smiles a toothy smile and engulfs my hand with his. He’s a bear of a man. A red and black plaid shirt as big as a tarp is draped across his shoulders, the armpits and neckline drenched in sweat. His face is windburn red. He rummages around underneath the bar and comes up with a yellowed glass.

  “What was your drink?”

  “Water.”

  Allie scoffs sheepishly like she wants to start a conversation, but no words come. Sirmic walks over to the tap and fills the glass with thick, dark liquid.

  “Not in my bar.” He slides the glass across the lacquered wood, slopping dark ale all over the bar.

  I lift the glass to my lips and take a draught of the pungent stuff.

  “Cheers,” yells one of the men at the table, holding his glass in the air.”To getting rid of the boogeyman!”

  I keep my eyes trained on Sirmic.”Remember what I said about secrecy? About maintaining the markers?”

  Sirmic drums his fists idly on the bar.”Guess the secret’s out.”

  “That wasn’t a suggestion. You could have been rid of it by now.”

  He hides his face with a huge gulp from his mug.

  No use. What’s done is done. I sit back and peer around the room as I sip the heavy, lukewarm liquid. There’s the back door, at the end of a short hallway guarded by two mounted bull moose heads, antlers cluttered with coats. The energy is close. It pushes its way into my thoughts and scrambles them like broken radio waves. The thing could be in the bar for all I know. There’s an acrid stench hiding beneath the aromatic cypress and pine that crackles in the fireplace. The others can feel it, but they don’t know what it is. They’re not attuned. I feel for the source, but I can’t pinpoint it yet.

  I glance over at Allie. Her eyes fall immediately to her drink.

  “Allie,” I say quietly.”We’re ok.” It’s all I can think of and it feels incredibly disingenuous. Whether she was in control or not, she tried to kill me. But she smiles and seems to relax nonetheless.

  The blond boy from the table stands and pushes his chair out with a screech. He brushes past me and leans drunkenly on a stool to stare at her.”Hey baby.” His words are slurred.”What’s your name?”

  She looks at me instead of him.”Ahna.” A devious smile grows from the edges of her mouth.

  The man looks over his shoulder at me, unable to comprehend why she’s more interested in me than him.”Well I’m Brandt,” he says in an attempt at suave that falls somewhere between awkward and pathetic.”I think you know what I’m gonna ask next.”

  There’s a burst of laughter from the table behind me and Brandt’s two friends rock back and forth in their chairs. The energy grows slightly and now I’m sure it’s in the bar; one of the men. I’m not ready. I reach for my bag.

  “I can’t imagine,” Allie replies.

  “My friends and I are new here. We’re lost. And bored. It’d help to have a native stay with us tonight.”

  “You want trouble, boy?” asks Sirmic, who seems to have grown in size.

  So the old glacier does care.

  “I can take care of myself, Sirmic,” Allie says.

  The burly man next to me shifts on his stool and lets out a low grunt.

  Brandt steps back from the bar and throws his hands up, winking.”Just thought I’d offer.” He stumbles back to the table where the other two laugh hysterically until they clutch at their sides.

  The energy’s still growing. It skews my senses, peels back reality to reveal another dimension where everything is dull and blurred. The sounds from the table, the cedar smell, the warmth; it all comes to me through a vacuum. Allie stares past me at the table, a look of pure disgust weighing down her features.

  “You ok?” asks Sirmic.

  “Fine,” she says.

  I can barely hear her words now.

  I focus on the smell of the fire, clutching desperately at coherence. The energy ebbs and flows and the lights pulse through shades of yellow and red. No one else can perceive the energy, but to me it’s physical. I claw clumsily through my bag and grasp the tuning fork, the hard steel cold in my fingers. Its tone may not be enough anymore. I’ve never felt anything this strong.

  Sirmic is staring at me from the bar.”You alright, Jack?”

  I twist to look at the men across the room, but everything’s a blur. Suddenly, Allie’s by my side. She shifts through space like liquid, separating and combining in an elaborate display of unnatural motion. She touches my arm and my lungs seize in my chest.

  I bring the tuning fork up as high as I can, muscles stretching like frayed rubber about to snap, and bring it down with every ounce of strength I possess. But the sound doesn’t come. Something has my arm.

  Before I can look, pain flares between my shoulder blades and I fly forward into Allie and the stools. Wood splinters beneath me and warmth explodes through my shoulder, shocking me back to my senses. Allie’s screaming at the top of her lungs. I still have the fork. I
spin to see the burly man towering over me, his face contorted with an inhuman grin. His eyes dart frantically from side to side, a clear hint of purple flashing in the irises. His tongue hangs awkwardly from his mouth, peppering flecks of foam across his beard. The men at the table scramble for their weapons, chairs flying.

  I take a deep breath, hold it, and slam the fork into the leg of a stool. Its deep tone expands to fill the bar, sending splintering vibrations through the floorboards and up into my legs. The man shrieks, a shrill sound that cuts through the fork’s wavering note and ricochets through my eardrums. I strike the stool again and the tone shifts higher, piercing. The man throws himself to the ground in a heap.

  I spring to my feet and pull Allie from the stools. She’s shaking uncontrollably. Sirmic is nowhere to be seen. The back door swings shut.

  “Move!” one of the men yells from across the room. His voice barely registers in the din. Three rifles are leveled at the man cowering on the floor.

  I pull Allie toward the door as gunfire erupts around us. Shards of glass from the bar pelt my cheek.

  “Stop!” I yell, but I can’t even hear myself.

  The man on the ground shudders as a hail of lead tears through him, reducing his coat to blood-soaked ribbons in an instant. He screams so loud my ears ring. The gunfire ceases abruptly and spent shells clatter on wood. The fork’s tone is gone, canceled by the percussive blasts. The man’s blood coats everything. The energy recedes.

  I push Allie out the door and slam the fork into the frame as I leave, reigniting the tone, but just as I pass through the opening, the energy returns all at once, scattering my sense of balance. Slick fingers clutch my ankle and I’m falling. I hit the floor hard and the fork flies through the door and falls silent. I turn and kick at the hand and the entire arm detaches from the body with a sickening pop. I tumble through the door just as the man drags himself to his knees. A chorus of panicked shouts and gunfire, distorted and distant, fills the air again. I kick the door shut.

  The cold tightens everything – presses against my skin and robs my breath – but it also drives back the disorientation. Allie drags herself away from the bar, leaving a red smear in her wake.

 
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