The tracks lead from the snow to the water. The pads of wolf-paws leave their familiar marks right up to the edge of the ice, but neither the pack nor a solitary hunter is waiting by the frozen entrance of the ocean tonight. The boundary of the ice is the transition point, one flesh to another, one hunter to another, teeth of the land becoming the teeth of the deep.
No one has ever seen them go there. There is no proof; we have come seeking it, out of the warmth of the igloo, into the dark of the night. The stars guide our guide; the tracks are the hidden signal of our quest, but not enough, and there at the water’s edge, I approach the danger myself. This is the sea beyond whale song. Here, nothing lives but hours of silence, even in the blood-red death, even in the movement of the tide, the breaking ice.
Here the arrival of the glacial freeze and the shifting of the spring ice is still quiet, still only natural noises, disturbing nothing, and in the lassitude of the black chill, beneath stars too white to touch the snow with brightness, I stare into the gleaming waves, beyond the frosted facets of their caps. The deep is alive with hunters. I taste their air, the salty exhalation of their steamy breaths. I see the black-and-white shadow of their shapes caressing shallow currents, just below the surface, predatory eyes looking up at me –
One at a time. Always one at a time. Rising, turning, riding the promise of the swell, they turn away from me then. I will not witness the transition, but the shapes they bear are not truly orca. Fur, in the shifting sleekness, disrupting outlines that should be smooth. An elongated muzzle, tapering in the shape of a wolf, though much, much larger.
And the paw-prints, their elegant remains telling a deeper story. I cannot dare the water. This is as far as we go. The mystery keeps itself a mystery, and I return to the expedition. We go back through heavy snow.
An Akhlut Legend
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