10 comments

Science Fiction Speculative Adventure

“Is it true that the winds still blow in the North?” the boy asked.


“It stands to reason, boy,” I said. “But why would that matter to you now?”


“Don’t call me boy. It is Jeavon. Jeavon Hanley,” he said.


“Ahh, yes. Kim Hanley’s boy.”


The boy was looking for a guide to the Northern lands. A commission I’d been known to accept if the price was right. But, never for such foolish reasons. Of all days, he had arrived on March 4th. The anniversary of the Doldrums. The eighteenth anniversary of the day when all the wind in Borealis ceased forever. The day I became an obsolete relic, useful for nothing more than husbanding some livestock and staying put in my windless hovel.


I remembered reading in the Sunday Bulletin how Kim Hanley had fallen ill with the sitting disease. That’s what I called it anyway. No one knew exactly what it was, only that those who suffered from it sat and stared straight ahead until they died. It went by many names: The gaze, the rigors, blinking disease. But the name that stuck was ‘the palsy.’


It was a shame, what was happening to his mother. She had always been polite with a sunny disposition. Which is no small feat with seven children, of which Jeavon would be the youngest. But there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Things like the palsy take time to take hold and find a home in a land, and they don’t move on and leave because of some ginned-up folk medicine or a contrived Catholicon invented by some huckster exploiting the love of a young boy for his mother. If I took this commission though, was I any different?


“Yan Lu says that the only cure is Feng, ‘Grasping the Wind.’”


“And what does Yan Lu propose to do with the wind if you were to catch it?”


“We store it in this,” Jeavon said. He pulled out an object known as a FengBi, which was a propeller blade attached to a thin spear at one end and a rotator shaft and generator at the other which held a twirling bulb that glowed orange as he spun it, and a suction cup beyond that which ostensibly administered the cure to the patient.


“Why not just spin it like a child’s dreidel? It would do about as much good. The wind has nothing to do with it.”


“Yan Lu says that fengbiao is a weather vane and fengchi is a windmill. The wind makes the weather vane rotate and spin. The same with the windmill. Yan Lu says that the winds can do the same and stir my mother back into action—into life.”


“Yan Lu. Yan Lu. I am so tired of hearing about Yan Lu. That old quack would have all of Borealis jumping off a cliff without a shred of evidence that a single one of them had ever lived to tell the tale. And you’d all jump too. Wouldn’t you?”


“Yan Lu has cured the palsy before.”


“Has he, son? Really? Just because one out of a hundred got better? You credit that to him?”


“No one has gotten well except the ones Yan Lu has treated.”


“Spend one night chilled to the bone in the clutches of a buffeting and persistent Northern wind and tell me what powers men have over nature.”


The boy stood. A furrowed forehead, broad cheeks, and far-off eyes. Chin raised in defiance. Wearing the adoptive look of all foolhardy young men facing forces that they knew nothing of. A look of certainty that there was no difference between wanting a thing badly enough and manifesting it.


Death was contagious. And it spread among us, devouring indiscriminately. This one would fall. A Kim Handley. But the one next door would be untouched. The rumor and the old wives’ tale going around Borealis was that the winds of the North could revive the frozen. Where did this come from? Nothing more than the fact so few of the youth had ever experienced the wind. And what could be more foreign and magical than a fascination with the gusts of the hinterland, where the Intuit god Negafook puffed his cheeks and blew out a savage frozen-hearted Northern gale that circumnavigated the globe?


Cage disease and shipping fever were common in livestock. With cage disease, birds confined to tight quarters would suffer from a bacterial infection that overwhelmed their fragile immune systems. They were not meant to be cooped up like that, but to fly freely on the shifting winds. An impossibility in Borealis. Which is why the land was birdless.


As the birds’ limbs lost strength and their bones thinned from nonuse, the birds’ lungs would choke with infection. Psittacosis. Death followed soon after.


Shipping fever in cows was the same. The stress and inaction of a long trip could drain the immune system and cause pneumonia and death.


“I know what you are, Arkansas Grosvenor. And I can pay.”


“Well, well, that is altogether another matter. Let me see the money.”


“I can get it,” Jeavon said. “I will have it for you when we return.” I waved him away and retired to my study, ignoring the boy. I did not like to have my time wasted.


But he did have something of value. Something that I might trade for my services. Production quotas had descended on Borealis, to combat runaway inflation. The Dust Bowl outside the big city was a place where you needed a permit to increase your quota. No more permits were being printed. But Jeavon had a permit. A livestock permit. And with that, I could double my production.


“I’ll have my price in advance,” I said.


“And what price would that be?”


“What else son? I’ll take your permit.”


Jeavon must have anticipated this. Because he held the metal amulet in his hands and looked at it a long time before depositing it in my waiting hands.


“Done!” I said. Wondering if I still had it in me to chase the winds.


Victims like Kim were just a sign of the times. It was as if the wind cleared the way of corpselike bodies that went unused, its gales, and gusts carrying the dead away like a broom sweeping away stagnant dust and making room for the new. Even if it only blew in dreadful metaphors.


I am Arkansas Grosvenor. If you are wondering why the boy had sought me out, it is because I bear the mark of the Wind Hunters. A mouth blowing out a curling wind which we all had tattooed in blue ink on our right forearms. I lived in the Dust Bowl on the outskirts of the city in a shanty. I shepherded a small flock of sheep and goats. I spent my days and nights on the silent plains with the animals. We old-timers understood that remaining active was a matter of life and death. But it wasn’t always like that.


I wore the same thing every day. Blue jeans overalls over a brown and yellow flannel shirt, a wicker hat to keep out the sun, and sturdy brown work boots that had lasted five seasons. It was a far cry from my old Wind Hunter uniform. Layers of black and gold Lycra, designed with internal heating and cooling elements, biotech, and aerodynamic nanotech rivets sharp enough to cut a zephyr to ribbons.


The plains of Borealis were cold and windless. As cold as men’s hearts. The great wind sleeves hedged in the borders of the flat, gridded metropolis. The cloud-splitter obelisks filtered out the atmosphere with their layers of HEPA filters, an infinity of sieves. People scurried below cloudless skies, moving to and fro in a windless country. Old rusting windmill farms collected rust and the sails of masted ships were kept behind glass in exhibits in the Historical Museum of Obsolete Things down in the Theater District.


Above an exhibition of a barquentine with fore-and-aft sails was the inscription: The answers are blowing in it. Caution is thrown to it. Change comes from it. When you are on your way, it is at your back. How few of us were left who could decipher such riddles and understand their meaning?


* * *


The polar vortex buffeted Baffin Island with fifty-kilometer winds, circulating counter-clockwise against the rotation of the Earth. Greenland is anything but green. It is a mile-deep sheet of ice that acts like a magnet for cold, dense things.


All the winds had their names and routes. Their personalities and predilections. The katabatic winds cool and hug the Northern ice, which condenses the winds, funneling its currents down steep downslopes, and whipping them past the basin of Baffin Bay into North America.


The Tramontana was stirred by the polar winds and reached over the Alps and down to the Italian Coast, like a giant icy palm petting the brow of a panting Golden Retriever. The Amalfi Coast bathed in the warm whisps of the Austro from the South, its muffled whimpers of warm humid air issuing from the throat of the Adriatic Sea and echoing over toothed cliffs of the Mezzogiorno. Then their muted notes roamed freely along the palisades of the coastline, coaxing from the cliffs plump Sfusato Almafitano lemons, stout bushy olive trees, and great yawning walnut trees. The tiny salty anchovies gathered in the wind-swept coves of the shallow shoreline waters.


But this is a story about the Northern winds.


Bjørn Freysson was nearly seven feet tall and nearly as wide, arrayed in thick furs from head to toe. A walking mass of animal skin over a creature part man, part element. “Mush,” he yelled to the two trains of Alaskan Malamutes strapped and tied to the sleds, each one of them a giant in their own right. With their upturned tails and round faces, they looked like ghostly locomotives with puff ball caps. Their legs were a blur of movement below the taut leather harness straps as they roared through the snowy landscape to the North of Baffin Bay in perfect meter. They yipped in pleasure at their master’s commands and coated the icy air with warm mists of steam from their cavernous lungs.


The boy and I were holding tight to a second sled, and a second team of Malamutes, while Bjørn required an entire team just to move himself through the icy expanse.


“There is so much wind,” Jeavon said. “It stings!”


“Hiya! Hiya!” Bjørn yelled at the dogs.


“Hold tight, boy,” I said, laughing at the grin on Jeavon’s face as he took in the sights of the North for the first time. Long-dead instincts, nearly snuffed out of the boy, began to awaken. Throughout the whole afternoon, Jeavon pointed like a child at each new thing he saw. A seal is sunning itself—there’s a glacier breaking up—there’s a wolverine—there’s a team of Thayer’s gulls. And on and on.


We had departed from the Kullorsuaq Settlement a few days prior. To the West were the frozen winter seas. To the East were ranges of mountains flanked by hanging glaciers, seemingly arrested in mid-fall.


“Whoa! We need to feed and make camp for the night,” Bjørn said. The dogs barked and grumbled and slowed their pace. “Whoa!” Bjørn said. As the train of dogs ground to a halt, Bjørn ran along the line and untethered them from their harnesses. The twelve hungry jowls all assembled in a circle around Bjørn, a few of the dogs sniffing and nipping by his big burlap satchel. Then Bjørn pulled out sun-dried Salmons, one for each of the dogs. In a well-choreographed routine, the dogs lined up and each received their fish from Bjørn’s giant hands, devouring their meal in seconds with pink blood marring the fur of their chomping jowls, long tongues cleaning their satiated mouths and gleaming white teeth. One of the Malamutes coughed up a bone in the snow and took to licking every last morsel of energy from the snow.


Bjørn dug out a tin of seal fat for a delicacy, dropping it into the center of the dogs, which closed in with an explosion of checking growls. Then in moments the dogs scattered and started digging with their forepaws, each making their beds for the night and curling in, protected from the driving winds by the walls of their dugouts. They fell to sleep immediately, rumbling snores curling up from their small snug, insulated nests.


I started the fire while Bjørn was busy with the dogs. Bjørn tossed me two cans of beans and a small package of frozen ham to heat on the fire, as we had done each of the two prior nights. “Why do the dogs eat like kings, while we eat like peasants?” Jeavon asked.


“Because, son, the dogs are pulling that sled from sunup until sundown. They are the main event. We are just along for the ride.”


“I guess it makes sense,” Jeavon said, scooping a spoonful out of the pot over the small propane stove which struggled in the whisps and gusts of the freezing Northern wind. I noticed that he had his hands ungloved.


“You’ll put your mittens back on if you want to keep those hands,” I said.


“But the fire is so warm.”


“It’s twenty below, boy. Trust me.”


Bjørn returned to the campfire and sat beside us, smoking a pipe fashioned out of whalebone, and breathing out great blasts of gray smoke.


“Tomorrow, we head back to the settlement?” I asked.


“The weather decides. But if the bad weather passes before sunup, tomorrow we’ll make our return.”


“What is the problem with the weather?”


“The West wind is poised to pounce like a black cat,” Bjørn said and pointed at dark clouds out to the West.


“So, what is it?” I asked.


“A windstorm. It will hit us in the night.”


Jeavon pulled out the FengBi and it spun in the winds of the firelight, glowing with the accumulating winds.


“This is no cure,” Bjørn said. “You cannot harness the winds. You can only bring one to them. There is no other way.”


The sky darkened. The white world tinted blue, then gray, and the light fizzled out into dusk. We spoke about the palsy, about Borealis, about the hermetic world beyond the fiction of the wild country. Bjørn listened through laughing lips, as I explained how the Wind Hunters were gone from society, how we had wrestled the winds into submission with tech, and how our leaders believed unquestioningly in control over nature.


“That is a joke,” Bjørn said. “One cannot control the thing that they are. You are nature.”


“You sound like a Wind Hunter,” I said.


“We don’t believe. We fear,” Bjørn said. “The life force is borrowed from the skies and the wind. Every man has two souls, umaffia, the life force, and tarneq, the personal soul. Umaffia is borrowed and must be returned. Tarneq persists. Your palsy is the fading of umaffia. You cannot cut off the life force from the source of life. It is unnatural. It is an offense against oneself. If you offend yourself, punishment follows.”


Bjørn spoke as one with authority. Matter-of-factly. As if these things were obvious.


“But, in our world, there is safety,” Jeavon said.


“Safety is an offense to the life force—which is always changing,” Bjørn said. “If your front door is bolted against the hungry white bear, it will come through the back, or crash through the wall. But it always finds a way in. There is no safety. You feed it or kill it. But you cannot seal it away.”


“That’s what the palsy has done,” Jeavon said.


The winds picked up and drowned out our voices. So, we hunkered down in our tents for the night. And before I fell asleep, I turned to the boy, and said, “You still believe in that doohickey?”


“I have a different idea,” Jeavon said. Then his muted snores commandeered the tent, which shook in the icy gusts.


* * *


In the light of morning, the North gales made long sweeps of air filled with flying white. The dogs flew at a punishing pace, seeming to know they were headed home.


As we reached the outskirts of the Kullorsuaq Settlement we saw the red and blue A-frames on the horizon, along the archipelago bordering Melville Bay, with its docks piercing Kullorsuaq Harbour.


Bjørn scooted out of his sled on two small skis, grabbed the Gee-pole, and skied into camp alongside the teams of dogs, steering them like he was ruddering a ship.


The three of us assisted with feeding the dogs and housing them in an outdoor corral by the trading post.


The cargo ship that would take us back to Borealis was already blasting steam some miles out, headed for port, toy-sized along the horizon. It was a bright cloudless day and in the bitter cold, the rays of sun gave the illusion of warmth.


As we three stood on the docks, Jeavon turned to me. “What did they have against the wind?”


“There were so many storms, so many settlements devastated. Floods. Cyclones. One disaster after another.”


The boy looked at me. I could see that he was fumbling for something in his pocket.


“Bjørn was telling me he needs help with the dogs,” Jeavon said.


“What about your mother?” I asked.


“About that,” Jeavon said, and pulled another amulet from his satchel. “For another commission, would you bring her here?”


“Of course, son,” I said, as he deposited the amulet into my hands.


“Well, Bjørn and I should be stocking supplies for the next push.”


I hugged Jeavon goodbye. “Thank you, son.”


“What is that for?” he said.


I dropped the amulet back into his gloved hands.


“For curing an old man with the palsy,” I said.

March 07, 2024 10:17

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

10 comments

Alexis Araneta
13:01 Mar 07, 2024

The twist !! Another very riveting tale with great flow ! Well done, Jonathan !

Reply

Jonathan Page
06:54 Mar 08, 2024

Thanks Stella!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Annie Persson
11:05 Mar 07, 2024

Oooh, what a twist! I hope the boy's mother can be healed. :)

Reply

Jonathan Page
06:52 Mar 08, 2024

Thanks Annie!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
05:46 Mar 31, 2024

I am glad about the cure and hope his mum can be cured as well. I enjoy reading your stories but feel I need to point out a few things. I still found it an interesting and entertaining read. As wind is the air rushing in to take the place of hot air that rises it was hard to understand the scientific idea behind windless Borealis. Birds can fly without wind. Some species of ducks with shorter wings can't easily take off with low air pressure. Or so I believe. The Inuit god, not intuit.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Trudy Jas
22:05 Mar 07, 2024

Amazing! You "spoke" with a totally difference voice. Very believable. The gruff old man who found his passion again through the eyes of a "boy". and a message against "big Brother?"

Reply

Jonathan Page
06:53 Mar 08, 2024

Thanks Trudy! Getting out of my comfort zone here with some science fiction, dystopia (i.e., Big Brother), and an adventure to boot. Didn't know if it would all work together, but must obey the prompts, lol!

Reply

Trudy Jas
12:55 Mar 08, 2024

right, if it isn't big brother, or the voices in our head, it's The Prompts. :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
13:06 Mar 07, 2024

Incredible details to build a believable harsh world. Ode to the wind.

Reply

Jonathan Page
06:54 Mar 08, 2024

Thanks Mary! I was a bit thrown trying to find inspiration from the "Wind prompts" but managed to find some ideas. Tough one. Who knew there was so much to write about with a wind angle.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.