Chapter 1

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JACK PAUL

I look up and squint into the infinite, whiteness that stretches out in front of me. On days like this, when the clouds hang thick and low, they merge with the snowy landscape, and the horizon disapears. The difference between sky and land becomes indistinguishable until all that remains, is a colorless, featureless world that envelopes everything.

The winds are howling again. They tear at my cheeks, lacerating them with frozen fingers as sharp as blades. When the winds howl like this, it get's even colder. Sheets of sleet and snow start falling again. Raging blizzards gnaw at the icy landscape, altering its shape as they pound it relentlessly. And it gets even darker.

They used to call this winter, but that was a long time ago when the earth had four seasons. But since the great freezing, it only has two; cold and colder. Dark, and darker. Windy, and even windier.

Sometimes, the wailing winds are so loud that they drown out everything they meet. Once, when a mother was giving birth, white knuckles gripping the animal skin rug, sweat beads clinging to her skin, her screams weren't even heard by those wiping her brow.

But that's what this place does; it drowns out life, suffocating it under feet of powdery ash and snow. But it's all I've ever known. It's all any of us have known. There are stories, though. Stories of a place so strange and exotic that if I hadn't seen pictures with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it.

They say the world was once covered in a rug so soft and green that you could run on it with bare feet. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the sun... the sun was the most glorious of all. That faint, diffuse blur that attempts to reach out from beyond its cloudy grave, was once so bright you couldn't look directly at it. Fat and yellow and warm like fire.

A few of us think a place like this might still exist somewhere beyond the whiteness. Many winds ago, a lone traveler took refuge in a cave nearby, bringing with him stories of a place so green and warm that you didn't need to wear clothes there. He died that night, taking his stories with him. But there're a few of us who still cling to them.

People like my father don't like to imagine places like that. It's much easier to pretend that nothing else existed before the great freezing. Before the volcano cracked the earth open and destroyed everything it touched.

"This isn't a place for foolish hopes and dreams," my father's always saying. Hope is what killed my uncle, after all.

I look down at the old, worn book I'm cradling in my hands. Most of the pages still bare the scars from the night my uncle left. My father doesn't know this, but when his back was turned, I scooped it out of the fire and have kept it hidden ever since. My great grandmother called it a children's book; a story to put children to sleep. I can't read any of the words, so I look at the pictures instead.

I'm scrutinizing my favorite page again. Even though I've seen it a million times before, it still exerts that same magical power it did over me the first time I saw it. Green trees, blue skies and colors I have no names for because I've never seen. I was born here, 23 winds ago. Born into this white, icy wasteland. I close the book gently and slip it into the safety of my bag. This book is my most prized possession.

Then suddenly, through the blustering winds, the sound of the horn echoes across the tundra. My heart thumps in my chest, I propel myself onto my feet and start running. My feet sink into the soft snow, and the faster I run, the more my heart thumps against my ribcage, pouring excitement into my veins. As I get closer, I hear the urgent shouts of my clan as they scramble to get ready.

When a whale washes up on shore, there's so much that needs to be done, and quickly. Because of this, it's also the only time that all the small clans dotted around our bay come together.

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