Excerpt from The Peoples of the Snows, by Samuel Rousselot
Oh! Curse this joyous land!
Upon the fourteenth week of my perilous journey, my heathen guide Sitiyok led me to his people. We were invited to their fire, and sat over tea and pemmican, to make introductions. Sitiyok explained that this small village was the Four Stones Creche, who fed on deer and fish in the summer, and made long stores of meat and fat for the winter.
They lived in the summertime in huts of furs and sticks, and a few with piled stone walls. Now that autumn had come, they were energized by anticipation, their eyes forever turned south to search for the caribou. I asked Sitiyok of the old elf woman with the chipmunk in her hair, who seemed as old as the stones. She was a wizened old crone even by the standards of her race.
“She is Isumataaluk Angakkuq,” said Sitiyok. “Your sorcerers who have come to learn, they call them les Feralis.”
She turned patient, rheumy eyes our way as we spoke of her, and smiled. It was a kindly smile, for a crone so old. Two perfect eye-teeth remained in her mouth, sharp and strong as the fangs of a wolf. She beckoned me closer, and so I approached to sit beside her at the fire. As was the way of respect for the elders of her people, I took a piece of meat and chewed it, and then offered it to her. She accepted and nodded her blessing, before speaking to me.
I am the sorcerer of beasts for the creche. Your manners are good. Sitiyok has taught you. I will tell you a story of the first of us:
When Brother Caribou came of age, he told his friend White Fox that he wished for a bride, and for his Sister a husband. White Fox promised his friend he would look, for he had heard tales of First Man and First Woman and their beautiful children, and he too wished to know them. Helping his friend Brother Caribou seemed the perfect reason.
So White Fox fell like snows from the heavens that night, he landed gently upon the tent of Third Daughter of First Woman. White Fox is sly, and playful in all things, and for this Brother Caribou liked him very much even when he was vexing. So upon the roof of Third Daughter did White Fox prance to wake her, tugging at the gut-string knots and singing the songs of the flies.
“Who dances on my roof and calls the flies?” cried Third Daughter, waking from her sleep.
“It is I! Brother Fox!” he shouted. “Come out, Third Daughter of First Woman. Brother Caribou seeks a wife, and her sister a husband! Where is Third Son of First Woman?”
Now at this news, Third Daughter became excited. Brother Caribou was powerful and generous, and he had gifted many of his sons and daughters to the bellies of the people. To wed the People to the Caribou would be a rich thing. But she knew too that White Fox was sly, and not always to be trusted. Sensing a trick, she looped a gentle gut-line snare, and poised it by the smoke-hole where she had seen White Fox in his dance.
“He hunts in the lands for good meat,” replied Third Daughter. “White Fox, you are a trickster, but by the pat of your feet on my roof I can tell you dance so well. Leave the gut-lines of my roof alone. Why does Brother Caribou not come himself? Does he not dance so well as you?”
“None dance so well as me!” cried White Fox, and he leapt and he pranced upon her rooftop.
Quick as a shorebird, when his tail dipped through the smoke-hole, she snared his tail and held him fast!
“Why?” cried brother White Fox. “Oh! I am caught!”
Smoke began to fill the tent, and so Third Daughter of First Woman leapt from her tent, dressed in thin robes of the summer and beautiful under moonlight. She looked to him and laughed to see his mischief turned against him so.
“Sing the song of the gentle winds, brother White Fox, and rid me of the flies, and perhaps I will let you go.”
White Fox was chagrinned. He had made three mischiefs upon Third Daughter of First Woman, and so he knew three mischiefs would be laid upon him. Dutifully, he sung the song of the gentle winds, and the gentle winds heard his song and came to dance, and so blew the flies far away.
“Ah!” cried Third Daughter in surprise. “What a beautiful voice you have.”
White Fox too was surprised! He was proud of his fine, white fur, as pure and clean as the snow. Everyone had praised him for it, and commented upon it, and called for him to dance so often. Nobody had ever praised his voice before! None had asked him to sing before!
“Swear to me under the heavens and in the name of Sun that Brother Caribou sent you, brother White Fox, and I will let you free, but two mischiefs yet you are owed,” said Third Daughter.
“I so swear!” called brother White Fox, and so Third Daughter ducked back into the tent, where the smoke had grown thick.
So thick was it that she could not see, and so she gathered it all into her hair until it was as black as obsidian, and into her skin until she was bronze as a doe. Then she freed White Fox, as she had promised. The smoke had stained his tail-tip, and this is why brother White Fox, to this day, has a black tip upon his tail.
When Third Daughter emerged from the tent, White Fox gasped in joy. “Third Daughter!” he cried. “You are as brown as a doe, and wear the black of winter’s night itself as your headdress.”
Third Daughter curtseyed, and smiled at White Fox. “White Fox, surely you were sent here by Brother Caribou, for you have such finer sight and hearing than his own. So surely he trusts you to seek for him a beautiful bride, comely and sweet of voice.”
White Fox pricked his ears and blinked his eyes. He knew that Third Daughter sought to trick him somehow. But Third Daughter spoke no lies, but sweet truth: He did have better eyes and ears than Brother Caribou. Assuredly that was why Brother Caribou had chosen him!
Third Daughter’s hand touched White Fox’s whiskers. “Am I not beautiful as Sister Caribou, now?” she asked. “With my skin doe-brown and my hair of the night?”
“Assuredly you are,” said Brother White Fox.
“Is my voice not as sweet in speaking as Sister Bird in her song?”
“Assuredly it is,” said Brother White Fox once more.
Third Daughter smiled. “Brother Caribou is rich, and kind, and generous with the People. But he keeps friends with sly tricksters, who give my people little, and dance upon my rooftops and chew my gut-strings, and sing the song of the flies.”
Chagrinned once more, Brother White Fox bowed his head. Third Daughter touched his whiskers kindly twice. “For my second mischief upon you, Brother White Fox, you will go to Brother Caribou and tell him I am worth the dowry of all his people. That you have sung and danced for me, and blushed at my touch, and would have made me your wife had you not been sent in good faith. That your eyes and ears say I am twice as beautiful as he imagined, and he must send his dowry with the autumn before the snows come, and then will I be his bride.”
Brother White Fox was ashamed, for he was not so rich as Brother Caribou, and his people were far too small and few to feed the People. But the Third Daughter’s second mischief was one of kind truths; she was twice as beautiful as he had imagined. And so White Fox agreed to the second mischief.
And so Third Daughter was wed in the autumn to Brother Caribou, and Third Son to Sister Caribou. First Man and First Woman attended the wedding feast, and all four of each of their sons and daughters, and their husbands and wives. They filled a great longhouse with the feast of Brother Caribou, and all ate richly and well on fat and liver, until one by one they were all so full they fell to the floor. They lay rolling there a time, holding swollen bellies full of life.
At the feast was First Son and First Daughter, wed then to Sister Earth and Brother Water, and their children to be born would be Gaimen.
Second Son and Second Daughter had been wed to Sister Spirit and Brother Spirit, and their children to be born would be Shaman.
And now Third Daughter and Third Son were to be wed to Brother and Sister Caribou. But their charms were so sweet and their beauty so fair that oh! Many were the suitors from the animals, who pledged to wed to the children of the Third Son and Third Daughter, called Feralis. For a time they fought bitterly with one another. Finally, Third Daughter said she would task all her sons and daughters to wed them all, one by one, until every animal had a good wife or husband of the People. The animals were calmed by this, for they knew that the daughters and sons of First Man and First Woman would keep their promises.
Fourth Son and Fourth Daughter had not yet chosen to marry, and much was the kind gossip around the feasting fire of them and who they would wed.
And when all had pledged and all had feasted, Third Daughter called upon Brother White Fox to her table. She told the story of his blackened tail, and all laughed kindly at the mischief each had wrought upon the other. Then they shared fat from a plate and tea and their fire, and so White Fox and his good cousin Dog is always welcome around the tents of the People. Even if they chew the gut strings.
“Is it true,” asked First Woman to Brother Caribou. “That you sent Brother White Fox in your stead, for his fine eyes and ears?”
“It is true,” said Brother Caribou, in generous praise of his friend. “He has a sly wit, but a heart as pure as his white fur. He would make anyone a good husband, for he is a clever hunter.”
“Then I shall now declare my third mischief,” said Third Daughter, for the feast had filled her with merry wit. “Take you your sister, Brother White Fox, and go to my Fourth Brother and Fourth Sister. Offer as dowry to teach them the song of the winds, and tell your sister to teach them the song of the seas.”
At this Fourth Brother and Fourth Sister looked very pleased, for even with his black tail, Brother White Fox was very handsome. Wise Third Daughter had seen that his virtues were many underneath his vain coat.
And so from White Fox did the people of the sea learn the songs of the winds and the songs of the seas. With those songs they could hunt whale and fish, and break the ice for Brother Walrus and Sister Seal, but that is another story.
I thanked her kindly for the story, and we traded tobacco and runes for tea and furs, and went then to sleep. In the morning we were woken by a great, joyous ululation, and men and women sprang up with knives and spears and broad grins.
Sitiyok rose and passed me a spear with a loud cry: “The river of life! The caribou come!”
I had heard tales of the coming of the caribou in autumn, but tales in story and song cannot convey the immensity of the herd. Like a great brown river, we watched the caribou come, spreading and streaming out across the landscape in a flow over a kilometer wide, and countless kilometers long. They moved with steady purpose, inexorably south, coming as great and unstoppable as a tidal bore along a river.
The people fell among them and bathed in their flesh, spears rising and falling, knives slashing and cutting, seeking tendons to cripple and arteries to spill. The caribou streamed on, uncaring. The entire creche had come out, and every man woman and child fit to carry a spear stabbed and cut and slew. And all the while, they sang.
They sang songs of praise and thanks:
Oh! A fat doe! Oh! A grand buck!
Oh! Pretty antlers! Oh! Liver and luck.
Fat are my children, pretty their smiles
by the blood of your brothers
do we live on a while
Many were the songs, as many as their kills, joyful shrieks and cries from children as livers were cut and sliced, and fed among them without bothering to cook. It gave them strength, and their joy cast great sharp arrows of stone from the earth, killing more cleanly, kindly. Each caribou culled was pulled from the herd by four strong men before the carcass could be trampled.
I joined them and slew with my spear and magic, and within hours had added twenty good caribou to the long line being slaughtered and butchered. Children too young to hunt were cutting industriously with knives, following the instructions of the elderly. Over each carcass did the old crone preside, checking the tongue and eyes of the animal with care, and the livers of each. Three of the many were discarded, her glare setting the corpses ablaze where they lay, and burned until naught but ash remained.
“Those animals, why does she burn them?” I asked of Sitiyok.
“Cursed are they, taboo, or diseased. Probably disease. The worms within some will take a man’s liver or make him blind. Those she burns.”
Not long after, her apprentice, a young man no older than fourteen, gave a shout and pointed into the herd. All hunting stopped, and a shout arose from the hunters, stepping away from the great brown flow of caribou flesh. I confess I could not see what drew such alarm, for the caribou streamed by in the thousands, and I knew not what they looked for. I turned to Sitiyok to ask.
“They see one accursed. There is a monster within, wearing the skin of a stag,” said Sitiyok, who’d gone abruptly grim. “We must cut it from the herd.”
Calls and shouts of ‘Gaimen!’ arose. I did not see the Gaimen that day, but I saw his work. Out of the earth rose a sturdy stone wall, knocking aside Caribou as it rose and surrounded one lone beast.
At first I did not see what was special about the poor beast. It lowed and it looked around in surprise and fright, eyes rolling to the whites in surprise and fear, no different than any other caribou. It kicked at the stone that had abruptly surrounded it, and tried a brief, fruitless climb against the walls. Only in watching it for some time, as the wizened old crone made her slow walk towards the four stone walls, did I see the difference.
The caribou all move with an awkward grace, but they move all alike in the herd. This one moved wrong, all of its motions too fast and abrupt. Occasionally a foreleg joint would bend the wrong way as it walked. While the black flies would normally torment the caribou at every opportunity, here, no black flies dared near this one. Those humming clouds of eternal torment parted in a wide berth around the accursed beast.
As I watched, waiting for the old crone to reach her target, something thin and gray slithered from a nostril of the caribou. It fled into one of its eyes, disappearing once more. I leaned on my spear and felt ill, and Sitiyok muttered a grim, heathen prayer in his people’s tongue.
When the old crone met the path of the caribou herd, she reached out with a gentle hand to touch the first upon its nose. Where she touched it, it came to a stop, long enough to allow her to pass. So she crossed the stream with the ease of a duck swimming a river. I thought perhaps the caribou that stopped would become prey to the spears of the northern peoples, but the hunters left those beasts in peace.
“Sitiyok,” I said. “They do not hunt the beasts she stops?”
He cast me a look of disapproval.
“They favor and honor our Angakkuq, allowing her path to come before their own. They are blessed, and to hunt them now would be taboo. She honors Brother Caribou by keeping the accursed from His people, and Brother Caribou honors us by sending the river of life through our lands.”
When the old crone approached the four walls, more stone arose in a polite set of stepping stones, rising into the air as if a staircase. Fearlessly, she stepped onto the rising pillars, often outpacing the rising stone so that it seemed as if the earth must rush to meet her foot suspended in the air. When she had climbed to the top of the walls, she walked to each corner, and laid down small wrapped bundles of sage grass and tobacco.
“She will burn them in offering to the four winds,” explained Sitiyok to me. “In apology for the staining of the air that will come, by the smoke.”
“She means to burn the thing, then?”
“Yes. In her youth our Angakkuq met Brother Dragon, and learned from him the secret fires. His fire is hottest and purest, and burns best the accursed.”
My eyebrows raised. We’d seen dragons on the horizon, plucking prey from the same unending stream of caribou as we, but they were many kilometers away. With renewed interest I watched as the old crone ignored the thing trapped in the walls. She paid it no heed, not even when it leapt into the air and then devoured its own skin in one horrid, slurping bite. What was left underneath was a monstrosity. With skinless muscle exposed, it revealed interwoven muscle and countless gray, gelatinous strings. The grey strings moved and slithered and split and joined in places no beast would.
The danger contained, the hunters had returned to their bloody toil. I chose to watch, while Sitiyok returned to the caribou, and the crone lit her grasses and began to pray. I do not know what sign she awaited, or what agency acted, but after some minutes the four white plumes of smoke began to twist in the air. They spiralled in the air upwards in a gentle vortex.
I tell you now the strangest of this magic, was that I saw no flows. I know not what agency moved the wind so, but it was not the crone. She merely stood, cocking her ear to the wind as if listening to voices. No magic left her, no flows of enchantment flew from her or any hunter around her. The wind simply obliged her, and that sight and mystery has haunted me every day since.
The smoke from the sagegrass had spiraled high overhead, not once dissipating from their four distinct lines. When the smoke trails towered high overhead, the crone turned her attention to the foul beast below. She stood upon the walls trapping the monster, too far away from me for her words to be distinct over the cries and responses of the hunters and the lowing of the caribou. By the motions of her lips I could conclude she was chanting, and her hands traced gestures in the air.
From my vantage point I could see the monster in its stone prison. It moved without rhythm now, limbs flailing savagely, broken bones bending in wrong places as it thrashed about. Now and then a gray splatter of ichor would leap from the carcass onto the old woman, as if trying to infect her. But each time it occurred she simply brushed the tendril off, and continued her chant.
Then all at once the monster grew still. The crone drew a great breath, and fire leapt from her throat and onto the monstrous beast. These flows I could see, clearly! It was fire, the flames blue and pure and terrible. They went on and on from her mouth until the rocks within the walls glowed a bright white from their heat. Smoke from the burning monster billowed up into the sky, clean and white. The smoke followed the trail marked by the four spiralling white plumes. The fire lasted but a handful of seconds, and the smoke but a few more.
Not long after, the stone walls and stairs sunk back gently into the earth, like a mummer’s stage elevator hiding itself from the world once again. The crone walked back to her place overlooking the valley, and the hunt went on all day and into the night.
Sitiyok explained to me over supper that evening, the course of events:
“Our Angakkuq spoke to the winds, and asked them to carry the smoke away, so it would not bedevil Brother Caribou’s people. Then she spoke to the monster, and convinced it to meet its death in calm and peace, and to trouble not the caribou or the People any longer,” he said.
“And then she burned it, and it accepted?” I asked, in incredulity.
“Its death was assured by then,” pointed out Sitiyok. “But she could offer it the fastest, kindest death it would ever know. A moment of pain, and then it would be naught but ash and smoke, and given over kindly to the four winds. If it had fought, she might have called for hunters to throw spears and spells before she burned it. Its death would have been one of anger, terror, and suffering. Her fire was a mercy, and monsters are seldom given such a gift.”
We sat back, and watched the lights dancing across the sky, content with the taste of fresh fat and rich liver on all our tongues.
Excerpt: In the Shadow of The Cracked Cliff Creche, by Amelie Pointifaire
“Starvation is everywhere in the north,” my brother assured me, as he checked his trap lines. “Life here is about storing up for the winter, from the first day of sun to the last. It’s a brutish place.”
It would be unkind to point out to my brother that he was a brute. It had been his actions that had seen him spend his best years in prison, and now in the coldest places where his history and crimes couldn’t follow him.
“You seem to be eating well,” I said to him. “Your wife is fat and happy, and so your children.”
“The summer gold panning went well. When I told Eek what I was looking for, he showed me a stream bed full of gold. Good supplies, good trade. I made more panning last summer than I did on prime pelts!” he boasted.
My brother had every right to be merry. He’d found no hooch in the trader’s caravans, and so his money had been well spent, and his temper well-kept. When I’d pointed out to him how pleasant he was without his drink, he agreed. He solemnly told me he’d vowed to the Saints each, thrice by name, that he would touch not another drop. I think it is no surprise that he found himself a wife and family not long after.
The Cracked Cliff Creche, as he called it, was eight families in the lee of a ridge long ago split by water and ice upon stone. At first I had hesitated to visit, after his reports of life around the heathen natives of the land. But the summer was pleasant, and the flies kept readily enough at bay, and it was an exciting adventure to come to a new land and to meet my nephews and nieces.
His wife’s name was Ugalik, and she was named for Sister Rabbit. A lucky name, in the north, and a common one, meant to symbolize a wish for fertility. That night, beneath the south-east face of the cliff, we ate well on bannock and muskox, and drank great pots of tea. Only when the children were in bed, did Ugalik’s kindly face turn grim. She left the tent, and did not return for an hour. Where she went, my brother would not say.
When she returned, she was all cheerful smiles again, and apologized for her absence. I didn’t think much of it, until a fortnight later it occurred again, on the tail end of my stay with her creche. Once again, after a night of merriment and good meals, she abruptly turned grim, and left the tent. My brother did not pursue her, nor show any curiosity in her departure, and he instead settled in to sleep.
I confess I let curiosity lead me away from good, wholesome firelight, and into the dark heathen paths. I left the tent, and seeing motion on the western sky, lit yet by faint dusk, I crept forward to investigate. I thought, in the moment, it was a matter of personal health or perhaps a heathen rite that drew her away so unexpectedly. But I was unprepared for the truth.
Ugalik lay prostrate on the ground before a tiny mound of stones, no larger than a common hound. Sunflowers, dead and dried, lay in pots of precious soil scraped together and assembled in a circle around the stones. As I watched, she lay weeping, pleading and shaking her head with soft, piteous whimpers. It was not until I saw the tiny bones of a child unearthed when her shaking hand disturbed a rock, that I could feel terror creep over my heart.
I could not tear my eyes away. She reached for the bones of a finger and plucked the smallest one free of the grave, and consumed it. I covered my mouth to stifle a cry of horror, and felt certain she would hear me. But the cry of shame and horror she let loose the instant she swallowed drowned out my stifled cry. Afterwards, she lay weeping, great silent sobs of shame and sick horror bubbling up within her.
In haste I made my way back to the tent, and in horror confronted my brother about what I had seen. He calmly bade me to sit, and to speak not of it until she returned. When she returned, an hour later, her face was drawn but her smile was restored, and she sleepily banked the little fire and settled in beside my brother. He touched her hair, and said some words in that accursed heathen tongue. Ugalik sat bolt upright in fright and horror. Her hands clasped over her mouth, and she wore a look of such piteous shame that I could not help but gawk.
“She will explain herself, Amelie,” my brother assured me. “Watch, and be still your frightened heart.”
Ugalik reached into the air, and summoned a glyph from her grief. When she touched it, a terrible visage appeared: a figure as though half-man, half-caribou. It had a grossly distended body and arms so long the hands hung on the ground with more room to spare. The terrible thing looked about once, its black baleful eye dry and pitiless. Its mouth opened, and the sound that it issued was the howl of the winter wind, whistling as though though freeze-dried ribs.
It vanished the instant Ugalik removed her hand from the glyph, and both she and I fell back sobbing our horror.
My brother had seen the dramatic apparition before, for it was his calm and gentle voice that broke us both from our frightened crying. His arm gently closed around the waist of his wife, soothing her, as he told me the tale. I relay it now, that the accursed horror and hope of the land touches those who read my tale, and heed the warning of the Way-chew-gey:
In the land of the North, as in any land where death comes often and before its time, are many spirit-walkers. Here, in the north, they are called Shaman, or Tonra-quga. They have died once before, and so belong half to the dead, half to the living. It is the Tonra-quga who calm the angry, wild spirits of the north, and it is they that broker the peace between the creche and the elements of the land.
The People would give all for the lives of their children, and it is for those People that the Way-chew-gey preys upon. In the darkest of winters after failures of the river of life, when the caribou came few or none, starvation waits. And with it, the Way-chew-gey.
Ugalik’s first husband died very young, caught by poison vapors rolling down a mountain and into the valley where he hunted that day. It was early winter then, and the snow was good for travel, and so at first she thought he had simply hunted afar, and returned with good game. When six days passed and her husband had not returned, she lashed her three young children to the sledge and followed his trail. He lay dead in the snows, and in telling this Ugalik’s eyes teared, and she held herself close to my brother.
“She found her husband dead, and tore at her hair and wailed her grief, and her voice lifted the stones to lay gently around him and atop the grave. For a half-day she prayed and wailed and wept until her children grew hungry and she was forced to return to the creche,” my brother explained. “And then came a long and dark and lonely winter, and she with three children, and the ice was thick and the caches of food difficult to find. Late into the winter, the food ran out, and Ugalik could scarcely hunt with three young waiting her. Still, she did hunt, but the rare partridge was all she found, or the winter-sleeping mouse.”
My brother soothed his weeping wife, as he explained:
“Winter ran very long that year, and her children began to dwindle and grow weak. She boiled every leather she had, every stem for tea. When there was nothing left, fearing for her children, she cut her own veins, and fed them her life’s blood.” His gentle hand exposed her left arm, revealing deep scars therein, ragged cut.
Once more Ugalik looked away in piteous shame, and I confess, dear reader, I shed a maidenly tear in sympathy for the heathen creature even amidst my horror.
“She fed them, and she dwindled, and at some point, she died,” my brother said softly. “And the Wey-chew-gey was waiting. It knew the People very well, and many were the warnings of it and its ghoulish evil. It offered her a pact, to seal half her soul to his, in exchange for the strength to restore two of her three children.”
“Why not all three?” I asked.
“It is the way of the Wey-chew-gey,” my brother said. “It binds a heart to horror, to pollute the noblest joy of the People. One dies, so the rest may live. Her youngest would die. The Wey-chew-gey is perverse in its wickedness.”
My brother laid Ugalik down in the furs, and pressed tea to her lips, and then reached out to clasp my hand in kindness. “She paid half her soul to save her two eldest. With the Wey-chew-gey’s magic she restored them, and fashioned arrows of magic to strike down distant game, and drag them back to the snow-house on her behalf. So they were fed, and survived the winter, and her youngest was buried there,” he said, as he lifted his free hand to indicate the grave I had witnessed Ugalik eating from.
“Why then does she eat her own dead child’s bones?” I whispered. “Is this too the curse of the Wey-chew-gey?”
He nodded, and in this his eyes grew wet, and solemn. I realized then how heavy was the burden he bore upon his heart, and how kindness and compassion had grown within his once-brutish heart to bear Ugalik’s curse so.
“Belonging to the half-dead, any new child Ugalik bears in the womb will be vulnerable to spirits as vessels and naive pacts. The Wey-chew-gey protects her child from others and itself at the cost of eating a bone, thrice per child. If she did not, the Wey-chew-gey might claim it in a pact anew, or worse, call a more wicked spirit to do the same.”
“It extorts her,” I whispered. And dear reader, I write without shame, I crawled to Ugalik and I embraced her. Together we sobbed, and I whispered every prayer to the Saints I knew.
“It delights in the taste of her revulsion,” my brother told me. “My love is accursed. I forgive her. She bears it, to bear us greater joys in the world.”
They have seven children now, dear reader, seven beautiful and joyous children, who love their brave mother and faithful father. And every time I receive a letter from that far-off and freezing place, celebrating a new nephew or niece, I fall asleep weeping. I wake from terrible nightmares that end, always, with a beaming mother holding something worth all those fears.