He was scrambling eggs and frying bacon on the camp stove when she came out, yawning and pulling on a jacket against the last of the night chill. That smells good. She sniffed hungrily. What time is it?
He shrugged. I wouldnt know. My watch is in my pack, and thats right where itll stay till Cowboy picks us up. You put away your watch? Im amazed.
Im smitten, he said. And I cook. He waved a spatula at the eggs and bacon.
Where you been all my life? She squatted, stole a rasher out of the pan, and ambled to the shore. She stood looking out over the water, chewing as breakfast popped and sizzled in the skillets. Nathan, do you think bliss is achievable as a permanent condition? Or do we just have to content ourselves with a random series of singularities and contingencies?
Say again, please? In English?
I feel helplessly happy. Think itll last?
I wouldnt know, he said.
Even if it doesnt, I cant complain. I slept like a zombie.
Me too. I felt oddly drained.
He dumped the eggs onto their plates, tossed two slices of bread into the skillet, and was turning down the gas when she called out.
Hey, look at that! She was pointing across the lake. He turned and swept his eyes over the water, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. What
Up on the ridge.
He scanned the crest and saw them, a string of caribou filing south toward the Isignaq, headed for Jade Portage and the wintering grounds across the river. From this distance, they looked like bugs crawling along the edge of the sky. He was reminded of a phrase he had once heard an old Inupiat hunter use for caribou: earth-lice.
There was indeed some resemblance, Active saw now. Plus, as the old man had pointed out, the Inupiat of long ago had eaten their own body lice as well as earth-lice.
Now that everyone was civilized and bathed regularly, the old man had reflected somewhat gloomily, body lice were no longer on the menu, but at least the earth-lice were still plentiful, and as tasty as ever.
Active went back to the tent and fetched his binoculars for a closer look. The males were in full fall regalia, with towering antlers and thick coats of gray-black fur except for the white capes shining practically incandescent in the morning sun. The females ran more to brown and gray, with spindly, twig-like antlers.
How about some caribou for breakfast? Grace asked. There was fire in her eyes of a kind he had not seen before. Her Inupiat half coming out, surely.
You bet, he said, hurrying to the tent to uncase the guns. Well have to cross the creek and come up farther along the ridge to get ahead of them.
They loaded quickly, slung the rifles over their backs, and sprinted along the lakeshore to the outlet, then worked down One-Way Creek until they found a spot shallow enough to ford.
He was halfway to the opposite bank, eyes on the ridge, measuring their pace against that of the caribou, figuring the odds of getting up the slope in time, something about the creek trying to get his attention, when she called out behind him.
He turned. She was pointing at a dark object a few yards downstream. He had caught it from the corner his eye before, but in his hurry had passed it off as rocks or a log. Now he saw what she had seena pack frame strapped to a figure lying face-down in the stream.
They splashed through the creek, their Sorels taking on water, and rolled the corpse over. The head flopped forward with the current, as if the neck were without bones, and they both recoiled.
Excerpted from Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones. Copyright © 2009 by Stan Jones. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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