This is my favorite winter folk tale, the story of a young eksimo raver from a small village who makes magic and finds her dream world... Far, far away in time and space, there once lived a young woman. She was a little taller than most women were those days, and had especially long,dark hair; but the peculiarity that set her apart from others before or since, the one unforgettable attribute the storytellers all agree on, was the character of her hands: she had the longest, nimblest fingers her countryfolk had ever heard tell of or laid eyes on. The countrysheshared with them was as frigid and forbidding as only the setting of a fairytale canbe. All winter long, it was black, and dark clouds rushed over unbroken snowfields on unspeakable errands; all summer, it was grey, and a freezing wind blew hail against the faces of the small tribes of hunters who lived there. They crossed and crisscrossed the regions of ice, following the packs of glacier dogs who provided their only meat in that unkindly climate. Since the beginning of time, the cold had chilled these people to the bone. The first motion in the womb was a shiver, as was the last, on the deathbed, when the flesh finally released its little spark of warmth and welcomed that chill. All the time between, hunting, eating, sleeping, running, kissing, was spent in taut resistance, every muscle rigid, every body tense. Tension was ubiquitous in these people; that is to say, it was invisible. It had molded every attitude, every custom, every posture; but while they did indeed have as many words for snow as their moon’s cycle had days, they had no name to identify this tension, having never been free from it. Born into this setting, our heroine grew up, like her peers, austere and aloof. Only at the end of adolescence did her singularity manifest itself: more than any of the other children, the girl with the long fingers was dreamy, faraway, introverted. She had been given one present at her coming of age ceremony, a crudely fashioned guitar with strings made from dog sinew, and she sat alone with it, constantly, struggling to play it with her numb, clumsy fingers. The few muffled notes she managed to wring from it were as much as anyone in that land had ever been able to: the cold temperatures and the stiffness of their joints precluded anything else. Yet she sat, sadly, listening in the silences between strums to the universes of music it seemed must exist elsewhere. As she grew into adulthood, the fame of her cool beauty spread far across the permafrost, and the question of matrimony arose. There were twelve tribes besides her own in this land, and in each of these tribes there was a chieftain’s son who was ready to marry. These sons traveled one by one, across the snow and through ice storms, to court her; but she turned each one away, sitting there somberly with her guitar, prying a crooked note from it from time to time and sighing. The young men went away grim, embittered, some deeply offended at her offhand rejection. Marriage prospects were rare in this place, and after all, they were the sons of chieftains, not used to being denied. And so for a few more years she lived alone at the edge of her tribe’s small settlement of igloos. She lived alone until the morning when, venturing forth from her shelter after a particularly violent blizzard, she descried a small, dark shape in the snow. Approaching, she discovered it was the body of a tiny dog, too meager to make for good eating, practically frozen stiff. Moved by a sentiment she could not recognize, she took it in her arms, and brought it back to her bed. All that day it lay there beneath the skins and furs, heart barely shuddering in its bony chest, as she sat with her guitar, toiling as usual to extract a few pained notes from it with the wood blocks of her fingers. Amazing to tell, by the time she lay down to sleep again, the little animal was breathing perceptibly. All that night she slept with him against her body, and in the morning he was a live dog again. Indeed, a remarkable warmth had come into his body, and he leapt and frolicked quietly as she patiently broke her heart against the uncaring strings; and when again she lay down to sleep, he crept into her arms and wrapped his scrawny body tightly around her impossibly long fingers, as if by careful design. And so it happened that, on the following day, she awoke to a sensation she had never felt before, that perhaps it had been long generations since her countryfolk had felt. At first she was unable to recognize or understand it: it was as if there was a pain in her fingers, a sweet, sharp pain, but it was not a pain. She shook them, then, more slowly, flexed them, and found that they danced before her like a line of ballerinas. It took her a full minute more to realize what she must do, and by then it was almost too late: she scrambled for her guitar, and in the instants before the cold gnawed back into them her fingers fluttered up and down its fretboard. A wave of song flooded out such as her ears had never heard—perhaps it was the first such melody any ears had heard in that region of the earth—and fell silent, as the frost reasserted its sovereignty. Wet tears, real drops of salty water, flowed down her face, and formed icicles on her cheeks: the universe she had dreamed of did exist, and she had beheld it. To look through this window into the infinite and then have it shut before her was almost unbearable. The remainder of the day, she stayed far from the guitar, angry beyond reason that it could give her such a glimpse and then cut her off as she reached out. That night, finally, reluctantly, she returned to her bed—and there was the dog again, a little less gaunt, waiting for her, a warm thing in a world of cold. She lay down, and again he pushed into her arms and enfolded her hands—and she lay there, breathlessly, waiting for sleep and almost fighting it off with hope and fear. And so it was that the next morning when she awoke, barely rested, she knew exactly what to do with her prickling, freshly fluid hands. She seized the guitar immediately by her bedside and set her fingers to it, and the sounds that swelled forth were heavenly. Her neighbors all, one by one, froze in their morning rituals, and, hypnotized, followed the unearthly sound to its source at the threshold of her igloo. It was another thirty seconds before her fingers fell again to benumbed silence, and in that eternity her kinsfolk heard things they had never dreamed of, laughing brooks and fluttering butterflies and sunshine upon blowing sheaves of wheat. When the moment had passed they remained there, arrested, speechless before this vista she had thrown open to them, all those visions for which they had no names still hanging in their eyes. Lacking words, they finally returned to their tasks in mystified silence. But the next day, of course, they awakened before even her and hurried to hear what might spring from her fingertips. And once more, the little dog having spent the night pressed against her chest, her fingers were limber, and she was able to play, to summon melodies even more magical than those of the morning before. These lasted a few precious moments, no longer than the song of the preceding day; then her blood ran cold and silence reigned again. So it came to pass in this settlement that every morning the village folk would gather to hear their kinswoman play otherworldly music for their attentive ears. She became a seer of sorts for them, a sorceress whose strange ways they did not understand but whose craft each treasured as the breath of life itself. She too, keeping herself to herself, did not feel she understood; but so long as the divine was pleased to speak through her, she would give it voice. Word of this new wonder spread to the twelve other tribes scattered across the snow, and her kinsfolk speculated that soon the twelve chieftains’ sons would set out again to seek her hand in marriage. She was happy in her strange life, as happy as she had ever been; and if she was certain of one thing, it was that she did not want to give up her place as intermediary of the infinite to be a mere wife of a chieftain’s son. She pondered long and hard how she might once and for all ward off their attentions, and finally, after a performance one morning, addressed an announcement to her neighbors. She explained, as simply as one might explain anything, that she had indeed chosen a suitor to be her husband: at the end of the moon’s cycle, as was the custom, she would wed her partner in life, the dog with whom she spent each night’s sleep. The other members of her tribe were uneasy about her announcement. No one had ever done such a thing—who could know what the gods would feel about it? Still, as they thought it over, her disclosure began to seem less unusual. She was already different: she lived apart from them, she channeled music from another world, she seemed even to obey laws of a different nature; and so most concluded that, as one simply could not know what was customary or common for such a woman, it was best to keep a safe distance and let her do as she would. And so she and the little dog—which, thanks to her care, was now somewhat more robust, and even elicited hungry sidelong glances from time to time—were married at the conclusion of that moon’s cycle, much to the bewilderment of everyone who was to hear about this for years and years. Reports of this further strange development spread close on the heels of the last news to the campsites of the other twelve tribes, and cut a path straight to the ears of the chieftains and the chieftains’ sons. The chieftains scoffed and sneered to hear of this strange girl who had married an animal scarcely fit to be eaten, and their sons, ears reddening at the thought that they had only recently pursued this madwoman, chaffed and spat with contempt. And some of these young men did not let the thought pass; a couple did not jeer or spit at all, but sat in the chill winds darkly brooding on the affront that had been done them by this arrogant girl. That she would refuse them and marry a dog! The ache in the ever-tight muscles of their shivering bodies, the constant constriction of the cold, had turned these youths sour and grim. Another cycle of the moon passed, and it came time for the yearly council of the tribes. Each tribe sent its strongest, sharpest young men across the plateaus of ice, and they gathered to discuss the year’s events and settle minor disputes. Among these young men, of course, were the twelve spurned suitors, and after the more pressing topics had been addressed, they fell to talking about the woman who had refused all of them to wed a four-legged beast. The discussion wore on, a distraction in the biting cold, each endeavoring to outdo the others in swaggering indignation; and finally the gang decided that she must be punished for her insolence. In the meantime, the guitarist and her dog had been living quietly and happily, after their fashion, on the outskirts of their encampment. She rose at the commencement of each day to serenade the villagers with a new fragment of song, and spent the rest of her hours nursing her numb fingers in a quiet contemplation punctuated only by the simple tasks and chores of arctic life. She had no reason to fear or expect changes; as far as she could tell, all the world had forgotten them here, except in the moments when her neighbors came to hear her play. So it was with confusion that she regarded the tidings that a host of men, the same men whose courting she had refused, were approaching her campsite. Hadn’t she turned them away already, leaving no doubts as to her decision? What could they possibly want from her now? Perhaps they, too, only wished to hear her play, as her neighbors did. That was fine; she could play for them as well. The men arrived at her igloo at the dawn of a new hunting day, at the same hour that her neighbors gathered to begin their day with her melodies. These outsiders were led by one hulking, wicked fellow with a face contracted into a permanent grimace and teeth that chattered constantly, as if some parasitic insect were broadcasting its territorial rights from his tongue. “We’ve come to see justice done and lessons taught,” he informed the villagers coarsely, and they all shrank, shivering, from his icy stare. The guitarist emerged a moment late that morning, hurrying out with the red in her long fingers already fading as she raised the crude instrument to her knee. The hulking fellow struck it out of her hand immediately, and before she could register her surprise, two others seized her by the arms and dragged her away from it. The dog appeared at the threshold of her igloo, curious about the commotion; one of the men forced it back inside with a swift kick. Her kinsfolk looked on in shock, but took no action: nothing like this had happened in their camp before, but then, no one like her had ever been a part of their tribe—she had played strange music, she had married strangely, and now strangers had arrived to take her away. Everything about her took place in another jurisdiction; she was beyond their understanding or interference. Coming to grips with the situation, she struggled to turn and face the severe, expressionless brute who had almost smashed her guitar. “Before you do whatever you have planned,” she counseled, calmly, as the two men fought to restrain her, “let me play for you. Just one minute. Let me play.” She looked at the guitar lying a few feet away, and blanched involuntarily as she felt her fingers swiftly turning back to blocks of ice. Then she fixed her eyes hard upon his and waited, each second an eternity. He stared back at her, unflinching, and then, without removing his eyes from hers, placed his boot squarely upon the neck of her guitar, and pressed down until it splintered. “We’re taking her away,” he informed the onlookers, and turned to lead his companions out of the camp. They followed, forcing the defiant guitarist with them. The villagers witnessed all this in stony silence, frozen where they stood. Out they marched, until the camp was a speck on the horizon, until it had disappeared under the horizon. They were resolved to take her into the region beyond the edge of the world, the wasteland where no one dared venture, and leave her there to think on her insolence. Bloodchilling blasts of blizzard wind beat their faces and tore at her wrists, still bare and gripped in the mittened fists of the men who pushed her forward. On and on they trekked. At a distance, unseen by all, the little dog followed, a tiny black speck in a storm of white. Finally, they came to the place their ancestors had only heard of in tall tales, the edge of the world. Here, the ice ended and fell away, and all that remained up to the seam of the horizon was a reflection of the sky: a boundless body of water, churning with troubled currents, dark as the empty eyes of those men standing upon the first coastline they had ever reached. She looked out across the mysterious, merciless expanse, and struggled to flex her frostbitten fingers in her captors’ clasp, cursing them and bitter life in the same breath. The music she had believed in, lived for, and even given voice to once upon a time seemed quite far away now. Then, shuddering, she beheld something more fantastic and frightening. Resting by the side of this sea, as if by fate, was an ancient relic: a battered little wooden boat, with a single cracked oar lying inside. The tribesmen had no idea how to handle such a boat, but it was clear enough from its appearance what it could do. Some of them had developed cold feet; it seemed it should be enough to leave the offending woman here, to give her a good scare from which she might yet return to her people with more humility. But the hulking one with the permanent scowl was only getting a taste of the powers he wished to exercise. Growling through his ever-chattering teeth, he demanded to know which of the men were true sons of chieftains, which ones would come with him over the water in the strange sleigh that, clearly, had been placed here by the gods to bear this woman to the doom her hubris ordained. Most of the men shrank away, their hearts not yet totally anesthetized by the cold; but a few stepped forward, other silent monsters in whom the ceaseless rigors of the climate had instilled a similar rigidity. They pushed her into the prow and piled in behind her, shoving off from the side of that great glacier. Still held by two of them, she watched the coast shrink behind them, a third man grappled with the oar against the antagonistic waters. With a little jump of hope, she spied her tiny companion as he entered the water to the left of the men on the shoreline and paddled after the boat. He fought valiantly against the waves to keep up, a little black dot in a sea of grey; but the boat was swifter, and the sea freezing, and at last the poor creature turned back towards the shore. Finally they reached oblivion, that space beyond the earth where no land is visible in any direction. Now all the men but the one hesitated; she thought her chance had come. Looking deep into the eyes of the man gripping her right arm, she stared him down, and when he loosened his grip, she shoved him back and sprang up, twisting her other arm free. She made a dive for the man with the oar—but the man with the grimace leaped forward while her balance was unsteady, and, with a push, sent her sailing into the frigid sea. The cold shot into her like a volley of knives. Yet even as the nerves went dead in her body, a fierce fire animated her heart, and she kicked against the water and rose to the surface. For the first time, her hands were free, and she seized the lip of the boat with them in a grip that could not be broken. The men pried and pushed and beat upon her fingers, but, numb though her limbs were, her grasp held, and nothing they could do could disengage her. At that moment, the grim, frozenfaced one drew out his stout, dark-bladed knife, and there was a hush as everyone apprehended what was about to happen. The other men shrank back, averting their eyes, as he raised the weapon and brought it down upon her long fingers, severing all ten of them in one blow. In silent slow motion, she and the fingers fell back into the water. She floated there as the boat departed, struggling against unconsciousness to hold her breath, gazing down into the water and watching as her fingers sank slowly past her into the bottomless black of the ocean below. Soon she was alone in the middle of an empty sea, with no features in the gathering darkness but the ten distant white lights of her sinking fingers. Everything became dimmer and dimmer and slower and slower; and though she fought hard to stay awake, the world began to recede as the cold entered the last chambers of her heart. But presently, something extraordinary happened: though the fingers were getting more and more distant, they appeared to be growing greater and greater in size. Certain she was hallucinating, she blinked, and tried to move her leaden limbs in the frigid water. That was impossible—but at the same time, it was clear now that the fingers were indeed changing size and shape. Soon, they seemed to be returning, moving upwards out of the black depths, grown to enormous proportions. As they approached, gliding gracefully through the waters, she could see that they were returning in a different form: they had become great finned sea animals—porpoises, in fact, though she had never encountered such beings before.These creatures swam nearer, until they were circling close around her, looking into her face with what she imagined were encouraging expressions. One of them swam between her legs, and lifted her up out of the water on its back. Its body was almost warm, and as she breathed air again she felt a tiny spark of life return to her own. With her hands reduced to palms, she could not grasp, but she wrapped her arms around it and held on as best she could, clasping herself to it for dear life as it set out across the seas with the others leaping and dancing in the waters around. For what seemed like weeks they traveled like this, her companions taking turns carefully bearing her across the surface of the sea, until eventually she began to feel something distantly familiar in her body. It was that sweet, sharp prickling she had once experienced in her fingers, only now it seemed to be spreading to every limb. As the first sun she had ever seen appeared from behind the clouds overhead, her muscles loosened and her body became almost as fluid as the warm waters through which they were passing. The tension flowed out into the sea around—and at that moment, pressing her body tight against the skin of her mount, she beheld it upon the horizon: the land she had heard in those songs, on those mornings so long ago when she had played the guitar. There were green trees, leaves trembling in sea breezes, seals sunning themselves on the shore; there were coconuts dangling in the branches, and monkeys tugging at them, and calico crabs at play on the golden sands of the beach. And the storytellers relate that she lived there, happily ever after, in that world she had once visited in those moments of song; though, fingerless, she never could again evoke it in music. No matter: with the iron grip of that cold released from her arms and thighs, she danced those songs of joy across the shores with her body as her instrument. The End. I first came across this is the Winter 2006 issue of Rolling Thunder. Check out www.crimethinc.com for more information.