So January was a time to spend indoors, when you could, in the warmth and the smoky glow of the firepit and the comfortable fug of warm bodies. Let the cold rain beat against the cedar walls and the cold wind raise the white foam on the wavetops and spin the grit off the dune crests. January was a time for mending, for gambling and lying and boasting and telling stories. For lovemaking and quarreling and making up. The night came early and the dark and the cold made good excuses for taking the work and the food and the slaves inside to sit by the fire and tell stories.
her favorite stories, his soft eyes glittering and his long arms dancing before him as he described how the strange, eerie seal had towed the seal hunters to a strange place:
"Now we have gone to a far place. Gone are the breakers; the breakers have disappeared now. It is just calm everywhere; the breakers have disappeared."She loved how his voice hollowed out as he described the weird calm sea and made the happy shivers run up her back as she thought about the strange seal and the scary ocean far away. She hugged herself in eager anticipation of the rest of the story, happily frightened in the warmth of her sealskin and the cheery firelight.
So it was the emptiness as her brother's voice stuttered to a stop that shocked her more than the first light tremor that shook the roofpole behind her. Somehow the silence was more shocking than the loudest shout. The only sound was the crackling of the fir branch in the fire as she stared into her brother's eyes, now huge, and dark, and frightened.
And then the shaking came.
It seemed to her like she and her house and the whole world were taken up like a salmon in the mouth of su'ln the big brown bear and shaken, as the bear does, to kill. The horrible shaking went on and on and on. She was screaming but couldn't hear her own screams because everyone was screaming. From somewhere behind her she heard a grinding and a splintery crashing and some of the screaming stopped. Some, but only some, because the shaking still went on and on and the screaming went on and on and the horrible sounds of her home and her family dying went on and on.
Until they stopped.
She didn't know how long she was there, terrified and silent and still. It was her brother storyteller who found her, one of his arms twisted and hanging down, and pulled her up with the other, up and out not towards the door, because the door-end of the house was nothing now but a shattered wreckage of cedar planks and poles and bits of mats and baskets, but towards the forest-end where the walls gaped open to the dark. She struggled briefly until he pointed to where the flames from the scattered fire were running up the wall. Together they stumbled out of the opening into the misting rain and the night.
The clouds were thin enough and the moon was bright enough to see the village around them, or what remained of it. The great house of the headman was gone, a heap of shattered wood and worse things spattered around the huge fir that had fallen over it. More than half of the other houses had fallen or were leaning broken, or, worse, beginning to burn. In the wavering light they could see others crawling or staggering shakily from their homes, many still keening or weeping with fear.
It was the convulsive grip of her brother's hand on her arm that made her look up, then follow his face to the west, to the broad arm of the sea where it met the bay. Or where it had when they had gone inside in the sullen dusk. Now the water was gone. Dark sand gleamed wetly under the moon and the rain.
"Now we have gone to a far place." her brother whispered, "Gone are the breakers; the breakers have disappeared now. It is just calm everywhere; the breakers have disappeared."
She stared up into his face.
And then the breakers returned.
The waters rushed in upon them, rising, rising, never stopping, like some mad tide summoned by the gods. She tried to run but the waters were faster and knocked her down. She tried to hold on to her brother but the waters were stronger and ripped his hand from her arm, sank his face from her sight and his last cry from her ears. She closed her eyes and died.
Until the cold, hard bark of the great cedar slammed against the side of her face, shocking her awake and alive again. She gasped and clung to the trunk and then to the branch beside her, as thick as her waist and sturdy as a stone. The waters rose, and she climbed higher, onto another branch almost as large as the first. She lay on the wet moss and put her face into the wet softness, the cold rainwater washing away her hot tears.
She lay still as the dark waters rushed past her filled with soil and trees and the pieces of her life. She lay still as the waters rushed away home, sweeping with them all those things out into the ocean again. She lay still when the waters returned, smaller, weaker, but still higher than a standing man's head. Still full of bits of the dunes and the hills and the forests and more awful things; bits of baskets and furs and animals and people.
She lay still until the light came again, when the sky lightened over the mountains behind her, and showed her the place where she and all her people had been born, and lived, and now was no more.