Chat-your-own-Adventure #36: Pishka of the Moment

Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience voting to determine the path of the story.  The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways.  Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.

Burned over an Open Fire        Musical Ice Caves          Nightmarish Car Trip

The Vaatiqaat clan would not survive the ice age. They would never make it to the footnotes of natural history texts. Their bones would never be found; their clothes and tools would be completely obliterated by the encroaching glaciers near the shore. Even their symbol, stitched upon everything they wore and carved into the hilt of their weapons, the boar walrus, was an animal that would similarly become extinct from both the world and history.

They didn’t know any of this, and fate saw no reason to tell them. It had plans for human species, but the Vaatiqaat were just surplus. Fate was a natural force like gravity or magnetism, but sometimes other natural forces could interfere. Fate particularly hated the meddling of tsunamis, continental drift, and volcanic eruptions. Should any of those interrupt and destroy the important human populations, fate could pull in the Vaatiqaat as spares.

The ice age’s crawl was slow enough that fate could shove people and get them to migrate enough to keep its plans safe. In all this shoving, the dark-skinned big-eyed Vaatiqaat were ignored as the glacier loomed over their villages and fishing waters. Their land was always cold, so they counted things in only two seasons: equinox and solstice.

It was the time of the equinox, where clouds obscured the sun and the boar walrus fished aggressively to bulk up for the coldest time, sometimes tipping Vaatiqaat canoes to steal their catch. Pishka was too young to fish, and, the male elders claimed, far too female to be of much help with anything. She was sent off into the hills to play for the day with nothing but her pearl-stuffed whale toy to accompany her.

The edge of the glacier was not safe, but her community didn’t see the harm in letting her near it. It was coming for the village after all, so none of them were safe. Pishka would not have gone near it if not for one of the mire recent fissures that had opened in its wall. This opening produced a strange enticing melody, like whale song tumbling down a mountainside as avalanche. The young girl of seven, seven equinoxes that was, couldn’t help but follow the song.

As she drew closer, she realized the song was in more than just the air. The ground vibrated under her elk-hide boots. It traveled through her body and made the gray pearls inside her whale sing as well as they shook against each other. The song wasn’t calling her; it literally pulled her! The curious Pishka tossed her stuffed animal to the ice in front of her. It slid toward the opening in the glacier, bouncing along on each note.

Before she followed she looked down and saw the ground was clear of snow, even though it fell around her heavily. The vibration was pushing it all away from the cavern’s entrance, piling it up on the sides. The constant motion made it shimmer and froth like seafoam. Pishka’s people had many gods, none of them were named fate, but she didn’t know which of them would create such a dramatic opening. Not the god of caves. He was supposed to be subtle. Nor the goddess of music. She was always accompanied by dancing, and in addition she detested the sight of legless creatures that could not dance along with her singing. She would never pull a whale toward her.

Whale goes First                            Try to Leave                    Throw a Snowball in

The girl scurried forward and stopped the eager whale with the side of her foot. She warned it to be cautious. Yes, of course they would explore, but an inanimate object should always do it first, just like testing the ground with a walking stick. She wasn’t going to throw her most prized toy, so she went over to the mounds of snow and balled some of it up.

Before she threw it, she examined the cavern’s entrance closely. It went dark just a short way in, but the edge of that shadow seemed to lap at the walls like a tide. It moved in tune with the song. Pishka listened. There was a tiny break in the music, the sort of rest where a singer might inhale between verses. She decided she would throw it when the next one came around, just in case whatever was singing would try to blame her for the interruption.

When the lull hit she tossed the snowball. She had a good arm, so she didn’t even see it descend before the darkness swallowed it up. The music didn’t resume. The vibrations ceased, and the snow piles collapsed weakly.

Hello?” she asked the cavern in her language that was as doomed as everything else in her culture. There was no answer. “I’m not coming in there if you don’t answer. The music was the only thing interesting about you. Without it you’re just a hole in the wall.” Her argument must have been convincing, for something emerged and rolled toward her with the speed of a sprinting lemming.

Pishka set down her representative, the stuffed whale, and let its fins catch the object. When it did she bent down and saw her snowball. It looked a little different, as if had taken the shimmer from all the surrounding snow moments before. When she picked it up she felt the song again, coursing through her arm, into her shoulder, lungs, and heart.

She had a song in a snowball. What were you even supposed to do with such a thing? There were plenty of places in her village where snow never melted over the course of the year. It occurred to her that she could store it there and give her people an unlimited supply of music.

Do you have any other songs?” she whispered to the snowball as she walked back toward the village. Pishka was still thousands of years away from electronic media; she couldn’t comprehend the idea of a song played on the radio too many times to be enjoyable, but she did sense her village’s irritation if it the ball refused to quiet.

It didn’t answer her. Oh well, it would have to be risked. It was a good song; she was already confident she could whistle it if the snowball suddenly fell apart. When she arrived, the men and boys were just getting back as well, hauling in canoes filled with silver-sided fish and a few cold water sharks with layered teeth like pine cone spines. It would be difficult to find someone who would pay her in any mind, given the size of the catch.

She wandered around among them, occasionally being shoved out of the way, whistling along with her snowball to see if anyone would ask her what she’d found. Pishka stamped her foot after about the seventh shove. Really, their catch wasn’t that impressive. It wasn’t like they’d brought in a beluga or anything.

Sharks take Notice                  Fate takes Notice              Deaf Man takes Notice

One of the fisherman bumped into her and stopped dead in his tracks. The basket of fish he carried toppled and spilled the silvery things across the gravel of the shore. One of the other men smacked the older bearded fellow for his ineptitude and retrieved the fish himself. The man, named Wohat, just stood there, frozen. Forty equinoxes on the crowed icy edge of the continent, some plagued by blizzards that froze birds out of the sky, and he had never felt so frozen.

He whipped around and grabbed Pishka by the shoulders. Her first instinct was to scream, but then she saw his eyes. She knew Wohat. He watched the children often, as he was deafened by frigid water in his own youth. He could easily withstand an evening of children shouting and laughing. He was a kind man, despite how he was often kicked out of the way for his disability.

There was something new in his eyes that she’d never seen before; they shimmered like the snowball. His pupils were huge and deep. She knew better than to speak to him; he never learned to read lips and had lost most of his own language faculties. Instead she explored his expression, even with fisherman still streaming around both sides of them.

He gripped her like he never wanted to let go, but it wasn’t painful. She remembered men picking up stone from the extinguished fire pit and using them to warm their hands. Yes, Wohat was treating like a hand warmer in a world with no heat. She gasped when she realized that it had to be the snowball. He couldn’t hear, but surely he could fee the vibrations from it. He knew its song, and it filled him with awe.

When his wits returned he pulled her away from the beach and into one of the long hide tents where they salted and dried roots. The hung from the ceiling in bundles, making it look as if they were underground, directly under the tendrils of a mighty aged tree. The two sat together and held the snowball.

For more than an hour, they simply sat and listened. Pishka worried that it would melt in the combined heat of their hands, but it showed no signs. While Wohat drank it in, she considered its origin once more. It didn’t have to be from a god. Things could get frozen in the ice. Perhaps it was a song passed on from a people before hers, buried in the ice to preserve each lively note.

She knew that whole villages could die. Before her family found that beach they’d walked through a dead one. Tents were so strange when they were collapsed and empty, like shed skins. She just knew that ghosts were flat, and that they all slept in fallen tents like that after one of the gods took their breath away.

An entity had claimed that village, but it was none of Pishka’s gods. It was fate once more, saving a few resources. The important people and their important genes had been extracted via a kidnapping from another society. Fate simply ignored the rest as they died from the hole in their heart after the loss of those children.

Pishka’s mind was too young to dwell on such tragedies, so it quickly moved to innovation. She pinched off a tiny piece of the snowball and held it near her mouth, sticking her tongue out. Wohat stared in confusion. The girl mimed licking it. She wanted him to consume the snowball, thinking the song would transfer him just as it had from the cave to the ball. Then he could have it always. One thing to hear was better than none.

Snowball Fight                                Brain Freeze                                   Fate’s Storm

Eventually Wohat got the idea and slowly brought the ball up to his mouth. He stuck out his tongue and grinned when Pishka laughed. Yes, this was a silly thing for an old man to do, but they both knew stories of stranger things. There was always a sillier person… but at that moment, with tongue poised over singing snow, there was no person closer to fate.

Fate never watched the Vaatiqaat after determining they were useless. It never would have seen their bones as the glacier ground them to dust, or heard their wails as their beach disappeared, if that crack hadn’t opened in the ice. The emanating song was something Fate could not ignore. No human had sung that. Human songs were songs of the air; they couldn’t occupy anything else, at least until they invented all sorts of little metal boxes that could play songs if you struck them with tiny bolts of lightning.

No, this was a song from the throat of one of Fate’s rivals. Which natural force had hidden it there to antagonize? Seismic activity broke too much ice to think it of use. Magma would never work with its polar opposite. Magnetism just messed with the skies, trying to tell humans all sorts of lies in the auroras.

Fate had overlooked one. The ice itself. Ice never made a move like this. It was so slow and lacking in sentiment. What interest did it have in these little things that had to wrap up just to tolerate its presence? Fate realized something. Perhaps using ice to start an ice age was not the best idea. The weather was needed to get the desired migration paths going, but the new control he’d allowed ice had made it uppity. Now it thought it could give gifts and sway futures.

In that song was a potent mix of intellectual themes. It had all the transformative power of the fire or the wheel, but limited to the imagination. That would make it much harder to forget. The Vaatiqaat people would not only thrive with such ideas instilled in them, they might override some of Fate’s plans.

That could not be allowed to happen, but Fate had lost the trail when it descended to a human shape in front of the cavern. The space was already silent, and the snowball too quiet to follow. The great force of the future had no choice but to follow Pishka’s footsteps all the way back to the village. When it opened the tent flap and found the unimaginable horror of a man about to consume something he was never allotted, Fate could only think to do one thing in time.

It grabbed a wad of snow off the ground, squeezed it, and tossed it at Wohat’s face. It hit its mark, and the singing snowball went rolling away. Pishka chased it, and Fate chased her. They quickly destroyed the tent in their struggle. The two tossed snowballs back and forth at each other, eyeing each one to see if it was their prize.

A rogue ball hit the burliest fisherman in the village. He quickly showed them he could catch snowballs as big as the sharks he hauled ashore. He dropped Fate to its knees with an entire blanket of the fresh powder. In moments the whole village was involved. Snow arced through the air in hundreds of different directions. None of them even noticed the stitch-less cloak and featureless face of Fate mixed into the chaos.

Direct Hit on Fate                      Song Dispersal                    Walrus Interruption

Pishka couldn’t recall if she’d ever had so much fun. She didn’t care if she was a tool of some god or of the ice itself. She was Vaatiqaat: the people of the moment was the translation. Fate wasn’t good at moments, though it rarely had a chance to realize.

Its human form was really shoddily crafted. It certainly had a head, and it was the right shape, but it would never lower itself to the level of simple human eyes. They missed too much, only claiming a sliver of the light spectrum. They couldn’t see a shadow of the past or a fog of the future. In using its grand invisible eyes, Fate was quite terrible at snowball fighting.

While its initial shot struck its stationary target, it lost sight of its goal in the mirth of the village. Its head followed every tossed piece, but never found the singing snowball. It didn’t even pay attention when Pishka set her sights on its chest. She could see the heart beating under its thin shirt. It was in the wrong place, directly under the throat. What a silly place to keep your most vital and vulnerable organ.

She took just one moment to aim, she didn’t need any more, and another to throw. It sailed through the white air, narrowly missing three other balls, and smacked Fate in the heart. The impact was unlike anything it had ever felt. The heart held everything that kept humans separate from the forces controlling them. Sympathy. Compassion. Sentiment.

The snowball squished the badly-placed heart against the comically-placed bone. The emotions burst out and flooded Fate. All at once it saw the value of the Vaatiqaat people. They eked out not only a living from this shrinking enclave of ice and gravel, but happiness. Even if they knew of their approaching doom, even if it told them, it wouldn’t change a thing for the people of the moment.

Fate disappeared in the middle of the fight without ever introducing itself. It took a small knife with it, with a scrimshaw handle depicting a boar walrus and a rider atop it. Fate still wasn’t sure what game ice was playing, probably a long one, but now it could look at a museum of the future, behind a glass wall that hadn’t been invented yet, and see the fun it had in that one vulnerable moment.

It was like a song that always came back to its ear, and Fate couldn’t help but hum along.

THE END

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