Mok-Tigue had an ice crystal where his heart should be. His brothers had ice around their teeth and eyes. Sam met Mok-Tigue one day in Sweden while on business, sitting in an ice bar sipping vodka.
“American?” the tall, thin man asked with an accent that was not local. Sam nodded. “Welcome to Sweden. Is not so bad a place here. Very cold.”
The bar itself had been carved from a single block of unbroken ice, and an ice chandelier scattered light over the snow on the floor. “I’m from Alaska,” Sam said. “I’m used to it.”
Mok-Tigue nodded. “I have been to Alaska, once, very long time ago. It is nice and cold there, too. I tell you story about Alaska.” He looked straight forward as he spoke, and didn’t look over to see if Sam was listening. Sam quietly flagged the bartender and ordered a vodka of his own. “My brothers and I, I have many brothers you know, went out hunting one day. Running the game, they say. We hunt,” he frowned and held up his hands in front of him, making a lifting gesture toward the sky. “Very much then. We go out this one day, all the game has gone. Just gone, run away, poof!” He illustrated each sentence with his hands, as though he didn’t trust his tongue to tell the story. “So my brothers and I, we decide we track it, you know?
“So is what we do. Follow the track in the snow, follow the scent on the wind, follow the feeling of heat that linger behind them. Did you know you could do that? Hunt by heat?”
“No, I did not,” Sam said, vaguely amused. He was starting to get the feeling this story might not be as true-to-life as first advertised, but he was hooked.
“Is true,” Mok-Tigue said. “When you come, you go through the frozen world, you burn like a little sun. Send heat like fireplace out all around you. You spend long enough in the frozen world, you learn to feel the difference when something just pass through. And great big herds of things leave great big streams of heat flowing out behind them, is like walking in sauna. Is all true,” he added, catching Sam’s smile out the corner of his eye. “Watch out for drink.”
“What?” Sam said, a glass of vodka slid past his hand, stopping just perfectly in front of him. The bartender, a big dumb-looking blond guy, waved and smiled at the far end. “Cool,” Sam said, taking a drink. The glass itself was made of ice, like everything else, and it burned against his naked hands.
“Is good?” Mok-Tigue asked. Sam nodded. “This is good place. But to Alaska, yes?”
“To Alaska,” Sam said, raising his glass. The tall man nodded and took a long gulp from his own. Little flecks of frost twinkled in the man’s beard.
“So anyways,” Mok-Tigue said as he pulled the vodka from his lips. “My brothers and I, we feel the heat from the game, we see the churned snow, but the heat is growing cold-- the game is gone. We know they cannot have gone far, so we follow. We hunt for them, across new land we have never seen before, always one step behind them, like wolves on their heels, you know? But still, we never find the game. We hunt for many days, sleep in the snow, bury ourselves in the ice to emerge like bear in the morning and keep hunting. Is all true.”
“What did you eat?” Sam asked.
“Little,” the tall man said. “Very little. Sometimes, we maybe find rabbit, but mostly they had gone to ground. Sometimes we eat bark.”
“Like bark, bark?” Sam said, laughing. “Like tree bark?”
Mok-Tigue laughed with him, a deep rolling laugh that blew out of him like the north wind. “Yes, tree bark. Tree bark is good for you, give you fresh smelling teeth, make your shit good and firm.” They laughed together for another minute, then Mok-Tigue took another gulp of vodka, draining his glass. He waved to the bartender for more, motioning to Sam’s cup as well.
“We travel for long time, always the game is just ahead of us. This was long ago, you know, and we did not have ice bars and Mac-Donald’s then. We needed the food, you know? At long last, we break out of forest, see the sea all around us, to the north, to the south, everywhere. And sure enough we feel the heat of the game all around us, and we know we have found them!”
“What did you do?” Sam asked. The vodka burned like a flare in his stomach, sending little waves of lightness up through his head.
“What you think we do? We feast!” Mok-Tigue smiled broadly, his hands held out, motioning to empty space. “We hunt here, we hunt there. We drive the game south, we drive the game east, we drive it north to the ice fields, and we eat our fill there, my brothers, I think nearly slaughter the whole herd up there!
“But then here’s the good part.” He winked conspiratorially. “We take so long with the herd, that suddenly we realize, we don’t know how we got there. The path we took, is gone! So I say to my brothers, ‘Brothers mine, we are trapped here! But game is plentiful, the ice is hard, we stay, maybe.’
“My brothers look at me like I am crazy. They are not so smart, you know. And they say ‘Brother Mok-Tigue, you have lost your damn mind. This is not our country! Have you seen the rivers? Have you seen the bears?’ And I say yes, I have seen them, but is not so different from home, you know? And they say ‘No!’” Mok-Tigue cut the air in front of him with his hand. “‘We are not staying here! Get us out of these god-forsaken rocks and snow and ice!’
“So I look around, and I look at the snow and the ice and the ocean. And the seabirds are calling all around, and I say, ‘You want to go home?’ And they say ‘Yes brother, please!’ And I say, then you better learn to swim, cause our home is there, on the other side of the ocean.’ And you know what they did, my brothers?” Sam shook his head. “They dog-paddle!”
He howled with laughter, like the north wind in a storm.
Sam laughed with him. At this point his second vodka had come and gone, and he no longer knew nor cared whether what the man said was true or false-- it was still a good story.
Mok-Tigue turned to him, and looked at him with eyes so blue they were nearly clear. “I hear the people there worshipped us as gods and demons for many years after that,” he said. “But now the ice there breaks and falls away in the summer. Even there, imagine?”
“Global warming,” Sam said, shrugging. Wait, his brain told him, what did he say just before that?
“You know, once my brothers and I hunted as far south as the Cambodian jungle. Is true. We hunt big elephant, and ground sloth, and cold, cold little apes. Now, the sky is black with soot, like furnace, and we feel its heat, no matter where we stand. Is sad, no?”
“I… wha?” Sam said. “Yeah… huh?”
Mok-Tigue smiled. “Is all right,” he said. “There is still place for the Frozen Pack.” He pushed himself to his feet. “At least for now.” He patted Sam on the shoulder with his bare hand. “Stay off the streets tonight, my friend,” he said. “I think I hear my brothers calling me.” He nodded to the bartender, then strode out.
Sam sat there long after the strange man had gone, staring at the ice of the bar in front of him. Even through his thick coat, he could feel the cold where the stranger’s hand had rested, burning against his skin like the chill breath of winter come early.