I was born on a small island in the North Sea, owned by a rich eccentric whose ancestors longed for days long gone. These relatives in the past detested the way the world was going, and decided to cloister themselves as far away from the modern world as was humanly possible. The rich man became chief, and his court magician became the shaman, his friends and family became the villagers. Surprisingly enough, it worked, for a long time. When I was born, this village had been in existence for close to two hundred years.
My father, the village shaman, was the direct descendant of that original court magician… I know not what the demeanor of that original “shaman” was, whether he was an opportunistic charlatan or otherwise, but I can say with conviction that by the time my father was the shaman the position was taken seriously. All roles were taken seriously. No longer a play village, this was the genuine article. There were diseases, natural disasters, and worst of all… famines.
We were far enough from the mainland that we lacked many things that other lands had in profusion. One of those things was dogs. We had legends of dogs, and knew fully what they were of course, we weren’t savages… dogs simply were not a fixture on our island. One didn’t think much of them. One heard, of course, the legends of Wülf, the Hunt Dog of the gods, and his vengeful nature, but it had little impact on our lives, he was an archaic god from another time.
It was on my fifth birthday that the village hunters slew the great beast swimming in the waters around our island. They said later that they could not tell what sort of animal it was that they were shooting for, but a hunt is a hunt. When the town starves, anything might be dinner.
And, certainly, anyone who has ever sailed the North Sea can attest to the fact that on the best of days the cold black waters are alive like maggots on a day old corpse, it is impossible to see what might rest in its foamy surface.
All the hunters could say for certain was that the beast was incredibly large, and was entirely black. When they had harpooned it, and dragged it in, the rain pouring down made it impossible to still tell what this horrid creature may be. Dragging it onto shore they see with horror that it is in fact a dog. A dog nearly as large as a horse. Our island was forty miles at least from the nearest land mass… what could be the answer? How could this monster be swimming so far out?
But still… but still… times were tight. When the village starves, anything might be dinner.
Shocked and horrified, the hunters dragged the corpse to my father. He stopped them at the edge of the village, not wanting them to curse us all with this shame. This kind of mistake was one of the hardest for men of his occupation to rectify. Appeasing insulted gods is the most difficult of all endeavors. He did not blame the hunters, though. He made that clear. He repeated what was said many times… When the village starves, anything might be dinner.
He was an incredible man, and I admired him greatly as he stood in thought, as tall as the trees he seemed to me then, wrapped in a black cloak made from the feathers of ravens. First, he wrapped tree branches to the head of the animal, in a an effort to imitate another creature… a deer or an elk perhaps. Anything to help confuse the Dog Hunt god, even if only for a short while. While the branches are hiding the nature of the beast, he began to skin the great dog. It would be necessary to wear the hide of the animal in a complicated ritual lasting many days…
My father had never performed this ritual, but knew of it, it had been passed down. He painstakingly skinned the animal clean, and as the skin lifted off, a great explosion was heard, all of the villagers looked in every direction, for the sounds had seemed to surround us all. A soft red glow lit the night and howling began from the shores mad howling, as if from hundreds of beasts The hunters ran to the shores, in a mad scramble. Screams came back of “Fire!” “Fire!”
News soon came to my father that all of the trees on the perimeter of the island had burst into flames. And still the mad howling grew louder still. My father hid my mother and I in our hut, and dashed away to attempt to lure away the howling beasts. We heard him screaming as he fled from the village.
For what seemed like hours my mother and I huddled in that hut, the sweat of generations suddenly reaking strongly in my nostrils; it felt like hours but I suspect it was no longer than a quarter of an hour. All seemed quiet outside, we could hear no more snuffling of the muzzles of the great beasts. My mother told me to wait where I was, and looked out. She moaned in horror, and I saw through a crack that we were surrounded by a wild pack of dogs foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling about in wild abandonment. The largest and closest snatched her by the face before I could say a single word. They began to devour her before my very eyes, and I knew at that moment, at that tender and young age, that my life was over. Never would I bathe with my mother again in the stream which bubbled from the centre of the island, never again would she weave a feathered headdress for me on my birthday. Never again would I sleep in her arms. I was to be consumed when she was finished.
I crawled back, away from the mouth of the hut, and touched something… something cold and wet. Something hairy. My fingers crawled over it, and suddenly I recognized what it was. My mouth went dry. One chance. One. I never hesitated for a moment once it became clear. A coldness had overtaken my consciousness, a detached deadness which was new to me at that time, but which would become more and more familiar in the future. I took up the skin of the great beast and threw it over my head. I pounced from the tent, and joined those dogs in their wild frenzied feast.
When your life hangs by a thread, anything might be dinner.