“Helena, is that you?” Helena’s mother looked tired. Her wrinkled face, once a perfect bronze, was blotched and bruised from time. Ninety-six years ago, this woman came into existence, came into the cruel cold of the great tundra, helped Helena’s grandfather fish and hunt, helped Helena’s father when he collapsed from exhaustion at the foot of that sleepy village. What was left? “Helena,” the woman groped around in the bright of day, eyes unseeing, “is that you?”
“You didn’t have to come all this way. Won’t your students miss out?”
“I don’t teach anymore, remember?” Helena patted her mother’s gnarled hand. So bent and broken.
Frustration pushed against the old woman, forced her to recline. “What about your husband?”
“That was twenty-nine years ago, Mama.”
“You know there aren’t.”
If the woman was able to merge with her chair, Helena knew she would’ve then. It always killed her to hear those words. No life, no nothing. Death called to death, and the woman passed that night. Her funeral was simple; Helena watched her mother burn from afar while the village mourned. She was their oldest, their most cherished prize. Katzl’s Breath, they’d named her. Katalysa. The Great Cycle’s proof.
Later, Helena snuck over to the bare, fresh mound her mother’s ashes rested in. With long , pale fingers she took the pendant from her neck and dug a place for it to rest with its original owner. Her father’s favorite, the foreign emerald and silver he’d showered Katalysa with when he woke up to her fair face. To match her eyes, those silver-green beauties. It was like a fairytale, a priceless love the villagers couldn’t help but indulge. To a point.
“You shouldn’t be here.” A tan woman with deceptively wrinkled cheeks motioned for Katzl’s safeguard, her hand swirling in a circle around her chest. Miniach. “Leave.”
“When have you known me to harm you?” Helena’s smile bubbled with rage. “I thought you weren’t so superstitious as your mother.”
“What can I say, Katzuara,” Miniach spat Helena’s true name out as if it was rotting, “you don’t belong, especially now that you have no ties to this place.”
But Helena laughed as if Miniach said nothing. “Remember when we killed that sea lion on our own? Or when I saved you from the orcas that had you pinned on some ice?” Or when Helena was just Helena.
Miniach paused. Her almond eyes narrowed. “Oh, yes. I remember. You had pale skin as flawless as your mother’s own brown and perfect face. Radiant fire-hair like your father. The village beauty. Not much has changed in fifty years for you.” She motioned to Helena’s still-fiery hair; her youthful appearance contrasted Miniach’s wrinkled body. “There’s nothing for you here. Not Totzin,” his name made Helena wince, “not me. Leave, and let us forget you, Katzuara.”
Shaking her head, Miniach made the safeguard symbol again. Helena watched her old friend amble back to her brick and steel house, watched others stare at her and make the same symbol over and over as she slumped to the frozen ground. The cold barely tingled against her bare palms as she gripped the snow. It crunched and crumbled and fell away from her fist in little clumps. Finally, as dawn touched the horizon, she caught Miniach at the boats. The woman waved everyone away, clearly terrified, and the other hunters all but ran back to the houses.
“How do I fix this?”
“Don’t you get it? You are outside the Great Cycle. Stop trying to force your way in.” At that, Miniach’s hard frown softened, and she sighed. “Try to find others like you, wander the earth. Maybe there is a way to end yourself. Please, just leave.”
Helena stole a glance towards the village, hoping to see Totzin. Then she realized the man she looked for no longer existed. The lithe, agile leader of the hunters was now an elder. Her bedmate for what seemed like a lifetime was now a widower to these people. Helena died the minute the elders realized her skin would never wrinkle. Katzuara replaced her. When she made the long trek from the village to the Icemount, she went straight to the train station.
“Where to?” The ticketmaster asked.
She looked at the list of destinations. “One for Fount, please.”