By K MacMichael
The magician promised the ritual would allow me to see through the eyes of an animal.
I hoped to walk the land as a bear or fly as a great hawk. As an elk, I could have struck a majestic pose silhouetted against a sunset.
The magician asks the gods to grant you a voyage alongside the animal spirit that best matches your strengths and faults, which will teach you the most.
What does it say about me that the gods have sent my spirit into a 450-pound hairy vegetarian barrel?
A short legged, four foot high barrel, with a three inch thick skull?
I am now within the body of a musk-ox.
Only my horns, lips, and nostrils are not covered in fur. I’ve actually got two hairy layers. The long outer hair and the undercoat, called qiviut. Qiviut is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and softer than cashmere. Basically, I’m a walking duvet. One that needs a wash.
The musk-ox spirit I’m sharing this body with is very…calm. I introduced myself—“Hi, hello there. Do you speak English? I’m a human-spirit, and I’ll be possessing your body today!”—all it did was move over a bit to let me see what it was staring at. I don’t know about you, but if someone else showed up in my head, I’d be a tad inquisitive, a little less accepting of developments.
We stare at snow, the grass we reveal when we kick aside snow, and the other musk-ox as our herd slowly wanders through the snow.
The herd is perhaps forty strong, mostly females and yearlings.
I am relieved to report early spring is not mating season. The bad news is that it is the early spring, and I’m out here in the arctic open, just me, my herd, the snow and the wind. There is some sunlight.
I’ve been here a couple of days. It’s impossible to know how much longer I’ll be here. It depends on how long the magic lasts. I certainly am getting to practise patience. We eat some grass, walk a little bit, eat some more. Sleep. For an exciting change of pace, we regurgitate and chew our food a second time.
I think the musk-ox herd understands me, at least a little bit, but they don’t respond. Surely they’ve noticed I’m here. My eyes are red. All shapeshifters give red eyes to their animal hosts.
The wind is picking up. Storm clouds sweep in. I’ve been in many blizzards, but always with a home to retreat to. This should be interesting.
It looks like the herd is gathering together.
Now they’re all laying down, backs to the wind. I guess I’ll join them.
It’s definitely feeling a bit chilly. I’ve been pretty comfy, but with this wind driving down from the North Pole…Okay, that was a big blast of wind and snow.
All I can see now is white snow, grey sky and white ground. My hairy nose, which sticks outta my face. More white now. More. Its a proper blizzard, wind howling, snow pellets battering my back and filling the air.
It’s awfully cold, and I can’t see more than two or three feet ahead of me.
The most amazing thing has happened. The herd around me has started to sing.
The song is deep and growly, and the sound reverberates through the bones. I can understand what they are singing, although I can’t understand the words.
The song is about The Herd. All herds are part of The Herd. The song is of The Herd, and the land. The Herd remembers coming to this place across the frozen ocean and finding tasty willow. It remembers when the land held giants, remembers fleeing from huge short-faced bear. The Herd remembers countless summers, winters, and springs. The Herd remembers circling to defend itself from wolves. Its horns and thick skulls save against teeth many, many times. The Herd sings about the land and its moods. It sings about the great winds and about the stillnesses. It sings about flies in the nose, and puddles to splash in. The Herd sings about the smell of new grass. The Herd sings about beauty and summers of unending light.
The Herd sings!
I must tell everyone when I return to my rightful body.
A long time has passed in song. The storm is ending, and so is the song. The Herd rises up, shaking the snow from its hair.
We walk again, and eat, and rest, and walk some more.
We come to a hillock, climb it, and below there are people. I don’t recognise them, but they see us. They are coming towards the herd.
They are calling to each other that they are hungry, that they will take a musk-ox to eat.
I say inside my musk-ox head, “Time to show me how fast you can make these little legs move!”
The Herd is shuffling into a shoulder-to-shoulder line, to face these men head on.
I have to tell the herd to run—but they don’t believe me even if they can understand my panic.
For a thousand life times and more The Herd remembers being safe together. It hasn’t yet made it through their thick skulls that human hunters cannot be defended against by huddling tight together.
“These are not wolves, these are not wolves! You must run!” If I were in my own body I would be yelling.
They won’t run, they’re just gathering closer together. I have to do something. Maybe I can get the people to understand.
I paw and huff and lunge at these people.
“Look into my eyes! Can you not see me? I am one of you!”
I charge out of the circle and rush at the men.
“I am here! I am one of you! I’m human! I have news! Musk-ox sing! See my eyes? See me…can’t you see me? Look at me…see me? See m…”