Dancing with the Aurora

Jaywing Fuller

You sit and stare at a blank sheet. You wrack your mind. You look within. You do this for hours. Yet the page remains blank, because your mind regurgitates nothing but senseless clichés and empty platitudes.

The next day you get up believing that this day will – must, be different. But, it isn’t. Nor is the day after, nor the day after that.

How could this be? Your first novel was well received. You avoided the sophomore curse with a second that was a best seller. You wrote a compilation of short stories. Your future was bright.
Then, without warning, nothing – not a single idea takes form in your mind.

You ponder the consequences. Without ideas, there are no stories. Without stories, there is no writing. Without writing, a writer’s life – your life, becomes meaningless.

A week passes. Then, a month – then two. You lose count.

Your friends from Helsinki and Lahti and Turku come to visit. But you find no comfort in their company, no substance in their banter, no cheer when they take their leave.

Hopelessness worms its way into you, wearing you down, gnawing at your will with despair. Unable to break depression’s downward spiral, you decide to look for a way out. Nothing spectacular or messy – that wouldn’t be dignified, and at the very least, though dead, you want your friends to remember you as dignified. No, something simple, away from prying eyes and interference.

In preparation you take the metro to Itäkeskus Mall to buy sleeping pills and select several bottles of good wine.

Another two weeks pass.

Then, on a cool autumn evening you decide the time is right. With your last debts paid and a note left for friends, you drive north to a place you visited years ago near Pudasjärvi. Once there you don your coat, build a fire in the forest and settle in. When you’re comfortable you open the first bottle of wine and swallow the first five pills. You’re in no hurry.

The gentle sounds of the night surround you. The spruce and alders whisper with the wind. Owls chortle in the darkness – snow crickets chirp for a mate. You open the second bottle of wine.
You’re about to down the next set of pills when you see something slowly moving through the forest. Walking with ease and grace, it comes closer as the seconds pass. After a few moments you realize it’s a white reindeer – rare in this part of Finland. You watch as it pauses briefly to consider you, then steps behind a spruce thicket and disappears. You wait, but the reindeer does not emerge.

Once again you bring the pills to your mouth. Your eye catches movement and you stop. Someone is standing in the shadows, watching. You slip the pills back into the bottle. “Hello,” you say cautiously. “Care to come by the fire?”

A small man steps into the light, dressed in the traditional curled tip-boots and four winds hat of a Sámi reindeer herder. He nods, “Hello, Mikkal.”

The pronunciation is odd, but that is your name. You look the person over. He seems familiar. “Who are you?” you ask.

He smiles, “You don’t recognize me, do you, Mikkal?”

“No,” you respond.

“I am your great grandfather, Olen.”

“Grandmother said your name was Pekka.”

“Yes, that is true. Pekka was your great grandfather. But I’m not the first of your great grandfathers. I am your great grandfather ten times removed.” Stepping closer, he sits down and draws from behind his back a bowl drum, its surface decorated with symbols drawn in red alder sap. From his jerkin he draws a beater fashioned from a piece of reindeer antler. “I have been watching you, Mikkal,” he says, “and I know your troubles.”

You’re understandably skeptical. This simply cannot be. This person must be nothing more than a manifestation of your drugged mind. But you cannot deny the fact that Olen – whoever Olen is and by whatever manner his existence, has begun to rhythmically strike his drum. After several moments he adds a song, sung in the traditional Sámi style – a yoik.

You’re mesmerized. You try to speak, but cannot. You try to stand, but fail.

As he sings, the campfire grows brighter. The sparks reach higher. The flames ripple with color – blues, reds, greens, and yellows.

Olen stops his drumming. His yoik fades into the night. “Come, Mikkal.”

You find your voice. “Where are we going?”

“The Land of Shadows,” he replies, reaching out to you, “the land of our ancestors.”

You grasp his hand. He helps you to a standing position and places his arm about your shoulders. “Come. They’re waiting.” Together, you step into the blazing inferno. The world goes black.
You sense the earth fall away. The winds tug at your clothing and sing in your ears. Mists wet your face. Are you passing though clouds? Have you taken flight?

Again the ground is beneath your feet.

Still in Olen’s embrace, you step from the fire ring. You turn to find that, where once had been a roaring fire only glowing coals remain. The forest, too, has disappeared, replaced by the barren fens and fels of the arctic tundra. Snow blankets the ground. The North Star shines just off your shoulder.

As your eyes adjust, you discover that you and Olen are not alone. There are others near the dying embers, standing silently in a circle, their heads covered, their faces masked in shadow.
“Who are these sad people?” you ask.

Olen gestures with an open palm. “Some of them are no longer present and nearly forgotten. Some are present still, but no longer heard.”

Your eyes move slowly from one figure to another. “What do they want?”

Olen folds his hands together. “Some wish to be remembered. Some wish to be understood.”

“And they cannot do this themselves?” you ask.

“No,” Olen answers.


Olen looks to the waning moon, then back to the coals. “These on your right are our ancestors, yours and mine, long dead. They are the sons and daughters of Sápmi, the Sámi homeland – your homeland, Mikkal. But, memory of their lives and deeds has faded. They wish to be remembered, but no one tells their tales.

“These on your left are the ancient Sámi spirits. They are wind and cloud, earth and water. They are moss. They are rock. They are Reindeer. They are always near, always present, whispering the wonders and unity of life. But their language is no longer understood. They wish to impart wisdom and insight, but no one gives them voice.”

With that, Olen falls silent.

You do not know what to say. You pull your coat tighter around you.

A flare of blue rises from the horizon. A spike of red arches overhead, followed by a flowing curtain of green laced with ribbons of yellow. Soon the entire sky is dancing with the aurora.
Smiling, Olen pats you on the shoulder as he sticks a folded leaf to your coat. “Remember me, Mikkal.” He then turns and walks away.

As he disappears, the others begin filing past you. As they do so each one silently places a leaf on your coat, then turns and follows Olen out across the frozen tundra. Soon all are gone.

You stand alone, bathed in the aurora’s light. You take one of the leaves from your coat and kneel down near the last embers. Unfolding it, you see writing.

“I am Väraldarade – father of spirits.”

You turn the leaf over. There is more writing.

“It was I who brought land from the sea. I, who planted the sacred rowan, linking heaven and earth and underworld.”

Again you turn the leaf. There is more writing. You turn the leaf a fourth time. The story continues.

You take another leaf from your coat and unfold it.

“I am Bieggolmai – the Wind God.”

You turn the leaf.

“Before time, before seasons, before Reindeer and Sámi came to this land, I ruled the north and none could stand against me.”

You turn the leaf several times. Each time more of the story is revealed.
You turn your face to the heavens. The aurora disappears. The stars begin to spin. You lose balance and tumble head first into the coals. The world goes black.

Your hour is up. The session is over. The therapist says you’re doing much better – that you’re lucky to be alive, given that you were found delirious and near death in the forest near Pudasjärvi by hikers just two short months ago.

You smile and agree. You can recall little of that night. Occasionally, snippets of memory haunt your dreams, but your therapist believes this to be normal and nothing of real consequence. It does seem strange though that you still can’t write a lick. Perhaps you simply need more time to heal.

As you head for the door she hands you your coat and reminds you of your next session in a couple of weeks.

You exit the building. It’s November and it’s beginning to snow. You don your coat against the chill and thrust your hands in your pockets. You touch something. You draw out a folded leaf.
Carefully you open it and hold it between your fingers. Its edges are serrated, its veins delicate. You turn the leaf over a few times, admiring its beauty and symmetry. A snowflake touches down on one edge and quickly melts, its moisture seeping into the leaf’s surface, refreshing it.
You look closer. There’s something strange about the way the veins intersect. You look closer still.

“I am Väraldarade – father of spirits.”

© 2009 Jaywing Fuller. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Jaywing Fuller lives in the Cascade Mountains of northern California. His writing has appeared in the Chico News and Review, College and Research Libraries News, Library Software Review, and CSU Chico’s Studies from the Herbarium. He has written and hosted an astronomy program, Sky Traxx, for the National Public Radio affiliate Northstate Public Radio.