The Orange runner
The Orange runnerThe Orange runner

The Great Crossing

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"You've run my lead caribou to the ground," the giant continued, "Which is impressive but inconvenient. Now you must take his place."

"But I haven't eaten!" protested the runner. "Grumble!" agreed his stomach.

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"Here, drink this," said the giant, pulling out a flask from beneath his heap of furs and beard.

"What is it?" said the runner, skeptical of drinks from strangers.

"Reindeer milk. Old arctic secret. Restores energy, helps blood flow, used to cross great distancs at incredible speeds." The runner, still skeptical of drinks from strangers but more skeptical of starving in the Arctic, drank greedily. Warmth seeped down his throat, silencing his stomach, soothing his legs, releasing all the knots and tension and scar tissue that one gets from running to the North Pole via some celestial detours.

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"This is amazing!" the runner exclaimed, his stomach gurgling in agreement. "So, why do you have a sled of caribou?" His brain, unable to speak over the din of his stomach, was now politely asking for his attention.

"Caribou can keep up. Dogs fret themselves away too early. Caribou are more patient," the bearded giant explained.

"Where are we going?" the runner asked. His brain, a little more urgent now, tugged at his consciousness with an urgent memo.

"Tonight we are crossing the sky," said the crimson-clad Arctic-dweller.

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"In one night?!" the runner asked incredulously. His brain lost patience, called him an idiot, and left the memo on the tip of his tongue.

"Oh, it's not too impressive; it'll be night for another month, still," said the man with a sled full of reindeer.

"You're the Shaman of the North!" exclaimed the runner, finally.

"I am," said the Shaman of the North.

"I've travelled a long way to train with you," the runner told him.

"And train you have," the Shaman agreed.

The runner thought about escaping the wolf Amarok by running past death and clear into the sky. He thought about fighting the bear Nan'nuq atop the Norther Lights and winning His boots. He thought about running the Shaman's spirit caribou to exhaustion. He thought about the speed, strength, and patience that he had earned over his journey.

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"Still though," said the runner, who had crossed land, sea and sky but wasn't exactly sure how he had done any of it, nor was he certain he could replicate it, "How do we do it?"

"As swift as wolves, as strong as bears, as patient as caribou," replied the Shaman of the North, "And a little bit of magic," he added. Which wasn't exactly specific, the runner thought as he strapped himself into the lead position, but it seemed impolite to ask for clarification on mystic directions. Besides, it made spiritual sense, which was enough.

And if it wasn't enough, there was always a little bit of magic.

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Catching Dinner

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"Okay... one more time," the runner told himself, and approached the deer slowly.

"Grumble," said his stomach. The runner ignored it.

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"Patience..." the runner told himself, as the deer fled. He jogged, slowly, after it.

"Grumble," said his stomach in disagreement. "Patience," the runner told it.

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"Patience..." the runner told himself as he continued to jog.

"Grumble," protested his stomach. "Patience," the runner told it.

"Grumble," protested his legs. "Patience," the runner told them.

"Lub Dub," protested his heart. "Patience," the runner told it.

"Huff... huff.." protested the caribou. "Patience," he told himself again.

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"Patience..." the runner told himself as he saw the caribou slowing.

"Huff... huff..." protested the caribou, as its legs gave way.

"Dinner!" cried his stomach and legs and heart in harmony.

"Stop!" boomed the voice as the runner approached the caribou.

"Huh?" said the runner.

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"When we are born," boomed a bearded giant, clad in crimson furs, "The Caribou Mother, whose antlers scrape the stars and cause them to twinkle, plucks two souls from her hide, placing one inside our bodies, and the other inside a caribou's body. Each man may lay claim to one caribou," the giant explained, "and that one is not yours."

"How do you know?" the runner protested. "Grumble," agreed his stomach. "Because it is mine," said the giant. "Oh," said the runner. "Grumble," said his stomach.

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"You've run my lead caribou to the ground," the giant continued, "Which is impressive but inconvenient. Now you must take his place."

"But I haven't eaten!" protested the runner. "Grumble!" agreed his stomach.


Chasing Dinner

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"Nice deer," said the runner as he slowly approached the deer. "Grumble," said his stomach, so he broke into a jog.

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"Patience," the runner said to himself, as the deer fled.

"Grumble," said his stomach in disagreement, so with the speed of a wolf he charged!

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With the strength of a bear he leapt!

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... directly into the caribou's kick, which caught him just under the chin, sending a symphony through his nervous system and turned his limbs to jelly.

"BONG," said his skull.

"Oof!" said the runner.

"Thud!" said the ground. Stars that were stars but also caribou antlers but also ripples from his rattled skull danced in front of the runner's eyelids.

"Patience!" boomed a voice above and behind him, but the runner had not quite solidified his limbs yet and could not turn around to face the speaker.

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"You must convince the Caribou that you have great need of it," the voice told him. "It will take many miles before it will give itself over to you."

The Caribou Mother, one of the oldest Inuit deities, resides in the sky, sort of. Really, she is huge. She is the sky. She is also the earth. The souls of men and caribou crawl across her like lice. When we are born, she plucks a soul from her hide and places it into our body. When a caribou is born, she plucks a soul from her hide and places it into their body. Our souls, however, are tiny and indistinguishable to her, and they often get mixed up. Caribou, therefore, must only be killed in time of great need, as to kill one is to kill your fraternal soul. Practically speaking, overhunting Caribou means fewer Caribou next year, which means fewer hides, tools and meals.

The runner didn't know this; he just knew he was hungry, and that every time he tried to touch the caribou it did him grievous bodily harm, so he had to find a way to kill it without touching it. He had an idea, but his stomach wasn't going to like it. He pushed himself to his elbows.

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"Where does that voice go?" the runner wondered aloud.

"Grumble," said his stomach.