Home Again

            It was nearly dark when she reached the gates of Kuktaiqik. The guard at the gate had it wide open to scan for any travelers out on the tundra. Seeing her, he held the gate open, waving frantically for her to hurry up. She ran as fast as her weak and tired legs would carry her. Iquiuk, sensing that home was near, found some hidden reserve of energy and bounded on ahead.

            By the time Nalai finally made it to the gate, the guard was scowling. “By all rights and according to the rules I should have left you out there to freeze, young lady.”

            Panting, Nalai did her best to look grateful. “I thank you for your kindness, sir. I’d rather not freeze.”

            He rolled his eyes. “I’m sure someone as resourceful as you could have found a cave to hole up in for the night.”

            The mere mention of the word cave made Nalai’s stomach lurch unpleasantly. “I would rather be safe inside in my own bed.”

            “As would any sane individual. Don’t make a habit of this,” he cautioned. “Most of my colleagues would have closed the gate even if they had spotted you.”

            Nalai swallowed, trying to fight back her ingrained sense of panic at the thought. “I’ll be more careful next time.”

            “Yes,” he confirmed. “You will be or you will be bear food.” He gestured for her to go past him into the safety of the dome while he closed the thick gate behind her.

            Nalai walked over to the nearest building and leaned her back against it, giving her lungs time to adjust to the much warmer temperature of the dome. It wasn’t warm, but compared to the frigid temperatures out in the open tundra it was quite warm. Beside her, Iquiuk lay down with her head on her paws, panting, looking up at her owner uncertainly.

           She ignored the dog, taking a few moments to adjust to the warmer temperature before continuing on to Kiuktuk’s shop.