Nathan's Laserium - Ghost Lights

Uktr was not a spiritual man, but even he felt some sort of connection to his ancestors as he watched their ghosts dance in the sky. They were bright right now, and beautiful. Shimmering greens and hints of red. Impressive, but completely unhelpful. His hunting party had received no blessing from the silent lights this night. Unless their single hare was supposed to be some sort of gift from the heavens. Well, Uktr didn't like to credit them when he had success, so no point in blaming them when he had none.

The silence was broken by the sound of crunching snow. Only one beast made such a noise when it walked.

"Giants," whispered Uktr. Immediately his hunting companions crouched, alert with weapons ready.  Their one advantage over the hulks was their finely crafted weapons. The giants didn't have bow and arrows. Though their spears and clubs and axes were deadly enough. Uktr had no desire to fight them. Hopefully they would pass by, not noticing his little group of hunters in the dark.

The long winter Night had seen many battles between the giants and the People, and those had gone very badly for the People.The giants were twice their height, and every bit as smart. Some whispered that they were gods or demons, sent by Ak to punish the People. This Night had been darker, colder, with more snow and less game than any Night in memory. The dead shaman Hram had said it would only get worse in the remaining two moons before Morning. And now these giants had arrived and started slaughtering the People.

Uktr didn't believe in gods or demons, Ak excepted. He stole a look at the ghost lights. Maybe those weren't even ghosts. Who could say? But he had killed a giant, once. They could die, same as him.

Now, through the darkness and swirling snow the menacing outlines of the giants could be discerned, faintly. There were six of them, two more than in Uktr's tired and hungry band. Five of the giants carried huge stone axes, while the sixth held a bundle in its arms, almost tenderly. For a fleeting second Uktr entertained the absurd thought that the giant was cradling its baby, and that they would have no wish to engage in battle.

Then he saw the much more horrifying truth.

The giant reared and threw the corpse of Uktr's wife at the band. There was no mistaking that pure white foxfur cloak. Uktr wailed and ran out to collect his wife, and the giants overcame them then.

As he died, Uktr supposed that he should be grateful he would be joining his ancestors and his wife up in the ghost lights, but he couldn't shake the suspicion that the lights were in truth the ghosts of these giants' ancestors instead.

The giants moved on, leaving the bodies where they lay, along with their tiny stone tools, taking only the single hare that had been the little band's only find. The falling snow soon covered their bodies and the footprints of the giants, and the ghost lights glowed red in the night sky.

 

"... and so we know frustratingly little about the Arctic Small Tool Tradition. All we have of them are their stone artifacts- tiny, intricate knives, spear points and arrowheads." Dr. David Arnaqjuaq pointed at his slide. The tiny specimens were grouped around a toonie for scale. His small archeology class was riveted. "They either died out or were driven out by the Dorset culture, which we'll cover in detail on Thursday. Questions?"

"Yeah, Dr. Arnaqjuaq, I have a question. How the hell have I never heard of these little guys before?" Laughter. "No, but for real, why did they make such small tools?"

"No one knows. Maybe they were toys. Or they had some sort of ceremonial function. It's a mystery without enough clues to really solve."

"I know!" called out a student from the back of the seminar room. Naomi, David thought her name was.

"You do! Wow, it's my lucky day. You can answer a question that's been bugging me my entire career! Please, Naomi, enlighten us." Dr. Arnaqjuaq had a good rapport with his students, so his words were taken as playful rather than as the insufferable arrogance of some of his colleagues.

"Okay, well, it's easy. Obviously they were hobbits! You know, Homo floresiensis, those little hominids they found in Indonesia."

David chuckled. "An intriguing idea, to be sure. Some people still think H. floresiensis were merely microcephalic sapiens, and not their own species."

"Hardly anyone, anymore," Naomi said.

"Yeah, and you know what? I'm in the 'they are a separate species' camp myself. But you still have a pretty big gap, geographically AND chronologically to get from Flores to Skraeling Island."

Naomi refused to budge, though she had been half-joking at first. "There were hominid species all over the place, lots of them contemporary with each other. Looks at the Denisovans. Hanging out with Neanderthals and sapiens! And we only just discovered them. Who knows who else was out there."

The bell rang, and the class dispersed. Naomi looked over her shoulder at David and called out, "I still say it was hobbits! Mail me my Nobel Prize when I turn out to be right!"

Dr. Arnaqjuaq smiled and waved good-bye. Then he pulled out the tiny arrowhead he had dug up on Ellesmere Island back when he was a grad student at the University of Guelph. He turned it over in his hands for the thousandth time, and he wondered.

 

I know we're supposed to let our stories and stuff speak for themselves, but I want to say a few things about this story. It had its genesis in 2004 when the Vampirenomad and I were traveling in Malaysia. I'd brought some random old (really old) National Geographics along that I'd stolen from my now-wife's classroom. The idea was I could read them then drop them on the way, and if we got lost we could follow the Yellow Border Road home like little hobbit munchkin hanselgretels. One of them, from maybe 1981 or so, was about archeology up in Canada's Arctic. It mentioned, in passing, the Arctic Small Tool Tradition. I was like HOLD ON TELL ME MORE but there was no more to be told.

This was very shortly after the discovery of the Flores hobbits, when the debate was still raging about whether they were a separate species or kids or what. I believe there is fairly strong scientific consensus now that they are their own species.

Anyways. Still intrigued by them, still not much out there to really learn. Google the tools, though, get a feel for how small they are. It's pretty cool.

Do I really believe they were made by our own Northern branch of Homo floresiensis? If you hold a gun to my head I would say, probably not. But I want to!

I really want to.

- Nathan Waddell