Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Daybreak

My name is Gry. I am descended from a long line of healers. I was named after my ancestor, The Great Gry – She Who Brought New Dawns to Mankind. Indeed, Gry—an ancient Norwegian name that means daybreak—was befitting for the woman who gave such hope to so many people. The legends tell that when The Great Gry touched people’s troubled heads, her hands glowed warm and removed all their sorrows and pains. Many people sought her help. The Great Gry was burned to death by religious men, like the women killed in the witch-hunts hundreds of years before her. So you see, the world had not changed yet at her time. She lived in a time of wars, violence and famine. It was before we understood that people needed to be Protected.

I become sad when I think about this remarkable woman and that she was not given a proper Closure. It is a comfort that her place of death has become a place for pilgrims. It is said to be a place of hope and peace, as if the spirit of The Great Gry still dwells there. I plan to travel to this place when I am old and ready for my own Closure. I intend to ask the Doctors if they can pay respect to The Great Gry when it is time.

I am the first of her heirs to be named in her honour. I am grateful to my parents for doing this. It was my destiny then, of course, to become a healer. My parents gave me to Doctor Hedda when I was born and I have only seen them twice since. The first time was when I was ten winters old and graduated from The School of Holistic Health and Sciences in Oslo. My parents came to the ceremony and Doctor Hedda allowed me to eat dinner with them afterwards. The second time was last year, when Doctor Hedda conferred upon me the title of Doctor Gry. My parents are foreign to me, but at the same time there is something very familiar about them. I am not sure if I will get to see them again.

It is clear that I have not been so fortunate as to inherit my mother’s delicate features. The flaming red curls on my head, which I do not allow to grow too long, come from my father. I have accepted that I am not beautiful. This troubled me somewhat when I was in the Pre-Protected phase. I am ashamed to admit that I habitually cried at night.

I tried to touch Doctor Hedda’s arm when I was in the Pre-Protected phase, but she waved me away. I am grateful to her for being so understanding. It was a shameful experience.

The Pre-Protected phase is so frightening; the one time in life that humans are not Protected. It is such a shock when the skin is no longer numb from the Child Cream that is applied from the moment of birth. The skin is so thin, fragile and sensitive to everything, even the air and sun. Worse still is the chaos inside. Doctor Hedda had warned me beforehand that the unstable hormones would rule my body for some years, making me yearn for inappropriate things. It was comforting to know that this was just temporary and that my mind would gain control over the body again, that I soon would be Protected. I know the Scientists are working on developing a formula for injection that can be used for children. I think many people will be grateful that they can bypass the Pre-Protected phase. I think it will be possible too, some day, for the Doctors to perform the Operation on children.

Those winters that I suffered, I poured over the files in the National Archives to figure out how people used to cope with it in ancient times. It’s fascinating how long it took for mankind to realize that the body’s extreme sensitivity was the main problem behind all the unstable emotions, like aggression and violence, and that humans needed to be Protected. All the pains and strangely disturbing bodily and psychological needs must have been so confusing and overwhelming. I cannot imagine how horrible it must have been for people to be so vulnerable, so helpless, and so affected when other people simply touched their skin, not only in the Pre-Protected phase, but their whole life.

I wonder sometimes what it felt like when The Great Gry put her burning hands on people’s heads. The files said that they calmed and became peaceful. Maybe her hands had some numbing effect, just like our injections or Cream. The files did not tell anything about this.

I hope that my patients eventually can help me to understand it. I am surprised by how many people choose to live their lives dependent on yearly injections and daily Cream instead of doing the Operation. They fear it, I think. Stupid people. Many of them come to me crying in despair because they have neglected to smear themselves with Cream or forgot that they were due for an injection. They tell of nights filled with nightmares and of sudden crying outbursts, of jealousy and unfamiliar quarrels with their partners, of strange needs. I always make sure to give them some brochures about the Operation when they leave. But I know I will see several of them again. They just do not learn.

I will do the Operation myself in a year, when I turn twenty winters old, and I am counting down the days to when I can stop using Cream. I don’t mind the injections, but I am not fond of Cream. I never liked it when I used Child Cream either, even though Child Cream is milder. The Scientists have improved Cream greatly in recent years, but it still causes a painful, burning feeling for the first minutes after you have put it on your body, before the skin becomes numb. I must admit that if I am not receiving patients, I sometimes choose not to bathe, just to avoid reapplying the Cream.

I do wonder how it would feel to have burning hands on my head.

***

I am pleased to announce that I have been given a new assignment. Last month I moved to Fjellbygda, a little village in the North Mountains. Doctor Hedda put in a good word for me, and I am going to be the Doctor here for a year. My responsibility will be not only Fjellbygda, but also the surrounding villages and the few loners living in the wilderness. I am very honoured to be entrusted with this responsibility. I think it will help me in furthering my career.

I have never been in the North Mountains in real life before. It is a strange feeling. The air is thin, clear and so cold, I feel as if it is cleansing my lungs. Everywhere I look there are snow tipped mountains and forest. Only a few hundred people live up here. Fjellbygda is the largest village. Most of the people are poor and uneducated, and have never been beyond the mountains. When I am not sitting alone in my one-bedroom apartment, mostly reading, I find myself seeking company with the few others here with some level of education; the Major and his wife, who is a Teacher, another Teacher, and the Police Officer. I think my landlord, Anna, who lives on the first floor, has some education, but I have not yet dared ask her about her background, since, like me, she keeps to herself. I have frequently observed her from my windows in the early morning, as she disappears on the trails into the forests. I don’t know where she’s going, but she is always alone and always returns in the afternoon. I have started to look to see if she has come home before I go to sleep.

The days pass quickly here. My waiting-room is always full. The majority of my patients come from Fjellbygda, but a few come from the wilderness and the other villages. They have walked far to see me. Mostly they come for minor wounds or to receive injections or more Cream. I suspect some of them come just because they are curious about me, the new young Doctor. We have so few diseases now, so most of my healing education will never be used, I guess. I have however seen some disturbing symptoms, which I must investigate more closely. I have sent some blood tests from a couple of my patients to Doctor Hedda. I want to hear what she thinks. It will be interesting to see if she confirms my suspicions. My patients are of course not aware of this.

***

I do not know what to do with the things I have discovered. I hardly understand it. I never thought I would see the things I have seen in the last few days.

The other day, a woman from Steinknausen burst into my office. Her name was Klara. She had come running from so far away that her legs were shaking. Her husband had been shot, she said, and begged me to follow her home. Yes, shot! Imagine my shock! I put on my parka and ran after her. On the way out, I called the Police Officer to come with me. His name is Truls. I do not know much more about him. Even though he has been here for several winter seasons, he keeps to himself, as most of us from outside do here. He comes from the North, from Tromsø I believe. I have considered asking him sometime if he has been to The Great Gry’s place of death.

Steinknausen is in the outer, northernmost reaches of the North Mountains. The temperatures here drop to minus 30-40 Celsius during winter. It is what people in ancient times called ‘a cold hole’; a hole or a smaller valley in between mountains where the cold air has sunk down and the ice and frost can accumulate and may take root for months at a time. A few tiny farms and turf houses cling to the steep hills. It was my first time there and I was curious. Steinknausen has no cyber access and can be completely isolated during snow-rich winters. I wondered how the people there got by, being so separated from the rest of the world and modern technology and how they managed to live in such a harsh climate.

It was exhausting walking on the thin squiggly trails through the thick forest and over the windswept mountain plains. We tried to run where we could, but the harsh terrain forced us to walk for long stretches. I was grateful that there was no snow yet. I have little experience with skiing, except for virtual travels, but they do not count, I think. The three of us did not speak much. I wondered about the man who was shot and worried that I might be too late to save him. I tried to walk as fast as I could, though I am not used to this much exercise in thin mountain air. Both Klara and I had to stop several times to get our breath back. Truls did not appear to become tired, but he was kind enough to wait for us. I remember I thought it remarkable that this tall muscled and rugged man could be so gentle and calm. He must have had the Operation. I think, though, that he looks younger than twenty winters.

We found the wounded man on the floor in a fragile looking little cottage at the edge of the forest. He must have tried to drag himself to the bedroom, because there was a blood trail on the floor all the way from the kitchen. I am sad to say that he was unconscious and fatally wounded, so I had to evaluate him as beyond any hope and give him a Closure. Klara sat on the floor next to me, sobbing and screaming. Truls had to hold her, as she tried to attack me when I took the Closure injector from my purse. It was a curious experience. The dark little room, the devastated wife, the gentle Police Officer and the first time I have ever given someone a Closure. I tried to perform it properly and in as respectful a manner as possible. I wonder if it will be like this every time. Doctor Hedda never told me that it would be like this. I feel oddly shaken when I think back on it now.

Some neighbours came to help out. I wondered why they had not been there to help the man while his wife was running across the mountains for help. The men lifted the corpse up onto the bed, so that we could investigate the wounds and Truls could take notes. The women made Klara sit down on a chair and busied themselves with making coffee, opening the windows and cleaning up the blood from the floor. I gasped when I saw one of the women stroking the widow’s chin. She dropped her hand quickly when she heard me. The other women looked at me like they had discovered an alien in their midst. When the woman turned around, I noticed that her abdomen was quite large, as if she was pregnant. I must admit I was shocked. I have not heard about women being pregnant in our time.

I am not trained to foster or make babies. Few Doctors are. Not many are accepted after the interviews and tests. I think I would like to apply when that time comes. I like the thought of contributing to bringing new babies into the world. A few couples have come to me who want to apply for a child. I enjoy interviewing them and doing the required tests.

I must have been staring, because she gave me a long glance and then hurried into the bedroom where some of the women had begun to wash up the dead man. The other women kept on casting glances towards me, and at last I went outside to sit on the porch. I heard their murmur through the windows, but I felt too shaken to listen to what they were saying. It all felt like some surreal dream, like the ones I dreamed when I was in the Pre-Protected phase. At one point I thought I heard one of the women say that they needed Anna to come, but I think it is a common name up here in the mountains. I don’t think they meant my landlord.

Truls talked with some of the men outside and after a while he came over and sat next to me on the porch. It was strangely comforting to feel his body heat. I must be closer to my next injection date than I thought. He told me that the men probably knew what had happened, but that they did not want to tell him. From what they said, he had the impression that the dead man had not been popular and that the men felt he deserved this fate. They said that he had done something so horrible it could not be forgiven. I looked over at the men while Truls talked and I wondered how they could stand there so calm, even laughing, and say that the dead man inside deserved to be killed. Truls must have seen my reaction because he said that it was normal in the isolated parts of the mountains that the people were ruled by the local community, their neighbours. “They judge and punish each other,” he said. I am astonished. This is like something out of the history books, something I thought happened only in the past.

Since my return to Fjellbygda I have pondered what I saw in Steinknausen, and my conclusions so far point in one direction. My suspicions are also confirmed by the answer I received from Doctor Hedda on the tests I sent her a while back. She told me to be careful: It appears that these tests are taken from people who have not received Injection PXI744 for a very long time. They are not Protected. It is of utmost importance that you investigate this further.

So, you see. I have begun to believe that there are people up here in the mountains who are not Protected. I am very concerned about this and not sure who I can discuss it with. I think that Truls at least has had some experiences with the locals and most likely shares my suspicions. I have a feeling that it was not the first time he had encountered a shooting. Also, the locals seem to trust him—perhaps they have told him. I have to ask him what he thinks of it all.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the most peculiar thing happened when Truls and I walked back to Fjellbygda from Steinknausen. It was very dark in the forest, but Truls had a flashlight and I kept close to him, though I more than once stumbled and fell on the slippery moss-covered forest floor. He always waited. When we were almost home, and we could see the lights from Fjellbygda in the distance, such a welcoming sight in the dark, we met a person coming towards us. It was Anna, my landlord. I wondered what she was doing heading into the forest in the darkness, but she was moving so briskly and barely slowed to greet us, so I did not dare to ask her. We only nodded to each other and said our hellos before we went on in different directions. When I think about it today, I find it strange. I have never seen her go out at night before. I am worried.

***

I am going back to Steinknausen tomorrow. The people of Steinknausen are burying Klara’s husband. I have never witnessed a funeral before, only Closures, so I asked Truls if I could go with him. I am very curious about the people of Steinknausen, but I have not told Truls this. I think he intends to investigate the incident while he is there. He has asked me to pack clothes and a sleeping bag. I hope to ask Truls some questions about the people in these mountains, as I am sure he knows something more than he tells me.

I have not talked with Anna this last week. She did not come home until late in the evening the day after we met her in the forest. She looked up at my window, but I hid behind the curtains. I do not think she saw me. I have noticed that she has been away from home a lot in the last few days.

***

The sky above Steinknausen is beautiful and full of stars at night. In Oslo you cannot see the stars because there are so many lights in the city. In the North Mountains, the stars look nearer, larger and clearer. The northern lights often travel over the sky here during winter. The people here say that when the winter night is quiet and cold, you can even hear the northern lights sparkle. I wish I could see that sometime!

I have been given a bed in a cottage at the top of a steep hill. It is an old cottage and I am afraid the roof will fall in on me when I sleep. Anna just laughs at me and calls me a city girl. Before I go to bed, I sit for a while on the porch, looking up at the sky, breathing in the crisp air. Yes, Anna! You can imagine my surprise when I saw her in Steinknausen and at the funeral. She walked around through the little crowd, shook hands with the men and embraced Klara for a long time.

I have been in Steinknausen for several days now. Truls has gone back to Fjellbygda, but I feel obliged to stay. It is my duty as Doctor. The pregnant woman, Gunn, is giving birth any time now. I am deeply concerned for her and I want to help out with the birth. Anna and the other women shake their heads at me, and I feel like I am a child again. I think they have done this before. I have seen a few children here. They peek at me from around corners and some giggle when I look back at them, but usually their mothers chase them away before I get the chance to talk with them. I wonder if they use Child Cream, but I suspect that they do not.

I was shocked when I saw Anna put her hands on Gunn’s stomach during the funeral. I wondered what it was like to feel the baby moving under the skin, and if the baby could feel Anna’s hands. Anna noticed me staring at her, but she did not say anything to me. Sometimes I think she can see right through me.

People here talk about her with great affection. From what people say, she walks all around these mountains, and is welcomed everywhere. She visits the smaller villages too, and even the loners in the wilderness. I am not sure yet what it is that she does, but the people regard her as a wise woman, a healer. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered this. Another healer! I do not think Anna is a trained Doctor, but she appears to have helped people get well from sickness.

Anna and I share this cottage, but I have not had any chance to talk with her, since she is so busy. She does not come to the cottage until very late, when both of us are too tired for any lengthy conversations. I believe that she is open to letting me know about her world, though. She must be interested in talking healing with someone who is educated in it. She has allowed me to follow her when she visits Gunn, the pregnant woman. I feel she does not give me the authority I am entitled to as a trained Doctor, but I believe this is just because she is so busy.

I wonder if Anna is Protected or not. I have not seen her put on any Cream. She is older than me though, so she might have had the Operation. But then again, I often see her touching people. The strange thing is that the people appear to like it. I have seen them move closer to her when she enters a room and I have observed children climb into her lap and play with her long dark braid.

People here seem to tolerate my presence when I am with Anna, and some of the women have even begun to talk with me a bit more. Klara avoids me though. I do not think she has forgiven me for giving her husband his Closure. Anna says that Klara’s husband did unforgivable things to a child and that the men shot him. I need to ask Truls more about it when he returns in a few days. I wonder how much Truls knows about what goes on in Steinknausen and what he thinks of it. I now suspect that no one in this place is Protected!

***

I am in a quandary about what to do. Anna says that she can help me, and Truls has also given me his support. I feel that I am surrounded by friends. But I am so scared. I do not know what is happening.

Anna woke me up last night. The birth had started. When we arrived at Gunn’s home, several of the other women were already there. They were busying themselves heating up large kettles of water and comforting Gunn. Gunn’s husband was so distressed that the men had brought him to the neighbour’s before we arrived. I do not blame him. The birth is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I have ever had, and I am Protected!

Luckily, they did not need me. Everything went well. Gunn gave birth to a beautiful little wrinkled boy in the grey dawn. Anna was so calm and efficient and in control, so I mostly watched from the bedroom door. She called me over when the boy was dried and placed on his mother’s chest. He was already drinking from his mother. I know I was staring, but the other women did not seem to mind. His mother and the others kept stroking their hands over his head and petting his little body. I lifted my hand too, then quickly put it away when I realized what I was about to do, but Anna nodded to me and told me I was allowed to touch him if I wanted to.

So for the first time in my life I touched someone. I put my hand on his head. I expected that I would not feel anything since I was Protected, and I was not wrong. So to speak. I sensed his smooth, warm skin, and his heavy head that trembled on the thin, weak neck, but nothing more. But the strangest thing happened. When I put my hand on his head, hesitating, he whimpered and inhaled deeply, his little chest blowing up in a funny way, as if he was about to scream. His mother looked alarmed. But then he calmed and a smile stretched all over his little wrinkled face, and he opened his eyes, struggled a bit before focusing, and he looked up at me adoringly. I smiled back, of course; who would not when seeing such a tiny, cute and innocent face, though I am not sure if he actually saw me, since newborns usually cannot see that far. I felt a curious connection with the little boy, as if his mind and my mind were suddenly one, as if I felt his innocent, new awareness inside me, gentle and curious. I felt an odd buzzing in my hand, too.

I suddenly noticed that the room had grown quiet, that his dad stood gaping at us from the door. Anna, at last, removed my hand, gasping softly when she touched it, but she did not say anything. Gunn’s husband hurried towards the bed, tears streaming down his chin, and I walked out onto the porch, shaken, until Anna came out telling me to go to the cottage and get some sleep.

When Anna came back to the cottage, Truls was with her. I had forgotten that he was returning today. We sat around the kitchen table, eating some bread, cheese and dried meat that the women had sent with Anna, chatting about Fjellbygda and Truls’ walk through the forest. He said winter was coming and that we should soon return to Fjellbygda. Anna mostly just listened. She looked tired and pale.

When we had finished eating and cleared the table, Anna turned towards me with a determined look. She asked me to lay my hand on top of her head. I objected of course to this bizarre request, but when she insisted and looked so serious, I obeyed. She trembled, but sat quiet, and closed her eyes. Truls looked at us, curiously. It was such a strange experience to sit at a kitchen table in the small cottage in the quiet mountains, touching another person.

I felt no instant connection the way I had with Gunn’s little newborn, but after a few moments I felt something nudge my mind. I could have sworn I heard a small voice calling my name. In my thoughts, I answered; “I am here!” For a moment, my hand tingled, and then Anna stood and my hand slid off. She stared at me, wide-eyed, then paced around the room a little before sitting down again, her long braid swinging. She looked oddly renewed, as if she had slept for many hours. Then she asked me to put my hand on Truls’ head. He looked surprised but, perhaps because he is of a kind and tolerant nature, he nodded and allowed me to touch him. He almost jumped up, but then relaxed and closed his eyes. When I removed my hand, he sighed.

Anna told me that my hand burned through her head. Burned! You can imagine my surprise. She said that it burned not like Cream does, but like something gentle, warm and peaceful embracing you. Truls nodded and said he felt that, too. Anna said she had felt as if our minds had connected. I must have looked at her like she was a lunatic, because she shook her head at me and said she could not believe that I did not know this. But how should I know that I have burning hands when I have never touched anyone? Anna said she thought I must have inherited The Great Gry’s gifts. She said that she had this gift herself, that it was not as strong and powerful as mine, but that she had learned to use it to heal people. She said she could teach me how to use my gifts, but not if I was Protected, because she thought this numbed the sensitivity and would reduce my ability to use my gifts. I could not have the Operation either, because she thought the gift would disappear completely then.

I am too shocked to know what to do with this, if I even believe it. Is it true that I have not only inherited The Great Gry’s name, but also her gift? I cannot believe this.

***

The last few weeks have passed in a blur. I am back in Fjellbygda. The winter is very near and the temperatures are dropping lower and lower every day. I am worried for the people in Steinknausen and in the other parts of the mountains, who soon will be snowed in and completely isolated. Truls has said that he will teach me how to ski, so I might be able to visit these places a few times during the winter. This comforts me greatly.

I have friends. I have never had any friends. But I think I can call Anna and Truls my friends. This pleases me. We eat dinner together in Anna’s large kitchen and talk all night. I have grown very fond of them in a short time. They are kind, calm souls, even if they are not Protected. I was not shocked when I discovered this, as I have had suspicions, but they hide it well. I have promised of course to keep their secret as I know they will keep mine, when that time comes. I feel as if the three of us are one unit in a numb world, and this makes me smile.

I have stopped using Cream, which is not so surprising, as I never liked it. It has only been a few days, so I do not know yet if I like to be without it or not. I feel somehow naked, like I did when I was in the Pre-Protected phase. I am also considering not taking any more injections and not doing the Operation. I have not decided yet since, for now, I am looking at this as an experiment. I have to decide soon, of course, as Doctor Hedda will demand to know the reasons when I do not show for my Operation. I still have the winter to think about this decision and also, how to explain to Doctor Hedda that I would like to stay in the North Mountains. Because I more and more believe I would like to stay here.

I feel liberated in strange ways and I feel that I have started on new adventures. It is curious that I am slowly accepting that I have this gift. Maybe it is because I see how calm people become when I touch them. Maybe I always have known and that is what has pained me, that I could not touch anyone.

Anna is teaching me to use my gift. Before we left Steinknausen, she allowed some of the people there to come to my cottage to be touched by me. Apparently, rumours travel quickly in these mountains. There are often people at Anna’s kitchen door late at night, seeking me. I am not sure if the Mayor or the other people in Fjellbygda have noticed this, but nobody has said anything or raised any eyebrows. There are more people in my waiting-room, but I cannot touch people there. I think some leave disappointed. I think we will figure out how to do this eventually.

That morning in Steinknausen, when the little boy was born at daybreak, I felt as if I were awakening from a long, dreamless night. Ever since, I have felt as if a new Gry has appeared in my place, and I do not know her yet. I have even stopped cutting my hair, because Anna says it is beautiful. Truls says it is like fire and likes to touch it. He says I am a fire girl and jokes about me being known as The Great Gry – She Who Burned Down the World. He is so sweet towards me.

At night, before I go to bed, I look out my window towards the mountains and the northern lights that stretch green across the sky and I think about my ancestor. I wonder what she would say if she knew that her descendant has inherited the burning hands in a world that does not approve of such things. I think she would smile at this and say that the world has not changed at all.

A bit about the author:

Margrét Helgadóttir is a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and editor living in Copenhagen. This is her third story published in Luna Station Quarterly. http://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com Visit author page