The rising sea has swallowed up most of the Iñupiaq people's native land and millions of Americans from the lower forty-eight are being relocated to Alaska due to the devastation from global warming. But when the Iñupiaq people rise up to fight for the survival of their culture, the private army Skyhawk is brought in to subdue the growing insurgency and the Iñupiaq rebels are labeled as terrorists. Separated from her family in the aftermath of the ensuing battle, fourteen-year-old April Ipalook desperately searches for a place of refuge amidst the war zone of northern Alaska.
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By Jacob Sackin
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Jacob Sackin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUmiak Square
April's bare heels slipped in and out of her father's tennis shoes as she crept across the ash-covered lawn. Most of the houses and trailers along the gravel road had been smashed by bulldozers or bombs, and twisted metal fragments glimmered in the moonlight. April snuck around to the back of a trailer that wasn't too badly mangled and stepped through a hole in the screen door. The walls of her stomach churned with hunger. She tore open the kitchen cabinets searching for food, but found only mouse droppings and trash. The refrigerator was also bare, but there were two trays of melted ice in the freezer, and she drank them, one after another, before heading back out into the night to search for food.
Far in the distance, an airplane droned over Kayasak Mountain, dropping bombs. An explosion rumbled across the night sky and April glanced up at the flashing clouds in fear. Am I the only one left? she wondered, gazing down the empty street. Has everyone else been taken away? "Maybe they were taken somewhere safe and there's no reason to hide," she said aloud. "Maybe Mother is waiting for me, wondering why I haven't come!" And I'll get food if I turn myself in, she thought. She stepped out onto the road and listened. When the next ATV came by she would call out, and the soldier would take her to her mother and all the hiding would be over. All she had to do now was wait.
April sat down in the middle of the road and wrapped her arms around her knees. Her long black hair whipped about in the wind. Across the alley sat a double-wide trailer, riddled with bullets. Its body was blackened and the sliding glass door had been smashed in. A line of melted plastic puffins dangled from the edge of the roof.
April remembered seeing Susan's family lined up in their pajamas beneath the puffins. April had been riding home on her bicycle when the Skyhawk man knocked Susan's father to the ground with the butt of his rifle. Susan cried out and one of the soldiers threw her back against the wall. April watched helplessly, hoping that someone would come to help, but no one had, and when one of the soldiers yelled to her, she frantically pedaled home, burst through the door and fell into her mother's arms.
"They're forcing people onto trains heading somewhere to the north," her mother explained in a trembling voice, "no one knows where. We must hide you in case they come."
"But what about you?" April asked. Tears ran down her cheeks, catching on the claw piercings below the corners of her mouth.
"I'll be fine," she said. "Gladys says they've only been taking Eskimos. Now listen, I'm going to tell everyone that you've gone to live with your aunt in Anchorage."
April had protested when her mother showed her the small mattress and food tins she had placed in the crawlspace beneath the stairs, but after a few weeks she became used to life in hiding: eating and reading by candlelight, going to the bathroom in a bucket, whispering with her mother through the cracked door about the dozens of people who had disappeared in the middle of the night. Then, early one morning, the soldiers had come.
How long ago was that? April wondered, staring up at the full moon. A month? How long was I hiding under the stairs? Though she struggled to separate the last few weeks of her life, April could always play back the moment her mother was taken. She pictured herself back in the crawlspace, paralyzed with uncertainty and fear as the heavy footsteps echoed down the hallway. Her mother had cursed and then screamed; a glass broke and things were thrown about the room. April had to stuff her shirt sleeves into her mouth to keep from calling out. Then, it had gone silent and her mother was gone.
"I didn't help Mom," April whispered, sitting in the middle of the road with her head in her hands. "I didn't help Susan. What a coward. I deserve to be caught. Here I am!" she yelled, raising her arms in the air. "Take me away with everyone else!"
April looked up at the plastic puffins dangling from the roof and once again pictured the soldier knocking Susan's father to the ground. "What am I doing?" she asked, realizing the danger of sitting in the open road. She ran through the front yards of the trailers, turned the corner and ducked behind a bush to hide. April listened for footsteps or engines but there was only the sound of her heavy breath.
"Sedna," she whispered, rubbing the seal tooth hanging from her neck. "Aaka, help me."
She stood and the burnt grass crackled beneath her feet. The house behind her was completely burned. The roof and walls had caved in and only the door jamb and garage remained. A broken down ATV sat in the driveway, surrounded by empty plastic containers. April ducked under the handlebars and darted across the street toward the blackened rooftop of the qargi. The meeting house had mostly been destroyed, but when April noticed the tall wire fence of the community garden a smile spread across her face.
Nearly all of the beds were empty or overtaken with weeds, but she found a flowering spinach plant among the scotch broom, and devoured the bitter leaves and the stem all the way down to the roots. She found two cherry tomatoes still clinging to their vine and stuffed them into her mouth along with a small, shriveled-up potato. A light rain began to fall. April cupped her hands to the sky, sucking the droplets of water from her palms, but it only made her hungrier. Where can I find food? she wondered, chewing on the tomato vine.
On the edge of town she stopped in front of Bryan's house, picturing him playing basketball in the driveway. Things had been so good between them before the war. Bryan's family was one of the few white families that had remained in the neighborhood after Point Hope had seceded from the United States.
Their parents had been friends since college, and the families spent a lot of time together while April and Bryan were growing up. April had a crush on him starting in the sixth grade and they had finally kissed in her backyard more than two years ago. Bryan was her first boyfriend, and as they talked and kissed, the threat of war shrunk to something far away on the distant horizon. When the war started, Bryan's mother had forbidden him to see her. And after the insurgency was crushed and the Eskimo Army had fled to the mountains, April would sometimes ride her bike by his house, hoping to see him playing ball in the driveway, but he was never there, and she had been too afraid to knock on the door.
April then noticed a flickering light inside the window. She pressed her face up to the glass and saw a candle burning on the table. Could they still be here? she wondered, feeling the excitement grow within her chest. Her breath quickened. Why not? What would Skyhawk want with them?
She went around the house and knocked quietly on the back door. After a few minutes she heard footsteps and the door cracked open.
"April?" exclaimed Bryan's father. "Where did you come from? I thought you ... moved."
"No. I'm still here. They took my mother. Can I please come in, Mr. Turner? I'm so hungry."
He paused, looked over his shoulder and then held open the door. "Okay, but let's try to be quiet. I think we have some bread."
April hugged him and began to cry. "Is Bryan here?" she asked.
"Yes," said Mr. Turner, "he's asleep in his room."
April smiled. Mr. Turner handed her a piece of bread and she ate it ravenously.
"Who are you talking to?" asked a voice.
"It's April, dear. I had to let her in. She's starving."
"April?" Bryan's mother strode into the kitchen and leaned down to see her face. "So you're giving her the last of our food, endangering our family?"
"Meg, we have plenty of ..."
"That's beside the point," she snapped. "What if another soldier comes by and sees her here? What then, Doug?"
"But it's April, honey."
"What's going on?" asked Bryan, coming into the kitchen. "April!" he cried and hugged her. April went limp in his arms.
"I thought you had gone to your aunt's," he said, looking her over. "You're so ... thin."
"She cannot stay," Bryan's mother said sharply. "She can finish her bread, but then she has to leave. I will not have our lives destroyed anymore than they already have because of these people and their war. I know it's April!" she yelled, sensing her husband was about to speak. "Everyone we know who has taken an Eskimo runaway into their home has wound up dead or in prison."
"Mommy, why are you yelling?" asked Bryan's sister, standing by the door in her polar bear pajamas.
"Come on sweetheart," said Bryan's father, picking her up. "I'm sorry, April," he said, looking at the floor. "Things have been hard lately, on all of us."
"Hard?" scoffed his wife. She turned to April. "You Eskimos have turned our lives into a living hell! You and Bryan can still remember Point Hope as it once was, with Umiak Square filled with people. But Sarah never will."
"It's not her fault!" protested Bryan.
"Oh, yes. She's so innocent, her own father a general in the Eskimo Army. She's a Husky, Bryan, don't you see that. She's a terrorist, and I want her out of this house. Now!"
"But where is she supposed to go?" demanded Bryan.
"I don't care, over to the Johnsons' or the Richmonds'. They have lots of room."
"I'm sorry," said Bryan, once his mother had left. He took a piece of bread from the bag sitting on the counter and took a bite. April could tell that he too was hungry. Bryan didn't look well. He had lost a lot of weight and his hair was dirty and tangled.
"I wish you could stay," he said. "I want you to stay, but it's so dangerous right now, and mother's crazy. You can't reason with her anymore."
"But where can I go?" asked April. "Everyone is gone, the soldiers took my mother."
"I wish there was something I could do. You could try going to the Johnsons'."
"But I barely know them, and it's all the way on the other side of town." All the initial excitement that had built up when she saw the candle burning in the window suddenly turned to anger. "So you want me to go curl up in some alley until I die of starvation? Is that what you want?"
"No, of course not. I want you to stay, but ..." He looked over his shoulder.
"I don't suppose you would come with me," said April. Bryan looked at the kitchen floor and put his hands in his pockets. "Fine," she said. "I don't need you anyway." She flung open the back door and ran down the steps. At the edge of the lawn April looked back to see if Bryan had followed her, but she knew that he hadn't. Bryan was not brave, and although he was a year older than her at fifteen, his mother still treated him like a child. April started to cry but she stopped herself, took one last look at Bryan's house and ran down the alley.
April crept through the empty lot where she and her sister used to play before the war. A felled tree with an axe stuck in its trunk lay across the dead grass; half its bark had been shaved off and the peelings were piled up in a wheelbarrow as if someone had left in the middle of the job. April ran her hand along the trunk of the spruce tree. It was rare to see a fallen tree of this size abandoned. The tree line had only reached Point Hope forty years ago after the last of the permafrost had melted and the tundra had given way to stunted forests of spruce and alder. April loved to sit against the trunks and read or just stare up into the branches, but her father always reminded her that although global warming had brought the trees, it had taken most of the Iñupiat's land and the animals they depended on.
"You see beauty in the branches and leaves," he would say. "But to me the trees are like gravestones for the ways of our people."
April wanted so badly to lie down next to the felled trunk and rest, but hunger drove her on. At the edge of the field, something rustled the bushes and she dropped to the ground. Two scrawny caribou trotted out of the brush along the train tracks, nibbling on the grass. April watched the small one hungrily, wishing now more than ever that she knew how to kill a caribou as her people once did. For hundreds of generations the Iñupiat had depended on the caribou for clothing, food and much more, but when the animals became endangered, long before April was born, the government had made hunting them illegal.
April looked around for something hard and sharp to throw at the caribou, but when she reached for a rock both animals raised their heads in alarm and stopped chewing. Just as April raised her hand to throw, there was a loud deep 'moo' from the edge of the field and a moose crashed through the bushes. The caribou lunged out of the way and galloped into the brush. April jumped to the side to avoid getting trampled and then sprinted across the field toward town.
She turned down Broadway and stopped in front of the hardware store and the pharmacy, both destroyed. It had been more than a month since she had seen the wreckage of what was once downtown. The last time there had been people wandering through the rubble, crying over loved ones or searching for anything that would help them to survive. Now the skeletons of metal and cinder blocks looked cold and empty.
"Reggie's Fishing Supplies," she whispered, envisioning people passing in and out of the shop with nets and tackle boxes. Next door stood 'The Seafood Palace,' where years ago April and Susan's families used to go out to dinner on Sundays. April and Susan would pass notes back and forth under the table while her father and Mr. Riley argued over what should be done about the land their people had lost to the sea. April's mother and Mrs. Riley would often start arguing as well, and sometimes the meal would end with her father shouting and making a scene.
In the past hundred years, nearly three million acres, more than half of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation's land, had been lost to the rising sea, leaving many Iñupiaq people homeless and looking to the U.S. government for answers. But land in Alaska had become more valuable then oil, and there was none to spare. April had seen the video of the people protesting in Barrow a dozen times: five families camped out along the Chukchi Sea on the last sliver of their people's land, refusing to move, saying they would rather die than abandon their ancestral home. In the end two men and a woman had drowned, and the last of Barrow became part of the ocean floor. Point Hope was lucky because years before the city had been moved up into the Kemegrak Hills, but throughout the North Slope, the cities of Barrow, Wainwright, Kaktovik and others had been swallowed up by the sea.
Many refugees were taken in by the three largest native North Slope communities which still had land high enough to survive the flooding: Point Hope, Point Lay and Anuktuvuk Pass, which was far to the east, in the Endicott Mountains. Other Eskimos moved into neighboring communities, most of which had been built by the government for people from the lower forty-eight whose cities had been destroyed by hurricanes and floods.
April climbed through the broken window of the restaurant searching for food. Rats scurried across the floor as she foraged through the cabinets and storage bins. She found a moldy bread bowl in the cupboard and devoured it. Unable to find anything else to eat, she staggered out the back door and down the alleyway into Umiak Square.
In the center of the plaza stood the statue of the walrus, holding its chest up to the stars. One of its tusks was broken and it filled her with grief to see this ancient symbol of her people disfigured. Next to the statue a tank lay on its side with its turret pointing at what remained of city hall.
She pictured the square for a moment as it used to be: men unloading boxes of squid and jellyfish from their carts, children chasing a soccer ball, old Mr. Koonuk playing his fiddle in front of the market. He would always wave as she passed on her way to school. It had been two years now since she last walked to school, two years since the streets of Point Hope had been turned into a war zone. I should be starting high school now, she realized, gazing at the pile of bricks where the school once stood.
Across the square a bottle broke. "Hey, you there!" yelled a voice. "Stop where you are!"
April ran, weaving through piles of wood and concrete, and then ducked into an alley, but the way was blocked by the wreckage from a hovercraft that had been shot out of the sky. To the left, a stairwell led down beneath a building and she rushed down the steps.
The darkness in front of her smelled musty and damp. She stood motionless until the sound of the footsteps had passed and then collapsed on the cold concrete floor. Water soaked into the back of her skirt. April followed the trail of algae to a space in the brick wall where a trickle of water flowed through and then slurped it up from the slimy floor until her thirst was satisfied.
Excerpted from Iglu by Jacob Sackin Copyright © 2011 by Jacob Sackin . Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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