In an Igloo, somewhere in the stretches of Nunavut, in the heart of winter, sits a man, eating fish scraps, mixed with the final leftover Lucky Charms. Not without humor, he calls the taste-bud-torturing dish "Rainbow Sushi".
Nine months ago, he had been Bradley Garrett, an e-journalist working for the New York Times, stationed in Toronto. Every day was the same - trawling the Net for news, verifying, cross-referencing, sending short articles to the head office. Until finally, something happened.
He had dozed off and it spoke to him. He knew it had not been a dream. The memory had burned itself into his head like red-hot railspikes. He saw its blazing outline whenever he closed its eyes. He had drowned out its dentist drill voice with loud music until the batteries of his radio ran out.
The Piece. He had seen it pull itself free from the wall and in the void that was left, he had seen the gruesome Behind. The howling madness outside reality.
Except it wasn't reality at all. He now knew it was just a persistent illusion, shielding the soft and fragile minds of humanity from a truth too terrifying to face.
The piece. It had escaped. Just one piece, escaped from its appointed place in the puzzle guarding all their minds. Somehow, it had been his fault. He had to get it back. He had experienced for himself what just a single gaze at the void beyond could do. He saw it whenever he closed his eyes. He had not slept in eight days.
Just one look had tainted him. Burned part of his mind before he could escape the room, chase after the escaped piece. He'd lost it in the hallway and he had broken down and cried and cried and cried.
He had done whatever he could. He had locked the door and boarded it up with nails. But it was only a matter of time. He had to get the puzzle piece back, but elated at its newfound freedom, it had flown off, dancing and flittering like a dayglo butterfly, vanishing in the distance, as he screamed and begged for it to come back.
After the initial despair became black acceptance he had dressed up his taint, his scars, to warn others: Unclean! He had become a spiritual leper. He had to warn others to stay away from him. He had carefully chosen - a clown's suit. A clown, a sad, saddening loser, painted white as death, a mocking parody of a smile drawn in blood red across a crying face. His ragged, colorful clothes bright like warning signs. Unclean!
What could he do? He stayed in the building to keep others away from the door until the other tenants had him removed in spite of his pitiful protestations. He had walked down the street crying in despair. Any second, the Outside, the terrible Truth could break through and make clowns of them all. No, worse - being a shattered clown would seem a desirable state of being once the terrible bleak light of reality shone on Earth.
And then, suddenly, there was hope. Now he was outside the building, he could hear what he could not before: a reed-thin wail, a siren-song outside the reach of human hearing. But he could hear it - it was pulling at the strings of his soul.
The puzzle piece was not entirely gone. It had gone far, but not beyond human reach.
Maybe he could still get it. Maybe he could still return it.
He had to try. If there was even a tiniest sliver of a chance he could put things right.
He had gathered the funds he still had access too and made arrangements. Air travel companies will still transport clowns if you pay them enough. North. He had to go North.
He was so afraid the piece would fly off again, but it seemed to remain in a single location.
After thirty days, he was as close as he could get. And here, his hope was struck dead.
Ocean. The call came out from somewhere on the Northern Sea. Open sea. Standing on the very edge of the ice, he called, he shouted. The piece, wherever it was, would not come, but just kept singing its song. He howled and wept, tears freezing. Clown at midnight, the perpetual dark of winter in the North.
What could he do? Nobody would take a boat out there. Even the Inuit had moved to the city for winter. He had nobody to help him.
Nobody? They had come to him, asking him why he wailed and cried. He had explained, and for the first time, somebody had understood. They had realized what humans could not or would not face: that this concerned all minds on Earth. The piece had to return.
They had not lost a second. All of them, their mighty sleek bodies, shooting off like missiles in the dark water, had sworn to look for the piece until one of them had found it. That had been three days ago.
And, an hour ago, the piece's song had suddenly changed its pitch. And he dared hope again. He would finish his rainbow sushi and he would stand out on the ice and wait at the border of the dark sea, hoping, praying.
But no matter what, whether they would succeed or not, humanity would owe a debt of gratitude to the narwhals.