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Inktober 2019

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At first, Ray thought he just needed his glasses. He couldn’t wear them with the cold and all, so things were generally blurry. He rubbed his eyes as best he could with the thick mitts he was wearing, and blinked the sticky tears away, but it didn’t get better. The illusion of three suns in the sky didn’t go away. 

“Fraser?” he called over his shoulder. 

“Yes, Ray?”

“Do you see that?” 

“See what?” 

“The sun,” Ray explained. “It’s all weird.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a—” But Ray didn’t hear what it was, because one of the dogs started barking, and the others whined and whimpered and woofed along with him. “Dogs,” was all Ray heard.

“What was that? What about the dogs?” he asked.

“No, not dogs, Ray, it’s—”

“Oh, just pull over, would you?” Ray said finally. He was getting frustrated and didn’t want to argue over something so stupid. 

There wasn’t any need to pull over — not like there was a ton of traffic on this patch of ice and snow — but Fraser led the team to one side anyway and brought them to a gentle stop. 

Ray climbed out of the sled and stretched. Fraser stepped off the runners and did the same. 

“That, Fraser,” Ray said, pointing at the triple sun. “That was what I trying to ask you about.”

“Yes, the sundog,” said Fraser. 

“Sun… dog?” Ray repeated. So he hadn’t been hearing things after all. “What’s it mean?”

“It’s an optical phenomenon whereby ice crystals in the air act as prisms, refracting the light horizontally. It creates the illusion of two suns, one on either side of the 22-degree halo—” 

“The what?”

“The ring around the sun,” Fraser explained. 

“You couldn’t have just said that?” said Ray, but he was teasing, and from Fraser’s smile, he knew it, too. 

“If you look closely, you can see the arc of the halo as well,” Fraser added.

Ray squinted. The lines were faint, but they were there. “That’s really cool,” he had to admit. “But what’s it mean?” he asked again.    

Fraser stared, then blinked and started over. “Well, it means that the ice crystals in the air are shaped and arranged in such a way that—”

“No, not the science.” Ray wrestled for a second when how to express it. “It’s like, my dad used to say, red sky at night, it’s a delight, red sky in morning, something something warning.”

“Sailor take warning,” Fraser corrected.

“Right, that. So, this sundog thing, is there a saying with that? Why’s it called a sundog, anyway? Seems like a weird name.”

“It is a weird name,” Fraser confirmed, “and its origins are something of a mystery.”

“Even to you?” Ray asked incredulously.

“Even to me.” Fraser paused, thinking. “Personally, I believe it can traced to early peoples in the North using dog sleds as a means of transportation. You’ll notice that the mock suns and the real sun are perfectly aligned, one behind the other, like the dogs in the harness. The sun is just one of many, identical to his fellows.”

Behind them, Dief — the least deaf wolf that Ray had ever met — whined and warbled in protest. 

“Maybe,” Fraser replied absently.

“Okay, so it doesn’t mean there’s a storm coming,” Ray concluded, bringing them back to the point. 

Fraser glanced over at him, startled. “Of course not. If there were a storm coming, the signs would be very different, Ray.”

“Good,” Ray said, not without some relief. “That’s what I like to hear.” He looked again at the sun and its neighbours, and smiled. “It is pretty cool how we’re the only people to around to see this.”

“Right now,” Fraser added. “The Northern peoples have been witness to a myriad of weather phenomena, living in the Arctic Circle. In fact—”

“Well, I’m the only Chicago cop around to see it,” Ray interrupted. 

“That’s true enough,” Fraser conceded, with a slight laugh. “Shall we go on? It’d be nice to reach somewhere a little more sheltered before we camp for the night.”

“Sure,” said Ray, and they moved together — in one unbreaking line — back to the quest.