Listening to the Wind
The wind came from the north with a dark whisper, carrying a wild scent, fecund and raw. Ahnah listened and she watched. But the icy landscape of the Far Northern Reaches was bare of movement, empty of sound save for the wind.
The Spirit Lights flittered across the northern sky in an arching veil of red. Red sky; bad omen, Grandfather used to say.
She cast her mind out. The wolves were moving in from the south, drawn by the scent of fresh meat. Sanglak would need to set extra guards on the sleds. The three white ice bears would feed the village for an entire moon cycle; they couldn't afford to lose them.
Behind her, the ten hunters slept in the tent. They'd run hard all day, pushing the sleds, but were still three days from the village. Ahnah was uneasy. Killing the mother bear and its cub had angered the spirits. All day Ahnah had watched the clouds piling up into towering, forbidding demeanors. She opened her mouth to taste the wind. Tlamo--large wet flakes of snow--would fall soon. It would make for treacherous footing. Time to wake the others.
This makes for some beautiful scene setting, and if this reader has borrowed from Alaska for world-building, I'm cool with that. But, I don't really know if we're in another world or if we're actually in Alaska. From an editorial point of view, this is a problem because we're a speculative fiction magazine. I'm not going to waste my time on stories with no speculative elements--and so far none have turned up. This has a mainstream feel, and we just aren't going to buy mainstream fiction. That said, speculative elements turning up on the first page is more bonus than requirement. But as I read on, spec elements taking their time to appear becomes a bit of a ding against the story.
Speaking of first pages, however, :) as I do this game, I'm realizing how militant I'm getting about the story problem turning up within the first 200-300 words in a short story. Now, I'm sure there are great stories where this doesn't happen (feel free to point them out to me in comments if you like) but online fiction has a lot of competition out there for readers' attention. Consider the blog posts you read. Likely you prefer them to get to the point so you know whether it interests you or not. While conciseness is always important in the short form, my feeling is that nowhere is it more important than in stories that appear online. That might be just my bent, and we certainly have published great long stories, some of them in the current issue.
But right now, all I've got is the first page. From this, the problem appears to be "getting home with meat for winter against natural odds."
My problem with this story, er, problem--if this is the premise-- is that nature doesn't really make such a great antagonist. Nature can provide obstacles for your protagonist, really good obstacles, but nature can rarely provide the kind of conflict and tension that sentient being v. sentient being can provide.
Of course, if this is speculative fiction, anything could happen here, anything at all. The wolves could be intelligent. Conflict could appear between Ahnah and her hunting party. The red lights could be from alien ships. She could be a time traveling anthropologist. See? Anything. So, since the writing feels competent, I would read on.