Good evening, all! Another weekend has arrived, and I’m going to start yet another serial for you. I know, I just introduced the White Cobra last week and we never did hear back from Kirk Hazard on the situation developing on EuTrans One. But sometimes stories are like Lay’s Potato Chips’ slogan, in that no one can eat (or read) just one. Or maybe not. At any rate, the following begins another of my disused stories, bringing the rough ore out, unpolished, to sit on the mantelpiece and amuse the houseguests during dinner.
Again, this is my own work, and is not to be copied or sold by anyone else: you may print it for offline reading or link back to this page, but do not re-post the story itself elsewhere. Enjoy!
The clouds hung low as a rusty, dark-green tour bus lurched to a stop before a quaint country inn just the right distance away from the town of Dunnesfold, in southern Norway. The building’s steep thatched roof and wattle-and-daub veneer gave it an ancient, cozy, Medieval look, and the name of The Viking Lodge was painted in runesque lettering on the weathered signboard which swung above the door, creaking in the wind. From the upstairs windows of the inn, if one looked toward the south on a clear day with a good spyglass, one might descry the coasts of Denmark, before coming down for tea.
Baggage was unloaded from the roof of the bus, and passengers who were not departing speculated amongst themselves about the contents of each trunk and suitcase. Some said scientific instruments, others, as expected, pronounced bombs and weaponry, while others passed it all off as clothes and long underwear, the apparatus of every tourist to the north. These last were mainly natives—locals who had seen it all before, and had lost the ability to take pleasure in such dreaming. Some of the tour guides thought that the architecture of the inn was more important than the contents of the luggage. They now began to point this fact out to the other passengers, and the luggage issue was forgotten.
Then the owners of the baggage climbed down from the bus, and the other tourists watched as they descended the steps to the ground. The small party of three consisted of a Norwegian man in a brown tweed suit, carrying a briefcase, a well-built, athletic American, wearing a short-sleeved khaki shirt, and a tall blonde lad of seventeen, the son of the American passenger. The bus, having delivered its fare, continued to its next stop, the site of a ninth-century Viking ship unearthed in the nineteenth century (it now resides in a national museum). The bus pulled to a stop near the site, and the guides began the story in English and Norwegian.
The blue-eyed man in the window seat was dozing off. He came to Norway every year for the holidays, and took this same tour, each time, to clear his head. But lately the tour narrations were sounding like the lectures of his professors back at Oxford, the very ones which he came here to forget. He grimly prided himself in his memorization of the story of the Freystad ship burial. He did not care to here it again.
The guides were still speaking, but this part was new to the young scholar. This addition had not been in last year’s tour program, or even last week’s. He sat up and listened as the tour guides told this tale:
“Five days previous, noted Norwegian archaeologist Sven Jansen had uncovered the long-lost figurehead of the Freystad boat, after a local group of hobbyist scavengers reported a loud. It had not been plundered, as had originally been thought, but lay five hundred meters away in an old refuse pile—though the broken wood still lodged in it showed that it had been broken from the ship’s bow around the burial-time. It was cast bronze, in the form of an ornately stylized dragon’s head with obsidian eyes, and the neck had fit down over the bowsprit. Jansen had been studying the head, examining its intricate carvings, when his assistant, one Olaf Eriksson, took a short break for lunch. Two minutes later, Mr. Eriksson heard a muffled yell from the excavation pit and came running to Mr. Jansen ‘s assistance. He saw the muddy figurehead in its shallow grave, and the famous archaeologist’s footprints in the blue clay, but no other sign. The footprints did not show signs of leaving the hole, and no sign or evidence of Sven Jansen had been seen or heard of since.”
The passengers shuddered, and shifted nervously, as the guides finished their tale, and the bus continued on its way. A brave or reckless few tried for a last glimpse or photograph of the dig in the gathering twilight as the bus rounded the next bend. The red-haired man slumped down into the seat. It was a good story, but he would hear it again next year. No, next year he would go to Frankfurt. Or perhaps Munich. He hadn’t been there yet. Yes. That was settled. He slumped lower into the padded seat. His eyes would not stay open. He was glad when the bus skidded to a halt before his motel in Dunnesfold.
* * * * *
We descended from the bus in front of the lodge and looked around to take our bearings. We were standing on a low hill, with the lodge in front of us. The road, the only other visible sign of civilization, came past it almost at the doorstep. It seemed the perfect place for a vacation hideaway. Only we weren’t here for a vacation. My father, Dallas Creighton, was investigating the disappearance of some man named Sven Jansen, an archaeology professor who’s works on Viking ship burials had earned him a Nobel Prize nomination. Jansen had vanished five days ago while reinvestigating the site of the Freystad ship, a few miles from the lodge.
We entered the lodge and registered at the front desk. It was more of a hotel, really, than a true lodge. The stranger who had disembarked with us did so, too. I took a seat and studied the lobby.
The room was paneled with sleek pine boards, and was constructed as the center of the building. A second-floor balcony, of polished hardwood, ran around the circumference of the building, with the doors to various rooms opening off of it. This second story was accessed by way of an elegant spiral staircase in the southeast corner of the lobby. An old iron chandelier swung gently from the large oak beams of the roof, and a runic inscription over the coffeehouse door gave an impression of simpler times.
Our rooms were on the second floor, northwest corner, opposite the staircase. Being on the corner, as I said, they were among the house’s largest: in fact, they were a two-room suite. All the rooms at the corners were thus, in fact, and were rented in twos to couples or small groups, as each pair had a common bath. Normally, these rooms were roped off (the southwest corner suite still was), but this was Tuesday, and, business being slow, Dad was able to work it out with the manager. He needed room to work and, besides the Norwegian, we were the only customers. The Norwegian, who was traveling light, settled for a standard room down the hall.
After placing the luggage in our rooms, I stepped out to explore the grounds. The rain, only a drizzle before, had increased to a downpour. Just great—stuck indoors with Dad. I decided to examine the lodge.
It was a snug building, with Viking motifs throughout. Even the coffeehouse displayed a Viking longboat in a bottle. Interesting approach, I thought. The clerk asked me how I liked Norway, and living far from home, and about Dad’s work. I pushed the questions aside brusquely and pretended to busy myself studying the carved pillars of the lobby.
Upon my return to my room, I discovered that I had inadvertently locked the door on the way out–a habit gleaned from living with a younger brother. I searched my pockets. Nothing but lint, and I was locked out.
There was no alternative other than to request a spare key from the desk clerk, so I strolled around to the stairs and descended. I saw our neighbor, the Norwegian, come out of the coffeehouse and pick up a newspaper lying on the table. Having received the key, however, I paid no further attention to him but, thanking the clerk, ascended the stairs.
The stranger followed me up the stairs, however, and turned to go around to the far side of the balcony, where our rooms were. He knocked at my dad’s door, and my father admitted him at once. I came around to investigate.
“Brian, I’d like you to meet Mr. Olaf Eriksson, assistant and colleague of the missing professor Jansen,” my dad said.
“It’s good to meet you, Brian,” said Olaf. “How do you like Norway?”
I complimented through my teeth, but declined an invitation to come in and talk. Instead, I returned to the lobby, picked up a newspaper, and flopped down onto (or into) the enormous, soft, billowy sofa, and flipped immediately to the comic page. Most were unfamiliar to me, but I saw the sole American strip almost immediately. I read this episode at home, before the trip, I thought to myself. I flipped another page and a headline caught my eye.
It seemed that local townsfolk had seen a large man, approximately six feet tall and dressed like an ancient Viking warrior, roaming the streets of Dunnesfold and the surrounding community. He seemed to frequent taverns, and had even been bounced once from a nearby pub (the bouncer was in fair condition at the local hospital. His condition had stabilized.) The Viking had shown up almost a week ago, and was considered armed and dangerous by police. He was assumed to have escaped from an asylum, as the name he used was that of one of the villains of Norse mythology.
“The stuff you read in the paper these days!” I snorted aloud, mad because it reminded me too much of this wretched job of Dad’s. I lay down the newspaper, sat up, stretched myself, and went to supper.
The steak was rare, just the way I like it, but the rest of the meal was bland. I wanted Dad to just drop the case, but after last night, I wasn’t going to say anything. Not about the stinking’ case, or anything else. My father and Mr. Eriksson discussed the disappearance of the professor as I ate in silence. After the meal I arose and, leaving my third of the tip on the table, went upstairs to bed. It was late when at last I slept, and I dreamed of Viking professors who bounced at taverns and disappeared at a moment’s notice. When I arose, I found that the storm had cleared during the night and the bright sun was shining through my bedroom window.
I dressed and went down to breakfast. I had slept well, and was ready to eat. My father was already seated, and he had the Norwegian visitor engaged in lively discussion when I returned with my food—a full home-cooked, Norwegian breakfast. Sitting down beside them, I was able to catch most of the conversation. It was about that missing Professor Jansen, the primary facts of which case Dad told me on the plane. Dad mentioned the Viking article of the day before:
“So, you’re sure the papers would not fabricate a thing like this, Eriksson?”
“Truth is all too often stranger than fiction, Mr. Creighton. Our papers have neither the motive to risk their reputations on false sensationalism, nor the imagination capable of concocting such a hoax. So if I were you, Doctor, I’d keep a sharp lookout for your Norse friend their while we’re at the dig. It’s not as if I didn’t warn you.”
“Actually,” said my father, “I’m wondering if there isn’t a connection between this Viking’s appearance and our man’s disappearance. Both occurred in the same area, with the same lack of evidence, and exactly twelve hours apart, by all reports.”
“Yes, but I still don’t know. It’s all…so…well, I don’t know. So unusual…” His voice trailed off. I had finished my breakfast, and therefore arose to return my tray to the kitchen. I was not making any plans whatsoever to get involved with this whole missing-person mess any more than could be avoided. I was Dad’s travel companion by default since Mom died of cancer three years ago, but I was glad enough to be left out of the official business, especially in cases like this. I wanted nothing to do with it. I dropped the platter off at the window and strolled out through the spacious lobby to the front door, with the intention of taking a stroll after breakfast. The morning air felt fresh and clean in my lungs, like a warm shaft of inhaled sunlight. I breathed deeply of its pure elixir, and stepped out onto the road.
The breeze coming from the sea filled my lungs with its salty tang, and mixed with the aromas of the fields for a wonderful country scent. I strolled along happily, not meeting any cars or other pedestrians: not knowing what to say to them in Norwegian or particularly caring. The day was pleasant, and I was a young man with the world before him, to travel in as he liked. I had no other place to go, so I decided to turn south along the road, and see what lay beyond the inn. I wondered where that ship burial was.
With this thought in my head, I soon came to the marked turnoff. A small, well-worn track lead me to a low hollow, and I sat down on the side of a hillock to look at the diggings. As I was doing so, I heard footsteps coming along the road from the south—another carefree pedestrian, no doubt: unencumbered like myself on this beautiful spring morning. Not a native, however, I decided, as the breeze carried to me the whistled strains of “Molly Malone”—and then a burst of patriotism flung forth as the newcomer broke his whistling and belted out the airs of “God save the King!” in a rich English tenor. Soon the young man came fully into view, and, rounding the corner, passed on down the road. I watched him disappear
Some minutes later, I noticed the gigantic shadow falling across my right shoulder. When I turned I saw a giant of a man, no less than six-foot-ten, in a most outlandish costume. He wore a lightweight leather jerkin, which hung to mid-thigh, and a stout pair of calf-length breeches. His feet were shod with sheepskin moccasins, and he wore a large, horned helmet atop his flaxen hair which hung down over his massive chest.
“Gulp!” was all I had time to say before the Viking crashed a heavy freight-train set of hard knuckles into my solar plexus. I heard a rending pop as my shirt split asunder, and I was hurtled backward into the abyss.
So it wasn’t an abyss. In fact, it could barely be called a hole. It was merely the depression of the old excavation, and, as I opened my eyes, I saw him leaning over me.
Slowly, I stood up.
The Viking walked around me in slow circles, admiring his prize. And I stood there defiantly, returning my glares for his haughty smile. The Viking took three steps back, and made a running tackle at the two of us, bowling us over heavily. We landed, arms, legs, and hands locked together in a tangle of human flesh, on the very patch of torn soil where Dr. Jansen had been working. However, I was able to dodge to one side, as the tsunami of misplaced-Viking flesh bore down upon me. My assailant was not so lucky. When he hit, he was driven by his own momentum into the ground like a nail into wood. Or was he sucked in?
All I know is that when the Viking struck, I heard a thunk, exactly the sort of sound made by a heavy wooden door as it opens and shuts quickly with well-oiled hinges. Then it was quiet—just a bit too quiet. Standing, I brushed some of the clay off of my jeans and turned around. The Viking was buried up to his chest in the clay—deep enough to be served his tea upon the ground, without any inconvenience whatever. It took a bit of effort, but I managed to suppress the laugh which began to form in my chest.
“What did you do to yourself?” I asked in broken Norwegian.
“Get me out of here! Get on,” said the Viking, with a number of other words I didn’t know, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted them translated. I started to scrape at the clay with my hands.
“Don’t waste my time! I’m too far in as it is,” he said, swinging at my head. “You might as well just sit on my head. I’ll deal with you later, if you’re unlucky enough to follow me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“Simply this. You didn’t think there was a hole here. Well, there is, and I’m down it. I’m too far down, too, for you to dig me out, so you’d best come over here and pop me the rest of the way in the bottle, while you’re here.”
Now I knew the Viking was crazy. So I tried to pull him out, but not only was he stuck, he was stubborn. “It’s not like some old sea cave down there. It’s the other side! Not that same old “other side” that the afterlife is, but the other side! It’s the other world! If I had not lived there, I’d say pull, too. But, I am there, I say. I’m half way and I do know. I’m stuck in the door, half in and half out, and it’s slammed on your middle. Now, if you please!”
He sounded cracked upstairs, but since he was convinced, and it couldn’t do too much harm, I finally did push, and this time I felt something start to give. “What did I tell you?” he said. With a soft thump, the clay fell away beneath us, and we plummeted downward into blackness. The last thing I felt was plunging into a swift, icy river, which flowed away from the sea.
To be continued…
This one is a bit dustier than
mote most of my stories, and probably owes more than it will confess to the works of Stephen R. Lawhead, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Snorri Sturluson, stir-fried together like a breakfast hash. You have been warned.
Let me know what you think of it, would you? Thanks again!