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Short Story: Walk in Fear and Dread
In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind there are no limits.
- John C. Lilly, M.D
On Kvalholm, down in Helgeland, dwelt a poor fisherman, Elias by name, with his wife Karen, who had been in service at the parson's over at Alstad. They had built a hut there, and he used to go out fishing by the day about the Lofotens.
Hammerfest, Norway. For nineteen years I have called this seafaring town my home. Beneath a blackened sky in the depths of an infinite winter, we waited for my father to come home from work. My father, Kristoffer, often told my sister, Anna, and I that sleep upheld a man’s sanity and, without it, the mind would find no peace. But night after night, Anna and I would patiently await his arrival. Those long nights gave me time to think, mainly about my isolation. After all, this solitary town rarely saw itself with newcomers eager to settle on the untamed, naked and barren coastline. Constant news arrived of lives consumed by the Arctic Sea, just as the thief, Mount Tyven, robbed our frigid landscape of the sun’s warmth.
As winter approached, my father would brew his own beer in preparation for the coming sixty days of night. Unlike for most, his drinking brought a sense of contentment. To him and his family. In the evening, my father’s weight in the center of the four-poster bed would draw his surrounding family in close. His husky voice, and the warmth of the fireplace, lulled us into sleep.
It was as if the winter brought about an attitude of its own. The joyful smiles and cheerful greetings turned to barely nods of recognition as people scurried home, eager to escape the unnatural darkness. It was Anna and my mother, Katja, who found this polar period most distressing, and claimed to be the victims of some kind of seasonal depression.
We moved to the city when I was about ten. The farming lands that had supported our family had become overcrowded, and many moved to cities in search of work. Our house was nothing of luxury. My father’s wage, working in a factory, was enough to afford a two-bedroom cottage on the outskirts of Hammerfest. The house was built to withstand the harsh climate, noticeable in its construction. The acicular roof that was designed to aid the snow on its downward journey was anchored with turf, and prevented the tree-bark roof from curling. Upon entry, one was greeted with the rustic, homely feel of an open fire. The flickering embers illuminated the unfurnished hard wood and projected an amber aura, as if housing some ancient treasure.
The kitchen was the heart of our home. Endless nights played out around the cast iron oven, and marvellous aromas of my mother’s cooking would draw Anna and I from the front garden where we spent most of our time. My mother’s regular absence was of good cause. She and her friends gathered thrice a week to knit quilts for those unfortunate enough to have no shield in the dead of winter. But before she left, she would prepare supper for her children and her husband, and insisted that she eat on her return. After supper, my father would sit in his rosemaling throne, Anna upon knee, and a collection of folklore in hand. The stories read to Anna seemed to unravel ancient wisdom, and a link to the history of my homeland that was soaked in blood. Her favourite story, to the surprise of my whole family, was the story of Elias and the Draug. I’m sure most Nordic folk would be familiar with it. Elias was a fisherman, and unlike the mariner, a seal was his albatross.
"Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread
And, having once turned round, walks on
And turns no more his head
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread"
A seal that he had killed, void of any reason, was the spirit of a Draug. A restless monster said to be ghosts of Vikings, or spirits of drowned mariners. Those who saw the headless fisherman sailing in his half-boat were inevitably doomed. Even animals, feeding near the grave of a Draug, were often driven mad by the creature's influence.
There could be very little doubt that the lonely Kvalholm was haunted. Whenever her husband was away, Karen heard all manner of uncanny shrieks and noises, which could mean no good.
I found these stories utterly exhilarating and valued their role in livening my monotonous life. The myths fascinated me. Even in sleep. The only difference was, that in reality, myths were myths, but in my dreams, the stories were no longer stories, they were real.
Until I woke up, of course.
My routine was ultimately the same each day. Wake in darkness, live in darkness, and sleep in darkness. The darkness, however seemingly eerie, was a friend to me. While other families packed their bags and fled to warmer climates on the last day of sun, our family remained faithful.
I was faithful.
One day, as usual, Anna and I were in the front yard, each entertaining ourselves. Beneath an untimely midnight sky I felt inspired. Inspired to think, to dream, to create. Our pagan ancestors had a calendar of fire festivals, and the God of the Hebrew bible’s first words were: "Let there be light." But I found no comfort in being so openly exposed to the gaze of society. Our garden, by twilight, was enough for me.
Past the wooden fence, I saw my father approaching. My spirits were always lifted when he finished work early.
“You’re early Papa!”
“Hello Lukas,” he said, ruffling my hair. “Yes, thank God. I think I’ve oiled enough machinery for one day. Don’t ever work in a factory Lukas, you’ll be tired and grumpy just like your old man,” he chuckled, arching backwards and reaching for the sky.
“You do alright,” I said with a smile.
“The best I can Lukas. The best I can. Is your mother home?”
“No she isn’t Papa. She wasn’t here when I got home.”
“Knitting no doubt. She pours her heart and soul into those quilts you know. She’s a kind woman, your mother. But she needs to rest, before exhaustion gets the better of her. Do me a favour and help her out whenever you can will you? She deserves it. I’ll cook tonight. Any suggestions?”
“I don’t mind. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will better than what mother’s been cooking lately. You know I found a hair in my stew the other day? Personally, I think all that time spent on the quilts could be put to better use. But I prefer your cooking over hers anyway Pap,” I said with a creeping smile. He winked.
About two hours later, past the wooden fence, I saw my mother. She was early too. Pinching my arm, I couldn’t help myself. “Both home early? Am I dreaming?”
“Hello Lukas,” she said, ruffling my hair. “Brita had to look after her boy who caught a virus, and Heidi was convinced that she’d caught it too. An early mark I guess you could say,” a hint of haste about her voice.
“Oh. I hope it isn’t serious.”
“So do I Lukas… So do I.”
“How are you feeling though Mama? You’re there almost every day! Maybe you should take a break, read a book or something. Papa is cooking dinner as we speak. He thought it would be nice to take some weight off your shoulders.”
“He’s home already? Oh nonsense, I’m fine, honestly. And besides,” she said, looking around to make sure he was out of earshot, “his cooking is rubbish.”
Even through her laughter, she didn’t look fine. In fact, she looked worse than ever.
Having enjoyed ample time to explore my thoughts, it was nearing mealtime. After my father prepared a hearty stew (despite my mother’s protest) and set it on the table, our family shared a meal for the first time in weeks. The air was cold, and the needy were plenty. So we were told. What had begun as an admirable pastime for my mother had turned into an all-consuming obligation. Her flawless skin had turned a pale yellow, and dark rings circled puffy eyes, almost as if she had been crying. Passing the salt to Anna, her bare hands caught my attention. There was no ring.
It was strange. After that night, we saw much more of my mother. In fact, it seemed as though her charity work had stopped completely.
When seven years had gone by, Elias had scraped together so much that he thought he might now venture to buy a Sexaering*, and henceforward go fishing in his own boat.
*(Viking style boat)
Late one Friday night, my family was scattered throughout the house. My mother in the kitchen with Anna, my father and his beer, perched on their throne by the window. While my family lived and laughed and laboured in their tangible reality, I was enthralled by transcendence. Through the terrifying sleep paralysis and the countless nights of meditation, I discovered how to control my dreams. While my mother and my father and my sister were confined to the physical plane, I was free. All men whilst they are awake are in one common world: but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own. A world that knows no bounds. The only thing that helped me escape my monotonous life was my ability to play God every time I went to sleep. My ability to be the creator.
Then suddenly my father burst in.
“Come Lukas. Quickly now,” he said with excitement.
Following him out my door, I joined the rest of my family in the front garden, stunned and open mouthed. These were the nights I wouldn’t have lived anywhere else. It was incredible. The Aurora Borealis. For centuries, this natural phenomenon had bewildered those lucky enough to witness it. It was an enigma. It was truly beautiful. Many theories had passed about the magnificent blend of green, red and purple swirls in the sky. Maybe the lights were Gods or Goddesses appearing to mortals, or dancing spirits and souls in the sky. Or perhaps the red colour was symbolic of blood - murder, death, armies, wars and suicide. But the cause didn’t matter. Those lucky enough to witness it would be forever astonished by the sublime natural world.
“You know what?” my father said.
“I think I can see where the lights touch the earth,” he said, squinting his eyes and pointing to the horizon. “Is that a pot of gold I see? You know the rules Lukas, finders keepers…” he grinned.
“You know I’m not one for a foot race Papa.”
“I’d be frightened to race me too!” he boasted, puffing out his chest.
But with a smirk, I was off. “Make to the hills!”
Stopping to catch my breath, as I looked around, there was no sign of my father. Despite my fondness of the night, the forest wasn't pleasant in the dark, even with the light display overhead. The fog seen afar brought a vision of cataracts to my eyes.
“Papa?” I yelled, propelling the words from exhausted lungs.
But I was answered with only a ghostly echo.
“Looks like I won! How’s that for your ego!” I chortled.
At home, my thoughts of isolation weren’t terrifying, only intriguing. Here, it was a different story. The wind howled and blew a bitter chill past the dying trees that were veiled in black. It danced with the leaves and dragged them unwillingly from the floor, damp and stagnant with the odour of decomposing wood. I was starting to get frightened. I heard many noises, none of them human. Beady eyes hidden within the bramble scanned the area, oblivious that they were prey to this forest.
“Ok, you win Papa. Let’s go home now,” I whispered, in case the forest heard.
Every sound, back and forth, made me turn and rotate till I was driven with insanity. Desperate to escape this place, I started to run. Anywhere was better than here. But the silhouettes of branches swayed in the wind and outstretched emaciated arms, like beings once terrified and furious. I was a victim to that forest. As I ran, curling roots wrapped around my ankles, and I fell. The blow to my head of a fast approaching stone was the last thing I could remember.
One day, as he was walking along with a Kvejtepig*in his hand, he unexpectedly came upon a monstrous seal, which lay sunning itself right behind a rock, and was as much surprised to see the man as the man was to see the seal. But Elias was not slack; from the top of the rock on which he stood, he hurled the long heavy Kvejtepig right into the monster's back, just below the neck.
*(A long pole, with a hooked iron spike at the end of it)
“How long has Lukas been asleep Papa?”
“Five days Anna,” he said in a sleepy mumble. “Five, long, stressful days. Your mother and I were very worried about him, the doctors said he had severe hypothermia and that his heartbeat was nothing short of a miracle. I’m just glad I can finally get a good night’s sleep now that he’s ok.”
“Where were you Papa? When Lukas got hurt. The race mustn’t have been very close if you couldn’t find him.”
“These legs are getting old Anna, I can’t run like I used to. Let’s face it, your brother is a terrible runner, but I was just downright pathetic,” he chuckled.
“Can I see my brother now?”
“Of course you can, he might be fast asleep though, and the doctors said that even though he is much better, he may seem a little strange. Confused perhaps. But it’s all just side effects. Short lived side effects I hope. I have a feeling that he isn’t going to be too pleased with me when he wakes up.”
But I didn’t care. I was just happy to see him home.
I awoke in a familiar habitat. The warmth of my bed had never been so comforting to me. Anna was sitting atop the blankets, and smiled as I woke.
“Hi Lukas,” she said sweetly. “You have been asleep for years! We were starting to get worried!”
I couldn’t restrain the smile that was creeping to my cheek.
Anna crawled up the blankets on all fours and sat snug in my lap, beckoning me to stroke her golden locks as our father did.
“How are you feeling? What happened out there? Why were you alone? Promise me you won’t scare us like that again.”
“Slow down Anna, slow down,” I laughed. “I still feel a little drowsy.”
“We didn’t find you until the next morning, and then you slept for five days!” she said.
“Was it that long? My God, I had hoped it was just a bad dream. I…I don’t know Anna. Me and Papa were having a race.”
“I know, I know,” I laughed. “I was even winning! Then I stopped to catch my breath, and, well, he was gone. I was in the forest by then. And I was scared. The noises were all around me. Above, below… everywhere. But I couldn’t see… It seems silly doesn’t it Anna, that I would be afraid of the dark. Me, of all people.”
“We all get scared Lukas,” she said reassuringly. “I’m sure if I was out there, I would have been even more scared than you.”
But that night, I couldn’t sleep. I felt my body writhing in a state of hypnagogia, somewhere in between dreaming and reality. As I ran, curling roots wrapped around my ankles and I fell, the blow to my head of a fast approaching stone, sent me hurtling into consciousness.
The seal immediately rose up on its tail right into the air as high as a boat's mast, and looked so evilly and viciously at him with its bloodshot eyes, at the same time showing its grinning teeth, that Elias thought he should have died on the spot for sheer fright. Then it plunged into the sea, and lashed the water into bloody foam behind it. Elias didn't stop to see more, but that same evening there drifted into the boat place on which his house stood, a Kvejtepole, with the hooked iron head snapped off.
Breathing heavily, I pulled my quilt snug to my chin and looked around my room. Anna was fast asleep on her bed, opposite mine. In every corner I saw silhouettes of branches, just waiting for me to fall asleep. But I would not go. The darkness that was once a friend to me had become the backdrop to my nightmares. And I was scared.
For the rest of the dark times, my brother seemed really odd. Papa said that would happen because he was still a little bit sick. He said he’d feel funny and sleepy, but it’s been ages!
About two months had gone by since that night in the forest. But my fear of darkness remained. For two months, I was forced to live in shadows, locking myself in my room when I wasn’t at school. I couldn’t remember the last time I slept. Every time I drifted into sleep, horrible visions would jolt me into waking life almost immediately. But the season was over, and I was thankful that I could finally stop living in fear.
It was the morning of the first day of sun. Daylight brought hope, and a new beginning. The trees started to blossom and the frozen rivers around Hammerfest became life givers once again. But I wasn’t greeted with feelings of joy and rebirth. My father walked out of his bedroom as if he was in excruciating pain.
“Papa? What’s wrong?”
But he just stood there, and didn’t say a word. By the looks of it, he had been crying.
“I’m your son Pap, you can tell me. I can’t bear to see you like this… Please, say something.”
“You are too kind for your own good,” my father said, touching my cheek with his cold palm. “You have to promise you won’t get angry Lukas. This is going to be hard enough as it is, and I can’t bear to see my children get hurt.”
“Papa? What is it?”
“Last night, your mother asked me to fetch her a scarf from the closet in our bedroom. And as I was throwing clothes onto the bed in search of it, a letter fell from one of her coat pockets. “
As his hand trembled, he held a letter in front of my face.
My dear Katja,
The seasons do not favour my travels. The winds pick up great speed, tossing my vessel around as if it were but a leaf. My men are full of fear, and urge me to retreat home to Sweden. But I will not be called a coward! No, I will continue my voyage from Gothenburg to New York with my cargo. The fear aboard the ship steals sleep from my men. And on long, uneasy nights, only the memories of my beloved Katja keep me sane. But it has been almost two months since I have touched your fair skin, or smelled your sweet perfume! I do hope that my memories do not deceive me, and you are just as divine as you were when I left. I have your wedding ring. You left it at my house the night that I told you I would be setting sail once more. The nights we shared together are fuel for my furnace, and so I press on, in hope that we will be reunited once more. And how is beautiful Anna? Even though you would not let me meet my daughter, I always felt at ease knowing she was near by. I watched her grow in the pictures you sent. Thank God she looks like her mother. It's funny, but here I am, in maybe the worst place on earth, and yet… Somehow, I feel like the luckiest man alive. As of now, I have taken port in Halifax, and will recommence my journey when the torrential rain grants me passage. I hope to see your beauty once again Katja. I will write once I land in New York, God pray we make it. Your presence, forever in my dreams, will have to suffice.
Your faithful love.
I don’t know why, but I read that letter over and over. As each word ripped my heart into pieces, I held my head in my hands.
“No… No it can’t be... It has to be made up, there’s no way…”
“I don’t know what to do Lukas, I don’t know what to feel. And worst of all, I don’t know what happens next. You know I love you, Lukas, but your mother… I-I can’t...”
He shook his head.
My family… My mother and her ‘charity work’…
I looked up to see my father re-enter his bedroom. In search of the truth, I crept to the door, and pressed my ear against the sleek wood.
“Is my love for you not enough Katja?”
“I am so sorry Kristoffer. I never meant for this to happen. It was one night, about nine years ago, when times were tough. You were gone all day, trying to find work, Lukas was at school, and I was lonely. He was my security, a rock to lean on when my family wasn’t there. It was a cold night, and I went to the tavern, hoping to find some comfort in the bottom of a glass. A young man walked in. He looked like a lonely soul, and he sat in an empty seat next to me. I guess we just started talking. In a few short minutes, it seemed like he had told me his life story. Well there wasn’t much to tell. His mother had left home when he was young, and his father dragged him out to sea to help him on his fishing boat. He said that it was the first time that he had been on dry land in a very long time. And it had been even longer since he had seen a woman. I don’t know what it was about him. Maybe it was his tender nature or his soft, shy voice. But I felt connected to him, and before I knew it, he had taken me home… But then, things got complicated.”
“Complicated? What ‘complicated’ things my dear? Your family?”
“I fell in love with him. ”
With this final blow to his fragile form, my father left. As I stood in the doorway, I saw his broken soul through empty eyes, and tears clouded my vision once more.
“Anna cannot know about this Lukas. Do you understand? She must stay with you and Katja. Protect her from the evil in this world. She is only a child.”
“Father!” I cried, scrambling to the front door. But he was gone.
As I traced his footsteps, I made haste on his trail. Nine generations on my father’s side grew up in Hammerfest. He knew this frigid landscape better than anyone else, which would make tracking his whereabouts no easy task. As I searched my hometown, there was no sign of him. He wasn’t at his work, or the tavern, or anywhere. But there was one place I hadn’t looked.
As a young child, my father would take Anna and I to the fjord north of our house just ten minutes by foot. The exceptional natural beauty was carved from crystalline rock walls that rushed four thousand feet skyward, desperate to escape the grasps of the brutal Norwegian Sea. Sheer, narrow walls were scattered with waterfalls, while free-flowing rivers crossed their deciduous forests to glacial lakes and rugged mountains. A pawn in the game of nature, my insignificant form stood powerless against the behemoth of stone, which only convinced me to assume the worst.
“Father!” I cried, again and again. Only to be greeted with the sound of rustling leaves, dancing in that dreaded howling draught. As I scanned the environment, a sudden cluster of rocks slid down the mountain face. My eyes affixed, I traced the imaginary line to a broad plateau some four hundred feet high, thick with vegetation. And there stood my father. I gasped a sigh of relief, and my mind could finally find peace.
But something seemed uneasy about his motionless form. He just stood there, staring out to sea. I called out to him, but he mustn’t have heard me over the roaring coastal wind. And just like that, he was gone. My mother had destroyed that man. My father, my rock, my world, had succumbed to passionate human emotion, and threw himself head first towards a magnificent grave. His body bounced like a ragdoll over the jagged rock, and the cracking of bones as his body was mutilated, echoed through the fjord, the soundtrack to my nightmares. My heart froze, and my disheveled form collapsed in the arctic landscape.
One night as he lay awake, thinking of his new Sexaering, it occurred to him that his boat would balance better, perhaps, if he stuck an extra log of wood on each side of it. He was so absurdly fond of the boat that it was a mere pastime for him to light a lantern and go down to have a look at it.
It’s nightfall by the time I return home, and I make straight for my bed. With the polar nights spent, I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep. But it will not come. The clouds above me swirl in peaceful patterns, but it is night? And I am inside? Suddenly, I hear a scream. A scream that casts this strange occurrence out of mind. A scream that is not human. It seems to have no origin, yet is all around me. Growing louder—louder—louder! It warns me not to enter my parents’ room, but curiosity has a hold on me. After all, this is my house. Beady eyes affix their gaze once more, and a green mist creeps from under the door, partnered with a fetid stench of decay. My feet squelch in the damp wooden floor, and the stagnant smell of the forest lingers in my nose. As I reach for the door, it swings open. By itself. And there stand four figures. On the left I see my father, bloody, bruised and broken with his neck barely joined to his torso. Something is rotten in the state of Norway. A ghost? Surely no man can survive such a fall. Opposite my father stands my mother who is holding Anna’s left hand, while her right is in the grasps of a headless fisherman dressed in oilskin. I recognized that figure. Of course! It was a Draug. Could this have been my mother’s lover? The catalyst for my sea of troubles? Without moving its mouth, the creature spoke to me.
“The roaring winds and rolling waves of the ocean were too much for my vessel to conquer, and I was drawn into dark depths, far, far away from my lover and my daughter. But now I have returned. And I come for my family. For too long you have taken care of what is rightfully mine,” he said, looking at my father. “But now; now they belong to me.”
I heard a noise that woke me up. It was Lukas. He had been gone all day. “Lukas?” I said. But he did not turn around. Seeming alarmed, he walked out of our bedroom; so I followed him. My mother was in the kitchen, but he did not go to her. Instead, made his way to our parents’ room. I stood behind him and tugged at his shirt, but he took no notice, only stared into an empty room.
The next day, I replayed the events of the previous night over and over. My father was gone, and the strange vision that followed, was worse than any forest. Darkness my friend, why do you turn on me? Thinking about Anna, there was no way that I could tell her what had happened. She couldn’t know of her mother’s betrayal. A blow like that to such an innocent child would surely ruin her life, and she was the only thing left worth living for. I had to protect her. As I walked to the kitchen, she was sitting with my mother at the table, about to eat breakfast.
“I need to talk to Mother Anna, can you wait for me outside?”
“Why can’t I listen too?”
“Just do as I say!”
I think that was the first time that I yelled at my sister, and I could see that it hurt her. But it was for her own good, and her tears only fueled the hatred for my mother. But she did as I said.
“Don’t talk to her like that Lukas.”
“How dare you tell me how to talk to my sister? As far as I’m concerned, I’m the only one she should listen to.”
“Please Lukas, have a seat,” said my mother as she pulled out a chair.
“An empty seat. That’s what killed my father. Your husband. How could you? How could you betray that man? Not just once…. Every fucking day.” I was yelling by then.
“Please Lukas, this is just as hard for me as it is for you.”
“Do you know what he told me? Before you killed him? He told me that I had to stay, for Anna. He told me that I had to protect her from the evil in this world. But how am I supposed to protect her when the evil lives in this house?”
In silence, I left my mother to lament her existence.
Now as he stood looking at it there by the light of the lantern, he suddenly caught a glimpse, in a coil of nets, of a face, which exactly resembled the seal's. For an instant it grinned savagely at him, its mouth all the time growing larger and larger; and then a big man whisked out of his boat shed. However, he was slow enough that Elias could catch a glimpse, by the light of the lantern, of a long iron hooked spike sticking out of his back. And now he began to put one and two together. Still he was less anxious about his life than about his boat, so he sat down in it with the lantern and kept watch. When his wife came in the morning, she found him sleeping there, with the burnt-out lantern by his side.
I hadn’t seen Papa all day, and it was a Saturday. He was always home on Saturdays. “Where did Papa go Lukas?”
“He’s gone away for a while Anna. But he told me to tell you not to worry, everything is going to be ok. I’ll protect you until we can see him again, how does that sound?”
“Ok Lukas, I hope it isn’t too long.”
I spent the remainder of the morning in the garden with Anna, paralyzed by thought. Just feeling her presence next to me gave me hope. But lunchtime came, and my mother popped her head through the front door.
“Lunch is ready!” she yelled to Anna and I, as if nothing was wrong.
“You go Anna, I don’t feel very hungry.”
She didn’t ask questions this time.
As I watched through the window, I saw my mother exploit the gullible nature of children. Pampering. Was she trying to prove that she was still a good mother? Just thinking about it brought an uncontrollable rage that shook my entire body. How dare she act like nothing was wrong, trying to win her love? If it weren’t my father’s dying wish for me to stay with my family, I would’ve left. And I would’ve taken Anna with me.
Usually, when we were finished a meal, it was tradition in our family for the children to clear the table while our parents washed dishes. My mother’s job, it seemed, would now take twice the time. I would hand the dirty plates to her in almost procedural behaviour. The last plate to be cleared from the table was always the figgjo flint, an antique serving dish that had been passed on for nine generations in my father’s family. My father had valued no other possession as highly, and this dish had to be handled with extreme delicacy. He wouldn’t even let Anna touch it. From outside, I saw that Anna had it in her hands while she admired its floral decorations. But as she handed it to my mother, it dropped. Through the window I watched in disbelief, staring at the remnants of my father’s ceramic soul that was scattered across the hard wood floor. My mother had seen me by now, but wouldn’t look me in the eyes. She knew just how much this meant to my father, and if she had had the courage to look at me, she would have seen his anguish in my face.
As the sun went down I sat in front of the fire with Anna. I started to read to her, trying to recreate the atmosphere that my father made as best I could, until she fell asleep with her head in my lap. Anna was a constant reminder of my mother’s betrayal. For the first time in my life, as I looked at her sleeping body I noticed that she looked different to the rest of us. Her golden curls stood out amongst a family with sleek black hair, and although she had my mother’s soft face, I saw no resemblance to my father.
As I sit in front of the fire, dancing flames pour a torrent of light into my dark world. But suddenly I catch a glimpse of a face in the fire that exactly resembles the Draug’s. For an instant it grins savagely at me, its mouth all the time growing larger and larger.
“You, Lukas, are the reason that I’ve never seen my daughter. Forced to be kept at bay while she was raised by thieves. You have wronged me Lukas. But now I will have my revenge.”
“Who are you? What’s going on?” I stutter, turning in circles till I am driven with insanity. But the face is gone. As the fire implodes with the sun’s awakening, a small object hurtles past my face. Fearfully, I creep on all fours to it, horrified by what I see. It’s a sapphire. My mother’s wedding ring. Hoarse laughter echoes through the room, but the blank look from a startled Anna only furthers my confusion.
“I’m sorry to wake you Anna, but… did you just hear anything… unusual?”
“Only my brother talking to thin air?” asks a puzzled Anna.
Now, when Elias got a closer look at the other boat, he saw more of the heavy man who sat in the stern as he did. Out of his back, just below his sou'wester projected an iron spike six inches long, which Elias had no difficulty in recognizing again. And now, as he calmly thought it all over, he was quite clear about two things: one was that it was the Draug itself which was steering its half-boat close beside him, and leading him to destruction; the other was that it was written in heaven that he was to sail his last course that night. For he who sees the Draug is a doomed man.
But I knew I wasn’t mad. I held the turquoise proof in my fingers.
Lukas has been scaring me lately. He still doesn’t sleep, and I hear him talking to himself late at night. In the evenings, he complains about a voice, a voice that only he can hear. Mama and I are very worried about him. We try to tell him that there is no voice, but he won’t listen, telling us that he has proof.
“Next to my bed. Go and see for yourselves,” he says.
But when we enter, his bedside is empty.
On my way home from school the next day, I tell Anna that I will meet her there, deciding to revisit the fjord in search of some some answers. As I walk through the deep snow, I see a figure about one hundred meters away, to the left of an ancient oak. It’s rare to see others walk this path. My father showed it to my sister and I, who learnt it from his father, and his father before him. The figure stands perfectly still, but my eyes can’t focus on it. Upon closer approach, my heart comes to a halt. In the white snow stands my father, or what’s left of him. The fall broke every bone in his body, and his head connects to his torso with only a single string of flesh, leaving a barely recognizable human being.
“Father? Is it really you? Or does daylight too turn against me? Oh horrible, oh horrible, most horrible!” The darkness plays on everyone’s fears, a product of the imagination. But if the light too now houses these visions…
Then he speaks.
“You must keep him away from her Lukas. Keep him away from Anna. She must stay with you and Katja. Protect her from the evil in this world. She is only a child.”
“But how? He comes to me father, in the night. Drives me insane. His voice so wicked, and stench so revolting. Every time I gaze upon Anna… I can see him.”
But he is gone.
I decided to follow Lukas, even though he had told me not to. I had thought that he might go to the fjord, and I was right. I saw him standing in the middle of a secret path that our father had shown us. He was alone. From behind a tree, I heard my brother talking to himself. Usually it was the night time that brought on his madness, but it was day, and he seemed more confused than ever.
Walking on, I make towards the river of the fjord, and come to the bank, staring into the crystalline water. But my face is blurry, and trying to focus on my reflection gives me a chronic migraine. Then out of the corner of my eye I see him. A headless fisherman dressed in oilskin. It is the Draug, sailing in a half boat, completely still on the flowing river.
One day, when Elias was out on the sea, not very far away from him, he saw another boat, with a full crew. It lay on the same course, and he thought it rather odd that he had not noticed it before. It made as if it would race him, and when Elias perceived that, he could not for the life of him refuse a challenge.
I followed Lukas all the way home. After he stopped in the middle of the path to speak to himself, he went by the river. When he sat on the bank, he held his head in his hands and started sobbing. I wanted more than anything else in the world to go and help him feel better, but I knew if he caught me following him he would’ve been mad. Then he looked up and seemed frightened. Screaming out to the river, Lukas started to run home. I realized that he would get home before I did, and see I wasn’t there. Even though he wasn’t a very good runner, his legs were still much longer than mine.
I arrive home on shaking legs, mad with fear. Pacing around the house, I tell myself again and again, “I must keep Anna safe. I must keep Anna safe. I must keep Anna safe.” Finding them in the kitchen, I snatch my sister’s arm, yelling at my mother. “You keep away from her! You caused this!”
“My God, Lukas. It looks like you’ve just seen a ghost! What on earth are you talking about?”
“Don’t you touch her.”
“Touch who Lukas? There’s no one here except you and I.”
“Don’t listen to her Anna,” I say crouching down to her height. “We don’t need her anymore ok? She can’t hurt us anymore. I’m going to keep you safe. Safe from the Draug. Don’t worry Anna.”
Suddenly a tremendous roller burst upon him. Elias had long caught a glimpse of its white crest through the darkness, right over the prow.
The boat, literally buried beneath the foaming roller, was lifted gradually up by the bows and then went under. When it rose again out of the water, with the keel in the air, Elias was gone.
When I arrived home I stood in the corridor, watching in confusion. My brother was talking to someone again. Except this time… He thought it was me.
Why is he talking about the Draug? It’s all my fault, I shouldn’t have made him read it to me so many times. Oh Lukas!
My mother saw me from across the room, but Lukas’ back was turned towards me.
Sobbing, my mother pleads. “Anna. Come here. Please, show your brother.” She slowly starts to rise, outstretching her emaciated branches.
“No!” I scream, grasping my father’s very own Kvejtepig from the table that separates us.
“You would hold that to your own mother?”
“You are no mother of mine,” I spit in disgust, pulling Anna in tighter. “You are a traitor and a whore.”
Then he comes. The pungent smell of rotting flesh clambers up my nose, a parasite united with the pure oxygen. A wisp of smoke rises through the floorboards. That dreaded fisherman.
“No! You can’t have her!” I scream at him, waving the pole in front of me.
But the ethereal figure is fast approaching.
“It is time now Lukas,” rasps the severed head under one arm. Without so much as a blink, Anna is out of my grasp, and in the hands of the Draug.
My mother’s terrified screams are drowned out by a crazed Lukas, waving his pole in the air like a madman. I look at my mother, but she shakes her head, telling me not to come.
“You stay away from her!” But the decapitated head just spins and grins, pinning my sister to the wall next to my mother. Her time is running out, and all I can think of are my father’s last words. His last wish. With every ounce of strength I can muster, I charge at him, striking in his back, right below the neck. He turns to me, grinning. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that this is exactly what he wants. The horrid, hoarse laughter bounces around the room, and then he’s gone.
But before I can breathe a sigh of relief, I stop in my tracks, noticing the resistance as I retract my weapon. My eyes cast down to the golden locks that are in front of me, a puddle of blood beneath them. The corpse of my sister that was once bountiful, lay still. The beauty of life absent from her fading soul.
“I have failed you father.” I drop to my knees and hold her in my arms. But there is no pulse. The blood of my family is emblazoned into my skin… And it will never wash clean.
The warm sun that slid through the window stirred me from my nightmare.
“Oh thank God… It was all just a dream.” As I walked from my bed, there wasn’t a thing in the world that could have taken the smile off my face. Tangible or intangible. “I must have been lucid that whole time.” It’s amazing how sleep can take it out of you, I feel as though I haven’t eaten in months!
Opening the fridge, my face was robbed of its ecstasy.
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream,” chuckled a decrepit head on the second shelf. “What? You didn’t think I was real Lukas? You made me real.”
I feel sorry for mother, having to take care of a son who screams nothing but abuse at her all day long. He has stopped talking to himself now, and even started sleeping again. But ever since that day, Lukas doesn’t speak to me anymore. Sometimes he will still say things that don’t make sense. He always talks about me, saying he is sorry for what he did. It’s strange. It’s almost as if he is convinced that I am dead.