The Northern Fright
Today’s Brew: Dunkin Donuts (gag) and hotel coffee (actually better). Just got home from a road trip.
A slight variation to our Holiday Horror posting schedule. We got a special request from a good friend of the Undead Duo to post their story today, so we did it. Now don’t think you can all go calling your own days. It will make Kristen’s sense of order go haywire. It’s enough for her to deal with wildcard Julie as a writing partner.
The Northern Fright.
Written by: Bobby Salomons (Severed Limb Movement)
It’s not that long ago, in fact it’s much too fresh, but I’ll write to you anyway – because you need to know. Christmas isn’t non-committal, it’s not about gifts, trying to be sweet to family you actually hate or forgiving the neighbor for letting his dog pee on your newspaper. I wish it was, I really wish it was…
About a year ago, I had studied for a double major in anthropology and history for way too long, I was about to suffer a major burn out. I spoke to my parents, spoke to my college girlfriend and spoke to my dean. None of them wanted me to drop out, so they made me an offer: spend Christmas in Europe, as part of a study program in Norway. Instead of spending my time, here in good ole’ ‘Merica trying to “imagine” old cultures from books, I’d get the opportunity to actually go out there and help decipher and understand old Norse runes. They had recently uncovered some sites on the Norwegian-Swedish border, some of the oldest runes to date who could perhaps even help understand all the other texts throughout Europe. Even National Geographic was interested in running an article on it. Imagine that: “Burned out student from Maine helps break code on Norse runes, girlfriend wants his babies.” So, of course, I said yes. What was there to lose, right? Wrong.
I flew out to Oslo a week later, the city was alright – it wasn’t London, Paris or Amsterdam but it was something fresh and new for a New England-hipster such as myself. The Norwegians were friendly and easy going, I had a tour around the faculty and was updated on the latest findings – the next day we’d fly out and make the rest of the journey by snowmobile.
We’d arrive on Christmas, so the current expedition team could take our plane back home and be with their family during the holidays. The two hour ride by said snowmobiles was unforgiving and cold, but riding the back of the vehicle hugging a beautiful, strawberry blonde, Norwegian girl that smelled like lavender made things worth it. She was a decent rider too, never noticed a bump in the snow, though that may have been due to me trying to focus on the fact that I had a girlfriend back home. And that hitching a ride with a cute Scandinavian girl didn’t necessarily mean she’d want to get with me.
After we finally arrived at the camp it turned out their work ethics were different, back home any field trip or expedition somehow involved tacos, burgers, debates on iPhones and posing for Facebook pictures. But the Europeans actually went to work, they introduced themselves to the Swedish team that had worked on the site before us and was now leaving, we unpacked our kits and set out to uncover new things.
Later that day we said goodbye to the team we were replacing, they informed us of what they had found so far. The runes were in reference to “the Wild Hunt” – an ancient folk myth that speaks of spectral huntsmen terrorizing the night sky, ghosts of lost souls lead by Odin, looking to kidnap anyone who witnesses or mocks them, dragging them to hell. Hogwash to any educated American.
Of course it was just one day before Christmas and the departing Swedes had left some gifts and a warning: “the Wild Hunt” was said to happen the shortest day of the year, around Christmas Eve, we’d better watch ourselves. At the time it seemed like the corniest campfire story I ever did hear.
Of course we didn’t wait till Christmas to open our presents, though the Norwegians worked hard they still drank like Vikings in the evening. Our presents consisted of necklaces made from beer bottle caps, dirty poetry and a slice of old bread and a piece of steel. Being a fan of beer and a master of vulgar poetry I was content with my gifts, but wasn’t sure about the bread and piece of steel. The Norwegians informed me that the Swedes believed that if one was confronted with the wild hunters of the sky there were only two options – if facing Odin and the human ghosts one should throw their piece of steel before their feet for them to use for their weapons, when confronted with their demonic hell hounds the only way to distract them was by dropping the piece of bread for them to eat. Then just divert ones eyes and run. Far away.
Apparently, despite their politeness, the Norwegians and Swedes weren’t devoid of competitive feelings towards each other. My Norwegian friends told me hour long stories about how silly the Swedes were, with their Ikea and Abba, their neutral policy on everything and their strange language. I took it for what it was.
As the evening progressed my expeditionary partners became increasingly drunk, pretending to be Swedes working for Ikea, dancing around the room and eventually outside. It wasn’t before long they had found their way into the dark towards the site of the runes, they insisted I’d join them and peer-pressure being what it is I participated in their amusing folk dances. Eventually, we all grew tired and sat around the site in the bitter cold looking at the Aurora Borealis: the Northern Light dancing in the sky. With it’s eerie green light I could see how the people of old could see scenes unfolding before their eyes.
After their drunken activities my Scandinavian colleagues were both hungry and mischievous enough to eat their slices of bread and throw away the pieces of steel. I kindly refrained from doing so, I would take them home with me as peculiar souvenirs to tell my family and friends of the traditions of Scandinavia and the Germanic tribes that once ruled so much of Europe.
They wobbled back inside to warm themselves on the fire, meanwhile mocking Odin and his Wild Hunt, laughing loudly and making noises. I sat for a while watching the night sky dance in a sea of ghastly green, trying to imagine Old Norse gods like Odin and his warriors riding before my eyes. An amusing thought but the cold quickly won me over to go back inside. Besides a pack of clouds was slowly forming, soon the Aurora Borealis would dissipate.
I went back in to find most of my expeditionary partners to be sleeping in front of the fire, on the couch and a lucky few had been able to jump into their bed as they waited for it to circle by again in their drunken dizziness. The Norwegian girl I fancied was sound asleep in her bed in the same room as mine, suppose that still gave me bragging rights of claiming to have “slept with her”.
Just for fun I stuffed my Christmas gifts into one of my thick, thermal socks, like a Christmas stocking, to surprise myself on Christmas morning.
I laid my head down and went to sleep, surely Christmas day would be a blast with a bunch of hard partying Viking-descendants.
Somewhere during the night, I woke up. The strawberry blonde girl of my dreams was snoring like a bear, I looked around and it was quiet except for rain bouncing off the roof of the small cabin, I figured I had woken up because I wasn’t sleeping in my own bed. Just as I lay my head down again, the whole room lighted up, a thunder crack made the little house and the soil it stood on rumble.
I nearly let go of a girly scream but realized that as an adult male thunder shouldn’t scare me.
So once again, I rested my head, pulled my pillow over my face and closed my eyes. In the distance the thunder continued to roar over the taiga forests of these old lands. I tried to remember and relive some of the happier Christmases I had had as a child and slowly began dozing off again. I could almost smell my mother’s Christmas cake when suddenly I was interrupted in my dreams, my eyes wide open as I lay underneath my pillow like a scared child.
In the distance, the far distance, mixing with the noise of the thunder and the rain I thought I could hear it… A war-horn, echoing through the night and over the forests. A sound so distinctive, it rolls through the air like no other. I gasped, sat up straight and dropped my pillow onto the floor. Trembling like a leaf.
Faintly the sound was coming closer, suddenly I smiled and realized – those mischievous Norwegians were pulling a prank on the gullible American kid. Of course that had to be it, what else could it be?
I turned around to look at the girl, she was still tight asleep, if it was a prank she wasn’t in it. I sneaked out of bed and opened the door to the living room, to catch them red handed. But as I looked inside all the others were still sound asleep. None of them were missing. In the distance I heard it again, the horn wailing through the cold, dark sky. I could feel my heart drop in my chest.
Some of the others began waking up, they heard it too. They spoke panicky in their native tongue, I couldn’t understand them but I knew what they were saying. What is that? Where is it coming from? Did you hear it?
“It’s coming from outside! It’s been coming this way!” I yelled with shivering voice, my teammates looking at me with disbelieve – they were as suspicious of me as I was of them.
“I’m not kidding! I swear to God it’s not me!” I said, trembling and confused. They realized I was speaking the truth.
I ran back into my room and jumped into my thick clothing, running outside into breathtaking cold. The others were still feeling the effects of their hard drinking just a few hours before, stumbling around and arguing over who was putting on who’s clothing.
As I rushed out, I could see it in the night sky, goosebumps formed on my skin like they never had before, all courage I had ever given myself credit for evaporated as I looked up at what could only be described as a Vortex. The Aurora Borealis had merged with the thunder storm, spinning like a maelstrom. From inside of it came the echoing, haunting sound of a horn once more. For a moment I feared fainting as I couldn’t believe what I saw.
Right before my eyes, from inside the ghastly storm, rode the Huntsmen into the sky. Translucent like the light of the Aurora Borealis itself, glowing as they started coming near.
Behind me I heard my Norwegian friends scream in terror, they finally had made it outside but were now scrambling to get back in. I couldn’t blame them, my heart beat inside my throat so hard I feared coughing it up.
Closer and closer they came, there were no doubts of who and what they were, Odin and his men had arrived, and this was it. He rode up front, Odin – a thick beard, a sharp spear, his clothes ripped and torn, yet he stood proud and fierce upon his eight legged horse, blowing the horn with thunderous noise. Just faintly I could see through him, his skeleton shining through his skin. Behind him rode the vengeful spirits of fierce Viking warriors, out for souls. Wild hounds ran with them, letting go of howls that would even scare away the fiercest pack of wolves that ever lived.
I fell backwards into the snow as the hunting party stopped just above the ground, floating in mid-air and the ghastly beings stepped down. As they calmly approached the house they all looked at me as if their eyes could look into the deepest depths of my being. I could only witness them in fear and awe.
These Viking men, their glowing, battle scared bodies, shredded clothing and their bloodied weapons ready – these haunted warriors were here for a reason.
The hounds bolted ahead of Odin and his men, scratching the door of the cabin, growling like lions. Odin opened the door and the cries of my panic struck friends filled the air. I could see it through the windows, it was worse than murder.
Odin and his men grabbed them as they begged and pleaded, I could see it all, as their ethereal doubles were torn from their now lifeless bodies. Even their souls cried as they faced the ghostly, tormented warriors, but they showed them no mercy. With pleasure they cut their swords and spears into their helpless apparitions, the hounds feasting on their still wailing souls, ripping them apart and devouring them like animals as Odin and his men stood watching.
Suddenly I realized that the girl that slept in the room with me was perhaps not yet lost and with all the adrenaline in my body I rushed through the snow, around the house, and ran for the window of our room. I looked inside and saw her trembling on the bed, frozen like a deer in headlights, I bashed against the glass and gestured her to open the window. Almost like a zombie she did, I grabbed her and pulled her outside into the freezing cold. As she stepped out I noticed the sock I had put my gifts in, grabbed it, and ran after her towards the tree line. Behind me I could hear the hounds ripping the doomed souls of my friends, the ghostly warriors speaking with dark, deep voices.
I ran after her as fast as I could, the cold was affecting her and I could tell she could not make it on her own. I picked her up and tried to make a desperate dash towards the trees, but I got caught on a tree root beneath the snow and dropped flat with her in my arms. Behind me I heard the swift and rhythmic thuds of dog’s feet in the snow, I knew they were gaining on us and in what I thought were my dying moments I managed to jump between some trees and shrubbery.
I heard her scream, as the hounds ripped her spirit from her body, and dragged her to hell. I sat behind the leafs and branches like a coward. I cried and I shivered.
I heard Odin and his men approach, their heavy footsteps and the growling of the beasts. They knew where I was. I closed my eyes, it would be over soon.
But they didn’t chase me, they stood right before me and watched me, they knew I had no place to go.
I stood up and faced them, if I was to be killed by a Viking I might as well die like a Viking.
For a moment it was quiet, everywhere as if the world stood still and ceased to exist. The hounds were growling but stood their ground, Odin and his men staring into my soul as if they were trying to make a point. Suddenly I realized what I was holding in my hands, still. The sock with the slice of bread and a piece of steel. They were waiting for me.
“Is this what you want?!” I said with trembling voice, the ghouls kept silent, Odin raised his arm with the palm of his hand up as if telling me to give it to him.
I was shaking so badly I could hardly open the frozen sock, I took out the piece of bread and threw it before the hounds. They sniffed on it, one of the creatures respectfully picked it up and stepped back before the feet of its owner with the others.
“I have more…” I pointed at the sock, tears and mucus freezing solid onto my face. I realized that Odin and his men surely did not speak my language, but he nodded – he understood the point.
With all the courage I had I stepped forward to the ghosts before me, taking out the piece of steel and placing it in Odin’s hand. As I touched his fingers they felt electric yet oddly solid, for a moment everything flashed before my eyes and I felt the presence of a thousand lost souls, a thousand battles fought and a history long forgotten. All these haunting memories grabbed me by the throat.
Odin calmly closed his hand and the images stopped, I fell upon my knees feeling gutted. He placed the piece of steel onto his spear, melting it into it. He began to speak, though I couldn’t understand the words he was saying I knew what he meant. He would spare my life, just this once, because I did not disrespect him or his men and that I kept with traditions. Now that I had seen what they were capable of, had felt their pain and suffering, I knew better. But never should I show myself again, that much was clear, and never forget what I had seen. I nodded and diverted my gaze, as the story of the Wild Hunt dictated. Calmly the men and their hounds strolled off towards the cabin where they stepped back onto their horses, faintly I could still hear the cries of my friends. With a blow of Odin’s horn they rode off into the sky, disappearing into the maelstrom and taking with them my colleagues to suffer for eternity in the Underworld. The portal in the sky faded away and ceased to exist, becoming the Northern Light once again.
I ran back to the cabin and called for help on the radio, the police arrived the following morning. I tried to explain to them what happened but none believed me. They took me to a hospital and ran tests on me to see if I was crazy, but none could prove I was. They ruled the deaths to most likely be carbon monoxide poisoning, assuming that the girl I had tried to rescue was overcome by the cold and that I had hallucinated the whole event due to oxygen lack. The fact that the electrical generator wasn’t faulty nor that there were no other devices that could cause it was overlooked or simply ignored. I still hear the cries of me expeditionary partners, every night and I’m haunted by the thought of what happened to them and where they are now.
But I remember Odin’s message and I wish to share it with you.
Christmas isn’t about Santa, about gifts for the greedy or remembering God once per year. It’s about paying respect to those that earned it, if you won’t give it to them they’ll come and take it from you. If you ever saw the Northern Light, if it ever thunders on Christmas Eve, if you know who Odin and his men are, if you dare mocking them remember… Sleep with a piece of bread and a piece of steel – and maybe, just maybe they will spare your life if they come for you.
Born and raised in Amsterdam, Bobby Salomons’ works are as authentic and distinguishing as the city itself. A tense and mysterious atmosphere combined with a vivid and capturing writing style make his stories a pleasure to read and hard to forget.
From a young age he was drawn to creative and inspiring works, striking up a true passion for writing in college. Ever since he has steadily developed himself as a writer, working as a script doctor and faithfully penning down his soon to be released debut series: “DEATH 2 DEATH”.
With a background in Art-Direction (advertising) and Copy Writing, Bobby is boldly undertaking the effort of establishing himself amongst his writing peers with the humor and sober-headedness expected from a Dutchman.
More information about his work and efforts can be found at: http://www.d2d-books.com Twitter:@d2dbooks