Walking Through the Wonderland
It’s some days later. The radio is still fine. No one’s used it. Sindri didn’t get around to telling Fannar yet, but he’ll do it next time he sees the shaman. It probably won’t be long now that he’s staying in the village for an extended period of time. In the meantime, he’s got other things to worry about, like making sure his kids are okay. Njall is so quiet these days.
Someone else is on the way to the village too. Coming in across the ice from the east. A lone figure on skis. Someone who’d much rather have just stayed in his cabin on the cliff and who’s not looking forward to being among people.
As usual, it’s early in the morning. It’s the best time to come if you want to see the station master alone. You have to see the station master. The postmaster would do in a pinch, but it’s not quite the same. Fewer people pass by the post office than the arrivals hall and words from there don’t spread as fast.
Villages are stupid.
You can’t just go see whoever it is you need to speak to. You need to show up and sit around and have a chat and be seen so people know you’re not trying to hide anything. If you didn’t, someone would see you and they’d think you were up to no good, and then the rumors would be flying fast as daylight.
– – –
Pall stepped into the arrivals hall at the train station.
Had something happened? What if they were all dead? It happened. He’d heard about it. Sometimes food got bad, or some kind of illness came through and killed everyone.
The People could have come. He hadn’t seen any signs of fighting, but with how dark it was he could have missed it. Sometime if hunters went too far north on the ice, the people would attack their village to teach them a lesson. It was rare, but he’d heard about it. Happened down the coast a few years back. Village further west down the coast.
As a child he’d heard stories of the Cold Man, but that was probably just stories.
Pall shuddered. Better not think about that. The long night was dangerous enough as it was without you worrying about the cold taking shape and walking around killing people.
It was probably fine. He was probably just early. Hulda probably hadn’t woken up yet.
A small fire still burned in the fireplace.
He should build it up. Get some warmth in this place. Poor Hulda always got up first and got the place warmed up for everyone else. She’d like it if she didn’t have to for once. It’d be nice for her to come into a warm hall for once.
Maybe he could figure out how the electric kettle worked and she could have some hot water waiting for her when she got up. She’d like that. Maybe she’d offer to share some of her tea with him.
– – –
There was someone in her hall.
She’d heard the doors creak open, and someone stepping inside. They were moving around the hall now. Who’d come in a this hour? She wasn’t even properly dressed yet. Way too early for her to open yet.
Hulda pulled her morning gown closer around herself. She could sneak out through the door in the deliveries room and get help, but where? Everyone would be asleep at this hour, and she’d make too much noise getting dressed, and whoever was in there might get away.
That’s what she wanted though, wasn’t it.
But what if they came back later. What if it was one of the villagers and they’d just drop by when everyone else was there, looking at her while she worked like nothing had happened and they’d never been sneaking into her hall in the middle of the night.
There was no time to get help. She had to deal with this now.
She grabbed her stationmaster’s hat from the peg by the door and put it on her head. It’d do for uniform. Her symbol of authority. She was the master of this station, and she had the hat to prove it.
After a moment’s hesitation she stole over to her chest of drawers and collected her pistol as well. She hoped she wouldn’t have to use it, but you never knew. The stories she’d heard. There was more than just people out there in the dark, and now something was in her hall. Uninvited. Should she get the axe as well?
Hulda ground her teeth. Things like this never happened at her old station back home.
– – –
Pall held out his hands and warmed them against the flames. The fire had caught on almost right away. Good dry wood in the crate beside the fireplace. There was something rare and special about warming your fingers like this after having been out in the cold.
He’d pulled up a chair close to the fire and now he sat there just waiting, taking his time to enjoy the warmth and the light. His backpack lay on the floor behind him and his rifle leaned against the back of the other chair he’d dragged over. He’d move it out of the way when Hulda arrived so she could sit down too.
Someone moved in the room behind the door in the far wall. Someone trying to be quiet and sneaky. He knew that feeling. There was something serene about waking up this early in the morning. It was as if the building itself slept, and you had to step real careful and quiet not to wake it up and ruin the mood.
He could relate to that. He’d be still and quiet now and Hulda could take her time and go about her morning ritual and come out when she was ready. The hot water could wait. He’d have to turn on the lights to figure that out. Probably knock a hole in the ice on the bucket as well. It’d make too much noise.
She’d be so surprised to see him. He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face. Grinning to himself he closed his eyes and let the heat of the flames wash over him.
Not much longer now.
Pall waited. Letting his thoughts wander. Getting lost in the flickering of the flames. Warm. Silent. Comfortable.
Behind him, the door in the far wall slid open. Slowly – barely making any noise at all. Maintaining the hushed mood of the morning. Pall smiled to himself where he sat. It was good to find someone who knew to appreciate the silence of the early hours just like he did.
Something clicked and the lights in the ceiling flickered on. Bright white light. Blinding. Painful.
Pall pressed his eyes together and groaned.
“Hey!” Hulda shouted, and an instant later something clattered against the wall in the far corner of the room and then crashed into the floor.
Pall snatched up his rifle and shot to his feet. Something was attacking Hulda. He pressed the stock of the rifle against his shoulders and scanned the room.
No movement. Corners empty windows barred doors out closed. Pall froze. Hulda stood in kneeling position by the door to her quarters and pointed a gun at him.
Why did she do that?
He hadn’t done anything. Was there something behind him? There wasn’t anything else in the room. There must be something behind him. Why hadn’t he noticed? Better not move. He tried to glance behind him without turning his head.
There was a door there wasn’t it? In the wall next to the fireplace. He hadn’t heard it open, but that didn’t mean much with all the other noise right now.
“Pall!” Hulda snapped.
A warning. Pall throw himself to the ground. A shot rang out. He rolled over on his back and aimed up at the wall behind him.
There was nothing there.
“Pall!” Hulda screamed.
“Hulda!” Pall yelled. “Are you alright?”
Had she been shot? Was there someone in the room behind her? The silence dragged out, and no more shots came. Pall rolled over on his stomac again and tried to see her between the legs of chairs and tables. Where was she?
“Hulda!” Was she hurt? Why didn’t she reply? “Hulda, are you okay?”
“Pall!” Hulda’s voice came from the doorway to the other room. “What in the boiling tarpits are you doing?”
He wasn’t doing anything. There was someone else in here shooting at them. “Are you okay?” he shouted.
It’s good she got to safety, but he needed to know that she was unhurt. Need to find out who else was in here.
“Yes, I’m stupid fine. Let go of your rifle and stand up where I can see you?”
What! What was she thinking?
“Hulda! Someone just fired a gun in here. You have to be careful.”
“I stupid know you idiot. It was stupid. Now get yourself up where I can stupid see you or I’ll shoot again.”
“Oh…” Pall whispered.
His face burned. He should have just stayed home in his cabin and none of this would have happened. Things always turned bad when people got involved.
“Get stupid up!” Hulda shouted.
Pall groaned and pushed himself up on all fours. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, barely loud enough to hear it himself.
He placed his rifle on the floor beside him, and got up to standing position. “I’m so sorry Hulda,” he said and raised his arms. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
It was true, he’d just wanted to give her a nice surprise. Warm up the room a little for her. He’d meant well.
“What are you doing here?” Hulda appeared in the doorway, dressed in nightgown and her station master’s hat. She still held the gun, but she kept it pointing to the ceiling now.
“Uhm…” he stammered. “I’m really really sorry. I didn’t meant to…”
“Shut up!” she snapped. “I don’t care. Tell me why you’re here. What are you doing in my hall?”
Why wouldn’t he just stupid listen and answer her questions? It wasn’t like she’d asked him anything complicated. If he said he was sorry again she’d stupid shoot again.
“Hulda, please… I’m really sorry.”
She pulled the trigger.
The shout rang out – just as loud as before, but this time she was prepared for it, and she kept her cool. Kept her gaze fixed on Pall where he stood by the fireplace. Dust drifted down from the ceiling. A piece of plaster hit floor and cracked into pieces.
Eyes wide, Pall stared at her. His mouth opened and closed, and opened again, as if he was trying to say something but his brain had shut off and no words came out.
“Now you listen to me mister.” Hulda took a step forward, left the doorway behind and planted her hands on her hips, careful not to point the gun at her toes. “If you as much as breathe about being sorry again I’ll shoot you in the face. Is that clear?”
Pall’s mouth clamped shut, and he nodded.
“Good.” Hulda reached up and adjusted the station master’s hat on her head. “Explain to me exactly what you’re doing in my hall at this hour and without letting me know.”
“Uhm…” Pall blushed.
“Spill it!” Someone would have heard the shots and would be here with guns and axes any moment now.
“It was open,” he stammered. “So I went in.”
“It’s early. We’re closed.” Of course it was open. It always was. That didn’t mean you could just come barging in at any our like you owned the place.
Hulda raised an eyebrow. “But?”
“But…” He paused and took a deep breath. “I can’t make camp outside in the village square.”
She glared at him. No, he couldn’t, and that’s why the station’s doors were open, but that wasn’t the point. “Why didn’t you wake me up? You could have knocked on the door or something.”
Pall’s face turned bright red.
The outer door banged open.
Heavy boots clomped into the entrance room.
The inner door flew open and Otto burst into the room, waving an axe over his head, wide eyes sweeping across the room. An instant later Harald came in behind him, rifle at the ready.
“What’s going on?” shouted Otto.
He spotted Pall over by the fire and began advancing on him, holding the axe high, ready to strike.
“Hulda! Are you okay?” Harald swung the rifle back and forth between her and Pall.
Hulda rolled her eyes. She was standing right there. Of course she was okay. Did they not have eyes to see with.
“Otto!” she snapped. “Stop that.”
“I said stop it!” she screamed and raised her gun towards the ceiling again. “I’m stupid fine! Everyone calm down or I’ll shoot every stupid last one of you.”
Silence fell over the room.
No one said a word.
Everyone stared at her.
Her cheeks warmed.
Vissla slammed open the door and stepped into the room, one revolver in each hand. “What’s going on here?” She hadn’t even put a hat on, and her white hair hung in a tangled mess behind her. “Hulda, are you okay?”
Hulda groaned. “Yes, Vissla. I’m okay. Lower your guns.”
Slowly, and without taking her eyes off of anyone, Vissla brought her hands down, pointing her revolvers at the floor. “Okay. Now, what’s going on here?” she demanded.
Taking a deep breath, Hulda adjusted her stationmaster’s hat on her head. “Pall.” She raised her free hand and pointed. Full hand. No fingers. “You will explain to Vissla what’s going on.”
“You.” She pointed at Otto. “Go stand outside and tell whoever else shows up that I’m fine.”
“Harald.” She pointed. “Knock a hole on the ice in the bucket. Don’t touch the kettles.”
She set her hands on her hips and looked them all over – Pall, Otto, Vissla, Harald. Scared, confused, amused, and another confused.
“Questions? No? Good,” she said, and before anyone could object she spun on her heel, marched back into her room, and slammed the door shut behind her.
Time to put some proper clothes on.