A World Not So Beautiful
It’s been a few days since last, perhaps a week. The ice lies thick on Lurvak Bay now, and for most of the villagers in Lurstrand life is starting to return to normal – mostly. Mostly normal, for most of them.
Bad omens still hang in the air, and people are worried.
It was real strange that day, at the memorial fires. Bad strange.
You’re supposed to bring something to put in the flame. One object for each lost soul. That’s how it’s always done when someone dies and there’s no body. One flame for each person. It’s how it’s always been done.
But you’re supposed to bring some kind of object that connected you to the lost one. An object. You’re not supposed to carve your own ear off with a knife and throw it in the fire. That’s just not right.
And let’s not start argue that an ear is an object. You know stupid well what I mean. It’s bad enough that she did it. Scared a lot of people too she did. Blood everywhere.
They’re talking now the villagers. Talking in the bad way. Whispering behind closed doors. In the darkness of their chambers. Where no one else can hear.
It’s a bad omen.
And you don’t know if it’s the girl, or what she did, or the whispering, but you know it’s bad and you’d like for it to stop and for things to go back to normal again. Winter’s bad enough as it is out here. There are enough real dangers in the darkness and there’s no need to make up new ones.
It’d be really good if Fannar would show up now.
But he won’t. Not yet.
– – –
Styrbjorn crossed the open space in the middle of the village and climbed the steps up to the post office. He pulled open the outer door, stomped the snow off his boots in the little entrance room, and then entered the post office reception hall.
Candles lit the large room. Candles and the fire in the fireplace. The windows had been boarded up for the winter. The sun barely climbed above the mountains in the south these days and soon it’d stop doing even that.
They’d done that the other day, him and Ralphur. Well, Sindri had helped too, and Otto and Harald. In fairness, the lads had done most of the heavy lifting, but someone had to tell them what to do.
The post office smelled of candle wax, burning wood, and coffee.
Styrbjorn sat down in his regular chair – the one with it’s back towards the window and with a good view of the fireplace. He didn’t see Ralphur, but through the open door to the staff room behind the counter came the sound of someone whistling to themselves.
After a few moments, the whistling died down. “Styrbjorn, is that you?” came a shout through door.
“No!” Styrbjorn shouted back, and then he stopped to think. Who would he be?
“Good!” came the reply from the staff room, and then nothing else.
Styrbjorn chuckled to himself. Two old farts trying to make fun of each other and both forgetting their punch lines. Good thing Vissla wasn’t here.
“Coffee?” said Ralphur, now standing in the doorway.
– – –
One old man makes coffee. Another old man watches.
A fire crackles to itself. Spreads its warmth, shines its light.
Candles too. Every little bit helps.
An old building enjoys its place in the world. By law and regulation, a governmental institution for exchange and distribution of information. By coffee and by flame, a place to meet and talk.
Coffee is served. Old men exchange their pleasantries. It doesn’t take long.
– – –
Styrbjorn set down his cup, leaned back in his chair, and put his important face on.
“Larus left this morning,” he said.
Ralphur raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Ayup.” Styrbjorn nodded. “Packed up all his things and left. Two sleds full.”
“Is that so?”
“Saw it myself. Got the brothers to help him too. They’ll be back tomorrow I’d say. It’s only across the bay.”
“That’s…” Ralphur stopped himself. Chewed on his lip for a moment. “I guess that’s not so unexpected.”
Styrbjorn shook his head. “No. You’re right. Sad to say.”
A big grin spread on Ralphur’s face. “You never like it when I’m right old friend.”
“Nah, it’s rare enough. I can let you have this one.”
They both chuckled at that. Sipped their coffee, stretched their legs. Relaxed. They weren’t that old. Could still trade jabs once they got going.
Outside, snow began to fall.
Eventually, Ralphur cleared his throat. “We should have seen that coming.”
“Yes.” Styrbjorn nodded. “Not much to keep him here now. Lad didn’t want to move here in the first place… or so I heard.”
“No. He wanted to stay in Morskebo with his family. Svana was part of a crew here though, so he had to move.”
“I see… I see.” Ralphur stroked his chin. “That’s a shame isn’t it. Will you have to take over after him now?”
“No. Maybe. He wasn’t much of a taylor to begin with. We’ll see.” Styrbjorn stared down into his coffee. “I’m more worried about Vissla.”
“Vissla?” Ralphur pursed his lips. Raised his eyebrows. ”How so?”
Styrbjorn squirmed in his chair. “It’s not like it’s any trouble or anything. She’s happy to help really. It’s just she’s spending so much time looking after Kala.” He sighed and reached for his coffee. “He married her sister after all. She’s his family too now. He could have done his part.”
Ralphur crossed his arms over his chest again. He gazed up into the ceiling and frowned.
“Well, I don’t know that I can blame him,” said Styrbjorn. “He didn’t want to come in the first place, and with what’s happened here…”
And then the conversation died down again, and the two old me just sat there, alone with their thoughts while their coffees grew colder.
After a while, Ralphur cleared his throat. “Is the ice thick enough?”
“On the bay I mean… to walk on.” He squirmed a little and cleared his throat again. “It’s safe now right?”
“Oh, that.” Styrbjorn frowned. “Yes. Yes of course. It’s safe. The brothers know what they’re doing.”
Ralphur let out a sigh and let his shoulders slump. “Good, good. I’d hate for us to lose more people now.”
Styrbjorn nodded. His friend was right.
Larus didn’t really matter. He was from across the bay. The brothers though. Otto and Harald were born and bred here. That’d be a blow if they went through the ice.
People were already worried. He’d seen how they looked at Vissla when they thought she didn’t notice. Her and Gulli. They were the ones who looked after Kala the most. Made sure she had something to eat, and that she ate it. That was probably Gulli’s job mostly. Vissla wasn’t really good with people. He loved his wife, but, well, he knew she had her faults too.
“How’s she doing?” said Ralphur.
“Oh, she’s not too bad. A bit tired and grumpy, but that’s nothing new, is there?” He grinned and sipped his coffee. They didn’t come any grumpier than Vissla when she was tired. “She’d probably like for someone else to help keep an eye on the girl though. Just for a few days would be nice I think.”
“Uhm…” Ralphur squirmed. “I meant Kala…”
“It’s not that I don’t care about your wife old friend, but we both know she’s tough as nails.”
Styrbjorn nodded. Tough as nails indeed. He was probably worse off worrying about her than she was doing the actual job. Kala though.
“That’s okay,” he said. “She’s okay, Vissla I mean. Kala though. I don’t know…”
Ralphur got to his feet and began tinkering with the coffee machine. It wheezed and gurgled. A cloud of smoke billowed towards the ceiling and then the hot liquid began dripping into the cup.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the room.
Smiling wide, Styrbjorn took the cup Ralphur handed him.
“You’re welcome.” Ralphur turned back to the machine and began making a cup for himself as well. “Now, tell me about the girl. What’s wrong with her?”
Styrbjorn waited until his friend was done with the cup and had sat down again. Then he took a deep breath, and cleared his throat.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know,” he said.
Ralphur raised an eyebrow.
“Something’s wrong though, or so Vissla says.” He paused, and shot a glance over towards the door. “The girl barely eats. Doesn’t speak at all. She stays in bed all day, but doesn’t sleep. And when she falls asleep she has the worst nightmares. Tosses and turns and wakes up screaming.”
“That doesn’t sound very good at all.”
“No. It’s really bad… Vissla doesn’t want the girl to be alone, but Gulli’s too scared to stay there on her own.” Styrbjorn took a deep breath. “Don’t tell anyone please. Vissla has camped out on the floor next to Kala’s bed the last four nights in a row.”
“Don’t worry, my friend. I won’t tell anyone.” Ralphur reached for his coffee, hesitated, and let his hand rest on the table. “Isn’t there anyone else who can help?”
Styrbjorn sighed. “Not in the village. Plenty of people help out in the day. But no one’s willing to stay the night.”
“Dagny tried it once. Good woman she is. Felt she had to try since the girl would have become her daughter in law, but it didn’t work.”
Ralphur grabbed his coffee and sipped. A thin smile tugged at his lips but he wiped it away and put down the cup again. “What happened?”
“I don’t know.” Styrbjorn leaned forward with his elbows on the table. “That’s what worries me. Vissla wouldn’t tell me. She said it wasn’t any of my business.” He sighed and hung his head. “She never keeps secrets from me.”
“I’m sorry my friend. That’s tough.” He reached out and gave Styrbjorn a pat on the shoulder. “But you’re a tough man, Styrbjorn. You’ll work this out. I believe in you.”
“I wish Fannar was here,” he whispered without looking up. “Vissla would throw me to the wolves if she knew, but I think he could really help.”
Frowning, Ralphur drew back. “We could use the telephone and call him.”
“No!” Styrbjorns head snapped up. “You can’t do that. Vissla will think I asked you to do it.”
“Don’t worry my friend. I won’t do anything to get between you and your wife.” He raised his hands and showed his palms, and then he grinned. “She’s much too scary.”
Styrbjorn scowled at him. “I’m serious. Don’t use the telephone.” He paused, and took a sip of his coffee to try and compose himself. This whole business was getting to him too. He just wanted to help and make things right. It wasn’t so bad.
“Your radio communication machine though,” he said. “You could use that, and if you tell him it’s secret, no one will ever know.”
Ralphur brightened up for a moment, and then his face fell. “It’s broken. Something’s wrong with it.”
“I’ve asked Sindri to come have a look at it, but it’s not happened yet. He’s too busy looking after Lilja.”
Styrbjorn sighed. Still leaning with his elbows on the table he rested his head in his hands. “We’ll just have to wait then. Someone else might call – or he’ll show up on his own.”
– – –
That’s it for now. A worried old man and his friend. Coffee, and words spoken in confidence.
The shaman will show up eventually, and then everything will be fine.