The Pass

“Baldur’s Death” by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1817)

Prepper Wilson’s tips for surviving the End-Times:

  1. If you haven’t got your bunker, stores, and arsenal sorted by now, it’s too late snowflake!

2. Give each member of your group a rating for their usefulness. If supplies dwindle start by killing off the lowest scoring first.

3. Daily target practice – preferably using live targets, e.g. those outside the compound.

4. Have plenty of old school Action Movies to watch – Arnie, Stallone, Seagal.

5. Raise and salute the flag every day while the national anthem plays. Be grateful you’re one of the Chosen in God’s Own Country.

6. Anybody who refuses to stand for the anthem, take them outside. They can take the fucking knee, while you deal with them. Back of the head.

7. Staying fit is essential. Even in a limited space you can maintain a daily routine. Push-ups, sit-ups, squat-thrusts. Don’t turn into a pussy. Keep those muscles toned. Daily body inspections of group members for any signs of slack.

8. Maintain discipline. Devise an escalating series of punishments. Any one questions your authority – they take the walk.

9. As the Alpha Male you have the right to choose any female. If they do not comply, drug them, then fuck some sense back into ‘em. You need to breed to continue the seed. It’s your patriotic duty.

10. Play board games and charades to maintain morale.


Chapter 13: The Pass

The furious waves lashed the beach, sending icy spray and stinging sand into Eddy’s face.

            The Hammer wept, cradling Balder’s limp body. Honer staggered about, wondering why the laughter had stopped.

            Rig pushed his way through the staring bikers. ‘I heard a gunshot…?’ He looked down, eyes widening. ‘You … fucking morons! Enforcer, this even outdoes your usual dumb-ass antics.’

            The Hammer stood up, baring her teeth and clenching her fists, squaring off to the Road Captain.

            Everyone stepped back, gave them room. Some cheered on The Hammer, others Rig.

            The wind howled around them, stirring up devils of sand.

Out of the storm flew two ravens, then One Eye himself appeared – towering over everyone. He roared at them with a voice like a boom of thunder: ‘STOP!’, and his voice cut through the howling wind, making the Enforcer and the Road Captain freeze, fists raised, mid-blow. ‘Wild Hunt, harken! Ragnarok is here! We must defend ourselves! Protect yourselves with the Vegvisir rune! Like this!’ One Eye draw it in the air before him and a complex circular design delineated by blue fire appeared, branding itself in the mind’s eye.

‘Next time,’ growled The Hammer.

‘I’ll be waiting,’ said Rig.

The opponents turned away and busied their men.

The Hammer organised a group to carry Balder’s body away; Rig saw to Holder.

The bikers set to drawing the sigil upon themselves in any way they could – some stripped off their shirts and daubed their chests with charcoal from the fire-pits. Others used blood from fresh wounds, painting it on their foreheads or arms. Somebody found a pot of white paint and many decorated their helmets and the tanks of their bikes.

Eddy, Dash and Blitzen helped each other. ‘The Vikings used to draw the rune on themselves for protection against storms and blizzards’, said Blitzen, as he painted onto Eddy’s chest.

‘Good!’ roared One Eye, ‘The Vegvisir will guide you through the storm! You will never be lost! Now we must leave this place quickly and head to higher ground. The Earth trembles. Jormungandr thrashes its tail and I sense that soon this coast will feel its wrath. We must make haste! Wild Hunt, ride with me! Now!’

One Eye leapt upon his iron steed and gunned the powerful engine, and then led the bikers out of the beach, up onto the promenade.

The Wild Hunt followed – a serpent of chrome and leather shooting from its lair.

‘Just in time, by the looks of things!’ shouted Dash.

Eddy turned back to see a massive wave crashing onto the beach, and overwhelm the sea wall, smashing into the shop fronts and houses facing the sea. Some of the bikers to the rear were swept away – bikes and all – as though a grey dragon had hungrily devoured them.

The icy water chased the bikers down the road as they roared away from Peel, surging over their wheels and boots.

‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’ Eddy gripped the bike tightly, trying to keep it upright against the force of the water. Holding his nerve, he kept revving the bike forward. They accelerated – fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety… At one hundred they escaped the grey serpent, shooting out of the doomed town.

‘Woo-hoo! Ton up!’ shouted Dash.

‘Jah! Jah! Bats out of hell!’ called out Blitzen. ‘Thank Odin!’ He blasted his horn and others followed, in salute of their escape, and those who didn’t make it – the sound drowning out the diminishing roar behind them. 

Eddy shook with adrenalin, relieved, exhilarated, feeling more alive than he had done in … longer than he could remember: making love to a beautiful, otherworldly woman; narrow escapes from death; staying alive by skill and grace … Fenja was somewhere up front, with the other ‘woke’ gods – a deep rumble and the odd flash of lightning, the only sign of them from the rear of the pack. Eddy didn’t mind. He was riding with the Wild Hunt! He was one of them!

The euphoria helped to offset the dreadful weather blowing in from the coast. It was hard work, keeping the bike upright in the high winds and lashing rain. He was already soaked to the skin. But One Eye drove them onward and the pack trusted in the singularity of his vision.

The temperature plummeted and the rain turned to sleet, then snow.

Eddy shook so hard, he could hardly hold onto the handlebars. He needed to get dry and warm ASAP! ‘I’m getting fucking hypothermia here!’ he called out to no-one in particular.

‘Muh-muh me too!’ chattered Dash.

Finally, they turned off the two-lane black-top onto what appeared to be a farm track heading up into the hills. These were already covered in snow, and drifts were building up on the lane. That combined with the rough stones it was laid with did not make for pleasant riding. It jarred every bone of Eddy’s body, and he took to standing on the pegs.

The sight of the line of darkly-clad bikers snaking their way up the snowy pass was a strange one, thought Eddy distantly – his mind a flickering fire in the numb cave of his body. It could have almost been a scene from a thousand years ago if the two wheels were replaced with four legs, with real horsepower. He giggled at the thought, worrying waves of warmth washing through him.

Then the column of bikes came to a stop. Eddy strained to look to the front. Shouts were passed back down the line, hard to make out in the wind and rain.

‘What … are … they … sssaying?’ Eddy called, his voice a forced slur.

‘The pass ahead is blocked with snow!’ responded Blitzen, getting off his bike, and untethering his pack from the back.

‘So what do we do nuh-nuh-now?’ Eddy tried to ask, rubbing some life back into his arms.

‘We walk!’

‘Oh, guh-guh-great!’ moaned Dash, stamping his feet.

‘Come on, you three!’ bellowed Rig, the horn lashed to his back. ‘Can’t hang about here, unless you want to die of exposure. We need to find shelter!’

‘Is there any … up there?’ asked Eddy.

Rig gave him a stern look. ‘One Eye believes Snaefell will offer protection to us as it belongs to the old gods. Fenja knows the way. Turns out she’s at home in all of this…’

Eddy looked ahead, and caught a glimpse of her tall, pale form, scouting ahead. She was barely wearing anything – her bare arms and legs brushing against the snow. Seeming to sensing his gaze, she paused, stood up right and turned back, like a deer. Her fierce blue eyes seemed to emit a bolt of light in the storm’s gloaming. She beamed a smile at him, then plunged back into the snow, leaping ahead, leading the way up the now obscured farm track, which ran between the flanks of the hills.

Eddy’s blood warmed at the sight of her. She was like a she-wolf. There was something wild and dangerous about her that thrilled him to the core. He couldn’t believe he’d had the good fortune to sleep with such a goddess, and he only hoped he’d get to experience that ambrosia again soon.

But for now, all that mattered was survival.

The Wild Hunt left their bikes parked up along the track. Already they started to become obscured by the driving snow.

On foot, the bikers seemed ungainly, lugging their packs up the trail between the drifts, being defined by the passing boots. They could only carry the most essential of supplies. Everything else had to be left behind.

Eddy just hoped that wherever Fen was leading them, there would be a chance of a hot drink, even a shower. He was numb to the core, but his extremities burned painfully. The only option was to keep moving.

They trudged on, through the now heavy snow, which soon reached their knees, even thighs in places. The drifts blurred into the flanks of the hills, and it felt as though they passed through a slowly closing vice.

‘I can’t see how anything up here is going to shelter us!’ gasped Dash, breathing heavily under the effort.

‘We have to trust in Fenja,’ said Blitzen, as though stating a fact.

‘Yes,’ murmured Eddy, knowing it deep down in his heart.

The blizzard that now fell around them dampened any further conversation. They were entering the realm of the gods. Something about the dominating hills, the stern flanks of Snaefell, that demanded respectful silence.

The crack of a gunshot shattered the icy peace. A cry of pain. Shouts of alarm followed, and further gunshots.

‘Ambush!’ somebody shouted out, flung to the ground as an invisible blow struck him.

They burst out of the white veil of the blizzard – dark, ragged figures appearing and disappearing with deadly effect, leaving behind torn or burst bodies. A biker next to Eddy screamed, spun around and revealed a lacerated throat, before collapsing into the drift, gurgling blood.

The attackers wore wolf-furs that accentuated their outlines – making them appear to be monstrous. But the bikers fought back, returning fire, and one of the assailants was struck down, rolling towards them.

Face down in the snow; they could see the colours on his cut.

‘Devil’s Hogs!’ cried Blitzen.

‘They’re just men like us!’ shouted Dash, firing into the swirling snow at the fleeting shapes with renewed enthusiasm.

Suddenly, one of their number was snatched up by an enormous arm and hurled screaming into the white.

‘What the fuck was that?’ cried Dash, suddenly pale with fear.

An unearthly cry, muffled by the snow, made them all stare anxiously, trying to work out where it had come from.

‘Not like us…’ Eddy breathed, exhaling a cloud of frozen air.

The ground pounded beneath their feet, and out of the wall of white burst giant warriors, who swept bikers aside with arms like tree trunks.

Eddy looked up in horror. These new attackers were at least twenty feet tall, a vision from another age, another world.

‘Jötun!’ Holder cried out. ‘Earthquakers! I feel them!’ In the blinding blizzard, the blind Elder was not at a disadvantage – managing to duck at the slightest movement or sound.

The bikers defended themselves as best they could, but they were hopelessly overpowered.

The dark line of the Wild Hunt was being thinned out like a stand of trees.

A Jötun appeared before Eddy, about to smash down on his skull with a fist the size of a generator.

Suddenly, the giant was taken down by The Hammer – two-thirds of its size, but equal, it seemed in strength. The club’s Enforcer laid into the prone Jötun with her mighty fists, pounding it into the mush of the muddy, bloody snow.

Other Elders appeared too, larger-than-life and more than able to engage with the Jötun: Tear, Honer, Frey, Will and Way, they swept down the line, cutting down the giants as though they were wheat.

A boom of thunder and others were sent reeling. One Eye stood upon the hillside, calling down lightning bolts.

Soon the tide of battle turned, and the attackers were driven back into the blizzard, leaving the Wild Hunt to take stock. Eddy looked at the line, thinned out – but over half of them were still standing.

One Eye returned to them from the hillside. ‘It looks like we are not the only ones who have woken up! We have won the battle, but not the war. This will be the first of many. Be on your guard. Now, make haste! Let us make shelter before night falls! Fenja, lead on!’

Relieved to see Fenja still in one piece, Eddy followed with the rest.

‘What of the fallen?’ asked Dash?

‘They have gone to Valhalla,’ said Blitzen, grim-faced, ‘or will do soon enough, when the Valkyrie come to claim them. Let us not linger here in case they think we too are ready to go with them.’

Eventually, the adrenalin faded and Eddy was left feeling dog-tired. Going by the bedraggled state of the rest of them, he wasn’t the only one. He started to feel light-headed, and his limbs trembled with exhaustion – but had at least thawed out in the effort. 

They had reached the brow of a hill, and finally, mercifully, stopped marching. From what Eddy could make out they had come to a circular enclosure.

‘This is the shelter?’ he wheezed, wiping his brow.

‘Get inside!’ commanded Rig.

With the last vestiges of his strength Eddy followed the survivors into the enclosure, where they stood, hurdled together like sheep.

One Eye, The Hammer, Tear, Honer, Rig, Fenja and the other Elders stood around them, on the outside of the dry-stone wall, and raised their arms as one. A low tone grew in strength until it pierced his very core. There was a flash of light, and the sound stopped.

When Eddy opened his eyes, he was standing in a timber-framed hall, lit by flickering torches and a central fire pit. There were benches, fleece-lined alcoves, pitchers of mead and trenchers filled with steaming stew.

The gods filtered in and sat at the high table, and with a nod from Rig, the men and women sat down with sighs of relief.

One Eye raised a mead horn. ‘Welcome to Frithgard! Feast, rest, and restore your strength. And remember the Fallen, who have gone to the halls in valour!’

‘The Fallen!’ everyone toasted, before setting to it.

Eddy gazed about in astonishment. ‘How…?’ ‘Don’t ask,’ said Dash, between a mouthful of bread and a mouthful of mead. ‘Just eat and drink and thank the gods!’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

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