Praise day at even, a wife when dead,
a weapon when tried, a maid when married,
ice when ’tis crossed, and ale when ’tis drunk.
Chapter 24: Coastguard
Eddy rode on. That is all he did, for that was all he knew. He was close to getting frozen to his bike. Man and machine in perfect harmony – yeah, right. Eddy felt as clapped out as his ride, which rattled in an alarming fashion. It had taken a battering back there, as had he. Lucky to get out of that Coastguard tub alive. When he thought of those frozen corpses… At least he had a bag of food and a can of gas, but how long was that going to last him, realistically? A couple of days before he ran out of fuel, a couple of more before the food went. He’d been on the ‘road’ now, if you could call it that, for at least four, maybe five days now. He should be there, going by Rig’s estimates, but that wasn’t factoring in the extreme conditions, the giants and abysses, zombie coast-guards and leviathans. It was turning into a salty seadog tale in his imagination already – rime of the ancient fucking mariner. His stubble was frosted with frozen brine, so he had the look right. With his mix of First Nation and Icelandic blood, he’d never been able to grow a full beard, just ‘bum-fluff’ as his sister liked to call it. But he felt grizzled enough – an Arctic explorer. Well, it was in his blood, if Grandpa Gunnar was to be believed: descended from Leif Ericsson himself. How that squared up, he didn’t know, as he thought the Icelanders of Gimli were all descended from Mormons who had come over in the eighteen hundreds. But Gunnar had been insistent. Some of Leif’s men had settled. Had there not been archaeological remains on Greenland? Other possible sites on the north-east coast of America? As always, Eddy’s grandfather mixed up real history with his own personal mythologizing. But then most Icelanders seemed to claim descent from Thor or one of the Aesir…
He smiled at this, thinking fondly of The Hammer and the rest of the Wild Hunt. Maybe there was something in that claim after all, for the gods lived – lesser than before, yes, but here at the end of the world, duking it out with the bad guys one last time. And Eddy was playing his part, however small. If he didn’t die on this interminable ice first, that is.
Stopping for a snack and a stretch – he’d been riding for a couple of hours – he pulled out the sunstone. It glowed in the perpetually overcast gloom and was deliciously warm in his hand, which started to soften from its cramped death-grip position. It made the frost-bitten tips of his fingers burn, but he gritted his teeth and waited. After a moment, he felt a distinctive tug in one direction. The sunstone shifted on his now fully open palm, fixing on one direction: magnetic north.
Figuring he had passed the southern tip of Greenland now, he knew he had to head due west, striking out along the sixtieth parallel (he could picture it in his mind’s eye, having pored over atlases in his community school). Crossing the frozen Labrador Sea, he would, if all went well, reach the Canadian coast. He had to make for the Hudson Strait, into Hudson Bay, to Churchill, on Manitoba’s eastern coast, approximately two thousand miles. From there he could follow the railroad to north of Lake Manitoba, then take the Winnipeg Road down to Gimli – another mere six hundred miles or so. Simple! Except he’d need at least ten refuelling stops on his Buell Ulysses. Not many gas stations between here and Churchill. He couldn’t rely upon finding ships and after the last experience he wasn’t sure he wanted to. It was insane, and he had a snowball in hell’s chance of making it, without extra-ordinary luck. But that was exactly what Fenja had gifted him.
And he had the sunstone too.
And, according to his grandpa Gunnar, his own orlog. He had struggled to understand what had been meant by that at the time – ‘Your luck, your will, your destiny…’ Gunnar had elaborated, vaguely, pounding his chest. Between the hamingja of a frost giant’s daughter, the sun stone of Sol, and his own orlog, Eddy hoped that he had the ghost of a chance at least.
At the end of the day, he brooded as he looked across the endless ice, being alive is a risky business and all we have to peg our hopes upon are the blessings of our beliefs.
Eddy rarely prayed, but he felt the extremity of the circumstances called for it. So, feeling a little foolish, he raised his arms and called out his hopes, his voice sounding strange on the still air: ‘May the gods of the red and the white, ancestors of my people, and spirits of the sea, land and sky, bless this journey. Help me, Great Mystery, to get home.’
Remembering the bearing, he put away the sun stone, and got back on the bike, heading across the ice into the west.
Eddy’s bike had a range of two hundred and forty miles, and a couple of tanks worth of gas would get him about half way across the Labrador Sea. And then what…? He tried not to think about it. ‘Denial is not a river in Egypt,’ he could hear his sister saying. Just keep riding, Eddy, just keep riding…
Ice, ice, more fucking ice. The world had turned into a snowball. Maybe this was it. The. End. Eddy brooded. Maybe there was no point in fighting it. There had been ice ages before – he remembered that much from school. Mass extinction events. Maybe humanity’s time was up? Hell, the world would be better off. Mother Earth could have a breather. Mend herself. Start afresh, once she’d recovered from her abusive relationship with Man. Many of the species would be okay. Sure, some would die off, but others would cope, or adapt. The polar bears and snow leopards would flourish again. The Inuits and the other polar tribes might scrape by, but they would continue as they had done, on the fringes, in the minority – leading low impact lives. Maybe his people would too, better suited to the extreme cold, the Canadian winters. But … what about the rest of the human race? Didn’t they stand a chance? If he had a role in trying to save them, however minor, then Eddy didn’t want six billion lives on his conscience. That was too much bad blood for anyone to handle! Besides, he couldn’t let bastards like Koil and his cronies win – sitting out the Fimbul-Winter in their cosy bunkers, fiddling while the world freezes. The anger at the thought drove Eddy onwards, giving him a new surge of energy.
He never realised, he thought distantly, there were so many shades of white. The vista was like some abstract impressionist painting, a large canvas thickly painted with coagulated oils – ivory white, lead white, titanium white … Look closer and you would start to discern other colours tangled up in the viscous brush-strokes, or glimpsed beneath. Spectral ghosts. The memory of colour.
Eddy was numb from tip to toe, but felt a strange serene acceptance.
Everything fades to white in the end, he thought. Why resist?
The deathly scene filled him with peace.
Life was … an effort … he didn’t want to make anymore.
Then the bike cut out, rolling to a stop.
He laughed bitterly. That was that, then.
Eddy threw his helmet off as he climbed off the Buell and kicked it across the ice. ‘Aargghhh!!!’
He fell to his knees. Still hundreds of miles from the coast, thousands from home. Who was he fucking kidding? It was getting dark again. No shelter. He’d freeze to death on the ice without it – the sunstone would only keep him alive for so long.
As he knelt there in despair, he suddenly felt a vibrated in the ice, which made him get to his feet. He scanned the bleak vista. Nothing, but the light, such as it was, was fading – just a thin red band towards the west. Then he felt another shudder. This time his eyes were drawn to the bloody afterlight of the setting sun. Another boom, and he was able to locate the source. There.
Eddy rubbed his eyes, looked again.
Silhouetted against the blood-stained sky was the figure of a man, but the scale was all wrong. He was miles away.
But with each slow step the ice shuddered again.
Then the dread realisation hit him.
And he was coming closer.
And then Eddy saw two others join him.
Here he was: no gas, a sitting duck. There was no point in running.
Time to meet your maker, Eddy Redcrow.
He just sat there, leaning against his bike, singing ‘The End’ by The Doors, as he watched the giants approach. They were the height of a five-storey building, and wore long cloaks of whale-skin, encrusted with barnacles and trimmed with polar bear fur. They wielded spears made of single trunks of the tallest pines, spear-heads the size of anchors. Their faces seemed hewn from a wave-blasted sea-cliff, eyes the hue of glaciers. Towering over Eddy, they looked down upon him as though he were a plaything.
‘Oh, look, what prize the ice has brought us, brothers!’ roared the first one, with a shovel shaped beard orca black with a single streak of white.
‘An intruder, trying to sneak into Kong Koil’s kingdom. Not many come this way. It is a good day,’ said the second, with a beard as ragged and grey as an Arctic peninsula.
‘We must tear him limb from limb,’ rumbled the third, whose spiky beard was as white as icicles.
‘Yes. Yes. Yes.’ they said in unison.
The three giants reached down with fingernails like narwhale tusks.
He waited for the first blow to fall.
‘You will do no such thing, if you value your lives!’
Eddy turned in surprise to see a familiar figure standing next to him.
He couldn’t believe his eyes. There she was. Not a vision, but really there!
‘I am the daughter of Thrym, your king! This human is under my protection! Find prey elsewhere, frost-giant kin! No feast of hot blood for you here today! Go!’
The giants sighed with disappointment, but stood upright and turned slowly, walking away with a booming gait.
Eddy embraced her. ‘Fen! You’re here! I can’t believe it! How…?’
He looked non-plussed.
‘I can open portals between the nine worlds. The serpent-paths are there if you know how to find them. I merely turn the key.’
Eddy blinked through the tears. ‘Why … didn’t you use this … gift … to get across Europe?’
She shrugged. ‘Time of the month.’
‘I’m serious! The magic is like my moon-blood. It waxes and wanes. Sometimes stepping through is easier. The snakeholes just … open wide.’
He shook his head, laughing in disbelief, in relief. ‘Oh, I don’t care. It’s just … so good to see you!’
Fenja pushed him back. ‘I cannot stay. Time is of the essence. Only I can persuade my father not to destroy humankind. I must return to his realm.’
‘But Fen! I’m shafted here … If the frost giants don’t get me, the cold will. I’m out of gas and out of luck!’
‘You have some of my hamingja, remember? It doesn’t run out so easily. But here, let me leave you with this parting gift…’
Smiling, Fenja placed her hands upon the tank of the Buell. From her fingertips emitted an aureole of blue light like a kirilian photograph. ‘There, that should get you home.’
‘What have you done?’ Eddy wondered.
‘Just get on your bike and ride. Find that runestone Eddy Redcrow. Much depends upon it. Farewell, for now!’
Fenja stretched out a long nail and a tearing sound cut him to the quick.
A split in the night opened like a tear in satin. From it radiated a cold light and icy blast even fiercer than the one on the frozen sea. Fenja stepped through and the gash sealed up behind her.
Eddy was left alone on the ice. He tried the engine and it started straight away. The fuel gauge needle suddenly leapt to full. Smiling, Eddy rode on.
Now, where did that helmet go?
Retrieving his helmet, Eddy roared westwards. No matter how long he rode, the fuel gauge did not go down. Whatever Fenja had done, it had worked. Hell, that gal could solve the world fuel crisis!
He rode through the night and on into the grey light of the next day. His heart leapt when he saw the coast of Canada. As he reached the Hudson Strait, he stopped to have something to eat and drink. He dropped the sunstone in his mug of coffee, and it heated it in seconds. Feeling a little more revived, he pushed on, following the northern coastline of Quebec around into the Hudson Bay.
Though it was vast enough to feel like a sea, Eddy was heartened to enter it, knowing it was surrounded by Canadian soil.
All day long and all the next he traversed it, heading southwest until he saw the sight he’d been longing for for days. The coast of Manitoba, and Cape Churchill.
Riding up onto the shore line he got off his bike and kissed the land, thanking the gods, ancestors and spirits.
He made his way to the lonely railway terminal and onto the tracks, which, beneath the snow, provided a little more grip and stability than the surrounding landscape, and they were mercifully level. Beyond exhausted, he now rode on, possessed by a growing excitement.
But the miles carried on and on, seemingly forever, and his food supplies ran out. Weak with hunger and deep fatigue, he stopped to waver. Some kind of muscle memory kept him upright, kept him moving forward.
Mercifully, he didn’t have to think about the route. Just follow the tracks until it hit the road at Ponton, then follow that down to Gimli.
The bike seemed to know what to do. Had Fenja’s magic touch done more than fill the tank with perpetually renewing petrol?
Eddy was never to find out.
After several more weary hours, Eddy finally passed out and the bike skidded into a snow-drift.
Just over its ridge, the sign for Gimli protruded.
Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020