Category Archives: Green

The Church

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik's Most Famous Church | Magazine

           

With an increasing number of visitors drawn by the stunning scenery, lively nightlife, friendly locals, and fascinating history, Iceland really has become the coolest place on the planet and one of the hottest tourist destinations.

Iceland: Only Planet travel guide

Chapter 31: The Church

Eddy and Fenja emerged from the snake-hole on to a rubble-strewn street in Reykjavik. It was night and the light of a near-full moon shone through the cloud like a skull through water. The capital was nearly unrecognisable – the smouldering wrecks of cars and buses were blown on their sides, buildings were gaping ruins with jagged, blackened walls licked by flames. Massive craters smashed up sections of the street, making any kind of progress torturous. Flurries of snow, whipped up by biting wind, settled on tangled piles of corpses.

Eddy killed the engine and they scanned the dismal scene. A cold fist in his stomach: ‘Are we too late?’

Fenja’s eyes flamed in the dark. ‘No. Listen.’

Eddy took off his helmet and strained to sift the sounds carried on the wind – a fire raging somewhere, the fall of rubble, the eerie humanless silence. There. A gunshot. Another. The tell-tale roar of a bike.

‘The Wild Hunt.’

‘Go!’ Fenja commanded; Eddy already revving the engine.

They made their way to the sounds of the skirmish. In a sidestreet they came across three Wild Hunt bikers cornered by a white-clad Ice Force unit, faces hidden behind all-terrain deathmasks and Gogglestm  . Their bumpstock attack rifles were making short work of them. Two already lay on the ground in a bloody heap, bikes crumpled against the wall.

Eddy could feel Fenja tense behind him, her hands closing in fists. She told him to pull over. He swung the snowmobile to a stop.

‘Hey, boys,’ she called out, leaping from the ride cat-like onto the blood-smeared snow.

As a dozen laser-sights turned to fix upon her, she slit the air before her open with a raking of her fingers. The walls of the street reverberated with the volley of fire, swallowed by the portal.

Silence suddenly fell, as the firing ceased, signalled by a curt gesture of the Ice Force officer.

‘Shot your load too soon, boys?’ Fenja stood there, and stretched luxuriously, yawning.

Out of the portal slits reached massive arms, which snatched the screaming men and dragged them back into the blue glow, rifles ejaculating a spray of bullets, or dropping crumpled to the ground. Only the officer remained, fending off the gigantic assailants with shock-grenades and blasts of his rifle, until two arms reached out and tore him apart, tossing the separated torso against the walls with a bloody smack and a smear of offal.

The portals closed with a sound like an inbreath.

The bikers looked at Fenja with terror, until they realised who she was. One of them was Cruz – leathers covered in dust and ash, snow and blood. She pulled up next to them on the battered superbike and gazed in wonder.

‘Fenja? And is that you, Red?’

They hugged.

‘We were out looking for supplies when they ambushed us. They’ve got patrols combing the city so stay sharp. Come! We need to get to church!’

Eddy followed Cruz and the other two bikers along the narrow street, which emerged onto a wider avenue, luminous in the moonlight. It felt open and exposed, but they had no choice – it led direct towards the ‘church’, as Cruz called it. At the end of the avenue could be glimpsed a massive pale cathedral, its featured rendered in moonlight. Before it, a square dominated by a statue. The whole area was surrounded by Ice Force operatives, who had lined up their heavy artillery at the famous landmark.

‘Why aren’t they attacking?’ asked Eddy.

‘Look!’ shouted Fenja, over the roar of the bikes.

Eddy could see a rainbow-like effect pass in front of the church. It was as though the whole square was sheathed in its own Aurora Borealis.

‘Rig’s work, no doubt.’ Fenja observed. ‘It looks like his power has grown!’

As they approached, they drew the attention of the look-outs. Heavy guns clanked and turned on them.

‘We’re going to get blown to pieces!’ cried Eddy.

‘Stay close!’ called back Cruz, who accelerated straight towards the enemy line.

The shellfire started to explode ahead and to the side of them. Test shots. Any second and they would be in the bullseye.

The bulbous prismatic membrane extended like an octopus shooting out a tentacle, and they rode into its protective sheath just as the shelling reached them. The ordnance exploded around them – angry burning eyes raging impotently against Rig’s shieldwall.

And they were in.

The entourage skidded to a halt at the foot of a bronze statue of a Viking. Eddy looked up and a wave of déjà vu hit him.

‘It’s Leif Eriksson,’ called Fenja.

‘I know…’

They saw Rig standing on the plinth of the statue. He stood rigid with effort, arms stretched out. Beads of sweat trickled down his face. He nodded briefly at them.

They walked towards the cathedral, designed like volcanic columns or organ piping.

One-handed Tear, besmirched with battle, scanned the surrounding forces from the entrance.  When he saw Eddy and Fenja he gave them a curt nod. ‘So you made it back, Redcrow.’

Eddy got off the snow-mobile, and gave Cruz a hug. ‘Yes.’

‘I hope, for your own sake, you brought the Runestone.’

‘Eddy is a man of his word. Let us speak to One Eye.’ Fenja demanded.

Tear sneered, but stepped to one side.

The interior of Hallgrimskirkja was high-roofed and austere. It had the pungent atmosphere of a temporary camp. Huddled within it was the Wild Hunt and a selection of the population, settled on and between the pews in small groups.

At the far end, facing the altar, sat One Eye and his two closest warriors, the brothers Will and Way, who watched them approach, rifles held loosely before them. The leader gazed up at the figure on the cross.

‘A man sacrifices himself for his people, hanging on a wooden cross … The end of the world is foretold in the sacred book. A new world will arise …’

Finally, One Eye noticed them. He seemed distant to Eddy, his tone fatalistic. ‘You have returned, Eddy Redcrow…’

‘Yes, I have …’

‘How was your journey?’ Still, he did not turn to meet his eye.

‘Long and hard. If not for Fen…’

‘Good, good. Journeys should be long and hard, otherwise, what is the point of them?’

Fenja grew impatient. ‘Snap out of it, you old fart! You have world to save!’

‘Ah, Bergrisar. I have missed you. But what world do you speak of? Midgard? This is not our world. We do not belong here. You, Jötunheim. Myself, I long to return to Asgard. There are many warriors there, waiting to feast with me.’

Fenja protested: ‘But what of the billions of lives on this world? Many of whom believe in you…’

‘Not so many these days, alas. There are people on that “Facebook” who have more followers than me.’

‘But still, you owe those who do. You cannot let Loki win!’ implored Fenja.

One Eye finally turned to them. ‘Nobody will win Ragnarok. Besides, what do you care, Frost-giant’s daughter?’

Fenja took Eddy’s hand. ‘I care for this man. He has shown me that humans have spirit. Some have great courage; great strength. But more than anything, they can teach us about love. Even you, One Eye, once felt it. Remember? Somewhere in your heart, there is a spark. We have all lost, all suffered. Do not let the lives of the fallen be in vain.’

One Eye got up and suddenly seemed to tower over them both. His brows furrowed and his gaze was terrible to behold – lightning coalesced in his eyes and the very building seemed to shake. ‘You are right, Fenja Bergrisar. You have found love at the end of the world. Perhaps that alone makes it worth saving…’ His gaze softened a little; his grim visage broke into a half-smile.  His one eye glittered. ‘I suspect you two have a part to play in the story after the story… Now, where’s this stone?’

Eddy presented it to him.

One Eye scrutinised it, hands pouring over it. ‘Ah, good… Yes. Well done, Eddy Redcrow. My faith in you has been repaid. You are a true warrior of the Red and the White, and your part in this is not over. This runestone must be read out at Law Rock, Thingvollr. There we will make an end of it…’ He handed the tablet back. ‘Keep it safe.’ He called out to his gang members. ‘Let us draw the enemy fire away from these people. The Wild Hunt shall ride out one last time!’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

The Bone Road

PATRIOT NEWS
A Message from our President

President Koil has broadcast this recent message from his crisis command centre: ‘Citizens of the Free World – this is your president speaking. These are unusual times and they call for unusual measures. If you have seen giants walk the Earth do not be alarmed. My Frost Giant friends, the highest level of special, are helping with the security of our great nation. Keeping our country safe. The threat of Icesis has been met with ultimate force – the rebels are holding out in their stronghold of Reykjavik, but rest assured they will soon be neutralised. The USS Naglfar is at this moment engaged in hostilities. Some bleating liberals have complained about civilian casualties. All I say to that is: collateral damage. What price is freedom, people? We must hold to our resolve. The enemies of truth, justice and the American way are out there, plotting to over-run our country in the midst of this environmental crisis, made worse by the woolly policies of my predecessor. We should have been investing in our natural reserves of energy instead of squandering hard-earned tax-payers money on ‘wind’ and ‘wave’ and ‘solar’ power – what use is any of that now? We need coal, we need oil, and we need geothermal power, which Iceland has in bucket-loads by the way. They can’t keep it all to themselves. This unprecedented global crisis calls for unprecedented measures. Keep warm. Stay safe. Pray for your President. Good night.’

UPDATE: Ice Force units have already been deployed in the field in Iceland from the USS Naglfar, moored off shore. Units have been despatched to deal with the Icesis insurgents holed up in the capital, who have been accused of using the ‘human shield’ of Reykjavik population to hide behind.

The hidden world of frozen oceans | Earth | EarthSky

Chapter 21: The Bone Road

Eddy looked out over the endless ice of the frozen ocean. Here he goes again… He must be a glutton for punishment! But he had two good reasons now to go, to undertake this suicidal endeavour: to return to his people; to find the runestone. When he was given the quest by One Eye Eddy had been torn at first. The whole point of going home was to stay there to protect his family, his community. But now he was going to have to turnaround and come right back – provided this mysterious stone could be found, if it even existed. Yet the Elders seemed convinced that somehow it would be pivotal in the great battle to come – and if it brought about the end of the terrible war of the gods currently devastating Earth then he would be saving his loved ones, perhaps more effectively than anything he could do, a rock musician, in Gimli. What use was an electric guitar against a frost giant?

Eddy stamped his feet, slapped his shoulders, trying to warm up a little. He checked the trailer again before remounting his bike. He cast one last look southeast, where the boom and flash of the battle made him shudder for his comrades. Yet it was the best cover he was going to get – now was the time to fly. The day had begun and he had a long way to go. He pulled on his helmet, and pressed the ignition, rolling the bike down onto the ice with great care.

Canada, here I come! He prayed that Fenja’s hamingja would save his skinny red ass and get him home safe. He really was in the lap of the gods now.

The frozen surface of the sea vibrated disconcertingly with each shell blast from the bay, or was it the thunder and lightning ripping the sky apart? Eddy, grunting at the effort to keep his bike upright, hoped the Wild Hunt was giving as good as they got. They were not many to stand against the full might of Koil’s Ice Force, but they had gods on their side, even ones that were not as strong as they used to be. If only the rest of the world knew … many more would honour the Aesir and their might would increase. But their time had passed and this was the end of things. The best they all could hope for was to end it well.

Finally, the thunderous vibrations subsided and Eddy was left with just the sound of his bike and his breathing. He murmured a song to himself – one of Eddie Vedder’s, his musical hero. It really felt like he was going into the wild this time. But he was not completely alone – he had his upbringing and traditions to draw upon. Growing up in Manitoba, where the temperatures could drop to minus forty centigrade in the winter, he was not unfamiliar with extreme cold, and was probably better able to cope with it then most. Then he had skills taught to him by his beloved Dakotan grandfather – ice-fishing, by making a hole in the ice; hunting deer; building a shelter; starting a fire, even in the wet, with birch bark; navigating without a compass … essential survival skills, which he now realised were incredibly useful and precious. He breathed a heartfelt thank you to his grandfather, who suddenly felt very close. He could hear him now, Running Bear, telling him his wild stories on their trips into the backcountry about Ictinike the Liar, Rabbit Boy, giants and ogres, White Buffalo Woman, the Thunderer … The old man always took a while to open up. It normally took a few hours of trekking. He had never been a great teller, but in his gruff, matter-of-fact way, enthralled his grandson all the same. Eddy smiled, realising that perhaps the White and the Red Roads weren’t that dissimilar after all.

He made good time in the morning, covering a hundred bleak miles. He pulled over at an iceberg, frozen into the ice-locked sea, and in its shelter, he poured himself some coffee and had a snack.

So far, so good.

Iceland was no longer in sight. The horizon was dead flat in every direction. Eddy thought of Gunnar, his other grandfather of Icelandic descent, who had died when he was a teenager. Unlike Running Bear, Gunnar was a natural storyteller who couldn’t open his mouth without spinning a yarn. He remembered the outlandish stories he told about the Norse gods, stories from the ‘old sagas’, as he called them. He always swore he knew someone who was descended from the gods and heroes mentioned, ‘back in the old country’.  The story that had thrilled the young Eddy most was old Gunnar’s account of the Viking discovery of America. He recalled it now, as it gained fresh relevance…

‘Once there was a hapless sailor called Biarne Herjulfson who set sail from Iceland to Greenland, a hard country where some of our people had settled. Biarne had little knowledge of the winds or waters he navigated and was soon lost in fog thicker than your grandmother’s broth. Nevertheless, he pushed onwards and managed to miss Greenland entirely, which was very impressive, as it’s larger than your grandmother’s behind (but don’t tell her I said so). Finally, after many weary days of blind sailing, the fog cleared and the sailors found themselves off the coast of a fair land – hills green with pine, not mountains pointy with ice as he had expected. They did not make landfall, but sailed on to another. The sailors, desperate for firm land beneath their feet, said they should make landfall, but Biarne refused and they continued. After five more days at sea, they finally made it to Greenland and were relieved to see the huts of their own people on the coast.

‘The story does not end there, oh no. Pour your grandfather another vodka – don’t tell you’re your grandmother – and he’ll tell you more. So. When Biarne visited the court of Eric, Earl of Norway, he related his strange journey over the feast, as the mead flowed, poured by the comeliest of maidens. Ah, where was I? Yes! This account was finally heard by the son of Eric the Red, Leif Ericcson, who had colonised Greenland. Leif paid Biarne for his ship and with a crew of thirty five men (including a German named Tyrker) he set sail in search of the mysterious land found by Biarne. His skills as a sailor were far better and Leif had soon discovered the first land Biarne had encountered. It was a barren place, which he called ‘Hellu-land’, the ‘Land of the Flat Stones’ upon landing. They set sail southwards and came to a low-lying wooded country, which, as his foot touched the shore, he called ‘Mark-land’, or the ‘Land of Trees’. They put out to sea again and finally came to a strait lying between an island and a promontory. Here they made landfall and raised huts. The land was fairer in aspect and climate than Greenland – a loving bride as opposed to a reluctant one. Leif split the party in two – he led one, the German led another. Tyrker went missing, but they found him eventually, excited at the discovery of vines laden with grapes, just like his homeland. Loading the ship with the fruit and with fresh timber, they set sail in the spring away from the country Leif called ‘Vin-land’, the ‘Land of wine.’ Leif Ericsson returned to Greenland with news of his discoveries and it was recorded in the annals. Five hundred years before Christopher Columbus Leif Ericsson had discovered Canada and America: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New England.’

Eddy smiled at the memory – his Icelandic grandfather getting livelier as the story progressed. His tolerance of alcohol was legendary and he drank the stuff like water. Yet it had killed him in the end. His stories lived on in Eddy’s memory, and he thanked Gunnar for them. They would keep him going, along with his Dakota grandfather’s skills, over the coming days.

Eddy ploughed on, praying his bike wouldn’t let him down. He did not fancy his chances for surviving long out on the ice, hundreds of miles from land, even with the skills and stories of his grandfathers. Remembering the kiss of Fenja warmed his though – boy, he needed her hamingja now! So many things could go wrong with the bike, with him – after all, he was just as likely to break down as the machinery under him. He had maintenance supplies for both on his trailer – food, coffee, vodka, cooking gear, toolkit, spare fuel, spare clothing, a tent, and an all-season sleeping bag. The crater community had been most generous. Perhaps they had just been relieved to see them go, to have the Wild Hunt draw the wrath of Koil away from them.

Eddy thought about the President. Loki! It felt right, by the crazy bullshit he kept coming out with, the increasingly ‘mad dog’ way he had been acting since getting into power.  If one man had been responsible for bringing down this shit-storm on Earth, it was Koil. He must not win. Eddy would do all he could to stop him, for what it was worth!

The president must be shaking in his boots!

The following days passed in a blur of vibration, stillness, snatched sleep, caffeine, and prayers. Eddy rode a hard sixteen hours a day, averaging around five hundred miles. He made decent progress, but he could feel the toll the extreme conditions were taking on his body and on his bike. And his mind. Eddy was haunted by the possible fate of his family, his friends, and of his comrades back in Iceland. The winds howling across the ice at night sounded like their voices.

On day five Eddy’s way was abruptly stopped by a massive crack in the ice, a lightning bolt in negative, stretching as far as the eye could see.  He parked up and got stiffly off the bike, pulling off his helmet. Shielding his eyes against the glare, he stared down into the waters churning away beneath the broken ice – the furious sea, straining to break free of its icy fetters.

Eddy kicked a block of ice, roaring in frustration. It went skidding over the frozen surface like a puck. Sighing, he got back on the bike, and, after a moment’s hesitation rode northwards along the fissure. His heart was racing wildly. He hoped that somewhere the gap would be small enough for him to cross. Every mile out of his way added time to his already long journey. Time he couldn’t afford to waste. His supplies, his gas, would only last so long.

He rode on for a desperate couple of hours until finally he saw something that made his heart leap. At a point where the fissure narrowed there was an ice bridge, formed by large fragments which had splintered off and refrozen, wedging themselves against one another. It looked hazardous, to say the least, but it was the only chance he had.           

He took the bike on a wide arc, giving himself sufficient distance to build up enough speed – and revved the engine.

Muttering a prayer to the gods of the Northmen and the Dakota, he gunned the bike forward.

Just before he hit the edge of the bridge, a giant figure burst from the ice-flo. It was a female, going by her barnacled dugs. Seaweed hair hung down in long, dripping tresses over skin the colour of a walrus. From her wide mouth protruded two huge tusks. Eyes as black as a seals looked curiously at him as she thrashed in the water, a bather coming up for air. By instinct alone, he was able to swing the bike in an averting skid just in time – the bike coming to a stop inches from the freezing waters. The counter-swing of the trailer threatened to pull him in but he punched the release cable at the last second.

No!’ he cried.

Eddy watch in dismay, as the precious trailer skimmed onto the waters, coming to a stop in front of the giantess, who caught it in her hand.

‘Ahh, offerings… Poor Modgud does not get many in this age!’ the giantess complained, her voice like grinding icebergs.

Eddy killed the engine and, trembling, got off the bike. He pulled off his helmet, letting his long dark hair fly.      

‘What a racket you make! Modgud has not heard such, even when the grey armies of the dead in their ship of nail-clippings passed this way. They were silent, compared to you, but they cut through the ocean’s skin with their big iron ships…’

Eddy’s mind whirled – did the giantess talk of phantoms, or of Koil’s Navy, on its way to Iceland?

Tilting her misshapen head, Modgud blinked. Looked closer. ‘But you do not have their pallor… You have too much colour in you. Red blood … What business have you –  crossing the Bone Road?’

Eddy had to think quickly. ‘I wish to visit my ancestors. I … miss them.’

‘Miss them, mmm. Family is everything, is it not?’ The giantess seemed lost in wistful thoughts for a while. Eddy did not want to move, in case she took it the wrong way. One swipe of those arms and he would be mince-meat. ‘Since you have been nice to Modgud, and brought her presents, she will let you pass. Come, cross the pretty bridge she has built. Modgud will not let you fall.’

Eddy bowed – unsure what else to do – and quickly got back on his bike. He felt sick at leaving his supplies, but he had little choice. He turned the bike about and directed it towards the fragile bridge, which the giantess held up.

Heart in mouth, he crossed within feet of her, smelling the rotten fish breath of on her mouth. Pulling the bridge apart, she clacked her tusks and dragged the trailer under the water.

Eddy pressed on.

He prayed he had enough petrol to reach home. As for his own sustenance – he would just have to live off thin air. At least he had not ended up as Modgud’s supper.

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

The Crater

Shortwave Broadcast – Radio Free Reykjavik

Calling anyone who can hear… This is Radio Free Reykjavik, broadcasting on shortwave in the hope a few dedicated radio hams out there will pick us up, and get in touch. The capital has been hit bad by the severe weather, but small, self-sufficient communities are fairing better. Our’s – about four hundred good souls – is based within an extinct volcanic crater with geothermal power keeping us going. We’re aware that our imagined sanctuary may well be our tomb. The recent devastating eruption here in Iceland of the evil sorceress, Katla, which has taken a terrible toll on our island, was only the start… Since then we’ve been experiencing a nuclear winter, and an escalating series of geostorms. The scientific consensus seems to be that these are an inevitable manifestation of Climate Change – which the massive eruption has just accelerated beyond the dreaded, long predicted, tipping point. The Earth’s eco-system is in an unprecedented state of disruption. Earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes are devastating coastal regions around the world. Contact has been lost with London, New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro. There are wild accounts on the radio waves of giants walking the land, creatures attacking isolated communities… There is a lot of fear and panic out there. We can only survive by working together. Stay close to your loved ones. Help the vulnerable. Check your area for those who may be struggling. If you are in the Icelandic area, get in touch. We have limited resources, but we may be able to help one another. United we stand. Do not believe the propaganda about terrorist cells using our country as a base or stepping stone to America. We are just ordinary people, trying to survive. The only true terrorists still in operation are the ones in control of the remaining channels. They have used the pretext of the global emergency to seize total power. The takeover has begun, but while we live and breathe we will continue to resist. Stay safe. Pray for the world. This is humanity’s darkest hour, but we can rekindle hope. Do not let the light in your heart go out. Þetta reddast. We are repeating this broadcast every hour.

Chapter 19: The Crater

With the ravens leading the way, the Wild Hunt rode up onto the black shingle of the beach, their first solid land for over nine hundred miles. Pulling up beneath the dark, muscular cliffs, they got off their bikes, stretched, stamped their feet and rubbed their hands. One fell to the ground and went to kiss a glassy black tongue of rock, pulling back quickly: ‘It’s hot!’

            Tear knelt and tested it with his palm, holding it there while gritting his teeth. ‘Fresh lava. From a recent eruption.’ He stood up, and cast his flint-and-steel eyes over the grotesque bulbous formations of the headland – like something half-formed, half-melted. ‘This is … new land. Iceland’s been extended.’

            ‘Mind yourselves! This place is cooking!’ called Rig.

            After the freezing crossing, the geothermal warmth of the newly-forged landscape was most welcome, and the bikers huddled by the bulbous outcrops, letting the heat thaw out their numb limbs.

Eddy estimated they were down to a couple of hundred. Over the last week they had lost half their number – but then it had been one Hell of a week. Who knows how many have died in this great winter, he wondered? Millions, probably. It was hard times for planet Earth, that was for sure.

But for now, all that mattered was – they had made it.

One Eye slowly dismounted from his Sleipnir, taking it all in. ‘Full circle…’ he murmured. On the back of his bike his daughterson was lashed, covered with furs. The president tenderly stroked this, briefly, then turned to the group. ‘Thank Freya for our safe passage,’ he spoke, his voice bouncing off the glassy surface of the rocks. ‘We have lost many of our brothers and sisters and more … but we have survived. We shall live on to continue the fight.’

Their leader survived the ragged band – frost-bitten, dog-tired, bikes battered, hauling their dead. ‘First we must rest. Let us find shelter and sustenance. These Icelanders are a hardy breed, and I have a feeling they would have fared better than most.’

Eddy took one last look at the ice. His mind reeled at the vista. They had ridden halfway across the Atlantic!

They had suffered much, lost much … The Hammer, Blitzen, others … Had it been worth it? As he got back on his bike, and turned the ignition, he hoped so.

As they took the coast-road – just about discernible amid the deep snow drifts – they discovered that many of the parts of the interior had been devastated by lava flows. Whole towns had been overrun by the obsidian waves of cooling lava, expiring in the white oblivion of the frozen sea.

The tops of houses, comms towers and pylons, church steeples and fishing vessels masts protruded at random angles from the igneous glacier. It chilled Eddy to think of how many islanders were entombed within also.

The Wild Hunt had to scramble over these protruding flow forms where they blocked the coastal road – tricky riding over icy fissures, which scuppered more than one biker. They were all exhausted, which did not help.

‘We must find shelter soon! We need to rest!’ shouted Rig.

‘Where are you leading us, One Eye?’ harangued Tear, impatiently.

The leader pointed to the smouldering crater on the horizon. ‘There.’

Wearily the company rode on towards the dark mass of the crater. The landscape appeared an icy wildness, with little sign of shelter, of life. It felt to Eddy as though they were the ones who had died, who crossed the lands of the dead. Perhaps the whole world had.

            The torrent of recent lava had transmogrified the landscape into a gallery of grotesque pyromorphs – their black silohouettes standing out against the surrounding snowscape. They snagged the corner of Eddy’s eye, making him do double-takes, as they looked uncannily like figures, frozen mid-action. A snap of the fingers, and allacazam, they would all come to life: attacked by a legion of magma-zombies, he chuckled nervously. It was hard to shake off the feeling they were being watched as they passed through the silent valley.

A cry from the front broke his reverie.

The excitement was caused by the columns of sulphurous steam – rising from the pools amid the rocky landscape, the first they had seen completely free of ice and snow. A great fountain of steaming water erupted from a bubbling pool, spraying them with a hot mist, even from a distance.

‘Geysers!’ Eddy shouted. ‘Cool!’

The bikers pulled up, and started to strip off. There was laughter and sighs, as weary bodies slipped into the deliciously warm water away from the hotter pools. Eddy gratefully joined them. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a hot bath or shower; the last time he had felt properly warm. Sol had saved them on that icy road, but there had been always part of him that was numb, that was damp, that was chilled to the bone. Now, his aching limbs thanked him as they thawed out. ‘Aaaaahhhhh…’

Lost in bliss, Eddy lay back and looked up at the swirling steam, thinking of Fenja – in his mind’s eye, she was dancing in the veils of vapour. How he missed her! He longed for her touch. What was the point in surviving in a world without love, he pondered? The thought was lost in the sheer, animal pleasure of the hot water easing out the knots in his tired muscles.

The atmosphere suddenly, dramatically shifted. Figures in ski-masks or balaclavas, wearing a combination of arctic survival gear, thick patterned sweaters, quilted jackets, overalls, and wielding a random selection of hunting rifles, appeared out of the mist – and had them quickly surrounded.

The Elders were naked in the pool like the rest of the Wild Hunt. In their extreme fatigue, no one had thought to post guards. Weapons lay within reach, but One Eye held up his brawny, tattooed arms.

One of the gunmen barked something at One Eye in a harsh, guttural tongue that sounded like a glacier gouging out a rocky landscape.

One Eye responded fluently, gesturing to the rest of them. Through his body language, Eddy guessed their leader was trying to explain their presence, their current state. Whoever these people were, they clearly were in better shape than they. No obvious transport was discernible, so they must be dwelling nearby.

The gunman who seemed to be in charge, lifted up his mask, to reveal a middle-aged man with a thin weathered face, a blond goatee with streaks of silver, and fiercely alert eyes. His companions did not lower their guns – fingers trembling over the triggers.

Eddy realised they were more afraid of them, these strangers from over the ice.

‘You’re offlanders, that’s plain to see. How did you get here? What do you want?’ Their leader barraged them with questions now in strangely-accented English.

One Eye, to his credit, was a smooth-talker. ‘We’ve come to end this war, and it looks like you need some help, Radio Free Reykyavik.

The leader raised an eyebrow.

‘My ravens hear everything on the airwaves. And tell me all. I recognise your voice.’

Wrong-footed, but curious, the leader jabbed his gun. ‘Go on…’

‘Loki and his deadly crew seek the destruction of humankind – he’d make Midgard his world, if he could. The trickster has summoned all the dark forces in his power to bring about humankind’s destruction – Fenrir the wolf, Jormungandr the Serpent, Thrym and the Frost Giants, and Hel herself.’

‘These are old stories you talk of, the Eddas. We tell them on long nights to pass the time.’

One Eye rose from the steaming water, and the Elders did the same – naked, but radiating power. They stepped up onto the rock, unafraid of the weapons pointing at them, towering over the gunmen – who nervously thrust their barrels at them.

‘They are not just stories,’ smiled One Eye, lightning in his eye. ‘And Loki rules this world, make no mistake. While we slumbered, forgetting our glory, he did not. He worked his magic, shapechanging, deceiving, using his silver-tongue to rise in power. The ultimate politician. He dominates this world now with his dark allies.’

The Icelander’s eyes widened.

‘Yes, you know him… President Koil.’

‘Are you saying … the US president is the … Trickster God?’

‘Sounds about right,’ said one of the figures, and the others laughed, easing the tension a little.

One Eye dried himself down and started to put on his clothes. ‘He sends his death-ship to destroy this last pocket of resistance, and my Wild Hunt,’ he gestured to the bikers, ‘are all that stand between you and your extinction. Are you going to help us, or stand in our way?’

The Icelanders led them, once they were dressed, to their settlement, hidden deep in the mountains. They rode their bikes dead slow through an old lava tunnel that opened out into what looked like an old volcanic crater. Steam vents issued from cracks in the rocks, creating a micro-climate that was a welcome relief after the shock of the cold getting out of the pools. The warm glow in Eddy’s limbs would only last so long, but now there was the prospect of proper shelter. There was a whole village of cabins within the crater – modern, robust designs with tall roofs and heavy eaves to protect from avalanches. On the porches, men, women and children looked warily at these new arrivals. The bikers parked in the central circle around a flagpole where a storm-battered Icelandic flag fluttered. There were polytunnels heated geothermically, brimming with vegetables, a shower block and laundry, bakery and brewery, smokery and a small hall. Eddy was impressed. If anyone was going to survive this Great Winter, it was these people.

The leader, who introduced himself as Guðmundur, showed them the empty cabins where they could stay. ‘We were expecting more, but not everybody made it,’ was all he said to the bikers. ‘Tonight, after dinner, let us meet in the hall. There is much to discuss.’

Before they could all rest they had burials to take care of.

            Rig gathered the riders. Standing next to him were the heathens, dressed for a trek.

            ‘The faithful here know a place they think would be right for our dead…’ He pointed up to the rim of the crater. ‘They’re going to guide us there.’

            Biers were quickly improvised and the bodies of the fallen who had not been lost in the ice were strapped to them, and then carried by teams of two (or four, in The Hammer’s case) up the steep, narrow path which zigzagged up the inside of the crater. The ground was friable and they had to tread carefully.

            Eventually, after a good hour of effort, they stood on the lip of the volcanic crater, which plummeted dizzingly below. The buildings of the community looked like models.

            Around them columns of steam steadily rose from fissures.

‘Is this entirely safe?’ asked Eddy, feeling the need to address the elephant in the room.

Sol turned to him, beaming a smile. ‘This god sleeps – behold his dreams.’

Eddy gazed into the broiling clouds. Whatever this particular god was dreaming, it was as confusingly obscure as his own – except for when Fenja came to him, but they felt less like dreams, than visions.

The bikes lined up along the rim. The bodies lay by the precipice.

One Eye finally spoke. ‘We will raise two mounds here. One for The Hammer, to represent all the Elders we lost – Honer, Niggard… The other mound will be for the patches.’

With Rig and Tear overseeing the construction of the two mounds, the group set to work. It was biting, high up, exposed to the glacial winds, but the slog of carrying stones soon warmed them up. Slowly, the two mounds grew – ‘Hammer’s Hump’, as the bikers started to refer to it, double in size to the ‘Patches Pimple’. The gallows humour helped them cope with the grimness of the task.

Finally it was done. Exhausted, they stood in a silent arc before them both.

The leader looked even grimmer than usual. The summoning of the lightning had clearly taken it out of him. Since then he had drawn into himself, saving what power he had left for the battle to come. His voice was strained and was hard to catch above the icy wind that swept over the edge and down the conical slope.

‘We consign the bodies of our friends, our comrades, and my daughterson … to the gods. They died noble deaths. May they be welcomed into Valhalla.’

The Wild Hunt, silent in their grief, descended.

The wake would have to wait. Much to their dismay, the crater community was a ‘dry’ one. And so the bikers sat down to break bread – grateful for a hot meal, at least.

Conversation was subdued. Except for the Heathens, the community looked on the bikers with suspicion; and the bikers for once were in low spirits: the crossing, and their losses, had killed the usual feisty camaraderie. Everyone felt the chill of mortality all too closely.

Afterwards, Eddy helped clear up his table. The whole operation was done with impressive efficiency – the community working together like a well-made clock. Everyone was responsible for washing up their own plate, cutlery and one item of cookware. Everything was replaced back in the cupboards. Table surfaces were wiped, floors swept, coffee served with wedges of brownie, and after a sweet song from a group of the youngsters, who had been learning in their class that day, the meeting got under way. Goðmundur and the other elders of the community – a stern-faced looking bunch – sat at the end of the hall. One Eye and the Wild Hunt sat a little awkwardly in the centre, as the rest watched on. The hubbub died down as Goðmundur got to his feet. He waited until there was complete silence. ‘We are here to discuss the arrival of our new guests,’ spoke Goðmundur, his voice soft, calm, but authoritative. ‘Let all speak who wishes to, but first let us here from our guests.’

One Eye stood up and put on his most agreeable manner. ‘First of all, we’d like to thank you for the lovely meal you have kindly offered us. Compliments to the chefs.’ He raised his mug. ‘And to the soft beds, which will be most welcome. We have come very far and have endured much. It is not just the climate which is hostile to life at the moment. There are many dark forces threatening to destroy humankind. I suspect you must have seen evidence of them here too. Monsters walk the earth and, despite our rough appearances, we are not some of them. We are here to help save you.’

‘Save us, or bring our doom?’ shouted a white-haired woman with a thin-face. ‘I have lived long, and that is because I know trouble when I see it. Your ‘Wild Hunt’ reek of the Devil!’ She sat down to murmurs of consent, but also the odd groan of familiar contempt.

An older man with a full beard got to his feet next. ‘We do not mean disrespect, but we are a God-fearing people here–‘

‘Speak for yourself!’ shouted a younger man with a shaven head, wearing a hoodie bearing an Anarchist ‘A’.

The older man raised his hands placatingly. ‘Most of us are. But we tolerate other faiths, or the lack of them, within reason.’

‘Within reason!’ gasped a dark haired woman. ‘How gracious of you! The Goddess is honoured here too … and the Old Gods.’

A small contingent of the community in the corner banged their fists of the tables. Eddy noticed their hairstyles were similar to the bikers – long, with shaven sides, plaits, prominent jewellery – and some sported suspicious tattoos.

One Eye smiled at this, nodding to them.

The older man took a breath and continued. ‘We are a broad church, as you can see, but … there are families here with small children, daughters. Our precious flock we have kept safe from the worst ravages of these End-times, but how safe will they be when we invite wolves into our pasture?’

Many of the community sounded their approval at this. The old man sat down, satisfied. Others argued with him.

One Eye watched them all with his eye glinting like an eagle’s. He waited for them all to stop, then he spoke again, his voice low. ‘There are worse monsters than wolves out there now, believe me. Who will protect you from them?’

‘Our prayers will protect us from them!’ cried out the white-haired woman, holding her hands up. Others nodded, and bowed their heads, hands clasped.

‘I am not dismissing the power of prayer by any means,’ spoke One Eye, ‘but often the situation requires something more … full bloodied.’

‘He means heathen sacrifice!’ gasped someone, blood draining from their face.

‘I’m not averse to offerings,’ interjected One Eye, and the Wild Hunt laughed, ‘but I am talking about direct action. Fire-power.’

One of the Heathens got to his feet. ‘We have warriors here, sir. Ready to fight. Fire with fire.’

One Eye acknowledged the hotspur.  ‘I’m glad to hear it, and I am sure you would be able to stand your own against raiders, but Jötun? Jet fighters? They were raining hellfire down upon us, out there!’

‘So he admits it!’ called out another. ‘He brings danger to our doorstep! The sooner they leave the better!’ The atmosphere in the room became tainted with panic.

‘Believe in us, and we can protect you!’ decried One Eye.

‘Look at them!’ shouted another. ‘They cannot even protect themselves!’ Many voices were raised then.

Wearily One Eye sat back down.

Goðmundur finally stood up, and waved for quiet. ‘Our community is open to all good souls, but the truth is, there are so many of you, and your presence puts a strain on our limited resources. Everyone must contribute. We are simple folk –farmers, fishermen, craftspeople, used to making a living from the land, the sea, from our livestock, our own hands. Forgive me sir, but your people do not look like the … sort who would be happy to settle down and … do your share of the chores.’

Eddy blew out his cheeks. Catching the eyes of Cruz, he indicated the door and she nodded, clearly desperate to get away too. As the debating continued, they slipped out into the fresh air.

‘Jeez, that was a drag!’ Eddy joined Cruz by the flag-pole, where she had lit up.

He cadged a roll-up from her, and cradled its warmth.

The circle of bikes looked out of place, surrounded by the eco-houses.

‘Aya! We no’ belong here. We must go. Vamoose!’

Eddy took a long draw, savouring the warm smoke in his throat. ‘I doubt there are many places as set up as this place, but you can see their point. We draw bad luck to us like some kind of shit magnet. This Koil is out to get us. These are good people. We should leave them in peace.’

‘But don’t you see – there will be no peace, until he … and his kind … are defeated!’ Cruz bristled. ‘The Wild Hunt is the only chance humanity has!’

‘An outlaw biker gang – saviours of planet Earth? Seems unlikely doesn’t it?’

‘But we have the Elders! You’ve seen what they can do, Red! The mother of all battles is about to take place, and you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight!’

Eddy blew smoke up into the sky, letting it mingle with the dissipating columns from the steam vents.

‘The thing is, I’m not sure I belong here either. With the Wild Hunt, I mean. It’s been one helluva ride, but … when the chips are down you stick with your own kind, yeah?’

Cruz turned on him, scowling. ‘What do you mean, Red?’

‘I’ve … got to get back to my tribe. My family. They need me. Who is protecting them?’

‘We’re your family now! Blood has been spilled. We’ve fought side-by-side. Road the frost bridge! Lost Dash! Blitzen! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?’

Eddy nodded. ‘Of course. I will never forget. And if the gods are willing, I shall return to you. But I have to do this.’

Cruz stubbed her fag out with the heel of her boot. ‘Then you had better ask One Eye. Rather you than me!’ And she walked off.

Eddy finished his smoke, pondering Cruz’s reaction. She was so angry with him! Perhaps it was for reasons beyond loyalty to the club… Who knows? He chuckled to himself. Hell hath no fury! But he’d rather face that than the wrath of One Eye, any day.

Time to face the music, Eddy. He must ask permission – but what if it was denied? He would have to go anyway, but would they let him? He had taken the vow, he wore the colours. To them, his first priority should always be to the club.

He picked at the raw skin on the back of his poor frost-bitten hand. He turned it over and saw the white scar of the burn on the palm and smiled, before closing it into a fist. Blood is thicker than water. He had honoured the white in him. Now it was time to honour the red.

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

The Ice Bridge

PATRIOT NEWS

Thousands Report Strange Phenomena                                                   

Eye-witness reports and amazing footage is coming in from across the country of inexplicable phenomena. Giant figures have been glimpsed traversing the land while storms continue to rage over several states. Power lines have been pulled down, recently in the blackout of millions of homes. Government sources have advised citizens to avoid contact, but ‘not to be alarmed’. The White House is monitoring the situation, and the military is on standby. Some witnesses have claimed to have seen these ‘giants’ protecting key assets, and patrolling the centres of cities under curfew.

Chapter 15: The Ice Bridge

As they burst out of the hall at break of day, the enemy was waiting for them. The ranks of the Devils Hogs formed a semi-circle in front of the large carved doors – restless slathering figures garbed in wolf-skins, weapons ready, growling their hate. Beyond them stood the silent Jötun, dark columns disappearing into the morning mist like tree-trunks, and, high above, eyes like birds.

After a night of intense preparation – smithying into the small hours, and preparing their packs and winter gear – the Wild Hunt was ready. With the force of a snow-plough, the Hammer smashed her way through those who blocked the track, with aurora-haired Sol following close behind – melting away the drifts with her upraised hands. Her long golden hair and white furs contrasted with The Hammer’s shaven temples, single braid, and dark, oily leathers. Together they made an effective team, clearing the route back to the bikes.

The rest of them fought of the attacks as they ran the gauntlet. The Devils Hogs hurled themselves like rabid maniacs, heedless of their own safety. By sheer force of bodies One-Eye’s crew stopped most of their rivals – now more animal than human – dead in their tracks. The Jötun were less easily resisted – hurling fistfuls of the dry-stone wall and tree-trunks, though few now remained in the white, barren landscape.  One splintered log narrowly missing Eddie, but he was thrown to one side by Cruz. ‘You owe me one, Red,’ she grinned, before lashing out at a Hog. Winded, he did his best to keep up with the rest. He did not want to get left behind!

            For a moment Eddy turned to see Frithgard vanish – a single shaft of sunlight piercing the caul of cloud shone directly onto the empty circle of stone and then that was gone too.

By the time they reached the bikes, they had all been cleared of snow, which melted in gobbets and rivulets from the chassis. Engines were running, filling the air with exhaust fumes. Supervised by Rig, the club’s best mechanic, teams of bikers attached chains to the wheels. While they had recovered the previous night, the Road Captain had worked with feverish intensity to forge metres of chain. Eddy had played for them – his guitar fortunately surviving the escape from Peel. He had started with a blues set – suiting the sombre mood – but towards the end picked it up. The weary warriors found new energy, stomping on the floor or striking the tables with their fists in rhythm. Some got up and swayed drunkenly to the music. The Elders looked on approvingly, One Eye giving him a respectful nod. It was good to feel part of a team, to feel he had something to contribute, something that was appreciated. Just as well, for he was no fighter!

Blitzen looked up from attaching another chain. ‘Made it then.’

Eddy caught his breath, holding his side from the stitch. ‘Just, thanks to Cruz.’

Blitzen grunted and continued his task.

‘Listen, I’m so…’

‘Save it. We may be drinking mead with Dash if we don’t get these tyres sorted. Give me a hand.’

They didn’t have long. Down the lane after them thundered the Hogs and the Jötun.

‘They would be on us in minutes!’ shouted Tear. ‘We need to cover our retreat!’

Honer stepped forward, an assault rifle in one hand and a belt of grenades in the other. ‘Leave this to me!’ he snarled, cricking his neck.

Tear nodded, and hurried them on. ‘Get your asses on those bikes and go! Now!’

Eddy gunned his Buell and skidded out of the way as all Hell broke loose behind him. Honer was not going down without a fight. The rattle of the rifle came to an end, and then, whump, an explosion cut through the morning air.

With Cruz riding Fen’s bike and Sol on pillion, hands blazing like twin suns, they blasted out of the lane – clearing the last drift that blocked the way to the main road.

To everyone’s relief it had been cleared of the bulk of the snow, even gritted.

‘Thank fuck! Black-top!’ shouted Blitzen.

‘Take it slow!’ bellowed Rig.

As they roared out onto the road a patch felt his bike slide from under him, spinning into a drift.

‘Black ice!’ someone shouted, and the riders behind took the bend real careful. Eddy prayed as he steered, but the tyre-chains bit and the bike stayed upright.

The fallen biker, limping, was helped onto the back of another – his ride a right-off.

‘Quit arsing about! Next fucker who falls, we leave behind! Let’s move!’ roared Rig, anxiously checking back up the lane.

The column of bikers turned right, heading west, to the coast.

Eddy put all of his attention into keeping the bike upright – the spectre of Rig’s derision even scarier than the prospect of having a spill. As long as he took it easy, and didn’t tip the bike on the bends, he managed, but it wasn’t relaxing riding. Shame, as the place looked eerily beautiful: the island unrecognisable after the heavy snows. The blizzards had abated, for now, at least. But the low, dark clouds promised more.

The progress was painfully slow, but, after the siege, it felt great to be moving again. Riding on the giddy adrenalin of the escape, Eddy felt euphorically alive. Every moment snatched from death was a victory.

But it could be a short-lived one.

He had no idea what they were going to do when they reached the sea, for surely no ferry would be sailing in these conditions.

Iceland? They would be lucky to leave the Isle of Man alive.

They met no one else on the road, only abandoned vehicles.

One of them was the snow-plough, with the driver frozen inside.

‘Poor fucker,’ Blitzen commented, as the rode slowly by.

They stood looking out over the frozen wasteland of the sea from what remained of Peel harbour – the flattened lifeboat station and dark lighthouse, smashed dories locked into the ice, the seawalls bulbous and white as elephant skulls with stalactite tusks. Only the crenulations of Peel Castle escaped from the glacial field, although icy tentacles clawed hungrily at its outer walls and gate house.

Amid the smithereens on the ghostly quiet quayside, One Eye sat astride his steel horse, exhausts snorting in the frigid air. Even on his beast of a bike, the President looked all the world like the god of old upon his eight-legged steed, thought Eddy. Flanked by The Hammer, Rig, Sol, Mani, Tear and the other Elders, he addressed the gathered warriors. Their numbers were reduced by a third, but still they made an impressive presence – a couple of hundred strong. They had been tested by the storm, by the enemy, but they had survived, and looked stronger than ever – grizzled, battle-scarred but unyielding: tempered steel.

‘Thanks to the noble sacrifice of our tailgunner we have made it to this threshold,’ One Eye spoke, his voice cutting through the sudden silence. ‘Our road lies northwest, to Iceland. We must cross the Bridge of Ice. My ravens have told me it is frozen all the way to the land of fire. It is nearly a thousand miles. We must take fuel and supplies. Any who do not wish to go can leave now. You keep your lives, but lose your colours…’

‘…and your honour,’ muttered Blitzen, looking at Eddy.

No one moved.

One Eye nodded with grim satisfaction.

‘Very well. Make ready then. Search for supplies. Prepare your bikes and your bodies for the hardship ahead. We do not have long before the enemy catches us. We ride in one hour!’

Eddy searched the ruins of the High Street with Blitzen and Cruz, boots crunching over broken glass and ice.

‘Schiese. When the wave hit it really hit bad,’ breathed Blitzen.

Most of the lower floor windows were smashed out, debris strewn across the road, congealed into the ice.

‘Hey, check this out!’ called Cruz.

By the gutted supermarket, they managed to find some tins and packets of crackers, noodles and nuts beneath a fallen shelving unit, which also hid the frozen body of a shopper.

‘Frozen food, anyone?’ joked Blitzen, grimly.

Gingerly, Eddy helped extricate the supplies, casting them into a buckled shopping basket.

A dislodged shard of glass, smashing onto a bonnet, made them freeze, and scan the surrounding buildings.

Cruz nodded to a first floor window.

Taking the basket, Eddy followed the others as they stole across the road. There was an open doorway, the front door ripped from its jambs. Beyond, a flotsam-strewn staircase.

Pulling out their guns, Blitzen and Cruz led the way.

They all carried now, no longer bothering to hide them. If the authorities were still around they had other priorities. Eddy didn’t like the iron at his hip, he never had, but they were living by the law of the gun now.

Reaching the first floor they were confronted with two doors, and a further passage. Blitzen indicated the one on the left, and lifted his weapon.

He kicked open the door, gun thrust forward, to be confronted by screams.

‘Blitzen, don’t shoot!’ shouted Cruz.

Eddy scrambled up behind them.

In the front bedroom, open to the elements, there huddled a family – the daughter holding fast to her mother, the infant son hiding behind his dad.

Blitzen lifted up his pistol, and held up his free hand. ‘It’s okay, we mean you no harm.’

The family were clearly terrified by their appearance, and Eddy realised what a fright they must seem – wintry warriors, wielding weapons, and daubed in strange runes.

‘They’re terrified,’ Eddy said, appearing behind his friends – which made the family flinch further.

‘They’re starving,’ said Cruz.

Eddy noticed the pinched look in their faces, the shadows under their eyes. ‘Here,’ he offered some food from the basket, but they were too terrified to take it, so he laid it on the floor before them.

‘We need our supplies!’ hissed Blitzen.

‘We can find more,’ interjected Cruz. She was clearly moved by the state of the children. Suddenly, she pulled the amulet from her neck and dangled it before them. ‘Take it. Thor will protect you.’

The parents were reluctant, but the young girl reached out, seeing the kindness in the strange woman’s eyes. Her small hand clasped the amulet and quickly pulled back, returning to the safety of her mother.

‘Come, we haven’t much time!’ barked Blitzen.

Giving them one last look, Eddy followed, as they descended.

Once out on the high street again, Eddy glanced up and could see the family nervously looking down.

‘Back to the deep freeze section then,’ groaned Blitzen.

Eddy’s thoughts turned to his loved ones, and he felt the strong tug in his chest. Whatever it takes, he vowed, come Hell or high water, I am going to make it back home.

They continued to scavenge, but the pickings were slim.

            ‘It’s like the place has been ransacked,’ muttered Blitzen, throwing down a box of dog biscuits in disgust.

            ‘Barbarians,’ Eddy joked, but his heart wasn’t in it. The thought of his family struggling to survive back in Gimli haunted him. He should be with them. Protecting them. His grandfather, Running Bear, would make sure they stayed fed, that was for sure, he smiled, taking some comfort in the thought.  But who knows what perils they faced – now that monsters walked the land? The possibility chilled him.

            ‘Hey!’ Cruz hissed. Her nostrils twitched. ‘Can you smell that?’

            Eddy and Blitzen sniffed the air.

            ‘Can that really be … bacon?’ Eddy marvelled. His stomach growled.

            Cruz pointed to an old fisherman’s cottage – not much more than a boatshed with a room above it. Firelight could be seen glowing from the upstairs window.

            Together they cautiously approached, entering through the smashed door below. Their boots crunched on shattered glass and furniture, but above them a voice sang, heedless. As they reached the foot of the stairs, they could hear the sizzle of the frying pan, and the words of ‘Danny Boy.’

            Cruz went first, weapon ready; Blitzen followed; and then Eddy. The smell of the cooking was making his mouth water.

            The shadow of a man sitting by a cooking fire flickered on the walls of the simple dwelling. On the first floor, it had escaped the worst of the tsunami – the storm damage had reached the top of the steps, but no further.

‘Ah, guests! Just in time for a fry up! Pull up a chair!’ The accent was immediately recognisable to Eddy, and he strained to catch a look from behind the others. ‘Bog? Is that you?’

Sitting over a makeshift firepit and skiddle – a reclaimed washing machine drum and a shopping basket – was the Irishman, wrapped in a leopard-skin fake fur blanket. His friend looked unshaven, but none the worse. ‘Red, you mongrel bastard! You’re alive! It must be the Viking in yous! And you’ve brought your pals too!’

‘Cruz, Blitzen – this is Bog of the Banshees. He’s saved my ass a couple of times.’

‘Well, three’s the charm! A pleasure,’ he tipped his fingers to the others. ‘Looks like you all need a good breakfast! You’re in luck. Bog’s full Irish is the best in town!’ He offered them the half-drunk bottle of Jamesons.

Cruz shook her head, but Blitzen took a careful sip, then past it to Eddy, who raised in toast. ‘You’re a sight for sore eyes, my friend. Looks like you’re doing alright for yourself…’ He cast his eyes around the room, which was stacked with food and drink.

‘Not much to do around here since the wave hit, except a bit of shopping.’ He accepted the bottle back and took a slug. ‘Ah. Bacon butty anyone?’ Grabbing a bag of supermarket sliced white, he slapped a couple of rashers inbetween two slices and handed it out. 

They squatted down and thawed out by the fire, munching on the sandwich in contented silence for a minute.

‘How did you …?’ Eddy asked, between mouthfuls.

‘I was sleeping off the grog when it hit. Slept through the worst of it. Woke up to half the town slopping at my door. Looks like my fellow Banshees were wiped out, or have fled for drier ground. Lost touch with the lot of them. Only signals around here are smoke signals. I’ve been hunting and gathering; repairing my bike; figuring what to do next.’

‘We’re leaving. Heading to Iceland,’ Eddy said.

‘You’re joshing me, right? Across the fucking ice? Are you insane or something?’

Eddy shrugged. ‘One Eye wants us to go there. Figures it’s important.’

‘Staying alive is important!’

‘Bog, I don’t know about you, but I’m desperate to get back to my family. We’ll be heading past the coast of Ireland. Come with us.’

The Irishman considered this, taking a slug of the Jamesons. He gazed into the fire. ‘I’d be lying if I told yous I hadn’t been thinking about my folks back home. They may be a bunch of Fenian eejits, but I love them, so help me Mary!’

‘We’ll help you get back, if you can share some of your supplies with us,’ suggested Blitzen.

‘Ah, finally we’ve come to the trading. Well, I’m a fair fella. I could just sit here, in the snug and dry, and eat and drink myself to death … but where would the fun in that be? Risking my neck and freezing my butt on a sea of ice with a bunch of crazy fucking Vikings? Now, that sounds more like my kind of party! Give me five, fellas, and I’ll pack my things. And help yourself to whatever you can carry.’

Eddy finished securing the supplies to the back of his bike – a petrol can and a sportsbag filled with tins, snacks, and an extra blanket. Bog’s stash had been shared out fairly. The Irishman’s bike had been kitted out with some spare chain, and he sat, ready to go, dressed in an old-fashioned pilot’s jacket with a thick-fleece lining and retro goggles beneath a Russian fur hat he’d found somewhere. As a member of a friendly-club bringing supplies, he had been welcomed in. The brutal truth was they needed all the numbers they could get.

The road captain, Rig, had estimated that between them they had enough gas to get them two-thirds of the way there. Addressing concerns about being stranded in the middle of a frozen ocean, he said he was ‘pretty confident they would find a ship or two’. He had taken charge of the organising of the crossing – this was his ‘turf’, as Blitzen put it. He tirelessly went around, personally checking all of the bikes and luggage, ensuring they were road-worthy for the way ahead. He encouraged all the bikers to wrap insulating material around their hands, and as many layers as they could wear. When he was satisfied, he nodded to One Eye, who revved his engine and set off, down the boat-ramp, onto the ice. The tyres maintained their grip as the chains did their job. The ice creaked under the weight of One Eye’s bike, but held, and he led the way out of the harbour, followed by the line of bikers.

It was a surreal feeling, riding across the frozen sea. Eddy tried not to dwell on the icy fathoms opening up below them as they left the shallower waters. The Irish Sea was well and truly frozen as far as the eye could see. This was like no winter he had ever experienced, even in Manitoba where it could reach minus forty below. He’d goofed around on a frozen lake before, with a light dirt-bike, but this was in a different league, literally. They were riding over the fucking sea! screamed the voice inside. But then, nothing lately had been normal. Giants roamed the land, and here he was hanging out with Norse gods!

‘Well, this is a new kind of crazy, isn’t it?’ laughed Bog, riding beside him.

Eddy was glad to have his friend with him. Blitzen was subdued after losing Dash, and Cruz wasn’t the chatty sort. A bit of company would help keep his morale up. He figured he’d need it.

The endless white, apparently devoid of detail, became a screen upon which he projected his thoughts. The image of the starving family back in Peel came back to him. They had looked so frightened – but he was one of the good guys, surely? There must be countless millions, perhaps even billions, like that. Terrified by whatever the hell was happening to the world. It felt like he had a chance to do something about it, with this crew. One Eye had not elaborated upon his plan, but Eddy suspected they were heading to Iceland for some final reckoning. If anyone could stop this, surely the Elders could. He hoped so anyway… For what was the fate of humanity, otherwise? It seemed like all hung in the balance.

‘Now, this ain’t so bad, is it?’ grinned Bog. ‘Before we know it, we’ll be sinking a proper jar of the dark stuff. None of that imported shite. What the fuh—’

The ice suddenly vibrated, making the riders nearly lose balance.

‘The Jötun!’ Tear shouted, pointing back to the harbour.

Eddy turned to see the frost giants lining the beach, and before them, the Devils Hogs – now on their own bikes.

‘Jesus-fucking-Christ! Look at the size of those fellas!’ Bog whistled. ‘What is this? It’s a Knockout?’

‘We’ve got to stop them!’ The Hammer roared, skidding her bike around. ‘They never give up until they’re all dead!’

‘Daughterson, allow me…’ One Eye roared past his offspring, sending up a spray of ice-crystals behind him as his chained tyres bit into the frozen surface.

He skidded to a halt about a thousand feet from the shoreline. Kicking down his bike-stand, he stiffly climbed off the saddle and stood, stretching his legs and arms on the ice, as though warming up for a race. Or a fight. Whistling, he took his time as the Devils Hogs roared closer, the Jötun lumbering slowly behind – their mass making the iceplates creak.

Then One Eye shook his head, jumped up and down a couple of times, and raised his hands to the sky.

‘What’s he doing? Has the old man lost it?’ said Bog.

‘You ain’t seen nothing yet,’ replied Eddy. ‘He’s changed. They all have.’

The air became charged, and arclights crackled from his fingers. Around the president an aura emanated, through which the approaching Devils Hogs were a dark blur – an absence of colour in the spectrum. The roar of their engines were overwhelmed by a piercing whine that made everyone cover their ears.

Then, a blinding flash, followed immediately by a deafening boom, and lightning whipped down, shattering the ice between One Eye and the pursuers.

‘Holy …!’ gasped Bog, speechless for once.

The approaching bikers were going too fast to start, and slid into the black water.

One Eye laughed at their cries – a harsh sound like the caw of a crow.

The weight of the Jötun made the remaining ice on the other side of the fissure buckle and one by one they collapsed into the water too. Yet they emerged to stand waist height in the freezing waters. Slowly, they continued wading forward, ignoring the cries for help of the Devils Hogs, intent on only one thing: the destruction of their attacker. They were too heavy to climb back onto the ice without making it shatter, and so they started to smash their way forward in their fury.

One Eye laughed and called down the lightning once again.

This time it struck the water. It instantly boiled and when the steam dissipated the bodies of the Jötun and the Devils Hogs floated upon it like so many dead whales and fish.

One Eye got back and his bike, and whistling, rejoined the group. ‘I’ve taken out the trash,’ he quipped, riding by and leading them onwards.

‘Saint Patrick’s pinky! Did you see that! He deep-fried the whole fucking lot of them! I’m glad I’m on your side, Red!’

They rode on all morning without stopping. It was hard going on the ice. Eddy had to use all of his strength and skill to keep the bike upright, even with the chains providing some grip. Then there were the side-winds to deal with once they had cleared the coast of Man. With no obstacles arresting its force, the north wind blasted into their faces, sometimes making the bikes slide to the left. Only by tilting the bike into the wind could you maintain some traction and stay upright. His limbs were shaking from the effort, and he was dripping sweat inside his layers, but the momentum of the pack kept him going – forced on by the iron will of the road captain and the sergeant-at-arms bringing up the rear, barking encouragement. Finally, mercifully, Eddy realised they line of bikes were slowing. He looked up, neck stick from resisting the wind – and saw a dark shape loom before him. It took a moment to realise it was a fishing trawler, frozen into the ice. It afforded some protection from the relentless wind and the bikes parked in close. Stiffly, Eddy extricated himself from his saddle – moaning in pain.

‘Saddle sore?’ grimaced Bog.

‘And then some!’ groaned Eddy, stretching his back.

‘My arse feels like its frozen shut!’

Some of the bikers had clambered onto the deck, which tilted at an angle, pushed up by the ice.

They waited, stamping their feet and blowing onto frozen hands.

Heads popped up over the side of the deck.

‘Any luck?’ called out Rig.

‘A frozen crew. But the galley is still in working order. There are some supplies.’

‘Good. Unload those, but first, brew up some coffee! Let’s thaw everybody out!’

Soon, Eddy was cupping his hands around a polystyrene cup of black coffee, frostbitten fingers burning with the heat.

He stood huddled as close to the hull as possible, next to Bog, Blitzen and Cruz. ‘This ain’t so bad,’ he joked, blowing on his coffee.

‘My experience of life is generally – if it can get worse, it will,’ sniffed Blitzen, taking a sip and pulling a face. ‘Like this so-called coffee.’

‘Try to look on the sunny side for once,’ ribbed Bog.

Blitzen scanned the bleak vista. ‘That’s … pretty hard right now.’

Cruz reached out and touch his hand briefly.

Then the temperature dramatically increased as Sol herself came towards them, glowing with her own supernatural heat.

‘Wow!’ Bog marvelled. ‘She’s one hot dame.’

She beamed a smile at them, which melted Eddy’s heart at least. Cruz gave her a knowing smile, and Blitzen complained he was too hot now. 

Eddy shook his head. No pleasing some people!

He shuddered as he felt the warmth return to his limbs. They tingled painfully, but at least they started to work again.

The supplies were loaded up – including a couple of drums of oil – on one of the trikes.

‘Time to ride!’ hollered Rig, and they started to file out of the lee of the vessel.

Eddy braced himself. ‘Here we go again…’

‘Just as my arse-cheeks were starting to unseal,’ Bog sighed.

Just then an explosion sent him and their bikes spinning across the ice.

Eddy shook his head clear and looked up. His ears still ringing, the vision before him was a dream-like montage of fire and ice. The trawler had received a direct hit, and was sinking, creating an ever widening gap in the ice – black cracks spreading outwards. Sprawled bikers, stunned by the explosion, were now being consumed by the icy waters. Friend helped friend and was dragged in too.

Fortunately, the majority of the Wild Hunt had ridden far enough away from the blast radius to escape the worst of it. Bog, Blitzen and Cruz seemed to be okay, if dazed. Some of the Elders circled back to help rescue survivors from the water. Keeping their bikes at a safe distance, they crawled forward on bellies, reaching out to the floundering. Some used their weapons to hook them in, or their cloaks. The Hammer dived straight in and flung bedraggled bikers onto the ice.

‘Blimey! She is one tough mother!’ admired Bog, getting to his feet and brushing the ice from his jacket. ‘I wonder what she’d be like in the sack?’

Cruz rolled her eyes. ‘Shut up for once and give us a hand!’

‘Yes, ma’am!’ he saluted.

Between them, they got their bikes upright.

Thunder in the sky made everyone look up.

‘They’re coming back for a second attack!’ shouted somebody.

The deafening roar split the sky. Jets… They were being attacked by fighter jets!     

Eddy staggered to his feet, and struggled to upright his bike on the ice.

‘Get you’re red arse out of here!’ shouted Rig, lending him a hand.

Thanking the gods that his bike was none the worse, bar a few dents and scratches, he gunned her up and roared away with the others.

He turned to see Niggard, the treasurer, firing up at the jet as it swooped in for another bombing run. For a moment he was there, then there was a flash followed by the boom, and he was no more.

The jet rocketed away, leaving a temporary ice-curtain in its wake.

Two large holes in the ice – their cracks widening, joining up, until the waves below started to do their work. The shelf around them started to buckle and crack.

‘Come on! We’ve got to get out of here!’ roared Rig.

Eddy needed no further persuading. He tore after the others, all the time aware of the gulf opening up behind him, and the ice cracking beneath him – the sickening groaning and snapping of the frozen surface sending chills up his spine.

Out of the pall of smoke left by the second explosion burst The Hammer on her bike, just making it to firmer ground as the ice disintegrated behind her.

‘Nobody steals my thunder!’ she roared, dripping water and ice. ‘They will pay!’

In the distance, the jet arced around.

‘It’s coming in for another!’ shouted Tear.

‘Good,’ grinned The Hammer. She gunned her bike and shot straight towards the oncoming plane.

The fighter jet blazed its cannons, which ripped into the ice towards the careering bike.

At the last moment, The Hammer used a tilted ice shelf as a ramp to launch herself directly into the jet fighter’s path.

There was a blinding flash, as lightning split the sky, then immediately afterwards, thunder made the ice beneath them tremble.

Out of the explosion, the jet, torn in two plunged to the ground in a pall of smoke.

The bikers watched on, as the fireball faded away in the dark sky.

So, the gods could die.

‘Look!’

Eddy’s heart leapt as he followed the pointing hand. Out of the smoke a figure dropped to the ground.

As it got to its feet and started to run towards them, they cheered.

‘The Hammer lives!’

Smouldering from the explosion, her clothes burnt and torn, The Hammer skidded to a stop before them and grinned wolfishly. ‘That felt like the old days!’

The Wild Hunt greeted her with horns blaring. ‘Hammer! Hammer!’ they chanted.

Blitzen’s eyes widened. ‘Thor lives!’

Bog looked confused. ‘Eh? Dial back there a mo, Rudolph or whatever your name is. I thought Thor was meant to be a man…? Or am I missing something here?’

‘Does it matter?’ hissed Cruz. ‘She is what she is!’

 ‘Well, in the stories Thor was always dressing up as a woman…’ Blitzen struggled for an explanation. ‘Maybe the storytellers just got it the wrong way round…?’

Bog scratched his head. ‘Seanachies! Never trust ‘em, myself…’

Folding their arms, they returned their attention to the scene before them.

‘Pity about your wheels!’ said Rig, looking across at the smoking wreck.

The Hammer shrugged. ‘Maybe I don’t need wheels anymore!’ She leapt in the sky, and for a moment seemed to hover there, before crashing back onto the ice.

The Wild Hunt roared with laughter. 

She got up and shrugged it off, clenching her fists in fascination. ‘My power is coming back! I can feel it!’

‘Good! We’re going to need it!’ said One Eye. ‘The fight is not over yet, but we must get out of here. Most of us can’t endure the water like you either! Get on, daughterson!’ He skidded his bike towards The Hammer, who shrugged and leapt aboard the pillion.

Together, they led the flight from the widening gulf behind them, passing the smouldering fuselage of the jet fighter, which began to sink into the melting ice. The roundel was a black jagged ‘H’ over a white and red circle.

‘Hagalaz … the rune of Hel…’ murmured Blitzen, sounding worried.

Eddy’s mind was reeling. Somebody was sending in jets to deal with them.

Their flight from the Isle of Man onto the ice clearly had not gone unnoticed.

With hundreds of miles of ice ahead of them, Eddy suddenly felt very vulnerable, as though they were mice, scurrying desperately away from the attentions of an eagle.

And yet the Elders were no mice. What The Hammer had just done – taken down a jet fighter single-handedly! – was the stuff of legend. Yet the majority of them were flesh and blood, and even the gods showed they were not invulnerable. Honer and Niggard had been lost, and perhaps a dozen of the rank and file. They had lost over a third of their number already.

Would any of them make it to Iceland?

‘Do you wish you stayed in Peel now…? Eddy asked Bog.

‘Home is where the heart is, my friend. Let’s hope the rest of us gets there too.’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

William Burroughs

ZEITGART NewsDrip: no bullshit news direct to your device

KOIL rides shotgun for the NAA

Our kickass President is sticking it to those bleeding heart liberals by hugely increasing spending on the military, in particular his own special forces: the Jötun. The president has siphoned off funds from all those pointless green energy initiatives to ramp up investment in patriotic arms manufacturers, supporting jobs for the boys back home – rather than handing over hard-earned American taxpayers money to slitty-eyed gooks or shitskins. His plans have received the blessing of the National Arms Association. A spokesman said: ‘It’s about time a president got our back. We’re tired of being pussy-whipped by those faggot cowards. We need a strong president and a strong country in these dangerous times. Americans have a God-given right to defend themselves. It’s in the Constitution.’ One of the beneficiaries of this investment is the Bible-belt based arms company, Mistletoe. Their CEO, Donny Swoop, said: ‘We praise the Good Lord for this windfall. Every one of our bullets comes with a special blessing from Mistletoe’s very own resident Minister, and a little, deadly message for every enemy of God’s Own Country. As our motto goes: “We Aim To Please”.’ Mistletoe bullets have become the best-selling brand, with WalMart reporting record sales, and with Amazing, the world’s largest online retailer, providing rapidrone delivery on all weaponry, since the legislation prohibiting the sale of firearms has been lifted by the Koil Administration, no patriotic citizen need to run out of ammo. When you’ve emptied your clip into a crowd of deviants you know what to do. Just ‘Ask Santa’ via your Nippletm.

Chapter 12: William Burroughs

‘So, what do you make of that, hey Red?’ asked Blitzen as they wrestled with the tent in the wind. They were striking camp and the beach was bristling with activity, heightened by the strong winds blowing, and waves thundering onto the sands.

‘The Gods got woke!’ joked Dash. ‘Woah! Nearly took off there!’

They all leapt on top of the fly sheet before it was whipped away. Laughing, they started to roll it inwards, as Eddy tried to put his thoughts in order. In truth he didn’t know what to make of it. It all seemed so surreal. And yet he’d experienced that burst of light when Rig had blown the horn; and more intimately than that, in making love with Fenja he had tasted of that ambrosia himself. He had seen her effect the gas pumps, blast out icy air, look at him with those eyes… She was a goddess to him, whether divine or not. Sadly, he’d seen little of her since the ‘wake up call’ as everyone was calling it. The committee had a lot to attend to, not least their remembered roles, as Gods of the Norse. Being a God must be very busy, thought Eddy.

‘Hey, spaceman! Ground control here!’

‘Oh, sorry. Miles away. Yeah, it’s something, ain’t it? I always thought that lot had something about them, y’know?’

‘Yeah, B.O.!’ joked Dash.

‘But bikers, even larger-than-life ones, to old Viking gods … it’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?’

‘But look around you, Red. Does this look normal to you?’ argued Blitzen, indicating the wild weather. ‘We live in crazy times. Who knows what is possible anymore? Everything is up in the air! Watch out!’

They all ducked as a gazebo careered by, chased by some red-faced bikers.

‘You’re right. And whatever the truth of it, I think we all need to tap into the best of ourselves to survive this. We all need to be woke.’

‘I need coffee, that’s for sure!’ quipped Dash.

With relief, they managed to squeeze the tent into its bag and zip it closed, just about. They loaded it on the bike trailer, and bungeed it secure.

‘Locked and loaded,’ said Blitzen. ‘Let’s see if there’s any caffeine to be had in the mess tent, before that blows away too!’

As the three friends approached the mess tent they could see something was going on. A crowd of bikers, who should have been sorting out their kit, had gathered round. Every now and then a cheer would go up.

‘The coffee must be good this morning!’ said Dash. ‘Perhaps they’re offering free donuts?’ His eyes lit up at the prospect.

When they finally pushed close enough to see, it wasn’t what Eddy had expected. The Hammer was showing off her reawakened strength, lifting up the industrial oven single-handedly, with two bikers dangling off either end, as the onlookers cheered on.

‘I always knew she was a beefcake, but…’ Blitzen blew out his cheeks.

‘Arnie eat your heart out!’ said Dash, joining in the cheers.

The crowds opposite suddenly parted as Balder stepped into the circle. He looked even more resplendent than usual – almost dazzling in comparison to the gloom of the day. While most of the bikers wore dark colours – black leather cuts, fading t-shirts, oil-stained jeans – he was resplendent in a white shirt, billowing beneath his waistcoat. His pale skin seemed to radiate light.

‘Sorry to be killjoy here, buddies. But … Hey, Hammer, quit goofing around! We need to get this camp taken down and be on our way before sundown.’

The Hammer, still holding the oven and the bikers, turned to him and feigned co-operation. ‘Sure, Baldy. No time for fooling about.’ But then she gave him a hard shove with her free hand, which sent Balder flying into a table, knocking over a load of coffee.

Everybody roared.

Balder slowly got up and brushed himself down. His pristine shirt was stained with coffee.

‘Oooooo….’ went the crowd.

‘That’s it! You knucklehead!’ Balder fumed.

The Hammer dropped the oven, whump into the sand – sending the two bikers flying – and cricked her neck. ‘What did you call me?’

Balder squared up to the woman, who towered above him. ‘Get on with striking the camp!’ he shouted, all his easy-going composure lost.

There was a beat, then The Hammer gave him her right hook. Everybody winced, but Balder just smiled, none the worse. ‘Is that the best you can do?’

The Hammer growled, and laid into him with everything she had – but Balder just stood there, laughing.

‘Don’t you know, knucklehead? I’m invulnerable. Nothing can harm me!’

Just at that moment, somebody decided to throw a bottle, and it smashed on the back of his head. Balder sighed wearily, and just brushed the shards from his hair like it was a cobweb. This was an open invite – and suddenly the air was full of missiles raining down upon Balder, who just stood there, taking it all like it was a slightly irritating hailstorm, but nothing more than that.

The Hammer just stood with her lump-hammer fists on her hips, laughing.

‘William Burroughs! Let’s play William Burroughs!’ somebody piped up.

‘What’s that?’ asked Eddy, turning to his buddies.

‘It’s a bit like William Tell, but with a loaded gun,’ said Blitzen.

There was general consent about this suggestion – everyone slightly bosky, with the wild wind and the extraordinary revelations – and a firearm was found.

The Hammer checked in with Balder. ‘You okay about this?’

‘Sure, nothing in the nine worlds can harm me. Go ahead.’ He stood back, and pulled open the top of his shirt, revealing the pale skin of his chest.

‘Hey, let his brother do it!’ shouted someone else, Eddy couldn’t see who.

There were growls of approval from the pumped-up crowd. ‘Yeah! Holder? We need Holder!’

Eddy turned to his mates. ‘Balder’s got a brother?’

‘Sure, he’s a bit of an introvert – complete opposite of that poseur,’ commented Blitzen. ‘We don’t see much of him. The quiet type, y’know. Ach, here he is!’

The brother was pushed into the circle with encouraging cheers.

‘Hold on a mo – he’s … blind!’

‘Details!’ grinned Dash. ‘Will make the whole game even more fun! Watch this!’

The Hammer stepped forward. ‘Holder, we’re playing William Tell with your irritating brother. Do you fancy firing a loaded gun at him!’

‘Sure! He was always insufferable – now he’s even worse! Where is it?’

The crowd cheered and The Hammer placed the weapon in his hand. Standing behind him, he pointed the brother in Balder’s direction. Everybody behind and to the side stood right back, as Holder’s lifted the gun up.

‘Left a bit, right a bit … that’s it. Fire!’

There was a deafening bang and Eddy gasped as he saw Balder crumple to the ground. Chaos erupted.

‘What’s going on?’ said Holder, standing there with the weapon loose in his grip, it’s barrel still smoking. The cordite in the air mixed with the brine. The wind howled even wilder than before, and the waves pounded the beach in fury.

The Hammer cradled Balder in her lap, weeping. ‘What have we done?’

Balder looked up at the darkening sky. ‘I … thought … I was meant to be …’ The light went from his eyes, and he went limp.

The strange micro-climate on the beach went out like a light.

There was a rumble of thunder directly overhead, then lightning split the black lid of sky apart, as though ‘God had just taken a Polaroid’, as his sister used to say. The dismal scene stood out, momentarily, in blanched starkness.

‘What’s happening?’ called out Holder. ‘Don’t keep me in the dark here, guys!’

‘Holder, it’s your brother. You … He’s…’ spoke a biker hoarsely.

Everyone looked on aghast.

‘Balder? Balder!’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Keep reading

NEXT CHAPTER

Woke

PATRIOT NEWS

REPORTS OF WMD ACTIVITY FROM THE BRITISH ISLES

NORAD announced an unprecedented multispectral pulse of energy detected on their monitoring system, its epicentre confirmed to be within the Isle of Man, a crown protectorate of the United Kingdom. It is suspected that a weapon of mass destruction has been tested there, which the UK government strongly denies. No footage or eye-witness reports have come in yet, although we can safely assume US defence satellites would have captured the blast. President Koil tweeted ‘If they’ve got big guns, we’ve got bigga!’

Chapter 11: Woke

Eddy opened his eyes slowly, wincing at the light, though the sky was dark, the day as grey as steel. Thunder rumbled over head, threatening to rip the world apart – this he felt more than he heard. It made his whole body vibrate. A wind howled around him, going by the accoutrements of the dig being blown across the hill fort – tents; tables; plastic sheeting; signs. Everything was muffled, nearly drowned out by a persistent whine. He tried to sit up and groaned. He appeared to be twenty feet from where he last recalled standing. There had been a blinding flash. Then … How much time had elapsed? Where was everybody?

Painfully, he got to his feet – it was hard in the strong, urgent wind to stand upright. He pulled his jacket tight around. It had suddenly got biting on Chapel Hill, exposed as it was the southwest. The seascape looked decidedly apocalyptic – lightning cracked the darkness open, X-raying the clouds. Far below, the sea surged like a wild beast.

The marquee was still standing, just – guy ropes thrumming like double-bass strings. Eddy struggled towards it, as though wading through deep water. He ducked as a transparent plastic tool-box shot passed his head, snatched up by the wind like a Lego-brick.

Inside, he saw the archaeologist and his team cowering. They visibly flinched when they saw him.

‘I’m sorry!’ he shouted, probably louder than he realised.

Of One-Eye, the others, and the horn, there was no sign. What the Hell had happened? This was no time to ponder. ‘Get off the hillside!’ he bellowed. ‘It’s not safe!’

They looked terrified. He pointed down the hill side and mimed ‘shelter’.

He could do no more and turned to leave.

When he finally made it back to the lane he discovered only his bike remained. A car had been blown over and had narrowly missed crushing it. He got on, and started her up. It wasn’t going to be any fun riding back in this gale, but he had no choice. Holding on with all of his strength, Eddy made his way onto the lane back to Peel as lightning pole-axed the hillside.

It was a hairy ride back, to say the least, as Eddy dodged fallen trees, flying wheelie bins, and crashed cars in his way. Fortunately there was no other traffic on the road. Nobody in their right mind would be out in this … but then Eddy knew he had forsaken that status since missing his flight from Aberdeen.

            All for the love of a frost giant’s daughter…

By the time he reached the town he was dripping sweat from the effort, but relieved to be amongst the shelter of the stone buildings temporarily. The town had weathered many a hoolie, and was taking it all in its stride, so far. The squat, dark buildings seemed to hunker down. The castle could hardly been seen in the squall. Only the eruption of waves against its seawalls delineated it now and then. He half expected the camp to be blown away, but it was still there, and as soon as Eddy rode down the ramp the wind and rain dropped away. Sunlight burst through in a corona of rainbow and it seemed like he had ridden into another country.

The atmosphere in the camp had changed dramatically – from one of Bacchanalia to reverence. The main marquee had now become a kind of temple, with bikers lining up to pay tribute to the inhabitants, who sat upon their chairs as though they were thrones.

After the intense gloom, the bright colours made him squint. He passed one of the Elders – the tall, regal woman in her white leathers and fur. She seemed even more dazzling than usual – indeed the sunlight seemed to emanate from her directly. By her side stood her pale-faced shadow-cloaked companion, who basked in her glow, radiating his own silver effulgence.

A beautiful bald-headed man walked amongst the dark-clad bikers in a pristine white shirt and waist-coat, laughing with a man in shades, wielding a walking stick of pale wood – whom he guided with a light hand upon his shoulder.

Something weird had happened, that was for sure.

Eddy pulled up on the hard-standing and killed the engine – laying a hand on the tank, he thanked the stolen bike. It had got him back in one piece. His hearing had started to clear. There was drumming – slow and deep – and a Georgian choir-like effect, accompanied by pulsing guitars and synths from the club band. The air was thick with incense, smoke and blood. Eddy looked on, astonished, at big, tattooed bikers, fallen to their knees, weeping, heads back, arms raised in worship. He even spotted Cruz there, crossing herself again and again.

What on Earth had blowing that horn done?

With dread fascination, he approached the marquee. Strange lights danced around it, like a mini Aurora Borealis.

He stepped through this veil and beheld the committee. They looked exactly as they did before, and yet there was a different demeanour about them. They carried themselves more nobly and a light seemed to emanate from them.

‘Ah, you made it back, Red. Good! We thought you had been blown away!’ Rig smiled, standing proudly to one side of the ‘thrones’. He bore the horn on his back, attached by a leather-braided strap.

‘I nearly was! That blew away the cobwebs, for sure! But what’s going on here?’

‘You’re not in Kansas anymore, Eddy Redcrow!’ boomed One Eye, and they all laughed.

Eddy looked at the President – still the pot-bellied, grey-bearded larger-than-life biker, but something about him looked … kingly. ‘Does that make you the Wizard of Oz now?’

One Eye looked at him with his glittering eye, as keen as an eagle’s: ‘Perhaps,’ he smiled, raising his tankard. ‘But then you must be Dorothy!’

Everybody roared at this.

They were all there: The Hammer; Rig; Tear; Honer; Niggard … all now with a new energy about them. Not scrubbed up – but a power still shone through the grime.

‘Come sit with us, drink. You have earned a place here, Hornfinder.’

Uneasily, Eddy sat at one end of the bench, which lined the sides of the marquee, framing the central ‘high table’.

He was greeted warmly by fellow patches – a horn of mead thrust into his hand. He diplomatically raised it first to the committee. ‘Hail to our … President … Not sure what to call you anymore?’ he called out.

‘Oh, One Eye will do. I have been known by many names through the ages.  What need do we have of formality at the end of the world? Our names will no longer matter, only our deeds.’

Fists thumped upon the benches in agreement.

‘We have been slumbering for too long,’ spoke One Eye. ‘We have let our true power smoulder. But we shall smoor the hearth no longer! The final battle is coming and we must make ready! The signs in the sky, in the sea, in the land, are clear. Ragnarok is upon us! The crone’s prophecy has come to pass. Brother fights brother. It is a gun age, a bomb age. Our enemies circle near – but the Devil’s Hogs are mere cockroaches. We will shirk from the lesser skirmishes, but we must be prepared to fight the greater. The President of the West is our nemesis – he does everything in his power to bring about the destruction of the nine worlds.’

Eddy’s mind reeled. Koil? Was One-Eye talking about the president of the USA? He was a gold-plated ass-hole, for sure; and had some questionable friends, but surely…

‘Koil is the one god who didn’t go to sleep,’ One Eye continued. ‘But finally, we have awoken from our centuries of slumber … Hugin! Munin!’ He shook his head, and the tattoos on either side of his skull came alive.

Eddy blinked as two ravens suddenly hopped onto the president’s shoulders, cronking and stretching their wings of folded night before settling down.

One Eye made a twisting gesture with his ringed fingers and from the eyes of one of the ravens beams shot, splitting the smoky shadows. He whistled and from the other raven came sounds to match those images.

Eddy watched in wonder at the flickering kaleidoscope of newspapers, newsreels, websites, social media, CCTV footage, and satellite images, flashing onto the walls of the marquee. Images stretching throughout history of conflict, warfare, pollution, hate crimes, corruption. One Eye snapped his fingers and all at once the swirling montage froze on the face of a man, at times a captain of industry, a politician, a media mogul … appearing in paintings, engravings, grainy photographs and footage from over the centuries to slick corporate portraits of the present day – different at first glance, but as the images enlarged, zooming in on the eyes, Eddy noticed the similarity.

The eyes, they all shared the same pair of eyes, gleaming with malevolent amusement.

One Eye laughed bitterly. ‘I can see it so clearly now my true sight has been restored. He has blinded us all, but no more! Koil is none other than our beloved Loki. What better job for the old trickster god himself than the President of the most powerful nation on Earth? And if half of them had known his true nature they would have voted for him twice over. He marshals all the forces of chaos and destruction at this end of times, and we must be ready to meet him in the field of battle.’

His head spinning, Eddy staggered from the tent. Falling to his knees, he gulped down the icy air. A familiar pair of killer boots stepped before him. He looked up and beheld Fenja, who stood there before him, her skin glistening with frost.

‘Is it … is it true?’ he gasped.

She gazed down at him with her fox-fire eyes. ‘Yes, all of it.’

***

Extract of Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Keep reading…

NEXT CHAPTER

The Twilight of the Gods

‘Raging Wotan rides to the rock! Like a storm he comes!’ Illustration from Wagner’s Rhinegold and the Valkyries, by Arthur Rackham, 1912

@POTUS_47

3.34am

Oh boy! Crazy weather! But fear not, great nation! Fortitude and Faith! I’ve invited some allies to help protect our assets in this period of difficulty. DO NOT BE ALARMED! They may be ugly bastards, but the friendship I have with them is the highest level of special!

3.35am

I share some common ancestry with them on my mother’s side.

3.37am

Nordic, of course. HA! HA! HA!

3.39am

I once was entertained by a really hot Scandinavian chick in one of my hotels over there, in Norland. Boy! She was an 11! She could piss ice-cubes! Never had bourbon on the rocks like that before! I hope we aint distant cousins!

Chapter 9: The Twilight of the Gods

‘That went well…’ Eddy eased his battered, aching body from his stolen bike.

Dash and Blitzen were in an even worse state than him – black eyes and bloodied noses, but they grinned maniacally. ‘Can’t beat a good scrap!’ said Dash through swollen lips. ‘Let’s go and get wrecked!’ suggested Blitzen, spitting out a loose tooth.

Hobbling and helping each other, the three of them made their way to the bar – laughing and wincing in equal measure.

Around them the Wild Hunt was buzzing with post dust-up adrenalin. Wounds were being proudly shared and discussed, bikes were being checked, weaponry readied. It chilled Eddy to see the handguns, even the odd semi-automatic. Jeezus! Things were getting serious! He should have expected it, joining a serious biker gang. It was never going to be a peace picnic. But he didn’t expect to see so much armoury this side of the pond.

As they got their beers and sank down onto the bench, they clinked bottles and, between careful appreciative sips of the chilled brew, discussed what was going to happen next.

‘An open attack between gang members will inevitably lead to all out war,’ declared Blitzen, taking a tug.

Dash nodded. ‘The fragile truce of the Gathering had been broken. Things are going to turn real nasty.’

The gleeful tone in his voice made Eddy think he was looking forward to it. If it was anything like the bikers wars back home, it wasn’t going to be any kind of glorious war movie. He remembered with a shudder the stories he’d heard from eye witnesses, victims, and survivors about the Quebec Biker War.

‘But …’ Eddy tried to find the right phrase. ‘Our president was warning us to do the opposite – to work together to survive the greater threat…’

‘Oh, I loved all that Ragnarok shit, man!’ said Dash, eyes shining from behind the bruises.

‘If it’s the end of the world, then we need to look after our own,’ commented Blitzen, finishing the dregs of his beer. ‘Talking of which, I believe it’s your round, Red. You probably owe us several after what we went through back there to save your half-breed ass!’

Eddy raised his hands. ‘My bad. I better get some shots in then.’

Dash and Blitzen cheered, high-fived each other and regretted it. ‘Ow, my fingers!’ ‘I think I’ve broken my wrist!’

As Eddy waited by the bar, looking over the high-spirited revelry, he couldn’t help shake off the feeling he was on the deck of the Titanic.

The sky was an abattoir over the milky, limpid waters of the bay. Eddy sat on the groyne, thoughtfully watching the dying light. He sucked in the bracing, acrid air and tried to clear his head. The sea was at low tide, and the waves expired upon the sands with little energy, exhausted after their long journey.

He felt the same.

Perhaps it was just the inevitable come down after such an adrenalin high – the buzz of a biker rumble. But maybe it was more.

He sighed and it sounded like the last gasps of the waves.

‘Hey, how’s it going there, troublemaker?’

Eddy turned to see Fenja, and his heart lifted. Here at least was one – very good – reason to be here, to stay.

She slipped her arm into his and they watched the blood-milk waters together.

‘I’ll live. The way everyone jumped in, back there… I’ve never had anyone cover my back before.’

‘Welcome to the Wild Hunt. We protect our own.’

‘The Hammer and Tear – they were like fucking superheroes, man!’ Eddy mimed some of their moves. ‘Wow!’

‘Yes, they’re handy in a fight, those two,’ Fenja smiled.

‘How are they?’

‘Oh, none the worse. A dust-up like that gives them the horn. They certainly made the Hogs pay, as did Honer, our tailgunner. He reckons they iced a dozen between them, at least.’

Eddy gazed over the deepening crimson of the bay, feeling sick inside.

‘Don’t feel guilty. They started it, and they had it coming. They’ve attacked our club and our allies more times than I can remember. A lot of blood was owed.’

‘But … there will be reprisals. An eye for an eye… When does it stop?’

Fenja looked at him with surprise. ‘Stop? This is the way of the world. Life. Death. The blood of birth; the blood of the dying. It’ll end when the world ends.’

Eddy looked at the last embers of the day. The bloated red sun, as it slipped over the horizon, seemed to wink shut like a giant eye.

‘According to One-Eye, that’s happening.’

A green flash shot across their line of sight; then a chill breeze swept in from the darkling sea.

‘The tears of Venus … Yes, I’m afraid it is…’ She shivered and Eddy put his jacket round her shoulders and held her close. She suddenly seemed vulnerable, gazing at the encroaching night.

‘Come on, you don’t believe in all that stuff do you? Surely One Eye was talking figuratively? Sure, the weather is fucked. We know that. But it’s nothing to do with wolves and giants?’

She pulled away from him, furious. ‘Isn’t it? And what do you know?’

‘Hey… I’m sorry, alright.’ He held out his hands in peace. ‘I’m out of my depth here… All I know is what my senses tell me. I see a bunch of cool bikers with a president trying to do the right thing. He was the only one talking sense up there on that hill. We do need to work together to survive. It’s not just the weather that is screwy. The world is fucked. That Koil guy. Sheesh. Ass-holes like him are making it worse. They’re not just fiddling as Rome burns – they’re pouring on the gasoline.’

Fenja’s stiffened body language softened, and she allowed herself to be held again. ‘Your senses do not deceive, but there is more than meets the eye here too. The world you see … it is only one of many. And the people you see around you … One Eye, The Hammer, Rig, Tear, Honer … they are more than just men and women.’

Eddy’s brow furrowed. ‘What do you mean?’

Fenja took hold of his face with her long fingers and looked him square into his eyes. Her pale blue eyes seemed to suck in the remaining light and almost glow praeternaturally in the twilight. ‘We are the old gods and we live amongst you. Once people worshipped us, and we were mighty. But man is cursed with amnesia. He forgets the oaths he made, the offerings. The blessings we showered upon him and his line. We made the Vikings great. Inspired them to cross the Whale’s Road, to be feared and followed. Their legacy lives on in far-flung corners as well as the old lands. But these are modern times. It is a digital age, a cold age, an age of communication when nobody says anything, an age of speed when nobody is moved. People stare at screens instead of the sky, worry about petty things instead of wonder about great things, worship the machine and let it run their lives. It is an age of cowards and cretins. You have forgotten how to fight for what you love and are led by fools. You do not dream hard enough and are lost in the false dreams of others. Who remembers the old gods when you only have time for the god of greed?’

Eddy was moved by her passion. Her words struck him to the core, but the little voice in his mind could not help but question Fenja’s bold claims. ‘The spirit of what you say rings true, but … are you saying that our committee are the – what did Grandpa Gunnar call them…’ He searched for the word from childhood memories of his grandfather’s sagas. ‘…The Aesir?’

Fenja stood up, towering above him at her full height. She seemed even taller than usual, her spiky white-gold hair framing her head like a glory of the mountains.  ‘Yes. And gods who became men can become gods again.’ Her voice took on an icy edge. ‘You are not the only one here with the blood of two worlds flowing in your veins, Eddy Redcrow!’

He got to his feet, wincing a little at the effort.

‘Kneel!’

The power of her voice made him instantly obey and he dropped to the sand.

‘My father is a frost giant. Once his heart was melted by a mortal woman … but I am my father’s daughter. Sometimes I feel I belong more in his realm of ice and mist than here, in Midgard. But … your messed up world fascinates me.’ She scanned the camp, the town beyond, with a haunted longing.  ‘Perhaps part of me wants to reconnect with my mother. The love she had for my father killed her. I am afraid ours may too be a fatal attraction. Be warned!’ Her breath escaped in a freezing cloud.

Eddy trembled before her, as an icy atmosphere engulfed him, but he gritted his chattering teeth. ‘Wherever you are from; whoever your parents were … all I know is this. I love you, Fenja! Let me be your lover! I am not afraid!’

The icy cloud faded, and Fenja seemed to reduce in height a little, and became once more ‘just’ a dangerously beautiful, tall, blonde biker woman. She stepped forward. ‘You may stand if you wish…’ she smiled.

Eddy did so, with a little grunt of effort, and they embraced. She held him close, trembling. ‘You’re freezing!’

‘Let me steal your body heat, human!’ she laughed.

They kissed and the heat of that flooded through them.

‘Run away with me, Fen,’ he whispered to her.

She looked at him sceptically, white eyebrow raised.

‘Let’s leave this place, this island, this madness. Come back with me to Canada. It is full of wild beauty. Long, long roads through the wilderness. Great riding! I’d love to introduce you to my people. We could start a life there…’

She pulled away from him. ‘No. This is your tribe now. You have your patch. Your colours. You need to choose, Eddy. Where do you want to belong? When you’ve made your mind up, let me know!’

Fenja stormed off, and he watched her go, his heart heavy.

The last redness in the sky had been obliterated by the grey cloud. The sea was a black, uncrossable mystery.

Where did he belong? Who was his tribe? Perhaps he was fooling himself, trying to fit into this mob? Norse gods? Frost giants? They sounded crazier than him. Sure, his friends, his family back in Gimli, were just as crazy – with all their quirks and peccadilloes – but it was a craziness he could deal with.

Eddy gazed across the dark sea. Perhaps it was time for him to leave.

Extract of Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Keep reading…

NEXT CHAPTER

The Initiation

GUN CONTROL weapon politics anarchy protest political weapons guns fire  military wallpaper | 2000x1333 | 487269 | WallpaperUP

PATRIOT NEWS

Huge Increase in the War Chest

A Whitehouse spokesman today announced a massive increase in military spending. Over the next five years $300 billion will be spent on strengthening American armed forces and defences. President Koil was quoted as saying: ‘We need a stronger Army, a stronger Navy, a stronger Air Force. We need to be able to protect our assets at home and abroad. Nobody respects a weak nation. Nobody. We need to be the strongest nation on Earth. I’m keen to develop advanced weapons technology that will give us the edge over our enemies. They are some exciting ideas on the table, but I can’t say any more than that.’

Chapter 6: The Initiation

‘Here’s to the new prospect!’

Eddy clinked bottles with Bog, who he had met in a bar in Peel – the Banshees were doing a ‘pub crawl of the island’ and were currently doing their best to drink the west coast town dry. They were on friendly terms with the Wild Hogs and so were allowed on their turf, as long as they paid tribute – which involved getting everyone roaring drunk. Impromptu sessions had kicked off in some of the bars, and hearing the Irish jigs and reels, Eddy, still on a post-gig high and keen to party, had wandered into one and had bumped into the new friend – or rather Bog had backed into him with a handful of pints. They were both soaked in beer, but they just laughed as they recognised one another.

‘Red, you fecking eejit! Thought I’d bump into you here, but not literally!’

‘Bog, good to see you! Like the new iron.’

Bog was sporting a shiny new nose-ring – a design he had spotted since he’d arrived on the island. ‘Ah, that thing! My Knoz-ringtm . Help filter this filthy air. They’re all the rage in Douglas now!’ He nodded to the floor. ‘Shocking waste of good ale that…’

Eddy offered to get a fresh round in, and once this was collected he joined his new mate to catch up.

‘Ah, that’s more like it! Full glass, full tank, full woman!’ Bog raised his pint. ‘Slainte!’

‘Slainte!’ Eddy replied, laughing. They clinked glasses.

As the beer started to flow, Eddy filled him in on the recent developments in animated fashion. Pausing for breath, he took a thoughtful sip. ‘So, what do I have to do next, do you reckon?’

‘Well now, there’s the thing.’ Bog stacked some beer mats on his elbow. ‘Most clubs expect prospects to ‘show willing’ for a good year or so. Eat shit, basically. Be their bitch. Some make you do crazy shit. The criminal variety I’m talking about. Anything from breaking and entering to buggering a corpse.’ He flipped his arms and snatched the mats out of the air.

Eddy looked mortified, which made his friend chuckle as he swigged his beer.

‘But your fellas, the Wild Hunt.’ He tried the mat-trick on his other elbow. ‘They are gold standard bad arses. Feck knows what they’ll make you do!’ He flipped his arms and the mats went everywhere. ‘Shite!’

Eddy downed his beer.

‘Well, this is what happens if you fall for a bird from Val-fucking-halla… I just hope she’s worth it, Red.’

Slamming his empty down, Eddy’s eyes gleamed. ‘Yes, yes she is.’

‘Then, best of Irish to you, my friend. And get another round in. If you’re gonna hang out with the Vikings, I’d better teach you how to drink.’


The next morning Eddy staggered along the seafront, rubbing his eyes and squinting at the sun which was being objectionable – breaking over the town, shouting ‘Glory, hallelujah!’ when for some contrite ‘Hail Marys’ would have done. Cursing his friend, he shook his head, laughing at the confused montage of madness from the night before – which seemed to involve dancing on the pool table at one point, badly juggling the balls and balancing the cues on their chins; racing a dwarf down the high street on their knees; snogging a bearded nun; and other dubious activities. ‘Oh, my head!’ Eddy winced, gulping down the fresh air; hoping that the bile would subside. The sharp smell of brine, the screech of the seagulls, the piss streaked streets – everything made him nauseous.

It was early and there were very few signs of life – only a few small cooking fires smouldering down on the beach encampment. Detritus was devilled by the morning breeze across the promenade. A few bodies lay snoring where they had collapsed the night before, strewn like victims in a massacre. The place felt like a war-zone where a truce had been called.

Eddy’s head felt like a bloated jelly-fish. He had to do something to sober up, so he made his way down to the sea, stripped off and plunged into the spume. The shock of the cold made him gasp, but he swam out into the bay.

It was then he noticed another swimmer a few hundred yards away. Hard to discern more than the bobbing head amid the scintillation of shivelights piercing the pall of cloud. He shielded his eyes. Was that a flash of blonde hair?

He swam closer, curious.

By the time he got to the other side of the bay, the figure had started to emerge. Eddy’s pulsed race, as he recognised the tall, slim figure rise from the waters. Clothed in nothing except the dazzle of light, the foamy spume sluiced from her pale skin as she stepped onto the sand. She bent to pick up her towel, and drying herself, half-turned towards him.

‘Hey, Fenja! Good morning.’

Was that the ghost of a smile, as she wrapped the towel around her torso and walked back to the main marquee?

Eddy was glad the water hid his erection, but it took a while before he was able to get out.

A fried breakfast inside of him, and several cups of coffee, and Eddy was starting to feel normal again and ready for the challenges that lay ahead. As he sat back with a sigh, taking in the vista – no longer so offensive to his senses, he saw three burly Wild Hunt members swagger towards him – two men and a woman. They looked like they meant business.

Their large frames blocked out the view. ‘Come with us.’

‘Morning! I’ll just finish this coff—’

‘Now!’

Eddy got up and followed.

‘So it begins,’ he muttered to himself.


Eddy was taken into the centre of the biker camp – a clearing by the main firepit.

‘Stand here,’ one of the three grunted, shoving him into the fire pit. He could feel the heat of the ash through the souls of his boots.

‘Hey, this is still hot!’

‘Best not to complain,’ offered the old man next to him. ‘Could be part of the initiation.’ Bald headed, with a grey-beard and pinched expressed. He held out his hand. ‘Gunther.’

‘Eddy.’

On his other side stood a woman with a Mediterranean air about her.

‘That’s Cruz. She doesn’t speak much.’

Eddy nodded to her, but she ignored him – eyes forward, stance proud, paying no heed to the hot ash.

The foul reek of singeing rubber started to assail his nostrils.

A few of the patches gathered round – a bit of entertainment over breakfast.

Finally, the warriors returned, escorting the tall female with the hammer tattoos on her hands Eddy had seen in the procession. The crowded respectfully stood back.

She towered over them, glaring, shaking her head sceptically.

‘Audhumla’s udders! What a pitiful selection. These are the prospects? Are you sure?’ she gestured to the three guards in disbelief. ‘I didn’t order a plumber, a pizza guy, or a hooker.’

Gruff laughter from the circle.

‘Though I could certainly make use of them. Would make for an interesting morning.’

More laughter.

The three of them stood there, taking it.

‘So, you think you’ve got what it takes to join the Wild Hunt, do you? Do we look desperate? Better you leave now. Go on, fuck off!’ She snarled in their faces, pointing back to the town.

They stood there, chins out, heads high, boots smouldering.

‘Maybe they’ve welded to the sand!’ The Hammer roared as she pushed the old guy back. He fell on his arse in the ash, howling as his hands hit the hot ash. He quickly got to his feet, blowing on his palms.

‘Mmm. Maybe they’re serious after all. What do you think? should we let them prove themselves?’

Murmurs from the gathering crowd. ‘Why not? it’ll be a laugh!’ called out one, which got a few cheers.

The Hammer eyed them fiercely. ‘Very well. Prospects, you have a chance to prove your worth. Normally, it’ll take few months of being dogsbodies and the butts of all our jokes and pranks before we start to take you seriously. But these are … unusual times. Things are happening, happening fast. And there is something useful you can do… If you don’t fuck it up, then you’re get your patch.’

Each of them stiffened, keen to hear the task at hand.

‘One of our bikes was stolen by those Svartheim scum, the Devils Hogs. They’ve had it for a few weeks, stolen from one of our members in Switzerland. They’ve brought it over here to show off. Flaunting it in our faces.’

Growls from the crowd at the mention of the name of their arch-rivals.

‘It’s been kept in their camp at Ramsey. If you can steal it back, and get it back to here in one piece, you would have earned your patch. Do you except this challenge?’

Each of them looked nervous. Ride into the enemy camp and steal a bike from under their noses? It was a suicide mission!

Eddy suddenly caught a glimpse of Fenja, watching the proceedings from the main marquee. The flash of her standing in the morning light, naked, smiling, came to him. Without further thought, Eddy stepped forward and called out. ‘Yes, I accept!’

The other two did the same.

‘Very well. Our Rig, our Road Captain, will give you the details. You will use your own bikes for the mission and wear no identifying marks. If you fail, we don’t know who you are, and we don’t care.’ The Hammer left.

The circle disbanded, the patches ignoring them again. They may as well have been invisible.

Gunther and Eddy exchanged glances, rolling eyes and blowing out cheeks. Cruz quickly walked down to the cooling shoreline, and they stamped their smouldering boots out in the sand. ‘Well, Geronimo…’ said Eddy.

Rig showed them the photo of the stolen bike on his tablet. ‘Look hard. Remember the detail. Don’t bring back any other, or you’ll just be turned away. No marks on it, not a scratch, or your life will be forfeit. You don’t want to know who this belongs to, believe me. It’ll make you even more nervous. Just treat it like the Brisingamen itself.’

Eddy scrutinised the photo, letting out a low whistle. It was a work of art – a real show bike, a Bündnerbike Softtail Blue Edition – decorated with diamonds and gold-plated screws.

‘This is worth millions!’ gasped Gunther.

Rig gave them each a map of the island, identifying the Ramsey camp, plus a hand-drawn ‘reconnaissance’ map, with greater detail. ‘This is what our scouts have managed to find out. You may be able to find a way in through one of the drainage ditches, but the perimeter is going to be heavily guarded. The Hogs have guard dogs and assault rifles. They don’t mess about. They will rub you out in an instant.’

Gunther raised his hand. ‘Where will we find the ignition key?’

‘No need. Here’s the spare. Don’t lose it.’ Rig tossed it to the old man. It was gold, on a Bündnerbike fob.  ‘Remember, work as a team and you may survive this. The success of the hunt comes down to collaboration. That’s the Wild Hunt way. No one hunts alone. Now go. Odin be with you.’

It was lunchtime when Eddy made the mistake of going into town for a bite to eat. He met Bog outside a chippy and was talked into some ‘hair of the dog’ (or Fenris’ Pubes, as the local brew ‘Wolf Moon’ was nicknamed, specially made for the Wild Hunt gathering).

‘Well, here’s some Dutch courage, you crazy fekker. Get this down you!’ said Bog, thrusting the blood-red pint at him.

Eddy shrugged at took a sip. Anything to calm his nerves and quell the sick feeling in his guts.

‘Oh, and here’s a good luck present!’ Bog tossed him a small paper bag.

Inside was a box. Eddy opened it, and saw a Knoz-ringtm.

‘Now don’t think I’ve gone all gay on yous or anything. I had a spare. I don’t like one up each snout-hole. Me. I like to sniff the air. Beer. A woman. The sea. Even if the air these days smells like the All-mighty has let rip a wet one.’

‘Cheers, Bog!’ Eddy had a piercing that had nearly healed up. He thrust in the spike with a wince, and clipped the filter into place, taking a deep breath. ‘Ahh! Wow. It really makes a difference, doesn’t it? It’s amazing what you get used to.’

‘The sky’s been shite since the Evil Sorceress blew her stack. Not good for yer constitution. These Knoz fellas are making a killing, but fair play to them.’

Eddy sipped some more of his pint, knowing he couldn’t have more. ‘Talking of making a killing, it’s the Devil’s Hogs I’m worried about. From what I’ve seen they don’t play nice.’

‘Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Just keep your head down. Stay shiny side up.’

‘I don’t have the luck of the Irish, like you.’

‘Mm, maybe not. We can’t all be born blessed with good lucks and charm. But, the Isle of Man is a mongrel – like you, like me.’

Eddy raised an eyebrow, puzzled.

‘Have you met many Irish-Asians before? Don’t say you didn’t notice my fine Irish coffee skin-tone? Anyways, Man has both Gaelic and Norse influences – a place where the worlds meet. It’s in the place-names; Hell, it’s in the bones of the land here. So, one thing I can offer you – whenever you cross a bridge here, say good morning or goodnight to the Good People.’

‘The Good People?’

‘The People of Peace, the Kind Neighbours, Themselves.’

Eddy was still non-plussed.

‘There’s more than one Fairy Bridge here, that’s all I’m saying.’ Bog tapped his nose, then raised his pint and finished it off. ‘Go get your patch and get your woman, Red! And savour the sweet air, for every day alive on this Earth is a fekking miracle, and that’s the truth!’ Bog was distracted by a good-looking biker-woman, who smiled provocatively at him. He got up to follow, smoothing his wild mane. ‘Now I’m gonna make the most of it, and you’re gonna get some food and caffeine down you!’

‘So, what’s the plan?’ asked Eddy hopefully, as they crouched amid the undergrowth on a hillside overlooking the Devils Hogs camp at Ramsey – expanding like a syphilitic rash from the edges of the north-east coastal town. It was mid-afternoon, and the air was filled with the rumble of bikes, gunfire, and the smoke of burning caravans and trailers. They had set light to the surrounding land, which created an intermittent wall of flame which stood between them and their objective. The blackened ‘buffer zone’ beyond did not offer much in the way of cover.

‘Beats me. Perhaps Ladyhawke here has an idea?’

Cruz, who still hadn’t spoken a word to either of them, lay prone amid the grass, eyes fixed upon the smoky vista of the encampment. She scrutinised the comings and goings of the packs of bikers from the main access points.

‘According to the map it used to be camping and caravanning park,’ offered Gunther, to nobody in particular.

‘Well, looks like they’ve evicted any residents…’ quipped Eddy, dryly, just as one of the trailers collapsed in upon itself.

‘They are animals. We must be insane to be even considering this…!’ complained Gunther.

‘Then walk away. Forget the Wild Hunt. There are other biker gangs, if you really need to join something. Me, I’ve never been much of a joiner…’

Gunther gave him a curious look. ‘Then why are you…?’

Cruz turned back to them. ‘A woman. It’s always about a woman.’

The two men looked at one another, surprised to hear their silent companion finally speak, her voice husky with the spice of Galicia.

She scrambled back to join them. ‘This is what we do.’ She met their puzzled stares, unblinking. ‘We approach from three directions, using the drainage ditches – they will be filthy, but at least they’ll be wet, protecting us from the flames, and providing cover. Also, that way improves our chances by three.’

‘Makes sense,’ said Gunther, ‘though I wish there was another way than their open sewers…’

‘Shit happens,’ added Eddy. ‘Go on.’

‘The compound where they keep the bikes is here. We’ll need a distraction…’

‘Ah, I was afraid you were going to say that…’ said Eddy.

‘An explosion would be good.’

‘An explo—! Are you insane!’ gasped Gunther.

‘She’s right. Mmm.’ Eddy scanned the hazy vista. ‘Some of those caravans haven’t gone up yet. They’ll have gas canisters in.’

‘Good. You create the diversion. Gunther, open this rear gate. It looks like it’s a five-bar one leading into a field, which leads onto this lane … here. I can follow that up the mountain road, lose them in the hills.’

‘Hey! Hang on a minute!’ said Eddy. ‘And that leaves you to ride out of Dodge, leaving us up shit creek, no paddle! No way, José!’

Cruz gave him a look. ‘They’ll all chase after me. Plenty of opportunity to steal a couple of bikes. If they’re like the Hunt at all, they’ll leave keys in ignition, ’cause nobody would dare to steal another patches’ bike. You can just ride back to where we’ve hid the bikes – take the long road home, heading north and following the coast. I’ll have to get mine when the craziness dies down.’

Eddy shrugged. ‘Well, I’m not happy … but it’s the best we’ve got. Unless you’ve got a brighter idea, Gunther?’

The German shook his head, shame-faced.

Cruz held out her hand. ‘Then give me the key.’

Gunther cursed under his breath, but reluctantly handed it over.

‘Okay, let’s stash the bikes and wait for sundown.’

They hid the bikes in a small stretch of woodland called ‘Elfin Glen’ which had an access track connecting to the mountain road. It was a bit of a walk to the Hogs’ camp, via the circuitous route of the drainage ditches, but it felt at safe distance. On a bike it would take a minute.

They smeared charcoal on their faces, eyes pale in the twilight. ‘Right, let’s do this thing,’ said Eddy. ‘For the Wild Hunt and glory.’

‘The Wild Hunt and glory!’

Silently, they parted, each taking to their respective route.

Eddy made his way quietly through a plantation, hyper-aware of every sound he made – the slightest crack of a twig, his breathing. His boots sank into the carpet of needles, which fortunately seemed to suck up most sound. In the distance, the rumble of bikes, of death metal music, gun shots and wild screams grew louder.

 He came to the edge of the pines and stared across a blackened wasteland of smouldering stumps. Covering his mouth and nose with his scarf, he scrambled down into the drainage ditch, his legs sinking into the icy gloop.

Gritting his teeth, he made his way towards the camp.

He tried to focus on the image of Fenja on the beach, turning to him amid the glittering light, as the water turned to raw sewage.

Gagging on the reek, he choked down the bile, and pushed on.

The nearer he got to the camp, the more the ditch became clogged with trash – bottles, cans, pizza boxes and barbecues, broken or unwanted stuff.

He froze as he heard voices nearby. Two or three Hogs, complaining about the shite beer and ugly women.

‘Give me a pint from my local and a night with that blonde barmaid any day…’

 ‘Yeah, the women here seem to have been bred with the cattle.’

‘You’ve never complained about a good pair of udders before.’

He crouched as low as he possibly could, hoping the muck he was covered with would help camouflage him.

A zip unfastened and a warm trickle splashed down on his face.

He flinched, but bit his tongue.

‘Ah, empty the tank. Make room for more of that piss.’

‘Yeah, does the job though, dunnit? Hurry up, Naz. Done playing with yourself yet? We’ve got to do a circuit of the perimeter before we can get our nosh.’

The zip is fastened and heavy boots crash through the burnt layer of undergrowth. ‘Hold up, you whazzers!’

The voices fade, and Eddy shuddered with disgust. His leather jacket took the worst but some went in his hair, clinging warm to his neck.

He pushed on, slipping under a wire fence. The surroundings changed to the manicured lawns of the golf course, churned up by bikes. The Hogs had turned it into their own motorcross circuit – a drunken biker skidded erratically across a green, plunged through a bunker, churning up the sand, and then shot out across the rough, leaping over the ditch within inches of his face, before roaring off into the gathering gloom.

Peeping over the edge, Eddy scanned the vicinity. The clubhouse was clearly the centre of things and was in full swing, going by the rock music and raucous sounds coming from within and outside.

The ditch headed towards the trailer park – now resembling some kind of cemetery for holiday homes. Most were burnt out shells, but one or two remained relatively intact. Why would they destroy them rather than use them as billets, he wondered? That was probably typical of the Hogs. Violence and destruction for its own sake was the order of the day with them.

Heart thudding in his chest, he crawled out of the ditch towards a trailer, slipping beneath it, hugging the shadows as a pair of legs staggered by. A belch and a crash of glass; then it was clear.

He wriggled out to the front of the trailer where the large gas canisters were hooked up. One in use; one spare. Looking around to check he wasn’t being observed, he set to work. He unscrewed both, unhooking the connecting pipe, and letting the gas escape with a sinister hiss.

Pulling out his zippo, he edged back to the ditch. Checked his watch. An hour since they split. Everybody should be in place. It was now or never.

He snapped the zippo open, clicked the flame alight, enlarged it to max, and then tossed it towards the canisters.

Diving into the ditch, he covered his head as the explosion ripped open the night.

Showtime.

The sound deafened him momentarily.

As the whining abated he heard cries of alarm, calls to action, bikes revving up, arclights coming on.

Now to get the hell out of here!

He waded along the ditch until he was a safe distance from the blaze he had caused, where most of the bikers had gathered.

With relief, he extricated himself from the foul water.

‘The things I do for love,’ he muttered to himself.

Amid the chaos, Eddy raced towards the hard-standing, where the majority of the bikes were parked.

Two or three Hogs lingered there, but were called over to help with the spreading fire. Moaning, they left to pitch in.

Now was his chance. Eddy scanned the bikes and picked not the fattest, but the fastest looking – less fork, more torc, as his buddies in the band liked to say back home. Choppers looked cool and were great to ride on long straight roads, but weren’t designed for these poky British lanes with all their twists and turns.

He jumped on the scruffy, stripped down soft-tail and thanked Crazy Horse for the key sitting in the ignition. With a flick of his wrist it started up. He gave it a couple of revs, and it sounded hungry for the road.

Just as he skidded out of the compound, he heard the shouts.

Cruz blasted by on the gleaming bike Rig had shown them.

‘Catch her!’ somebody roared. ‘Or you’re all dead!’

A posse of mean-looking bikes skidded in the gravel and growled after her.

Eddy prayed Gunther had sorted the gate, and floored it, hot on their tail.

Cruz shot like a bat out of hell, straight across the camp. Tents, people – it didn’t matter what was in her way.

A pack of a dozen bikes were already on her tail.

Eddy could see the gap at the far end of the site, silhouetted by the burning fields beyond.

Gunther had done it!

If she could make the gap … There were too many of them to go through all at once. It would thin them out, slow them down.

Eddy sped along behind the hunting party, ignored by them, and by those dealing with the fire. There was another blast. Out the corner of his eye he saw a trailer lift into the eye, and topple onto some of the Hogs.

Cruz shot through the gap like a blue bullet. That was one helluva bike, whistled Eddy.

Her pursuers awkwardly thinned out as they filtered through after her.

Then it was clear.

As Eddy reached the gate, Gunther appeared from the shadows.

‘I didn’t get time to go back and get some wheels!’ he shouted.

‘Never mind! Jump on!’

Gunther leapt onto the back and grabbed the rail.

Eddy blasted out of the compound. Riding across the smouldering fields wasn’t very pleasant, even along the farm track and he was relieved when they reached the far side, where it entered the cool pine plantation. In the distance he could see the headlight cones and hear the snarl of racing engines, as Cruz and her pursuers hit the mountain road.

Eddy headed to the Elfin Glen as quickly as possible, but when he approached their bike stash Hogs emerged from the trees and starting firing at them.

‘They found the bikes! Hold on!’ Eddy yanked on the throttle and the bike raced straight towards the Hogs, making them dive to safety.

Not letting up, he gunned the bike onwards, swerving to avoid the gunfire.

But then there was a sickening dull thud and Gunther fell from the back of the bike.

‘No!’

Eddy skidded to a stop.

Gunther’s body lay motionless on the floor in a broken heap.

‘Fuck! Gunther!’

There was no reply, except the revving of engines. Beams split the night.

He had to go.

Feeling sick inside, he bolted out of the glen and onto the mountain road, hearing the Hogs on his tail.

The road snaked up the side of Snaefell, the highest point on the island. Its dark mass loomed ahead, picked out by the restless beams of the front pack.

Eddy put his foot down and started to see glimpses of their tail-lights appear around the bends. He had to tip the bike low to take the curves at such speed – a lot easier than with a pillion.

He was still in shock about Gunther. Those guys rubbed him out without even thinking. This shit was getting far too real for his liking.

All for a fucking bike. No. For his desire. For Fenja.

All he could do was make Gunther death not be in vain.

He had made the right choice with the bike, and started to catch up with Cruz’s pursuers.

Snarling, he gunned the engine to a dangerous speed and overtook the lead biker, weaving erratically, creating a pattern of interference to make them slow down, to give Cruz a chance.

Eddy was all too aware anyone of them could put a bead on him at any moment, but it would be hard to at such speeds. The curves of the road were his friend. Each bend kept him alive a little longer.

They were high up now – the Isle of Man spread out below them, the lights of the towns and villages like a terrestrial firmament.

Wind buffeted the side of the bike and he had to use all of his strength to keep it on the road. Sweat lined his limbs, dripped down his face. He had to hold on; hold his nerve.

He shivered as the temperature plummeted. They were up high, but not that high…

Skeins of mist drifted across the winding road.

The stars blinked out as the sky was consumed by dark clouds.

Suddenly, small projectiles started to smash onto the tarmac, onto his visor and upper body.

‘What the fuck?’

Hailstones the size of golf-balls started to cascade downwards. Eddy had to weave as much as possible around them but it was impossible to avoid them all. He could feel the grip of the wheels becoming less and less reliable and it took all of his skill to start upright.

Behind him he heard a crash, another. Someone’s gone down, taken some poor bastard with him.

The Gods must be on their side!

With relief the freak hail-storm died away, as he descended the other side of Snaefell.

Maybe they would make it after all…?

Ahead, he saw Cruz, who pulled over at the empty grandstand which overlooked the sharp bend down to Douglas.

Eddy pulled up by her.

Flipping up her helmet, she asked ‘Where’s Gunther?’

‘He didn’t make it.’

Cruz didn’t say anything.

They came off the main road, taking an obscure back route: Lanjaghan Lane.

For a moment it seemed like they had given their pursuers the slip, but then a cone of light appeared behind them, getting closer and closer. It was hard to go at any speed along such a narrow, twisting lane.

Gunshots split the air.

At any moment, one of them was going to get hit.

Eddy braced himself for the inevitable.

Up ahead there was a small bridge. Eddy suddenly recalled Bog’s crazy advice – the kind of shit his grandfather Running Bear would come out. Or Grandpa Gunnar, who saw elves everywhere. Every stream with its resident spirit. Every rock and tree… He’d never given the old beliefs much credence … until now.

Until his life depended upon it.

As they flew over the bridge he called out, ‘Good night, fairies! May you sleep in peace!’

As their pursuer reached bridge something happened to him: he vanished into a bank of mist. There was a crash, and the broken chassis of the bike skidded out of the mist, along the road, coming to a stop against the dry stone wall.

Riderless.

Eddy and Cruz both saw this, but didn’t want to say anything, in case it somehow directed the wrath of the ‘People of Peace’ onto them.

Silently, they continued. Eventually, the back lane intercepted the Peel Road.

No more bikes were on their tail. They had shaken them off, or something had…

Bog’s words echoed in Eddy’s mind: ‘…every day alive on this Earth is a fekking miracle.

Grateful for their lives, they headed back to Peel.

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Keep reading…

NEXT

Legs of Man

Steam Packet Company provides update on refunds after 2020 Isle of Man TT  Races cancelled due to coronavirus crisis | Belfast News Letter

@POTUS47

3.43am

THIS VOLCANO THING IS RUINING MY GOLF COURSES IN LEPRECORN-LAND. SOMEBODY NEEDS TO FIX IT PDQ!

3.55am

I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST THOSE SMURF-FUCKERS TO HAVE TRIGGERED IT ON PURPOSE. NOBODY CLOSES DOWN OUR AIRSPACE! NOBODY!

3.58am

I ONCE STAYED IN REKVIK. BAD MISTAKE!!! THEY SERVE YOU ROTTEN SHARK MEAT, FOR FUX-SAKE!!! DARK AGE RETARDS!!! STILL, I MET THIS STUNNER THERE, A 5 (DON’T TELL THE 1ST LADY) ;0) BOY COULD SHE RAISE THE GEEZER. DFGERG.

Chapter 4: Legs of Man

As the ramp slammed into place, the bikers queuing up warmed up their engines. The main bay of the ferry was almost entirely taken over by the riders, and, as Eddy noted, they weren’t the shiny weekend biker types. And there was a notable lack of the ubiquitous Adventure guys on their copycat GPS’, or the sports bike brigade in their garish leather jumpsuits. These were the grungier kind of biker – the notorious outlaw ‘one per cent’ – all on growling beasts of black and chrome: hogs or Victories or some Triumph Rockets. Many were marque-less, customised beyond recognition. And the riders wore their patches proudly on denim cut-offs over leathers. The Wild Hunt and the Devils Hogs seemed to be the most common. They queued up on opposite sides of the deck, an uneasy truce between them. The tension on the ferry had been palpable. A few fights had broken out on the bar. Chairs and tables had been smashed up. A bar ransacked before they’d been able to pull down the shutters. At least one person had been thrown overboard. Some seemed to be delighting in the ‘good times’. Eddy kept a low profile, watching warily from a corner.

And now here he was, on his Ducati, sticking out like a sore thumb. He filed into line, taking his place in the pack – right at the back. He didn’t want to get in the way of these guys, the inevitable burn up as soon as the all clear siren blasted.

He was here with one purpose alone – to find Fenja. He just needed to keep his head down. Not get into a fight. He was all too aware though, having been to biker rumbles in the States, how easy it was to find your self on the wrong end of a fist, especially if you were prowling the bars, scanning the biker women. Just looking in the wrong direction was enough to get yourself glassed or worse. Bikers were often cavemen like in their manners, but even more so when it came to their women – fiercely territorial, ready to violence, to defend their mate against a rival, yet all too keen to parade their trophy in front of everyone, happy for them to prance around in leather bikini tops and micro-shorts, take part in wet t-shirt contests, and egg them on into bitch-fights. No wonder so many of their pillion squeezes end up joining all-female biker gangs.

The siren sounded and there was a mighty roar from the collective engines. And the torrent of bikers broke onto the quayside of the island like a black wave.

Eddy was one of the last to exit, following the pack at a safe distance.

So, here he was. The legendary Isle of Man, home of the TT – biker Mecca for millions. Yet it was no Tourist Trophy that had brought all these petrol heads to the island this time. It was ‘the Gathering’. Word had gone out and bikers had come from all over Europe. It was already being talked about as the biggest biker rumble in history.

 As Eddy rode out along the promenade, he could believe it.

The seafront of Man’s capital had clearly seen better days. It had an old-fashioned air about it. The horse-drawn trams (made nervous by the bikes), retro amusement arcades, white painted phone boxes, and faded glory of it all hinted at a heyday long passed. The waves of visitors had receded to foreign shores, drawn away by cheap flights and fairer weather. It clearly tried to make the most of its vintage ambience, but felt more like a jilted bride stuck in her threadbare wedding dress, clutching a bouquet of wilted flowers.

Yet in the sharp light of the new day it took on a different aspect, taken over by the hordes of bikers. In front of the crumbling guest houses row upon row of gleaming bikes lined up. Gangs of one-percenters cruised up and down the main drag, pulling wheelies, or buzzing pedestrians. Seagulls squawked angrily, but for once their racket was drowned out by the rumble of engines. The air reeked of petrol, hot pipes, rubber, and pungent leather. It was like riding into the encampment of a medieval army, freshly landed and preparing itself for the invasion of the interior. Ellen Vannin was about to be ravished.

Is this the way the world ends, Eddy ruminated. Not with a bang, but with a rumble?

He’d never seen so many bikers together. Sure, he’d seen plenty of photographs and footage of Chapter rallies, but little of that kind of thing happened north of the border. Gimli, Manitoba was not known for its bikers. Eddy was a bit of a black swan there, but even more so here. He was never more aware of his redskin amid so many white males. Under his helmet he was still anonymous. One of ‘them’, of the two-wheeled genus, Homo Automatous, if not a specific sub-species identifiable by patch.

Nervously, he cruised past the rows of ‘Devils Hogs’ – riders sporting swastikas and iron crosses on their jackets and open face-helmets. Many sporting similar on their shaven heads. Wearing the standard chopper shades, faces bristling with metal, he felt their dark gaze as he passed by on his incongruous Ducati.  Without a club he was vulnerable. Fresh meat. Eddy had never been a joiner, but he could see the merits of being patched up in a place like this. If a member is attacked, then the attacker has to deal with the rest of the club. This ‘NATO’-like rule (‘all on one and one on all’, as the Angels put it) prevented all out war breaking out, most of the time – although that didn’t prevented the long-running blood-feud of some gangs, most notoriously the Hells Angels and the Outlaws.

Here it felt like the tension was ready to spill over at any minute. The air was thick with it, just like the dark clouds gathering over Snaefell. For now, the silver blades of sunlight kept ripping through the high thin gauze of cloud over the coast. There was a crackle of energy in the atmosphere, fuelled by petrol and testosterone and it was exhilarating.

Beyond the Devils Hogs, who had claimed the first main stretch of promenade, Eddy was relieved to see other, less obviously xenophobic, bikers. There was a formidable looking female biker gang, sporting ‘Valkyrie’ patches. Eddy’s heart leapt in hope, but as he scanned them he realised his mistake. Some of them looked even more dangerous than the Hogs, and Eddy felt the sobering sensation of feeling vulnerable as a man, as their glares warded him off. They had staked their pitch, claimed their bars and hotels, and abandon all hope, any man who dared to enter. If Fenja was with that lot, he didn’t stand a chance.

Eddy’s stomach growled and he could murder a coffee, feeling sluggish after the early crossing. He scanned the front for a spot to pull in by a decent looking café, but nowhere looked particularly safe. He would just have to take his chances.

Spotting an obviously popular ‘greasy spoon’ type diner, he backed his Ducati in between the ranks. Boldness was the key. Look like you’re meant to be there. He killed the engine and dismounted, trying to maintain a confident swagger – hard, when he was a feeling a bit spaced out from long hours on the road, lack of sleep, and sustenance.

He locked his helmet to his handlebars, and donned his shades, and went to queue up. The smell of coffee was good; the waft of cooking even better; and he started to consider the menu items.

‘Hey, ass-wipe, out of the way!’

Eddy turned to see one of the Nazi bikers growling at him, clenching his fist. His face was mask of metal and ink – his eyes burning with hostility, filed teeth bared.

‘Hey, no problem man. I didn’t realise you were in the queue.’

The shark pressed his face towards Eddy. ‘I am now, and you’re in my way!’

The crowd immediately around them started to circle, sensing a fight. A bunch of the Devils Hogs circled behind Eddy, cutting off any retreat. It was a no-win situation and he wasn’t feeling suicidal. He had other priorities than getting to Valhalla today. He lifted up his arms.            ‘Sure, go ahead. My mistake.’

‘Being born was your mistake!’ hissed the shark, before head-butting him.

Eddy’s nose exploded and there was a blur of fists and boots as he was laid into before he was able to react and defend himself.

Suddenly, the reality of what was happening to him kicked in, painfully, and adrenalin started to surge through his veins. He fended off a blow, and managed to regain an upright posture, squaring off to the attacker.

‘Ahh, look, he’s trying to play. Out of your depth here, kiddo! Striking a Devil’s Hog. You’ve just signed your death warrant.’ The shark man raised a spike ringed fist, ready to land another blow. His comrades closed in around Eddy, ready to do this same.

Suddenly a tall, red-headed figure burst into the circle in a drunken manner, falling on his face. He picked himself up and dusted himself down. ‘There you are, you big red eejit!’ He grabbed Eddy by the bloody collar, holding back shark-man with his other hand. ‘Jeezus, sorry to break up the party here, fellas. This prospect shite is one of ours.’

The Devil Hog members scanned the patch on the Irishman’s back.

‘That’s roight, Banshees. No messing with the Fenians. We’re practically on home turf here and there’s an awful lot of us here. And we’ve been on the Jamesons all night. A little dust-up would set us up grand for a fry up.’

The shark man spat on the floor at Eddy’s feet. ‘I won’t forget you, Redskin…’ He jabbed two fingers towards his own pinprick eyes, then at Eddy, before nodding to his mates, and slipping back into the crowd.

The Irishman gave Eddy a wink. ‘I think you owe me a fry-up.’

Eddy spat a gobbet of blood. ‘I think you’re right. Thanks.’ He held out a hand. ‘Eddy Redcrow.’

‘Daniel O’Donnell.’

Eddy raised an eyebrow.

‘Nah, only shiteing ya. Mikey Heffernan at your service. Most folks call me Bog. Don’t ask why. I like a scrap as much as the next mad Irish bastard – and there are plenty of them here. But I like fair odds. Now, is that bacon I can smell?’

‘Now, let’s get this straight,’ said Bog, as he licked his fingers. The remains of the breakfast lay scattered around him. The man had a mighty appetite, that was for sure. ‘You met this Nordic bird escaping the Euro-clusterfuck. You gave her a lift; she gave you the horn. You had a flight home, but decided to come here and try to find her.  A single biker-lass on an island of about a million and counting…’

Eddy took another slurp of coffee, wincing at the pain in his mouth. That shark-bastard had loosened one of his teeth.

‘Here, this’ll help.’ Bog produced a hipflask and poured some of its contents in his mug, before taking a long sip himself. ‘Ahh, top of the morning to you! Here’s to the wild lasses that laugh as they break our hearts…’ And he burst tunelessly into song:

‘There’s nought but care on every hand, in every hour that passes oh,

What signifies the life of man, and tw’ere nae for the lassies oh.

Green grow the rushes oh, green grow the rushes oh-oh

The sweetest hours that ere I spent, I spent among the lasses-oh.’

Eddy laughed, winced, and sighed. ‘When you put it like that, it sounds daft, I know. But …’

‘You’ve never met anyone like her in your life, she’s the rosiest of roses…?’ Bog’s eyes twinkled. ‘Ah, only joshing ye, Red. I know the feeling all too well. It was the rose of Galway that did it for me… Mother Mary, she had thorns!’

Eddy was lost in his own fond memory. ‘There was something about her… She had a … magic about her. Made the pumps flow…’

‘Well, I never heard it put like that before!’ Bog chuckled. ‘But seriously, what does she look like. I’ll definitely keep my peepers peeled. Nothing better than eyeing up the lasses. Could watch them all day…’

‘Tall, blonde, slim, kick-ass. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.’

‘Sounds like you need her as your bodyguard, fella. You need to watch your red arse around here. There are some folks who are none to friendly to anyone looking ‘different’.’

Eddy rolled his eyes, ‘I’ve noticed.’ He took another swig.

‘Bloody ironic, though, isn’t it, when half of bloody Europe is here. It’s like fekkin’ Eurovision out there.’

They both watched the motley array of bikers cruising up and down, the diverse reg plates, and flag patches.

‘Seriously though, get yourself patched up before you get yourself killed.’

‘I’ve never been much of a joiner.’

Bog seized his wrist. ‘Now’s the time to fekkin’ start. The chips are down, my friend. I’ve got an awful feeling that this muvva volcano shit is just the start. Who your tribe is, who’s got your back, is going to be difference between life and death. Mark my words.’ Bog raised his flask and emptied its contents, smacking his lips.

Eddy brooded on this. He’d never felt part of a tribe, even his own back home. Being a breed made it hard to fit in anywhere, to truly belong. He was always the outsider. Not quite fully First Nation, not quite fully Icelandic. He knew he had Nordic ancestry, yet half of Gimli boasted ‘Viking blood’. Was it such a bad thing?

Bog stood up, somewhat unsteadily. ‘Hey, listen up. I like yous, fella. Don’t get yourself killed, but get your red arse to Peel. That’s where the Nordic bikers are heading, I’ve heard. Plus the Ruskies, the Poles. All those loonies.’

‘Where?’

‘Far southwest of the island. Big castle overlooking the beach. Can’t fecking miss it. They’ll all be camped out there, making offerings to Odin, all that shit. If you’re gal is anywhere, it’ll be there. Sounds like her crew.’

‘Cheers, Bog.’

‘Go easy. See you around, I hope.’

The Irishman staggered off, and though he bumped into a couple of customers, he was tall enough for them to think twice at taking on an Irishman loosened by alcohol.

Eddy finished his coffee. ‘To Peel, then.’

***

Thunder Road – coming soon …

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

NEXT CHAPTER

Bardfest 2020

BARDFEST 2020 POSTER update

Saturday, 22nd August, 2020, from noon til late

BARDFEST 2020

Poetry*Storytelling*Music*Talks

A day of vibrant voices celebrating the living Bardic Tradition in the British Isles and beyond. Join us to be entertained and stimulated by our inspiring line-up of poets, storytellers, musicians, and speakers. After each slot there will be a chance to discuss, make comments, and ask questions.

CONFIRMED CONTRIBUTORS

Nicola Chester – Berkshire-based nature-writer, Guardian Columnist, Author, Wild Writing Workshops.Blog: https://nicolachester.wordpress.com/  Twitter @nicolawriting @JogLibrary

Kirsty Hartsiotis – storyteller and art-historian.https://www.kirstyhartsiotis.co.uk/

Daru McAleece – druid, bard Website – https://tracscotland.org/storytellers/daru-mcaleece/  Website for anthology – https://www.hauntpublishing.com/books/haunted-voices

Paul Flinn – runner, poet

Rob Farmer – singer-songwriter https://robertfarmer.bandcamp.com/

Charlotte Hussey – Canadian poet (Glossing the Spoils; Soul of the Earth from Awen)

Helen Moore – ecopoet, writer, socially engaged artist & outdoor educator https://www.helenmoorepoet.com/

Peter Alfred Please – storyteller and writer http://www.peteralfredplease.co.uk/

Kirsten Bolwig – writer & storyteller Linked In profile

Brendan Georgeson – pop poet

Richard & Misha Carder –  Gorsedd of Caer Badon (Bath),  co-ordinators of the long-running ‘Poetry and a Pint’ night in Bath.

Henk Vis – druid, Avebury gorsedd

Gordon Rimes – musical bard of Avebury gorsedd

Scott Freer – banjo-maestro

Simon Andrews – singer-songwriter

Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson – Icelandic writer and tour-guide

Marko Gallaidhe – Irish musician and writer

Kevan Manwaring – author, lecturer, and storyteller

& more

Online via Zoom (100 maximum – booked early to guarantee a space).

Donations invited to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Trussell Trust.

Please make a donation, then contact Kevan for Zoom details.

https://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/

https://www.trusselltrust.org/

Contact Kevan: kevanmanwaring@yahoo.co.uk