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

Blood and Ink

PATRIOT NEWS

The Threat of Icesis

Reports are coming in of an escalation of aggression off the coast of Iceland. Icesis insurgents have been accused of bringing down three more ‘Hel’ fighter jets sent to intercept them, bringing the total of downed jets to 4, and the loss of personnel to 8.  Their families have been informed. This tragic development has thrown gas on the fears that they have in their possession a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Satellites have been tracking the insurgents as they crossed the frozen Atlantic. Ice Force commander, General Surt, commented: ‘These insurgents are clearly making their way to Iceland, which we must now assume is providing refuge for members of so-called “Icesis”. From there we expect them to make an attack upon American soil within days, deploying their WMD. We must act and act fast. I have ordered for air, sea and land forces to deliver some shock and awe to the land of ice and fire.’

In other news the extreme wintry conditions continue to persist across the globe. ‘So much for global warming!!!’ tweeted the President earlier today. ‘It’s Xmas every day now! We’ve brought Peace on Earth! I’m going down in history as President who stopped all wars!’

Chapter 20: Blood and Ink

‘So,’ One Eye drummed his fingers on a storage barrel, ‘you want to leave our happy tribe, do you?’  His eye fixed upon Eddy with its raptor glare – a gaze mirrored by the two ravens on his shoulders, who preened themselves, wiping their feathers with their beaks like a barber stropping his razor. Now and then they looked up and offered a dismissive ‘cronk’.

He stood before the Elders in the barn, which they had temporarily claimed as their own.

Eddy felt their sceptical gaze burning into him, suddenly feeling very small and foolish.

‘Yes,’ he muttered.

‘Speak up!’ commanded Tear with a derisive snarl.

Eddy held his head up. ‘Yes! I want to return to my home. To my people.’

This is your home now! These are your people!’ fumed Tear.

Everyone was on edge after the loss of The Hammer – the Elders seemed … brittle.

One Eye feigned puzzlement. ‘Aren’t we good enough for you?’

‘You are. The Wild Hunt means everything to me…’

‘And yet you leave us on the eve of our greatest battle!’ thundered Tear, holding out his hands in disbelief, appealing to the patches watching on.

This prompted growls of contempt from the onlookers.

‘You are my club – I will always honour that; but family …’

‘Come first,’ spoke One Eye, as though stating a cold fact.

‘The club comes first!’ roared Tear, to passionate shouts of agreement from the members.

Eddy tried to hold his nerve. ‘My family, my blood-tribe. They are under threat. I need to be there for them. Do what I can to protect them.’

‘It seems like a reasonable request to me,’ finally commented Rig.

Tear turned on his fellow Elder: ‘But if we let everyone do that – where will we be? A club with no members. We have lost too many already! We need all our remaining strength for the first ahead!’

Rig again: ‘Red has served the club honourably in our recent ordeal. He has lost two buddies. Hasn’t he earned some leave?’

Tear roared with laughter? ‘Leave? This is fucking Ragnarok, Road Captain. The final battle is upon us. There is no leave. Just victory or annihilation!’

One Eye lent forward, his eye glinting. ‘There are always many pathways through the nine worlds. To think there is only one is to live a two-dimensional life. Man must forge his fate from his will and what runes the gods have cast for him and his blood. The path is never written until it is ridden. Let Holder come forward and see where we are blind…’

The blind Elder was summoned to the front. Since the loss of his brother his hair had turned pure white. The seer lifted up his shades and once more ran his hands over Eddy, who tried not to flinch as the cold hands brushed against his face. ‘There is a stone … covered in runes. It belongs to his blood-kin. He must retrieve it, and bring it back here. This will be pivotal in the final battle. Beyond I see only destruction and darkness unless … he brings back the runestone.’

Holder pulled his hands away, breathing heavily.

Eddy trembled all over. Runestone? His band were called Runestone Cowboys, but that had only been a poor pun. Nothing had been meant by it…

One Eye finally spoke: ‘Holder has seen into the dark – gazed where we cannot. Eddy Redcrow has a quest before him. He is given permission to return to his family, but he must find this runestone and bring it back to us with the swiftness of Sleipnir – otherwise he and his kin will never find rest.’ He turned his glare to Eddy. ‘Mark my words: we will hunt them until the end of time.’

‘Ow!’

‘Try not to move!’ complained Black*Star, the club’s tattooist.

‘Is what I say. He’s a coward. Runs from a fight,’ called Cruz over her shoulder, as she walked away, flicking her hand dismissively. 

Black*Star was filling in the runic design on Red’s rev-hand – Inguz, the double-helix style diamonds that apparently symbolised masculine power. Members were getting them done in honour of those lost in a bind-rune combined with Isa, in memory of the crossing. Eddy had been fast-tracked to the front of the queue, as time was of the essence. His bike was being prepared for the long ride by Rig. He had briefed Eddy as best he could. ‘I reckon it’s around two thousand and eight hundred miles from here to Gimli, Manitoba – as the crow flies anyhow. Nearly three times as long as what we’ve just done. That’s an ass-achingly long way. But it can be done, in theory, at least. The Iron Dog race – the longest snowbike race in the world – is two thou’, and the fastest recorded time was thirty five hours. Add another fifteen on for the eight hundred extra, and you’re looking at around fifty hours, at that kind of speed. That doesn’t factor in fatigue, accidents, and attacks. You’re gonna be on your own out there. No back up. No Elders to fight off the Bogeyman. We can only hope that all their firepower is focused on us – that you’ll be under their radar. And the crazy thing us, even if you make it there – you’re gonna have to make it back, doing it all over again. I reckon your chances are slim at best. And if you do make it back, we could all be mincemeat anyway. So don’t be offended if I don’t see ‘seeya soon!’ But I have a duty here, so good ole’ uncle Rig is gonna fit you up with a snowbike trailer kitted out with all the gas and supplies you’ll need to make the trip. Then it’s up to you and the will of the gods.’

‘There you go! Next!’ Black*Star finished the design and Eddy was free to rub his sore hand, wondering what his family would make of it.

If he ever made it back to Gimli he would put up with their disapproval any day to just see them again. When it came to family, Eddy realised, he would do anything, no question.

He passed Cruz on the way out, who scowled at him: ‘Blood thicker than ink, hey?’

‘I’m gonna miss you, too,’ Eddy quipped. ‘Stay alive, huh?’

Arms folded, she turned her head away.

Eddy finished packing his bike, stopping at the throb of pain from his right hand. It wasn’t the only thing that was hurting. The way Cruz and his fellow patches reacted to him made him sore, but … he had to get home. Deep down, he knew that was the right thing to do. That was all that mattered. Still, it was a sad note to part on, considering he may never see any of them again. The air bit like an axe and he shuddered. It was going to be one long, chilly ride, to say the least. He may well end up just frozen stiff out there, like the fishermen. Not an enticing prospect. Suddenly, he felt bathed in warmth. He looked up and was momentarily dazzled. It was Sol. She smiled at him and held out her hand. ‘Here, take this, Eddy Leif Redcrow. I think you’re going to need it.’

            Eddy looked down at the object in Sol’s naked hand. He picked it up and he nearly dropped it. ‘It’s hot! What is it?’

            ‘A sunstone. It will guide you home, and thaw your fingers. Keep it safe. Light on your path, Wild Hunter.’

The first the community knew of the arrival of the enemy was a distant booming.

‘What’s that?’ someone cried out. ‘Sounded like it came from Reykjavik…’

‘Another eruption!’

Panic started to spread amongst the Icelanders, until One Eye got their attention with a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder that split directly overhead, drowning out the distant booming. The Icelanders froze in terror as he appeared from the steam. ‘The enemy has arrived. Make ready to defend yourselves. Keep this settlement safe. We shall ride forth to meet them on the coast. Wild Hunt, muster!’

The bikers mounted their rides, all battle-ready. The time of resting and feasting was over. The Heathens had joined them on their own bikes, bolstering their numbers a little.

Goðmundur nodded to One Eye, who led his pack out of the crater along the narrow pass.

Eddy rode with them, for now, though his trailer made him slower, so he tagged along at the back. Cruz gave him a curt nod and then accelerated on ahead.

They hit the coast road just as silvery light of dawn broke over the island – cold and sharp as a sword. The Wild Hunt headed southwest, towards the capital, which was lit up with flashes … Heavy bombardment, realised Eddy, a sick feeling in his guts. Shock and awe, delivered by the massive aircraft carrier, moored off the coast – its dark hulk lit up by the burning eye of Surtsey.

            How many were slaughtered with each artillery strike? brooded Eddy.

As they approached the turn off for the capital, One Eye gave him a salute before leading the pack towards the harbour.

Rig indicated the direction westwards and Eddy acknowledged him, before peeling off from the cortege and striking out by himself.

The Road Captain called after him: ‘‘Find that stone!’

He felt awful, leaving his comrades to face the onslaught alone, but what could he do? The homing instinct was like a chain ferry in his guts.

Eddy made his way westwards, as the firestorm over Reykjavik increased. A raven tracked him from above, then, with a cronk, finally turned back.

As he followed the curve of the coastal road, Eddy heard the rumble of thunder and saw lightning split the sky.

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring

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

Ice and Fire

PATRIOT NEWS

Rebel Insurgents Met with Shock and Awe

StormEye command has reported insurgent activity upon the frozen Atlantic. Rebel groups are attempting to cross to America. They seem to be heading towards Iceland, but the Commander-in-Chief has said ‘These bad people are hoping to use Iceland as a staging post for an invasion of our great nation in a time of crisis, and they must be stopped. But fear not citizens! I have sent a Hel-jet strike force to deal with them.’ Satellite footage shows the rebels, hiding out in an ice-locked trawler. A direct hit appears to neutralise the insurgents. If other footage exists, it has not been released yet. The identity of their rebel insurgents is not clear. Could it be an Islamic terrorist cell? For now, they are being nicknamed ‘Ice-Is’. White House spokeswoman Sheryl Bragg, said: ‘With the Atlantic frozen in the unprecedented wintry conditions, believed by many scientists to have been caused by the volcanic eruptions in Iceland and elsewhere, there is a real threat of waves of climate refugees risking the crossing. The east coast has been put on the highest alert. We cannot allow these illegals to enter our country. Every nation on Earth must look after their own and deal with this natural crisis the best way they can. Nobody is boarding our ark.’

Chapter 18: Ice and Fire

Still dazed from the death of his brother-in-arms, by the time Eddy reached the fallen Enforcer, it was already too late. One Eye knelt in the ice by his daughterson, head bowed, holding her mighty hand. His two ravens sat upon his shoulders, observing all. Around him the Elders and, in a second circle, the patches. The serpent’s venom had seared through her leather armour, burning into her skin. The giant frame, that had survived so many battles, endured so much, convulsed.

‘Allfather!’ she gasped, breathing hoarsely. ‘The serpent … is it … dead?’

‘Yes,’ wept One Eye. ‘You saved us all.’

The Hammer shuddered and sighed, then her massive form went limp in her father’s arms.

Hugin and Munin took off, cronking harshly in the still air – inky black wings brushing Eddy’s face as they flew past.

One Eye lifted his head up to the dark lid of cloud, his one good eye searching it for meaning. With a voice hoarse with grief he uttered these words:

‘Oh, sky crack!

Drain the moon of milk,

Venus of her hot blood –

there will be no more kindness,

no more evil love.

The sun has snuffed out,

and with it all warmth,

all joy. Darkness will rule,

night shall be my day.

Place my heart on a spike –

I have no need of it.

Let the crows feed

on its useless meat.’

The gathered let their leaders words fade, as they stood, heads bowed.

Finally, the President stirred. A clear tear ran down one cheek, a bloody trickle down the other. ‘Go to my halls and await me there, daughterson. Take your seat among the greatest. Your name will be remembered forever.’

One Eye slowly got to his feet, a little unsteadily.

Will and Way went to help him; then others, but Tear stopped them with a scowl.

‘This … is a cruel harvest,’ spoke the leader, his voice ragged, supported by his brothers. ‘Our enemy sends hellfire from the sky, monsters from the deep – but we have defeated them. With courage, with strength … but at great cost. Our mightiest champion has fallen, but we … must continue. We must finish this journey and face our enemy on the field of battle, when all accounts will be settled.’

Gaunt, but determined, the blood-stained, frost-encrusted warriors looked to their chief. Eddy understood then how great leaders can kindle greatness in their followers. One Eye, in his grief and dignity, inspired his admiration more than he had ever done. In showing his suffering he showed true strength. 

Tear stepped forward to issue commands: ‘Cover the bodies of our fallen – and let us take them to Iceland to receive proper burial. But be quick – we cannot linger here. Every moment upon the ice makes us vulnerable to attack. Onwards!’

Eddy mounted his bike and sat there, drooped forward for a moment, until someone brought him a horn of mead.

Eddy felt numb inside, but robotically accepted it as it was passed around. It filled him with warm fire, though did not ease the dull aching in his heart.

With the help of Bog and Cruz they lashed the body of Blitzen to the back of his bike, and made ready to go. ‘Sorry about your pal…’ said the Irishman, for once his humour failing him. Cruz placed a kiss upon the German’s brow and muttered something in her own tongue.

One by one the bikes pulled away, leaving behind the dark wound in the ice, the gelid waters already scabbing over.

‘Will you look at that!’ cried Bog.

They turned to see that the serpent’s blood had been used to spell, in ten foot high letters gouged into the ice: L O K I

Mercifully soon after, they made it to the jagged flanks of Rathlin Island. Here the weary bikers made brief landfall, taking shelter in one of the coves from the incessant wind. Driftwood was scavenged, and with Sol’s magic touch, a good fire was soon going. As the riders thawed, food and drink was passed around and things seemed a little bit more bearable. The mood was still subdued. Nobody wanted to be seen making merry after their losses. But … they had made it this far.

            The Hammer’s body was laid on a fur-covered rock. Her father sat next to her, drinking horn after horn. His brothers stood strong behind him.

            The flames crackled as the driftwood thawed out, spitting and shifting in the pyre.

            Suddenly Tear stepped forward. ‘It is true that The Hammer and myself didn’t exactly see eye to eye…’

The attention of the circle fixed on the Sergeant-at-Arms. 

‘…But she was more woman than you could handle, and more man than the lot of you!’ He raising his flagon. ‘The Hammer!’

The Wild Hunt raised their drinks, and, finally, so did One Eye. ‘The Hammer!’

Others stepped forward to make tribute, sharing their memories, and the atmosphere eased a little. The drink started to flow and tongues loosened.

            Bog collared Eddy as he was going for a refill. ‘Well, Red. What can I say? It’s been a gas. Attacked by jet-fighters and monstrous sea-serpents and all that. But I’ll be off in the morning. Sorry to break the fellowship with Gandalf and his merry hobbits, but my road lies south – and boy am I looking forward to some actual fekking road. It’s a short hop to Derry, and then down the coast to Sligo and onto mighty Connemara – land of my fathers, although which one is my biological da, me ma, Saint Bridget watch over her, still won’t say.’

            ‘I’m sad to see you go. I’ll even miss your awful singing. But thanks … for everything.’ Eddy clinked bottles with him

‘Stay shiny side up, Red. If we all survive this … let’s meet up and have a few cold ones, hey? Just ask for Bog in Lowry’s Bar, Clifden, Connemara. Everyone there knows me.’

Bog split off from the main pack as they set off at first light. He had guided them round the coast of Northern Ireland, and his work was done. The bikers honked their horns in salute, and he waved back as he headed towards Derry Bay.

            Then they grimly pushed on. The vast expanse of the frozen Atlantic stretching before them.

            ‘Right, Blitzen, my friend, next stop, Iceland,’ muttered Eddy. 

Stopping every hour for ten minutes to warm up they made slow but steady progress. They were hyperalert for further attacks but no more came. The hours and the miles passed by in weary succession. After twelve hours they had done three hundred and sixty miles, refuelling twice. Nearly halfway there. Everyone was dog-tired, but it was too cold to rest on the ice. The only option was to keep moving. 

They rode through the night, their way lit by the eerie effulgence of the aurora borealis. Whenever the freezing temperatures got too much Eddy rode close to Sol, who radiated warmth and light. This was just enough to stop him getting hypothermia, but it was still a punishing ride, his hands like blocks of ice, his face numb. He couldn’t go on much further, and nor could his bike. The needle was dangerously low. He’d flipped it to reserve some time ago, and was pretty much running on fumes. The bike felt underpowered, and started to act erratically.

‘I’ll catch you up!’ he shouted out.

He waved to the pack, and pulled over. Kicking down the stand – the ice so solid it didn’t sink in – he killed the engine.

‘How you doing there, Blitzen, old buddy? Enjoying Valhalla I hope. Hope the mead and the maidens are flowing.’

Paying his respects to the frozen bundle lashed to the back, he released the bungees holding the can of gas to the pannier-frame, and did his best to refuel without spilling any in the biting wind, which drove across the ice-field from the north.

Eddy took his helmet off, letting the blast of icy air shake the grogginess from him.

Away from the light and roar of the bikes temporarily, the vast emptiness overwhelmed him. For once the skies were clear and the star-field was immense. It felt like he could simply let go of Earth’s spinning ball and fall forever.

The aurora pulsed in wavering bands of blue, green and gold – and he watched, soothed by its strange dance, which made all the struggling for survival, the fighting for resources, the jockeying for prestige, the endless power games, seem so … petty. He could feel the crackle of energy on his skin. The ancestors. He heard their esoteric whispering.

He pictured his own people looking up at the same sky, and a deep pang of longing swept over him. At that moment he felt so lonely and wanted more than anything to be back with them.

Yet – he was getting closer. There was still an unimaginable distance to cross, but … one step at a time. Reach Iceland, rest, then prep for the next stage. Eddy had always been a ‘one day at a time’ kind of guy. Best not to over-complicate things by getting all worked up by what wasn’t present. Each day brought its own shit to deal with.

The can was empty. He gave it a good shake, and got a last trickle out of it, but that was it. He’d given himself about fifty more miles, tops. There was at least two hundred to go. But he’d worry about that when it happened. There was jackshit he could do about it. If he was destined to deepfreeze out here, so be it. Least he’d have nothing to worry about then. The hurting would stop.

Suddenly, the aurora seemed to coalesce into a figure – a tall, lean, woman – who swam through the sea of stars, reaching out her arms to him. Her features formed for a moment and he gasped.

‘Fenja…’

Arms raised, he tried to touch her – but it was futile.

But her eyes glinted and she breathed out a vaporous cloud towards him, enveloping him in its milky opalescence.

‘Share in my hamingja, Eddy Redcrow. May it sustain you in your difficult journey… We are one mind, one heart.’

Eddy filled with cold fire. He had a flash of the frozen sea from above, stretching around the curvature of the Earth; and then a sudden leap of scale, as Earth became one of nine worlds connected by a vast tree. He felt part of everything – the roots, the sap, the bark, each leaf, each life. A serpent gnawing the roots, the eagle in its highest branches, the squirrel scampering between the two. Every world. Every realm. Every monarch and monster. Every nobody and somebody.

A half-breed rocker and a frost giant’s daughter – separated by an imaginable gulf.

It was almost too much, his mind threatened to snap. But Fenja’s voice came back to him, soothing him, singing him back into his body. ‘One mind, one heart…’

The vision faded, but he was filled with fire.

Lyrics started to form in his head around a melody: ‘Woman with stars on your skin, touch me with your fire, kindle me within …Touch me with your fire, your love is no sin.’

Humming, he lashed the can back on – you never know – and gave Blitzen a friendly tap, then got back on the bike, his limbs complaining like a stubborn mule. He gunned the engine – that was warmed up, at least – and did his best to catch up with the others before their tail-lights vanished altogether.

‘I see Heaven in your eyes, the Devil in your smile,

night is set aflame with your lovin’, fire-child…’

Just as Eddy reached the pack, the familiar rumble of bikes on the ice was deepened by another layer of thunder. At first it was hard to place – it echoed around the sky ominously.

Rig signalled for the bikes to stop and they circled around, forming a defensive cluster. Eyes were drawn to the west, where out of the star-field, two, three detached themselves, and started to draw closer.

‘Incoming!’ shouted Tear. Everyone braced themselves. They were sitting ducks.

One Eye parked his bike and climbed off, slowly walking forward – as though to his doom. He seemed, to Eddy’s eyes, to have grown in stature.

‘Enough! They trespass in my realm. Defile the Bright Dancers. Let them taste my wrath!’ He raised his hands to the sky, and storm clouds broiled out of the darkness.

The jet fighters roared closer – sonic booms splitting the night apart. They would strike at any minute.

But One Eye roared louder, his voice becoming thunder that shook the ice, threatened to shatter the world apart. Lightning forks flashed and they were momentarily blinded by the flashes of the explosions.

Out of the sky careered three burning fuselages, which plunged into the ice – snuffed out like candles.

His two ravens circled the wreckage before returning to him, landing on his shoulders.

One Eye let himself calm down before turning back to them. No one could meet his furious gaze. There was an immense power about him that was terrifying. The patches bowed to him, as he got back on his bike and rode off.

The endless cycle of ride, rest, ride, rest, blurred into one. Time was becoming as chancy as the ice they crossed – impossible to get a fix upon. Was it day or night, Eddy wondered? With the constant lid of cloud and the dull glow of the endless ice it was hard to tell.  The only certainty was – it was getting colder, if that was possible. The bikes were stopping to make funny noises, and act erratically. Rig did his best – checking the bikes at every pitstop. The rest breaks intended to be every couple of hours now were every hour – as the conditions got icier and the fatigue took its toll. Every new mile on the saddle became agony. But on they must go.


Eddy’s bike spluttered out. He checked the fuel gauge – frozen solid. The reserve switch had been flipped some time ago. There was no denying it. He was out of gas. ‘Damn!’ He hit the tank, and slowed to a stop.

            So much for Fenja’s hamingja, he thought!

But ahead of him the Wild Hunt had stopped too. 

They had come to a small fleet of frozen trawlers. He got off his bike and stiffly walked closer – his heart beating faster. As Eddy approached the shout went up. ‘They’re Icelandic!’  

He mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to his lover.

A quick search revealed plenty of fuel. The patches worked in chains to refuel the bikes, supervised by Rig. Others fashioned a scratch meal from what could be scavenged – a pungent fish-broth, uninvitingly slimy but surprisingly restorative. Eddy welcomed its warmth, slurping it down between mouthfuls of oatcakes. Feeling the chill start to lift from his bones, he noticed the nimbus in the east. Perhaps they would make it through the night after all.

Refuelled and restored, they set off. As the thin light of the day drew back the pawl of shadow they were greeted with a welcome sight. In the distance they could see the dark smudges of mountains.

‘Land ahoy!’ someone cried out, half in jest. The news rippled through the pack, and the response was delirious relief, spurring them on to make landfall. Iceland – where it all began, and where it would all end.

Eddy sent a prayer of thanks to his beloved and sang to the dawn: ‘One mind, one heart.’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

NEXT CHAPTER

The Serpent

PATRIOT NEWS

A Message from the President

President Koil, after recently convening his emergency security council, Asgard, made an announcement from StormEye. He said, ‘These are real tricky times, but rest assured, citizens of the free world, we have the situation under control. My special friends are ensuring the status quo within our borders. Remain in your homes. If you have stockpiled resources and are able to help your fellow citizens send out a signal by any means you can, and helping hand will soon be on its way. Defend your property, as is your God given right, but do not resist the Jötun patrols. These are bad nasty fellas and I wouldn’t wanna pick a fight with ’em. The Navy and Coast Guard are protecting our overseas assets and coastlines with the assistance of my boys in white, Ice Force; Hel-jets guard our airspace; and Star*Wolf defence systems, our assets in orbit. This great country will not only survive this time of difficulty, it will arise stronger from the ashes, while our enemies will all fall. America will be the last man standing, ready to instigate humanitarian aid to our allies and a new world order when the storms have passed.’  

Chapter 17: The Serpent

            ‘I wish I was in Carrick-Fergus,

            only for nights in Ballygran

            I would swim over the deepest ocean

the deepest ocean to be by your side…’

            Riding side-by-side with Eddy, Bog’s tuneless singing pierced even the sound of the Wild Hunt as the pack of bikers crossed the ice-field. It would have made him smile, if his face wasn’t frozen.

‘But the sea is wide; I cannot swim over;

Neither have I wings to fly

I wish I could find me a handy boatman

to ferry me over to my love and I…’

‘It’s going to be a long journey with your singing!’ shouted Eddy over the growl of the engines struggling over the uneven surface of the ice.

‘Ah, yous just jealous of my fine Fenian voice! Besides, we’ve got to keep our spirits up, haven’t we now? Carrick Fergus, here we come! I can almost smell the soda bread and Irish stew from here’ And Bog continued…

‘These childhood places bring sad reflection

of happy days spent so long ago

my childhood friends and my own relations

have all passed on like the melting snow.

O the night was dark and the sky uneasy

the mighty ocean was tossed and wild …’

Bog’s warbling became one with the drone of the bikes on the ice. The white void stretched away into infinity – featureless, monotonous and deadly. Might as well be riding through the Land of the Dead, brooded Eddy. The continual vibration of the bike was the only reminder that he was, in fact, painfully alive. His hands were numb, his feet were numb, even his head felt numb. Only the constant jarring as the bike struggled over the ice churned up by the two-wheeled phalanx making its way with grim determination north by north west towards … what? Nobody seemed sure exactly. Some dust-up at the end of the world. The Wild Hunt was compelled by some instinct. Was this what it was like, being a migrating bird, Eddy whimsied, starting to feel the wrong side of sane.

His own homing instincts were kicking in, and he was determined to somehow make it back to Manitoba. Iceland provided a convenient stepping stone, so for now he was happy to toe the line. He’d made his vow and was one of the pack now – and at present, the only thing keeping them all alive was … each other. Safety in numbers, for sure.

Ahead, he glimpsed the Elders, leading the way. With The Hammer on his side, Eddy certainly felt safer. She had taken down a jetfighter! If she could perform such a feat, then who knows what the other gods were capable of? One Eye had seemed subdued after the initial sturm-und-drang of his awakening. He seemed always preoccupied. Something was gnawing away at him, that was sure. The attack of the fighter jet had cast a shadow over the group, and not just from the loss of comrades. Having survived the Devil’s Hogs and the Jötun, suddenly they were on the radar of a bigger enemy.

As if surviving wasn’t hard enough in these interminable wintry conditions. It was as though they had been forgotten by the sun. Well … not quite. Eddy thought of Sol, the golden one. She rode pillion in the middle of the pack, with Cruz on the million-dollar bike, and even just a sight of her glowing presence from a distance warmed his heart.

And then there was Fenja. As Bog sang of his own ‘sweet Bridget Macy’ Eddy’s thoughts turned to his very own true love.

She haunted his dreams. He only had to close his eyes, to be taken back to her mountainous realm of ice and snow.

‘Ten minutes! No more!’ roared Rig. There was a sigh of relief and groans as bikes slowed and came to a stop. Weary bikers climbed off their saddles and stretched numbed limbs.

‘A pitstop! Thank fuck!’ said Bog. He pulled out a hipflask from his flying jacket. ‘Want a nip?’

Eddy shook his head, and slumped down by his engine, absorbing its warmth through his leathers. He only closed his eyes for a second…

Fenja stood in a vast crystalline chamber, hewn from the heart of a mountain, arguing with her father – a sepulchral figure who sat upon a huge obsidian throne. Frost-giant elders petitioned her to see sense. To remember where she came from, where her loyalties laid. That was her tribe, Eddy distantly wondered? Then he realised: she was like him – a half-breed, but one who was the offspring of a Jötun and human. The gods could change form – move amongst us. It would seem once her father had done. Flashes of the king’s former life appeared in the crystal facets – moments frozen in time, summoned by Fenja to make her case. A beautiful woman, plucked from the wreckage of a plane crash on a mountainside. Hearing her cries to the old gods, he had saved her, and she had saved him – melting his tundra heart, for a while at least. But he was not just any frost giant, but Thrym, King of his people. He had a realm to rule, and grew cold again, distant – even when the human presented the infant girl born of their union. As the child had grown, the mother had faded. It had been more than a mortal frame could bear, bringing such a being into the world. Fenja visited her tomb where she remained, perfectly preserved in ice. Her tears melted away a lock of hair, which she now offered to Thrym, hoping it would melt his heart – for it was his will that had encased the world in a perpetual winter, and his which could release it again. Glacial, the monarch pondered the lock of golden hair as he sat upon his mountain throne…

And Eddy was jolted awake. Bog kicked him again.

‘Get up, yous lazy fuck. Time to be on our merry way!’

Eddy groaned as he got up.

‘Nice catnap? Don’t worry, we’ll soon be reaching the coast of the fair green isle. I will be able to guide you round to Derry, then I’ll be bidding you and your pals a fond farewell.’

The bikers set off.

After roughly another hour the dark line of the coast could be seen.

‘That way lies Belfast,’ pointed Bog, ‘but I suspect it’ll be easier going on the ice. And besides, orange doesn’t flatter me. If we keep going another hour I reckon we’d make Rathlin Island – a good place for a proper rest. We’ll be passing some spectacular coastline. Game of Thrones and all that shite. I’m your local guide! Good job yous brought me along!’

And so they pushed on.

Finally, the dark mass of Rathlin Island appeared in the distance and, encouraged, they forced themselves forward.

‘Once we reach Rathlin, it’s only about another fifty to Derry. Then its sayonara from golden-tonsils here.’

And beyond that, brooded Eddy, there would be another eight or nine hundred miles to go to Iceland. They were averaging thirty miles an hour, so that was still thirty hours of riding to go, he estimated. He groaned, his body hating him.

Why couldn’t he have got that flight home! Yet that choice-point at Aberdeen belonged to a world that did not exist anymore. A nuclear winter, frost giants, frozen oceans… Weird was the new normal.

‘Hey, Red, how’s it going there?’

It was Blitzen, grinning at him wolfishly as he rode parallel.

‘Miles away.’

‘Riding through a desert on a horse with no name, huh?’

‘Something like that,’ Eddy grimaced.

They both steered around a buttress of ice.   

‘To be honest, I’m loving this!’ called out his friend. ‘How often do you get to ride across the Atlantic! Charley and Ewan eat your heart out!’

Eddy shook his head, laughing. Petrolheads! Same all over the world. Always up for something insane.

Just then the ice beneath them shook, nearly knocking them off their bikes.

‘What the Hell was that?’ cried out Blitzen.

The boom faded to be replaced by another and the ice beneath them groaned as though something was trying to break through.

Eddy looked down. Something large and dark was moving beneath them!

‘Don’t tell me they’ve sent in a sub!’ Blitzen murmured.

‘Wild Hunt! Be on your guard!’ bellowed Tear.

Just then the ice split apart, sending deadly shards flying – one narrowly missing Eddy. Next to him, he heard a cry of pain. Before he could check, all Hell had broken loose, literally it seemed.

‘Mary, Mungo and Midge – would you look at that!’ cried Bog.

Eddy blinked and looked again.

A giant sea serpent had risen up out of the fissure in the ice, and was seizing a biker in its massive jaw. It was like something from a fantasy movie and Eddy’s brain tried to rationalise it as such, imagining the CGI involved, the teams of computer animateurs. But it was for real, all the sailors’ nightmares of the deep come true.

Here Be Dragons.

‘Get out of its range!’ hollered Rig, riding towards it, weapon raised.

The other Elders were also on the offensive, circling it with their bikes.

‘I don’t need any persuading, fella!’ shouted Bog, accelerating out of harm’s way with Eddy. ‘Don’t fancy a date-night in Davy Jones’ locker with hot-lips here!’

It was too late for half a dozen of the rank and file, but now the serpent was too busy dealing with the attention of The Hammer, Tear and the others.

The Hammer leapt onto its head and began pounding it with her fists. Tear went for its long throat, tore at it with his hunting knife – trying to find a weak spot in its thick hide. This inspired the others to courage, and they tackled it from the edge of the ice with their guns and knives, although it was hard to get a clear shot, and bullets seemed to bounce off of it.

‘Save your ammo!’ called out Rig.

The Hammer had pulled open its jaws and stood between them, straining to rip them asunder. Its forked tongue wrapped around her torso, and foul bile covered her from head to foot. ‘Gaarggh! You really need to sort out that bad breath problem!’ she roared.

One Eye roared close on his snarling bike, trying to draw it away from the fallen. As he gunned the engines and fire leapt from the exhaust, the serpent shrivelled back, hissing.

‘Fire!’ One Eye called out. ‘Burn the serpent back into the abyss!’

‘Allow me.’ Sol stepped forward, casting off her cloak. She raised her hands before the serpent, and between them manifested a burning fireball, which she cast into the serpent’s mouth. It convulsed, and The Hammer and Tear were thrown from it, back onto the ice.

The monster thrashed about manically, trying to vomit up the fire in its belly, but it was too late. Sol’s gift consumed it from within – making its scales glow like a stained glass window. It shrieked in pain – an ear-splitting sound that made Eddy keel over.

Then it stopped and the smouldering serpent slid back into the boiling waters – leaving behind a Rorschach of blood smeared across the ice..

The Wild Hunt stood gasping, overwhelmed by the deathly silence in its absence.

Eddy rode to Blitzen – who had been impaled by a shard of ice. He quickly dismounted and knelt by his friend’s side.

Blitzen tried to speak, but could only manage to cough up blood. His dagger lay dropped on the ice. Briefly his eyes flicked to it, and Eddy picked it up and placed it in his friend’s hand.

Blitzen shuddered and went limp.

Eddy bowed his head for a minute in respect, but he was disturbed from his mourning by cries of anguish. He looked up to see The Hammer, dripping bile, stagger from the gap in the ice, then fall to the ground.

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

NEXT CHAPTER

Moss-Eater

 

DJ Foghorn on GIMLI XYZ

‘There’s some freaky stuff happening out there at the moment, right? It’s like God has dropped acid and the world is having a bad trip. But you know what? I think it’s a good thing. There’s too many of us fuckers. Let’s cut the wheat from the chaff. Less mouths to feed. I’m all for climate chaos. Bring it on! It’s like when school closes because of the bad weather. Everyone gets to have fun. Sledding. Snowball fights. No fucking school run. Let the kids play, that’s what I say! Ring up if you agree or disagree on the Spleen-line now.’

Chapter 16: Moss-Eater

Ava Rivet entered the shabby reception of the Gimli rural municipality police station, took a look at the ten things that needed attending too – from signage and security, to the state of the house plants – and filed them under ‘to do’, that is – when she had twenty seven hours in the day. That morning she’d already fed her horse, her husband and her kids (insisting sleepy, grumpy Aron ate something; preparing Juniper’s oatmeal just so), made their lunches and got them all dressed, before managing to eat some granola and prepare a flask of soup for herself. Leaving Aron with strict instructions about a delivery she was expecting (even though she knew he’d probably go back to bed and forget about it) she had dropped Juniper off at the Elementary, and negotiated the school run traffic and roadworks on fifth avenue, before finally pulling into the police station forecourt.

‘Morning, chief,’ called desk sergeant Wilming, a slab of a man who could have been carved from the same wood as the counter.

‘Anything?’ asked Rivet, inspecting the report he handed her.

‘Quiet night,’ Wilming yawned. ‘A couple of drunks in the tank, sleeping it off. A false alarm from our favourite loopy pensioner, Mrs Moon, who heard “strange noises in her yard”. Insisted we sent an officer over. Can play you the call if you like. Sounded like cats going at it. Said we send someone over in the morning if there was any damage.’

Dumping her bag in her office, Ava poured herself a cup of joe from the filter machine. Looked at the stack of admin in her intray. The photo of her husband and kids on vacation in Florida. Her pride and joy palomino, next to it. ‘Good old Mrs Moon. We can rely on her for some entertainment.’ She turned on her computer, and nonchalantly leafed through the papers on her desk while it booted up.

A knock on her door made her look up. Wilming stood there, like an Easter Island giant squeezed awkwardly into a human space. He held a printout.

‘Oh, there was one report came in this morning. Farmer over at Blackrocks. Savaged livestock.’ He handed her the details.

‘Right, I’ll swing by once I’ve cleared some of the drift here.’ She sat down and took another sip. ‘Cheers, Wil. Clare’ll be in in a mo. Go home, get some beauty sleep. You need it.’

Ava drove onto the Blackrocks farm – one of the most isolated small-holdings in the area, at the butt-end of a bumpy, windy track, which made her grateful for a light breakfast. Dominated by Black Rock, a bare knuckle of crag thrusting out of the pines, the farm – a main house, out-buildings, a barn, and several vehicles in states of dilapidation – was not a wealthy one. Old man Franklin, who lived there, was a loner type. Lord knows how he made a living out here, let alone kept sane. Some thought he didn’t really manage the latter. But Ava, when she bumped into him at the store, buying his supplies had figured as simply the quiet type, one of the old school backwoodsmen who seemed to be a dying breed these days. One of those who found contentment, alone in nature. She could relate to that, in the increasingly rare instances when she could get out on Ghost and head for the trails. The solitude she savoured then only made her love her family more. The huskies in their pen went crazy as she killed the engine and stepped out of the patrol car. They growled and snarled at her, yanking the chains taut as piano wire as she walked by them to the porch.

‘Don’t mind them. They’re spooked, is all.’

Ava turned to see Franklin there, in his coveralls and baseball cap, thick checkered shirt telling of the chill in the air. The old man had weathered many a winter and looked it – face cracked and ruddy as a redwood – but even he could feel it. The Icelandic volcano had brought winter early to Manitoba – the sky an iron grey pall, which only let through a thin gruel of light.

‘Morning, sir. Came by as soon as I could.

”Preciate it, Sheriff. Best to see it while it’s fresh. Recky we’re gonna get some dustin’ pretty soon. This way.’

The old farmer led Rivet around to the back fields, a sweep of pasture cleared from the mountainside by sheer hard work.

The whole flock of sheep were savaged, their mutilated corpses strewn across the threadbare grass.

‘Breaks my heart twainwise to see it. Reared some of these gals by hand mysel’. After this … I just don’t know.’

Ava knelt by one and used a stick to lift up the twisted limbs. ‘What you think did it? Wolverines?’

Franklin shrugged, spat in to the mud. ‘The bad weather might’ve driven down a pack of wolves. But this isn’t their style. The sheep are hardly touched. They weren’t killed for food. Just for the hell of it.’

‘Humans?’

He shook his head. ‘Look at the lacerations around the throat. Whatever did this had a serious rack of claws or fangs.’

Ava stood up, scratched the back of her neck. ‘Beats me. Such waste…’ They both stared at it, hoping it would start to make some sense.

The wind-turbine creaked in the icy breeze.

‘I’ll take some shots. Send them to the specialist. See what they make of them. Do you need help with the clear up?’

Franklin shook his head.

Ava didn’t like the look of resignation in his eyes. She started to take photos on her phone. ‘We’ll send someone over in a couple of days. See how you’re getting on. By then we may have some answers.’

‘There ain’t no sense to things, Sheriff. Shit just happens, and keeps on happenin’. That cussed Rock stares down at I, don’t give a damn. Put everything I’ve got into this place. When I first came here it was scrubland nobody wanted. When I bought it folks laughed. Thought I was pissing in the wind.’ The dead field filled his vision. ‘Maybe they were right.’ He turned to her. ‘Don’t tell your dreams to the mountain, sheriff.’

Ava brooded on Franklin’s words as she drove back down the track. It was hard living by the lakes, for sure. It took a certain kind of bloody-mindedness to survive, a mania, even, to thrive.  To get to where she was, a Métis in an area with strong First Nations and Icelandic communities, she’d had to make all kinds of sacrifices. But she was as stubborn as her beloved Ghost. Once she set her mind to something that was that. She’d chew at her bit until it was through.

Reaching the two-lane blacktop, she drummed her fingers on the wheel, and, on a hunch, decided to head over to Mrs Moon’s place.

The house was at the end of a thin chain of properties that backed onto the fields. At one time it would have been a very desirable house in a ‘picturesque location’, but the current resident, renowned for her eccentricity, had filled the yard with kitsch Christian iconography – inflatable Virgin Marys, neon Jesuses, garish crucifixes and Bible quotes blinking on and off like road signs, a full-sized fibre glass nativity scene, and a scale model of Noah’s Ark, balanced on a garden rockery Mount Ararat. Mrs Moon stood on the doorstep, awaiting Ava’s arrival. She wore a sou’wester, white cardigan, a prim blouse with a buttoned-up lace collar, waders, and oven gloves.

‘Good Morning, Mrs Moon.’

‘Sheriff Rivet. Just in time.’

‘Just in time, why?’

Mrs Moon looked up in the broiling sky. ‘The end is near. Plain as day. The Good Lord is sending his rag-mop to wipe clean the filthy world. About time too! Your feet.’  

After scraping her boots, Ava was shown through to the rear of the house. Newspaper lined the floor. ‘Have you had a flood recently?’

‘No, silly piggy! But it’s coming. I am ready for Him.’ A light filled her eyes.

Ava felt a bit awkward, standing in the passageway. ‘So, you report a disturbance in the night?’

‘Oh, yes. The Devil, he moves amongst us.’

‘What exactly did you hear?’

Mrs  Moon’s face contorted with loathing. ‘It was the voice of the Lord of Flies himself, whispering his poison in the night. At first I thought it was the local cats, going at it, and I had my night-bucket ready to throw over them. But when I opened the window the most foul odour assailed my senses. The stench of pure evil. Saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over, I cast my night-soil into the shadows. There was a hullabaloo and the thing took off faster than a cat on a griddle.’

Ava took out her notebook, while giving Mrs Moon a sceptical look. ‘And what time was this…?’

‘The witching hour, of course.’

‘Any sign of disturbance out there?’

‘Come and see for yourself.’

Ava was shown through to the yard. The Stations of the Cross that had been recreated there were smashed to smithereens.

‘Satan’s hoof-prints are all over this.’

Ava gave the damage an appraising look. ‘Someone’s had a party out here, for sure. Have you got any neighbours who you don’t get on with, Mrs Moon?’

‘All of them. Oh, they all hate me. Think me crazy. But I think they’re crazy. I’m prepared for the Deluge! They’re not! They wallow in sin and risk their souls to eternal damnation, taking drugs, fornicating, watching that poison and filth…’

‘Right. But, no problems lately?’

‘This isn’t their handiwork, Sheriff! The Devil is coming for them. Mark my words…’

‘Okay. I’ll see if we can spare someone to come over and help clear this up, Mrs Moon. We’ll look into it. Thank you.’

‘Beware, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse approach!’

‘I’ll bear that in mind. Take care, Mrs Moon.’

Ava left the Moon property and decided to work her way along the lane, checking in on the neighbours, just in case they had witnessed anything. Whatever it was had really gone to town. She walked around the side of the yard and came to the large hole in the fence. Something had smashed through it like it was balsa wood. The trail through the undergrowth was as plain as day. The tracks were unfamiliar to Ava. Not wolverine, wolf or bear. Almost humanoid, but with long thin feet and distinct claws. She took a couple of photos, laying her pencil by the side for scale. The prints were at least a foot long. And sunk deep in the mud. Whatever it was at least two hundred and fifty pounds. Maybe more. She radioed in her position to the station; then she followed the trail.

The destruction led through the yards of several properties. She met anxious home-owners clearing up the mess, patching up the fences, raking up broken detritus. In one garden there was spore, reeking to high heaven. She made a mental note to collect a sample on the way back, but didn’t fancy carrying it with her.

Finally, the houses thinned out and she reached a scrappy no-man’s land where a well-known user had his shack. It was a beaten-up old place that only someone off of their head on heroin would find amenable. Ava had known ‘Junkie Jon’, as he was known in town, since he had been a lad, when he had been part of the Runestone Cowboys entourage – one of Eddy’s pals. But whileas the Redcrow lad had kept on the right side of the law, more or less, except for a few high-jinks, the unfortunate Jon had slid down the slippery slope of drug abuse like it was a helter skelter. He had received help from the drop-in centre, but relapsed with pathological frequency. The cleaner he got, the more catastrophically he fell back. If he hadn’t been more harm to himself than anyone else, he wouldn’t have been tolerated for so long. But they only had so many resources, so much time, and there was always too much to do.

The trail ended at the shack. The place was in such a state it was hard to tell if the whirlwind had passed through here or not. The outside, patched up with bare MDF and old doors, was sprayed with anarchist symbols, pentagrams, dicks, needles, skulls, and a barely legible scrawl: The Road of Excess leads to … The Palace of Wisdom a Shit Heap

Ava called out. ‘Hey, Jon? You in there? It’s Sheriff Rivet. Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. I’m just checking in. There’s been some local break-ins and damage.’

The loose corrugated roof rattled; a smashed window slammed back and forth, teased by a devil of wind.

‘Okay. I’m coming in.’

Ava unclipped her service pistol and slid it out. Holding it poised before her, she kicked open the door and swung inside.

It was the stench that hit her first. A combination of squalid living conditions, the iron tang of offal, and emptied bowels.

Covering her mouth and nose with her scarf, she ventured deep. At the far end, amid the junkie detritus, hanging upside down from a beam, ankle bone impaled on a rusty nail, was what remained of Jon. One leg had been gnawed down to a stump, from which jutted a thigh bone. Of his torso, only the vertebrae and ribs, raw red and tangled with gore, remained. As the corpse turned the other half of the face was revealed – ripped down to the skull.

Ava stepped back and tried not to gag.

What the Hell had done this?

Heart beating, she carefully checked the rest of the property, then called in.

Going back outside, Ava gulped down the icy air.

Round the back of the shack she saw the bloody trail led off into a dark wall of trees, restlessly shuffling themselves in the wind.

When Ava pulled into the station, she was concerned to see a number of pick-ups parked any which way in the carpark. She recognised a few – local farmers, forestry workers and property maintenance guys, ordinary folks, scraping by.

She was still shaken up by what she had seen. Corpses no longer bothered her – but this one was different. It hadn’t just been mutilated; it looked gnawed. There had been a couple of nasty bear attacks in her time, and she’d seen all the grim photos in the training – the stuff they didn’t show in that Grizzly Man film. But a half-eaten human being, for real … not something Ava had come across before – fortunately. A strong coffee would help. Normally one of Wilming’s donut would too, but the thought of anything at the moment was out of the question.

As soon as she walked in the door, she was assailed by anxious citizens, demanding her to act. ‘There’s something bad out there, Sheriff, what are you going to do about it? … We need to form a possé, hunt the critter out … Rivet! I have a livelihood to earn! … I’ve got kids who play out in the bush! It’s not safe! … What are you doing to protect us?’

A couple of officers were doing their best to pacify the anxious citizens.

She pushed her way to the counter, where Clare was firefighting. When she saw Ava, the receptionist rolled her eyes at the commotion.

‘When did this shit-storm break?’

Clare, a well-preserved middle-aged mother of two with Queen Crimson shellaced nails, wore large, cherry-red rimmed glasses and a vanilla gillet over a mustard-yellow sweater. ‘Mrs Moon called in to the radio station. Old Foghorn got hold of it and has been whipping up the panic.’

Ava hit the counter with her fist, ‘That fucker Fredricksson !’

GIMLI XYZ’s notorious shockjock was the bad odour of Ava’s day that didn’t go away. He loved nothing better than stirring up the shit. If there wasn’t a problem, he would make one. Parking. Recycling schemes. Taxes. Fishing restrictions. Incursions on liberty, in his eyes. The interfering state. Preventing good, honest Gimlungar just getting on with the business of living, or enjoying their hard-won leisure. Now he was turning a problem into a crisis. Freaking out half the town – turning them into scared, trigger-happy citizens. The last thing she needed.

Taking a deep breath, she banged her fist on the counter until the hubbub died down. She stood on the staircase, looking across the anxious faces. ‘Okay! Listen up everybody. I’ve been to check the damaged properties. It ain’t nice for the folks concerned, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s certainly ain’t whatever hogwash Foghorn has been coming out with. We’re looking at possibly a rogue grizzly…’

Sounds of alarm drowned her out until she waved for calm.

‘But we’re onto this okay! A professional hunter will be despatched. Return to your homes. Secure your properties. Be vigilant and report anything unusual, but there is no need to be alarmed. This stuff happens round here. We deal with it. We get on with life. So, quit your girly whining and scram! I’ve got a job to do!’

Reluctantly the crowd started to disperse, but in the car lot she saw some of the men converse. She knew the sort. Hunter types. They would load up with rifles and head into the bush. All she needed, a bunch of trigger-happy preppers, blasting away at anything that moved out there. But she couldn’t stop them. Didn’t have the manpower. All she could hope for is that they headed up the wrong creek. But she had to track the thing down and deal with it before it found another victim. Next time it might not go for the weakest of the pack.

Sitting down with a sigh in her office, her gaze flicked to the photos of her kids. The answer machine was flashing its light at her: 27 messages. On an impulse, she punched through to Clare. ‘Hold the calls for a moment.’ She speed-dialled home. Drummed the desk. ‘C’mon, c’mon…’ Finally, it was picked up. Fumbling. A yawn. ‘Hey, Aron. Thank goodness. Are you okay there?’

‘Whatsupp, Mom? Checking in on me?’

‘Yes, I am. Just wanted to make sure you were safe, that’s all.’

‘I was working on my assignment; your delivery hasn’t been yet…’

‘Sure, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Can you just do me a favour? Check all the doors and windows. Keep ’em locked. And your phone charged. Any noises out back, call me straight away, y’hear?’

‘Mom, what gives? You turned Winona on me? What’s with this paranoid shit?’

‘Hey, language! Do you hear me!’

A sigh. ‘Sure. Doors. Windows. Cell.’

‘Thanks. I’ll get us pizza tonight – your favourite. I love you. Bye.’

She breathed out. Then thought of her daughter. Maybe she could take her out of school early today? No. That would set a bad example. Cause panic. She had to remain calm. The strong one. And she had to deal with it. The buck stopped with her. She called her husband. Got an earful when he finally picked up. ‘I know. I know. But it’s important. Can you do me a big favour and pick up Juniper this afternoon? It’s all hitting the fan here. You may have heard. But nothing to worry about. Except … I know. The children. Aron’s fine. But get her home safe. I’ll get back when I can. Love you, hon.’

For the next couple of hours she sorted out the body. Returned to the scene with forensics and the clean-up squad. Fortunately, nobody had discovered the grisly remains except for a couple of wolverines. The area was sealed off. Somebody bagged the scat. Inevitably the gawkers came, but she had her deputies Emil and Wichiwa ensure nobody crossed the line. She sat in her patrol car, and finished off the essential paperwork. Her comms set crackled to life. She listened to the message with gritted teeth.

‘Roger. Over and out… Damn!’ she hit the dashboard.

Ava looked at herself in the rearview.

‘You can do this. You can do this.’

She got the rifle from the trunk, cartridges, a pair of bins, and a flask of soup.

Her deputies looked at her with incredulity. ‘Sheriff…?’ said Wichiwa.

‘State can’t send a hunter until tomorrow. I’m going to take a look while the trail is still fresh. I’ll call in every hour. If I miss one, then send for back up. Don’t let anyone follow me. Hold the fort.’

And she walked behind the shack, following the tracks into the trees.

It started to snow.

The trail was easy enough to follow through the pines even as the tracks began to disappear beneath the fresh fall – branches were snapped back, snow displaced, but more than anything there was the reek, lingering in the frozen air. It had a sickly sweet putrefying quality to it – the noisome burn of a compost heap, writhing in maggots – mixed disconcertingly with a heady musk, a powerful male tang like you got from a buck moose. The long, raking marks either side of the footprints worried Ava the most – were they its hands? Sometimes she came across them slashing the trunk of a tree grabbed in passing – brushwood shredded off like so many bristles to a razor.

The snow was falling in thick flakes now, flurries swirling before her, making it harder to see. She constantly scanned the ranks of trees, which climbed higher into the rough hills of the wild country – a vast wilderness that spread for hundreds of miles into the interior. Looking at her watch, Ava reckoned she had six hours of daylight, tops. No more than three hours in, then she’d have to turn back.

She stopped to do her coat up properly, glad of its fur-lined hood, and her Columbia Thermarator gloves – a present from her husband.

Perhaps the creature was nocturnal and had retreated to its lair. If she didn’t catch it now, by nightfall it would be on the prowl again. What it was, and what had driven it to the edge of Gimli, she couldn’t figure.

But somewhere up there, in one of the caves that riddled the hillside, it was sleeping off its feast. It had forsaken Franklin’s flock for Junkie Jon. Clearly had a taste for human flesh. She shuddered.

Bracing herself for the slog, she was about to set off when a twig snap made her level her rifle at the undergrowth.

Something was making its way through the trees to her, something large and dark.

Trying to steady the barrel, she held her ground. Waited. If the thing was flesh and blood then it could be killed.

But if it wasn’t…?

She didn’t get to find out, for emerging from the trees, holding up his hands, was elderly First Nations man, dressed in a thick lumberjack shirt, trapper hat, jeans, and carrying a light pack, rifle slung over his shoulder.

‘Hi, Sheriff.’

With a sigh of relief she recognised him. ‘Is that you, Running Bear?’

The old man shrugged. ‘Last time I looked.’

‘What you doing up here?’

‘Fancied a stroll. Nice weather for it.’

She laughed at this, and, taking off her glove, shook his hand.

‘Figured if I made enough noise, you wouldn’t shoot me. Looks like you’re ready to kill something with that thing.’

Ava lifted the barrel up skywards. ‘There’s something mean out here. It’s killed someone in town. You’re not safe.’

The old man looked at her with an amused twinkle in his eye. ‘I’ve been hunting in these hills since you were still in diapers, Ava Rivet. I’m on the same trail as you. Figured something needed to be done.’

She went to protest, but the old man looked more than competent. She’d heard of his prowess out in the bush. He was a bit of a local legend. A bit of back-up could come in handy. Finally, she nodded. ‘Okay then. What are we tracking here exactly?’

Running Bear looked up into the hills. ‘Something bad.’ And he set off.

Ava went to protest, but simply had to follow before she lost him in the white noise of the blizzard.

Running Bear set a relentless pace. Ava developed a stitch, keeping up with him. After a solid hour of climbing they reach a line of crags jutting out to form ledges beneath which could be found shelter. They rested up a while in one, first checking the shadows carefully. The tracks had been obliterated but the stench had got stronger. ‘We’re not far now, but must save our strength,’ said the old man, squatting down and getting out his pipe. He stuffed it with a thumb of tobacco and, striking a long, wax-covered, match on the rock, passed the flame over it. He held it up. ‘To all my relations,’ he uttered, before taking it into his mouth. ‘Ah.’ He breathed out the pungent smoke. 

Ava gratefully sat down on a rock and pulled out her flask. She offered some to her guide – for now he surely was the expert – but he shook his head.

‘Smoke soup is the best.’

Pouring herself a cup, she cradled its welcome warmth. She scanned the white forest, not looking forward to the trek back.

‘You said it was something bad. What do you mean?’

The old man looked mournfully out at the blizzard. ‘There is a crack in the world. And it’s letting through bad things through. This … false winter. It’s all part of it. My bones know it.’

Ava took a sip. Frowned. ‘But what exactly are we up against here? Some intel here would really help.’

‘Nothing the rational mind could grasp…’

She waited, shifted uncomfortably in her thick coat, suddenly feeling hot.

He gave her a piercing look. ‘Do you believe in legends, Sheriff?’

‘Now is not the time for fairy tales, sir.’

‘That’s our problem. We shut the imagination out, and with it the world of the spirits, the ancestors. Cut off from our roots, is it no wonder the tree topples?’

Ava finished her soup and put the cup back on the flask. ‘You’re talking in riddles now. Give it to me straight, sir. We don’t have a lot of time.’

Wendigo,’ he hissed, the sound carrying into the back of the cave and echoing back in diminishing whispers.

‘You have the blood in you, Sheriff. You should know. Many of our people, up and down this land, have legends of it. I have heard many tales. But I have not come across one until this day.’

‘Wendigo? Come on, I thought that was just a boogerman to scare kids.’

‘Wind-walker, moss-eater, it appears when there is evil in men’s hearts, to draw them away. Madden them, with the call of the wild. Murder. Greed. The destruction of nature. It feeds on these. We have brought this doom upon ourselves. It is our judgement.’

‘So … you think it’s a good thing?’ She looked shocked, incredulous.

‘I have family. I want to protect them, just like you with your’s, sheriff.’ He got up. ‘Are you coming? If we don’t stop it now, it will kill again tonight. And it may be one of your kin it gets.’ Shouldering his pack and picking up his rifle, the old man headed out into the snow.

The reek led them down a steep-sided gulley, gouged out by a tumbling waterfall at the far end, which sent white-maned rapids thundering over the jumble of rocks. The going was slippery and they had to take it very carefully, to avoid not falling into the icy flow. Ava noted how their prey was very light on foot, despite its size. ‘Looks like it skipped over these like a fricking mountain goat,’ she observed, as she negotiated the next boulder.

The old man signalled for her to be silent.

Beyond the waterfall a dark opening could be discerned. Either side, Running Bear pointed out a narrow, slippery ledge leading to it. He pointed to one for himself, and Ava for the other.

Then he set off, descending to a shelf over which the water fan-tailed out. Scrambling over the drier rocks, he made his way to the other side of the waterfall.

Cursing silently to herself, Ava pulled her rifle off her shoulder and approached her side.

She thought of her kids, her husband, her horse, and hoped she would see them again. The waterfall thundered on her right, soaking her with spray. She made her way between its curtain and the rock to where the cave mouth gaped.

Running Bear was crouched there, rifle aimed into the dark.

The stench here was almost unbearable. Only the waterfalls constant cloud of vapour stopped her from gagging.

The darkness seemed to have a presence to it, as though she could reach out and touch it. She had to use all of her will to push through the invisible barrier that seemed to be before her. All her senses were screaming run. But she had to ignore them; she had to go the other way, further in, into the dark.

They could hear it now, its heavy breathing a rusty saw through bone.

Suddenly the sound stopped.

Even above the thunder of the waterfall Ava could hear the pounding of her heart.

Then, a low growling – like a volcano, building in power until the sound became movement, shaking the very walls of the cave.

The thing leapt towards them and all Ava saw was a flash of long, pale limbs; long white fingers with too many joints as though it had spiders for hands – nails like icicles, still red with the gore of its victim. It was all ribs and maw, a child’s nightmare sketch of hunger. Eyes like whirlpools peering out from a wrinkled, flaccid face – its skin like an ill-fitting suit, except for a grotesquely swollen belly.

They fired in unison, blasting away shot after shot into the dark – the flashes lighting up the monster as it twisted and convulsed, spurting hot pink blood.

Then finally, it stopped moving.

Just the sound of her heavy breathing in the dark. Even the waterfall was drowned out, as the blood roared around her body.

She was still alive.

‘Running Bear, are you…?’ she called into the dark.

There was the scratch of a match on rock, and a single, yellow bulb of flame lit up his stoic features. He passed the match over his pipe.

‘Still kicking.’

He took a long draw of the smoke.

‘A thing like that … never thought I’d see in all my days.’ He shook his head, lost in the wonder of it. ‘These are lean times, and then some.’ Finally, he noticed Ava standing there, trembling. ‘Sit. Catch your breath. You done well, Sheriff. You done well. Your kin are safe. Gimli is safe. For now.’

He looked at the limp form. ‘Who knows what the dark will throw at us next?’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

NEXT CHAPTER

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

The White and the Red

PATRIOT NEWS

New Force to Combat Terrorism

The President has announced the creation of an elite new wing of the armed forces: Ice Force. Ice Force will comprise specially-trained Special Forces units. ‘Our boys will have the training and tech to deal with the extreme conditions out there. Nobody will match us, on the ice. Ice Force will kick their asses!’ Ice Force units have been in top secret development for ‘sometime’, said a Pentagon spokesman, adding: ‘Ice Force has recruited from the Armed Forces – cherry-picking the very best to protect American assets across the world’. General Surt, commander of this new wing, commented: ‘Ice Force will root out evil wherever it rears its ugly head. The world will be a safer place with the white skulls looking out for us.’ The General is referring to their distinctive all-terrain Death-maskstm. Sales of newly-released Ice Force merchandising is expected to spike with today’s announcement. ‘Do your patriotic duty, and support our boys out there, fighting for freedom, by purchasing official Ice Force products,’ the General urged. ‘Every sale gives them another round.’  


Chapter 14: The White and the Red

Fenja walked barefoot along the frozen wave of the arête, oblivious to the thousand feet below. Eddy tried to scramble after her, but slipped for the umpteenth time. He was exhausted, after pursuing her for days. Every fibre of his body ached in agony, telling him to stop. But he could not give up, could not let her go. She carried his heart in a pouch, hanging from her waist. Her cried out to her, and she paused, half-turned to him, and smiled – silhouetted by the dazzling light around her. She had reached the summit – and the unearthly light beyond the mountain framed her in a pulsating aurora. Then, she took another step, seemingly into the abyss. ‘No!’ Eddy cried, scrabbling to the edge, only to see her traverse an ice-bridge hidden by the false summit. This connected to an even greater mountain, a fortress of ice so vast it pierced the sky, its utmost towers lost amid the stars. Eddy watched as her slender figure receded in perspective, until it reached the far side of the bridge, where massive doors opened, bathing her in a fierce blue light. Giant figures welcomed her and she followed them inside. The doors closed with a tremendous boom, which shook Eddy awake.

At first he was disorientated, then as his breathing steadied and his vision cleared, he realised he was in the hall, asleep on a mead-bench. A booming sound rocked the hall, making flagons tremble on tables or clatter to the floor. Flagons, for fuck’s sake!Eddy shook his head, still getting used to the seemingly solid reality of the hall the Elders had conjured up out of thin air.

The howling wind sounded like a ravenous pack of wolves, one that scrabbled over the roof – scratching, tearing, and trying to find a way in. Loose shutters and gates clattered and banged. The timbers of the hall creaked like a man o’ war in the high seas breasting the swell of a storm-lashed sea. 

Many of the Wild Hunt slept through all of this, snoring loudly as they lay prone over the benches and tables, or on the floors. Eddy couldn’t believe anybody could sleep through such a tempest. The very air seemed antagonistic, and he was vibrated to the very core by its angry energy. He wrapped the blanket he had slept under around him tightly and shuffled to the fire pit, where he tried to stop shaking. He found a half-drunk goblet of mead, which he sipped on, hoping it would warm his blood. Even in Canada he had never known it to be so cold, and that was saying something. This freak winter seemed to be getting worse and worse. How long would they last out here? Surely they’d eventually run out of firewood, of food? Or could the Elders conjure them like so many fishes and loaves? Eddy cast an eye over their slumbering forms. Sleeping off the night’s excesses like the rest of the Wild Hunt, they seemed human enough – and yet … he had seen them fight off the giants, for crying out loud. Never mind the raising of storms, summoning of lightning, and performance of incredible feats of strength. How strong were they, he wondered? They were evidently not invulnerable, as Balder’s fate had shown; and not immune to vanity, folly or fits of anger either. From what he seen so far they were as dysfunctional as any family. Immortals with feet of clay.

Eddy was glad they were on his side.

One of them was even his lover. But … where was she? The dream came back to him then, and he cast about with increasing anxiety.

‘Fen? Fen?’ he whispered, but there was no response from the snoring forms. He desperately wanted to clear his head – and escape the fug of stale alcohol, body odour and damp fur and boots. Then it occurred to him: perhaps she was outside.

Eddy made his way carefully between the sleepers to the main door, which was straining under the barrage of the storm. Surely, nobody in their right mind would be out there? But then his Fen was no ordinary woman. And she seemed in her element in the blizzard.

Why did he have to fall for a frost-giant’s daughter? He never seemed to pick the easy ones, but this was taking it to a whole new level!

As he went to reach for the bolt, a hand grabbed his wrist out of the darkness. He went to cry out in alarm, but another muffled his voice. The grip was like iron.

‘Be still! Be silent, fool!’ the voice breathed low into his ear.

Out the corner of his eye, Eddy could see it was Mani, the pale-skinned pock-marked sentinel wrapped in his night-dark cloak, and relaxed a little. He nodded.

The watchman let go, and Eddy tossed back his hair like a horse flicking its mane. ‘I just wanted some fresh air!’

‘And kill us all? Do you know what is out there?’ Mani’s pale eyes glinted like silver daggers in the gloom away from the fire.

He shrugged. ‘Snow. Wind.’

‘More deadly than that. Look.’ Mani shot back the spy-hole and gestured him to it. ‘What do you see?’

At first, Eddy could see nothing except blinding whiteness that made him squint, but finally his sight adjusted, and in the snowscape he saw shapes moving, giant shapes. ‘Jötun!’ he whispered.

Mani nodded. ‘They are making ready to attack. We need to rouse the others without making a din. Let them think we slumber. We will give them a good morning greeting with our steel.’

Eddy understood, and following the watchman, stole quietly around the hall, gently awakening the Wild Hunt. Finger to lips, a gesture to the main doors, another to their weapon.

Within minutes, the company had been roused.

One Eye strode to the front, flanked by The Hammer and Tear. He wielded a mighty two-handed battle-axe, conjured from the same top hat as the hall itself. The rest of the Elders held similar weapons from another age; whilas the rank and file of the Wild Hunt had guns, knives and chains. Eddy cast about and found a large spanner. It would have to do.

At One-Eye’s signal, the heavy wooden beam was slid from the door and they burst forth, into the teeth of the storm.

The next few hours passed in a blur of blood and snow. The Wild Hunt was assailed on all sides by wolves and giants: the Devil’s Hogs – possessed with ferocity more beast-like than human, a blood-lust in their eyes – fell upon any who showed weakness and tore them apart; and the dark towering Jötun swept out of the blizzard, causing devastation with a single blow.

And yet both forces were matched by the men and the gods of the Wild Hunt – daubed in the Vergvisir rune, they stood grimly in the blood-stained snow. Not an inch would be given while they drew breath. Frithgard, One-Eye had called it, but they defended the hall as though it was Valhalla itself. Together, they were a band of brothers and sisters – united in their purpose, defending what they loved; whileas their assailants were driven by mere hate, by an insane desire for destruction, by a dark wish to snuff out the fire of the tribe.

The Hammer, Tear, and Rig urged them on, gave them courage, the Elders fighting side-by-side with the patches.

Eddy’s arms ached from striking blows and fending off attacks, yet the surges of adrenalin made him temporarily immune to the freezing temperatures, the snow soaking into his clothes, numbing his feet, his limbs. It was strangely exhilarating, fighting side-by-side with his gang. Blood pounded in his ears like war-drums, the braying of battle-horns. He was a warrior, for now, and to die in battle, weapon in hand, the blood of his enemy upon him, would be a glorious thing. But then the drumming changed to the steady thump-thump-thump of a powwow.

Over the rough music of the skirmish – the clang of steel, bang of a gun, and cry of the wounded or dying – he heard the high pitched ululation of his people, singing their laments, expressing their sorrow at the loss of life, giving voice to the ancestors.

Eddy stopped dead amidst the tempest, his weapon slipping from his hand. The white noise of the blizzard changed to a red, filling up his vision. The Red Road, calling him home…

Then, a blinding flash of pain as he was struck by a glancing blow, and he fell to the ground and knew no more.

Eddy was vaguely aware of figures moving about in front of firelight. He felt warm and safe. The smell of smoke, brewing coffee and baking bread relaxed him and he was convinced that he was back home. That he would wake up and see his ma and pa, his big sister, his grandfather… But when he opened his eyes, he was confused to see he was back in the hall on the Isle of Man, surrounded by the Wild Hunt, proudly comparing battle-wounds, repairing kit, or the storm-battered building, drinking, eating, and relaxing. He groaned.

‘Hey, take it easy, fella. You had a bashing.’

It was Cruz, looking all the world like a Valkyrie in her blood-splattered leathers.

‘Have I died and gone to Odin’s halls?’ he half-joked.

She smiled as she tended the wound on his temple, dabbing it with something that made him wince.

‘Ouch!’

‘Not yet.’

‘What’s going on? The enemy…?’ He tried to look around.

She pushed him back down. ‘Lie still! We’ve driven them off, for now. They hit us hard, but we hit back harder. They’ll be licking their wounds too, and thinking twice about having another go.’

‘How is everyone? Did we lose anyone?’

Cruz was tight-lipped. ‘Too many.’

Eddy’s chest tightened. She nodded to another bench. He turned his head and saw Blitzen sitting next to the prone body of Dash, head in hands.

Others looked on grimly at their fallen comrades.

One Eye’s voice boomed out. He was splattered in gore, but looked none the worse for it – indeed he seemed to more alive than ever. ‘We have lost good men and women, but they fell in battle, facing their foes, with weapons in hand. They go to my halls, or Freyja’s: Valhalla or Sessrúmnir.’ He raised his meadhorn. ‘To the Fallen!’

The Wild Hunt stood, if able, and raised their goblets and horns in honour.

‘The Fallen!’

‘The enemy will attack again. And again. Mark my words. They will not give up, for a greater evil drives them – uses them like a weapon. But we will not cower here like dogs, waiting to die. We must gather our strength and ride out again. The Hammer will clear a way to the bikes; Sol will melt a path for us. For we must ride. It will be a rideout like the world has never seen. The seas are frozen, and across this Bifrost we must travel – to where it all started: Iceland. The road will be hard. Nigh on a thousand miles of ice, blizzards and freezing nights, and who knows what perils? Prepare yourselves. We will burn this hall and our fallen within it – the enemy will not despoil their bodies. And our survival will honour their memory. Now, rest. Recover. Come dawn, we ride!’

Eddy’s head swirled. ‘Riding to Iceland? Are they nuts!’ He tried to sit up, look about. ‘And where’s Fen! Is she—’

Cruz pushed him back onto the bench. ‘Your girlfriend has gone.’

Eddy’s eyes widened. ‘No…!’

‘Shut up and listen! She asked me to tell you – don’t worry for her, she’s gone to see her people. To ask for help. And she’s left her bike to use as barter if we need to pay the ferryman for our crossing. I suspect we might.’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

The Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Play board games and charades to maintain morale.


Chapter 13: The Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Next time,’ growled The Hammer.

‘I’ll be waiting,’ said Rig.

The opponents turned away and busied their men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Woo-hoo! Ton up!’ shouted Dash.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Muh-muh me too!’ chattered Dash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We walk!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for now, all that mattered was survival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Devil’s Hogs!’ cried Blitzen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What of the fallen?’ asked Dash?

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

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

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

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

‘Get inside!’ commanded Rig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

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

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