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Coastguard

Praise day at even, a wife when dead,
a weapon when tried, a maid when married,
ice when ’tis crossed, and ale when ’tis drunk.

                                                              Hávamál

Harley winter Stock Photos, Royalty Free Harley winter Images |  Depositphotos®

Chapter 24: Coastguard


Eddy rode on. That is all he did, for that was all he knew. He was close to getting frozen to his bike. Man and machine in perfect harmony – yeah, right. Eddy felt as clapped out as his ride, which rattled in an alarming fashion. It had taken a battering back there, as had he. Lucky to get out of that Coastguard tub alive. When he thought of those frozen corpses… At least he had a bag of food and a can of gas, but how long was that going to last him, realistically? A couple of days before he ran out of fuel, a couple of more before the food went. He’d been on the ‘road’ now, if you could call it that, for at least four, maybe five days now. He should be there, going by Rig’s estimates, but that wasn’t factoring in the extreme conditions, the giants and abysses, zombie coast-guards and leviathans. It was turning into a salty seadog tale in his imagination already – rime of the ancient fucking mariner. His stubble was frosted with frozen brine, so he had the look right. With his mix of First Nation and Icelandic blood, he’d never been able to grow a full beard, just ‘bum-fluff’ as his sister liked to call it. But he felt grizzled enough – an Arctic explorer. Well, it was in his blood, if Grandpa Gunnar was to be believed: descended from Leif Ericsson himself. How that squared up, he didn’t know, as he thought the Icelanders of Gimli were all descended from Mormons who had come over in the eighteen hundreds. But Gunnar had been insistent. Some of Leif’s men had settled. Had there not been archaeological remains on Greenland? Other possible sites on the north-east coast of America? As always, Eddy’s grandfather mixed up real history with his own personal mythologizing. But then most Icelanders seemed to claim descent from Thor or one of the Aesir…

He smiled at this, thinking fondly of The Hammer and the rest of the Wild Hunt. Maybe there was something in that claim after all, for the gods lived – lesser than before, yes, but here at the end of the world, duking it out with the bad guys one last time. And Eddy was playing his part, however small. If he didn’t die on this interminable ice first, that is.

Stopping for a snack and a stretch – he’d been riding for a couple of hours – he pulled out the sunstone. It glowed in the perpetually overcast gloom and was deliciously warm in his hand, which started to soften from its cramped death-grip position. It made the frost-bitten tips of his fingers burn, but he gritted his teeth and waited. After a moment, he felt a distinctive tug in one direction. The sunstone shifted on his now fully open palm, fixing on one direction: magnetic north.

Figuring he had passed the southern tip of Greenland now, he knew he had to head due west, striking out along the sixtieth parallel (he could picture it in his mind’s eye, having pored over atlases in his community school). Crossing the frozen Labrador Sea, he would, if all went well, reach the Canadian coast. He had to make for the Hudson Strait, into Hudson Bay, to Churchill, on Manitoba’s eastern coast, approximately two thousand miles. From there he could follow the railroad to north of Lake Manitoba, then take the Winnipeg Road down to Gimli – another mere six hundred miles or so. Simple! Except he’d need at least ten refuelling stops on his Buell Ulysses. Not many gas stations between here and Churchill. He couldn’t rely upon finding ships and after the last experience he wasn’t sure he wanted to. It was insane, and he had a snowball in hell’s chance of making it, without extra-ordinary luck. But that was exactly what Fenja had gifted him.

And he had the sunstone too.

And, according to his grandpa Gunnar, his own orlog. He had struggled to understand what had been meant by that at the time – ‘Your luck, your will, your destiny…’ Gunnar had elaborated, vaguely, pounding his chest. Between the hamingja of a frost giant’s daughter, the sun stone of Sol, and his own orlog, Eddy hoped that he had the ghost of a chance at least.

At the end of the day, he brooded as he looked across the endless ice, being alive is a risky business and all we have to peg our hopes upon are the blessings of our beliefs.

Eddy rarely prayed, but he felt the extremity of the circumstances called for it. So, feeling a little foolish, he raised his arms and called out his hopes, his voice sounding strange on the still air: ‘May the gods of the red and the white, ancestors of my people, and spirits of the sea, land and sky, bless this journey. Help me, Great Mystery, to get home.’

Remembering the bearing, he put away the sun stone, and got back on the bike, heading across the ice into the west.

Eddy’s bike had a range of two hundred and forty miles, and a couple of tanks worth of gas would get him about half way across the Labrador Sea. And then what…? He tried not to think about it. ‘Denial is not a river in Egypt,’ he could hear his sister saying. Just keep riding, Eddy, just keep riding…

Ice, ice, more fucking ice. The world had turned into a snowball. Maybe this was it. The. End. Eddy brooded. Maybe there was no point in fighting it. There had been ice ages before – he remembered that much from school. Mass extinction events. Maybe humanity’s time was up? Hell, the world would be better off. Mother Earth could have a breather. Mend herself. Start afresh, once she’d recovered from her abusive relationship with Man. Many of the species would be okay. Sure, some would die off, but others would cope, or adapt. The polar bears and snow leopards would flourish again. The Inuits and the other polar tribes might scrape by, but they would continue as they had done, on the fringes, in the minority – leading low impact lives. Maybe his people would too, better suited to the extreme cold, the Canadian winters. But … what about the rest of the human race? Didn’t they stand a chance? If he had a role in trying to save them, however minor, then Eddy didn’t want six billion lives on his conscience. That was too much bad blood for anyone to handle! Besides, he couldn’t let bastards like Koil and his cronies win – sitting out the Fimbul-Winter in their cosy bunkers, fiddling while the world freezes. The anger at the thought drove Eddy onwards, giving him a new surge of energy.

He never realised, he thought distantly, there were so many shades of white. The vista was like some abstract impressionist painting, a large canvas thickly painted with coagulated oils – ivory white, lead white, titanium white … Look closer and you would start to discern other colours tangled up in the viscous brush-strokes, or glimpsed beneath. Spectral ghosts. The memory of colour.

            Eddy was numb from tip to toe, but felt a strange serene acceptance.

            Everything fades to white in the end, he thought. Why resist?

            The deathly scene filled him with peace.

            Life was … an effort … he didn’t want to make anymore.

Then the bike cut out, rolling to a stop.

He laughed bitterly. That was that, then.

Eddy threw his helmet off as he climbed off the Buell and kicked it across the ice. ‘Aargghhh!!!’

Game over.

He fell to his knees. Still hundreds of miles from the coast, thousands from home. Who was he fucking kidding? It was getting dark again. No shelter. He’d freeze to death on the ice without it – the sunstone would only keep him alive for so long.

As he knelt there in despair, he suddenly felt a vibrated in the ice, which made him get to his feet. He scanned the bleak vista. Nothing, but the light, such as it was, was fading – just a thin red band towards the west. Then he felt another shudder. This time his eyes were drawn to the bloody afterlight of the setting sun. Another boom, and he was able to locate the source. There.

Eddy rubbed his eyes, looked again.

Silhouetted against the blood-stained sky was the figure of a man, but the scale was all wrong. He was miles away.

But with each slow step the ice shuddered again.

Then the dread realisation hit him.    

A giant.

And he was coming closer.

And then Eddy saw two others join him.      

Here he was: no gas, a sitting duck. There was no point in running.

Time to meet your maker, Eddy Redcrow.

He just sat there, leaning against his bike, singing ‘The End’ by The Doors, as he watched the giants approach. They were the height of a five-storey building, and wore long cloaks of whale-skin, encrusted with barnacles and trimmed with polar bear fur. They wielded spears made of single trunks of the tallest pines, spear-heads the size of anchors. Their faces seemed hewn from a wave-blasted sea-cliff, eyes the hue of glaciers. Towering over Eddy, they looked down upon him as though he were a plaything.

‘Oh, look, what prize the ice has brought us, brothers!’ roared the first one, with a shovel shaped beard orca black with a single streak of white.

‘An intruder, trying to sneak into Kong Koil’s kingdom. Not many come this way. It is a good day,’ said the second, with a beard as ragged and grey as an Arctic peninsula.

‘We must tear him limb from limb,’ rumbled the third, whose spiky beard was as white as icicles.

‘Yes. Yes. Yes.’ they said in unison.

The three giants reached down with fingernails like narwhale tusks.

He waited for the first blow to fall.

‘You will do no such thing, if you value your lives!’

Eddy turned in surprise to see a familiar figure standing next to him.

‘Fen!’

He couldn’t believe his eyes. There she was. Not a vision, but really there!

‘I am the daughter of Thrym, your king! This human is under my protection! Find prey elsewhere, frost-giant kin! No feast of hot blood for you here today! Go!’

The giants sighed with disappointment, but stood upright and turned slowly, walking away with a booming gait.

Eddy embraced her. ‘Fen! You’re here! I can’t believe it! How…?’

‘The snakeholes…’

He looked non-plussed.

‘I can open portals between the nine worlds. The serpent-paths are there if you know how to find them. I merely turn the key.’

Eddy blinked through the tears. ‘Why … didn’t you use this … gift … to get across Europe?’

She shrugged. ‘Time of the month.’

He snorted.

‘I’m serious! The magic is like my moon-blood. It waxes and wanes. Sometimes stepping through is easier. The snakeholes just … open wide.’

He shook his head, laughing in disbelief, in relief. ‘Oh, I don’t care. It’s just … so good to see you!’

Fenja pushed him back. ‘I cannot stay. Time is of the essence. Only I can persuade my father not to destroy humankind. I must return to his realm.’

‘But Fen! I’m shafted here … If the frost giants don’t get me, the cold will. I’m out of gas and out of luck!’

‘You have some of my hamingja, remember? It doesn’t run out so easily. But here, let me leave you with this parting gift…’

Smiling, Fenja placed her hands upon the tank of the Buell. From her fingertips emitted an aureole of blue light like a kirilian photograph. ‘There, that should get you home.’

‘What have you done?’ Eddy wondered.

‘Just get on your bike and ride. Find that runestone Eddy Redcrow. Much depends upon it. Farewell, for now!’

Fenja stretched out a long nail and a tearing sound cut him to the quick.

A split in the night opened like a tear in satin. From it radiated a cold light and icy blast even fiercer than the one on the frozen sea. Fenja stepped through and the gash sealed up behind her.

Eddy was left alone on the ice. He tried the engine and it started straight away. The fuel gauge needle suddenly leapt to full. Smiling, Eddy rode on.

Now, where did that helmet go?

Retrieving his helmet, Eddy roared westwards. No matter how long he rode, the fuel gauge did not go down. Whatever Fenja had done, it had worked. Hell, that gal could solve the world fuel crisis!

He rode through the night and on into the grey light of the next day. His heart leapt when he saw the coast of Canada. As he reached the Hudson Strait, he stopped to have something to eat and drink. He dropped the sunstone in his mug of coffee, and it heated it in seconds. Feeling a little more revived, he pushed on, following the northern coastline of Quebec around into the Hudson Bay.

Though it was vast enough to feel like a sea, Eddy was heartened to enter it, knowing it was surrounded by Canadian soil.

All day long and all the next he traversed it, heading southwest until he saw the sight he’d been longing for for days. The coast of Manitoba, and Cape Churchill.

Riding up onto the shore line he got off his bike and kissed the land, thanking the gods, ancestors and spirits.

He made his way to the lonely railway terminal and onto the tracks, which, beneath the snow, provided a little more grip and stability than the surrounding landscape, and they were mercifully level. Beyond exhausted, he now rode on, possessed by a growing excitement.    

But the miles carried on and on, seemingly forever, and his food supplies ran out. Weak with hunger and deep fatigue, he stopped to waver. Some kind of muscle memory kept him upright, kept him moving forward.

Mercifully, he didn’t have to think about the route. Just follow the tracks until it hit the road at Ponton, then follow that down to Gimli.

The bike seemed to know what to do. Had Fenja’s magic touch done more than fill the tank with perpetually renewing petrol?

Eddy was never to find out.

After several more weary hours, Eddy finally passed out and the bike skidded into a snow-drift.

Just over its ridge, the sign for Gimli protruded.

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

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

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The Choice

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Chapter 3: The Choice

Eddy awoke, shivering and damp. The ferry ploughed its way through the white caps, creating a see-saw motion which made him queasy. His travelling companion was nowhere to be seen, and for a second the unsettling thought crossed his mind – that he had dreamed her into being. And yet, her bag was still next to his in their temporary ‘nest’. He picked it up, and slinging his own over his shoulder, made a quick reccy of the deck.

It was early morning. Dawn was a red smear in the east. The chilly fog, bitter on the tongue, dissipated the sunlight in a thin veil. Seagulls keened noisily overhead, skirling about the funnels, which belched their grey smoke into the air. 

Towards the rear of the deck, overlooking the stern, he found her – her tall, slim figure a dark outline against the pale mist. As he approached he heard her speaking – a strange guttural tongue – to herself, to the sea: 

Mæg ic be me sylfum soðgied wrecan,
siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
earfoðhwile oft þrowade,
bitre breostceare  gebiden hæbbe,

gecunnad in ceole  cearselda fela,
atol yþa gewealc…

The lonely sound seemed to echo the bleak vista; the haranguing gulls; the tang of brine. Eddy sensed a deep longing and loneliness in her words which echoed his own emptiness – something he had never been able to articulate or even acknowledge until now.

Sensing his presence, Fenja stopped mid-sentence. She turned and he saw the glister of tears in her eyes.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.’ He ventured closer. ‘It was … beautiful – weird, but beautiful.’

She scowled at him and went to light a cigarette, covering her lighter with the flap of her jacket.

‘What did it mean?’

Fenja took a drag of her cigarette and scanned the skein of wave-patterns unravelling from the wake of the ship.

‘It’s just an old poem…’ she shrugged dismissively.

‘Please, I’d like to know.’

Fenja gave him an appraising look, and then exhaled a wraith of smoke. She continued, shifting into English: ‘…atol yþa gewealc … the terrible tossing of the waves, where the anxious night-watch often took me, at the ship’s prow, when it tossed near the cliffs. Fettered by cold, were my feet, bound by frost, in cold clasps, where then cares seethed; hot about my heart – a hunger tears from within the sea-weary soul.’

‘Wow, that’s pretty awesome. What language is that?’

‘An old one, spoken by seafarers who crossed this Whale’s Road, as we do – to Britain.’

‘Far out, Fen. Were you a literature major or something?’

She looked at him scornfully.

‘Mm, shall I get us a coffee?’

She nodded.

‘Frappacino, right? Brrr. It’s chilly enough for me. I need something hot! Seeya in a mo.’

Fenja watched him go. Then turned back to the waves, she continued, a little contemptuously:

‘That man knows not,
to whom on earth fairest falls,
how I, care-wretched, ice-cold sea
dwelt on in winter along the exile-tracks,
bereaved both of friend and of kin,
behung with rime-crystals. Hail showers flew.
I heard nothing there but the sea’s sounding,
ice-cold wave.’

Fenja didn’t seem very talkative after that, although Eddy was full of excitement at their crossing. They were making progress, albeit painfully slowly. After twelve hours the gloomy coast of Britain appeared and by then Eddy was glad to see it. The sea seemed to put his companion into a strange mood. He was looking forward to being back on dry land – with two wheels under him and the road stretching ahead. He’d been checking out the route on his phone, and just before they docked, he approached his impromptu passenger with a suggestion. She scanned the dreary docks of Hull with cold eyes. It didn’t look promising.

‘Well, this is the parting of the ways…’

Fenja shrugged.

‘Listen, I have a suggestion to make.’

She turned to look at him – stiffening.

‘No, nothing improper. I know you’re not the kinda gal to try it on with…’

She narrowed her eyes to slits of ice.

‘Not that that wouldn’t be nice…’

She glared at him.

‘But what I wanted to say was – how about I give you a lift to Liverpool. That’s where the ferry leaves for Man, doesn’t it? Where your big powwow is?’          

Fenja sucked on her cigarette, scanning the docks. ‘Very well.’

‘Cool!’ Eddy went to high-five her. ‘Looks like we’ve got a deal.’

Fenja stubbed the cigarette off on his palm. The flesh sizzled, reeked.

‘Ow!’ Eddy looked at the burnt hole in his hand in disbelief. ‘Jeezus!’

‘But keep your hands to yourself!’

She slinked off, as the tannoy announced disembarkation.

They got out of Hull as quickly as possible, taking the York road – when it soon became apparent the motorway was gridlocked. It was early evening and the plan was to get at least as far as that city before they stopped for food. The ride to Liverpool would take roughly two hours twenty, but Eddy was determined to make the most of it. There was something about Fenja that … fascinated him. Yes, his hand still smarted – making gripping the handlebar uncomfortable –  but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d been drawn to something bad for him, as Siggy, his sister, would no doubt point out. There were a dozen messages from her on his phone, and half a dozen from his Mom, but he held off answering them. They could wait.

He had a hot one on his hands.

Eddy’s first impressions of Britain weren’t promising. The hinterland of Hull was, frankly, depressing. None of the charming quaintness he’d come to expect from cheesy movies. Red double deckers and postboxes, old-fashioned ‘bobbies’ on the beat, Big Ben and Olde Worlde pubs serving warm beer. It wasn’t even raining! It just looked drab – worn out suburbs and Legoland shopping centres, dismal high streets lined with empty units and big shed industrial estates.  The countryside wasn’t much better … it seemed threadbare somehow. Of the picturesque villages and rolling, verdant hills he saw little evidence. Not so much the Shire, as just ‘shite’, as he overheard a local say when they stopped for directions – laughing coarsely. The people around here seemed, well, just odd. Hard-looking, unwelcoming faces like the grizzled coast-line: stern cliffs lashed by bitter seas.

At one point, pausing at a black-and-white striped pedestrian crossing, Eddy smiled as he saw an obese bald man in a tattered dress pushing an empty pram across – excruciatingly slowly. He tapped his fingers impatiently on his handlebars – until halfway across the bald man turned and shouted: ‘The voices in the sky told me it’s not safe for you to ride your bike.’ Eddy laughed about this with Fenja, but it rattled him a little – especially his passenger’s sober response. ‘He’s probably right.’

‘Come off it! Do you listen to voices in the sky?’

Fenja nodded. ‘You would be foolish not to.’

Right. Eddy had had his belly-full of such bullshit from both his grandfathers: incomprehensible Icelandic sagas from Gunnar (may his liver rest in peace); hokey Medicine Way shit from Running Bear. He’d grown up with it. Ever since busting out of High School, he had done his damnedest to avoid all of that hocus pocus. The only medicine he needed was rock and roll, a cold beer and a hot babe.

At York they stopped for fish and chips: they had to try them, Eddy had insisted. They sat by the castle ruins, watching the lads and lasses out on the town in t-shirts and mini-skirts. Eddy was impressed by the brevity of attire the local girls wore, or rather didn’t, considering how parky it was (according to one of the lads, brassing it out bravely, pint in hand). Fenja jabbed at her fish it suspiciously with the wooden fork.

‘Boy, they’re pretty hot around here. Alot of blondes – they look a bit like you. But not as …’

He remembered the cigarette butt, and held back. ‘How’s the fish.’

‘Good.’

‘Better than these chips. I could only manage half of them.’ He belched.

Fenja didn’t react.

‘How about we go for a beer?’

‘How about we go?’

‘Hang on – you’re not doing all the driving. It’s a long ride after a long trip. What’s the rush?’

‘Why would I want to spend a moment longer with you than I have to?’

‘Hey, and I like your company too, Fen. You’re a barrel of laughs. You need to lighten up.’ He threw the rest of the chips in the bin. ‘I’m going for a beer. You can walk to Liverpool if you like, or come for one to wash down this English grease.’

On the way to the nearest pub they passed a visitor centre. Fenja froze outside and gazed through the glass at the display – a Viking longship.

Eddy whistled. ‘That’s was one helluva boat! Look at the dragon-head!’

Fenja started to recite something, but Eddy couldn’t catch it.

‘Pity it’s closed. It’s gone five. C’mon, let’s go.’

The glass doors of the admissions area suddenly slid open and Fenja walked straight inside. ‘Hey!’ Eddy went to follow her. ‘You can’t go in there! It’s clo—’ The glass doors slid shut in his face. He banged on them, but Fenja had walked inside the museum, out of sight.

He paced up and down for a bit, wondering what to do – then decided a beer would help.

Fenja found him in a local pub, sipping gingerly on a pint of dark English ale.

‘Did you have fun?’

‘My people…’ Her eyes were full of light. She seemed happy.

‘They didn’t catch you then?’ 

‘My people!’ she called out, grabbing his pint and raising it in toast, then she set to downing it in one, before Eddy could stop her.

‘Hey, buy your own!’

When she finished she slammed down the glass and smacked her lips, wiping the froth with the back of her hand. A ripple of applause and a few cheers went up around the bar. A loud track kicked in on the juke-box. She started dancing, to wolf whistles – pulling Eddy up off his feet. He was a bit embarrassed at first, but was soon caught up in her enthusiasm. It was good to see her let go – and boy, did she let go! She started to dance wilder and wilder – grinding and gyrating amongst the men, who began clapping and stamping.

Suddenly, from the other side of the bar Eddy could see policemen in their distinctive black and Nor’man-shaped helmets. The landlord pointed over to Fenja.

‘Quick, we’ve got to get out of here!’ Eddy grabbed hold of the dancer’s hand and pulled her towards the door. Laughing, she danced out into the street.

The police tried to barge their way through the beefy clientèle but the drinkers barred their way, knocking over stools.

‘Come on!’ Eddy ran, and Fenja sprinted beside him – as easily as a deer. They raced around the corner, out of sight of the pub and headed down a narrow side-lane in the general direction of the bike. It paid off – they appeared right next to it. Eddy unlocked it, and chucked Fenja a helmet. ‘Get on!’ He gunned the engine and they roared off, Fenja singing behind him.

They stopped a safe distance outside the city, pulling over on a layby along a country road. The sun was low in the sky – briefly showing its face beneath the lid of clouds. Pulling off their helmets, they both laughed with relief. They had got away!

‘What did you do back there to raise the heat?’

‘Oh, just a little sight-seeing.’

Eddy raised an eyebrow. ‘What is it with you and electronics? You seem able to affect them…’

‘Oh, nothing. It must be my natural … magnetism!’

‘You’re telling me. You had those guys lapping out of your hands in the pub. You’re … quite a dancer.’

‘And so were you…’ She pulled him closer. ‘You have a wild side too, Mister Redcrow.’ She pressed against him. She held him there for a minute – groin against groin. He could feel the heat of her loins.

‘Damn, I need a slash. Hold it right there!’

Fenja laughed and let him go. When he came back she was on the back of the bike, helmet on.

‘Let’s go, Redcrow!’

Arms folded, he looked at her in disbelief. She was pulling the strings alright! He shook his head. On a whim, saluted.

‘Yes, ma’am!’

‘Are you sure you don’t want me to wait with you?’

They were standing outside the ferry terminal at Liverpool. It was dark.

‘No, you go on. You have brought me so far.’

‘Well … look after yourself.’ He shuffled awkwardly. She handed him back the spare helmet.

Fenja pulled him to her and planted a hot kiss upon his lips. She lingered there and something crackled between them.

For a moment, Eddy looked at her – her elfin face close to his. Then, settling into it, he closed his eyes.  

There was a flash and crack – and an image streaked across his mind’s eye like a sigil of lightning. An intricate knot of sharp lines – three interlocking triangles – scolded into his mind like a brand.

And far off, inside, reverberating through his whole body – the sound of thunder.

Eddy started shaking. His limbs … wouldn’t stop shuddering. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know—‘

She placed her finger upon his lips, then turned on her heels and walked away.

Eddy shook his head, tried to recover. ‘Wait! Will I see you again?’

She paused and looked back briefly. ‘If the Norns will it.’

And she was gone.

Eddy crashed in a backpackers. He was wiped out and slept like a dog – snoring loudly – much to the annoyance of his fellow dorm-mates. The man below kept kicking his bunk, trying to make him shut up. The pounding became thunder in his dream. He was chasing Fenja across a rocky plateau where rock pools bubbled and steamed. Above, a sky dark with storm cloud. With each flash of lightning he caught a brief glimpse of the sigil from Fenja’s kiss. It seemed to whisper to him, something he couldn’t quite catch in a strange language. Just on the cusp of hearing it a heavy kick from below woke him up – he sat upright in his bunk, body clammy, breathing heavily.

For a moment, in the dark, he wasn’t sure where he was.

Then the smell of socks, of body odour, brought him back.

Sighing, he flopped back onto the mattress and was soon fast asleep.

He rose late and missed breakfast. The bunk-kicker was gone. The dorm empty except for his belongings, which he checked. Nothing missing. After freshening up, he grabbed a coffee and a snack from the vending machine and decided to check his emails.

There were about a hundred from his sister.

Sighing, he clicked on Whatsapp. Typed ‘S’. It would be about eight over there – if he was lucky, he’d catch his sister before she went to work.

Finally, she answered.

‘Sizzers, hi!’

‘Eddy, is that you, you dirtbag? Christ, where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!’ Her voice was a little distorted. Not a great connection, but it’ll have to do.

‘I’m fine…’

In the background he could her hear the sounds of the kitchen. The TV. Voices.

‘Wait a minute.’ She turned down the breakfast show. ‘Mom! Dad! Give me some space here. It’s Eddy! I know… I will … Just let me talk to him for now, okay! Sheesh!’

‘Sounds like all is well…’

‘Now you listen up, Eddy!’

‘Uh-oh, it’s that tone,’ he groaned. ‘Tsunami warning.’

‘Damn right. You’re way out of line. Not returning our messages. Letting us worry. We’ve been following the news and it looks like a real shit-storm over there in Euro-land. When we heard that Candy got back, we didn’t know what to think. I managed to collar her at Tergesen’s. She said you had split up. She didn’t have anything nice to say about you. You’ve blown it, little brother. You really are one tremendous fuck-up.’

‘Oh, here we go again.’

‘Yes, again and again – until you …’

‘Get a life, I know the drill.’ Eddy had heard this a thousand times before. ‘“When are you going to get a proper job? When are you going to settle down?’”

‘Eddy, you can’t be a teenager forever! Most of us grow up. You waste your talents in part-time jobs…’  

‘It supports my music career…’

‘Music career? An axe-man in a pub rock band. The Runestone Cowboys…? How are you ever going to be taken seriously with a name like that? As far as I can see you guys just play for beers and kicks. As long as you can ride your little bikes and squeeze a few little chicks, you’re happy.’

‘Yep, that about sums it up. Simple needs: the secret of happiness. When was the last time you were happy, sizzers?’

‘How dare you! I love my life. Mom, we’re leaving in five!’

‘You were always the smart one – you’ve got a degree in history. First one in our family to graduate.’

‘The only one, by the looks of things.’

‘And what you’re doing with it? A clerk in a bookstore.’

‘Hey! You know how hard it is to get a job with a History degree? Anyway, Mister Forbes’ List – don’t lecture me on career choices!’

‘Ah, it’s just like old times. Absent makes the heart grow fonder, hey?’

‘I’m … sorry. But I … care for you, you dumb ass. Don’t waste your life away.’

‘Jeez, big sis. I luv ya too.’

‘Then listen up, you big lunk. There’s a job going at the local garage – they need a bike mechanic. I got chatting to Bill when I took the old jalopey in for its MOT. I said you’re pretty good with the tinkering. He told me you should give him a call. ASAP. Otherwise, someone else’ll get it.’

Eddy looked out at the street. The traffic. The pedestrians. Everyone rushing somewhere. What was he doing with his life? Where was he going? Did he really want to be a part-time rocker forever? The aftershow parties were good – but … what about his band? There never seemed to be enough time to organise themselves. They played the same old bars, going round in circles.

‘Well, thanks, sis – my career advisor!’

‘Don’t mention it, jerk. Call Bill, and come home.’

Eddy let out a sigh. ‘Okay, will do. Tell Mom I’ve booked a flight from Aberdeen, Scotland. I’m heading up there now. I should be back in a couple of days.’

‘She’ll be relieved. You take care, bro. Love.’

‘Love you too, sizzers. And … thanks. You’re a pain in the butt, but you mean well.’

‘Ring Bill! And get your red arse back here! No excuses!’

‘Not even a volcanic eruption!’

‘That’s nothing compared to your big sister’s temper!’

Eddy laughed. ‘Give my love to Mom, Pops and Grandpa. See you soon.’

Eddy rode. He had a big grin on his face. Rock music blasted through his earbuds as he revved the bike along the long road North. The northern English landscape was craggy and bleak, jagged fells looming out of the mist beyond the thin ribbon of road – which seemed vulnerable, as though its fate depended on the whim of angry gods, brooding from the mountain fastnesses.

Yet Eddy felt for the first time in a long while that his fate, perhaps, was in his own hands. The freedom of the road fostered that illusion – and he made the most of it while he could, for he knew, the further north he went to narrower his options would become.

Yet he had little choice, it seemed.

Aberdeen was the only airport still open and allowing flights to the US and Canada – for now, although who knows how long that situation would last? How many of his fellow countrymen were making their way their right now? Eddy took some consolation from the fact his bike allowed him to make swift progress. The travel chaos had infiltrated Britain like a virus, as they had discovered on making landfall – but it was with a warm feeling he reflected back on his brief time with Fenja. She was out of this world, that gal – so utterly other that it blew his mind! There was an aura about here – a fearless freedom, trouble, headfuckery weirdness, whatever – but Eddy found it intoxicating. He was hooked, and going cold turkey seemed less and less appealing.

Eddy pulled over at the brow of the hill. He had reached the English-Scottish border – the bare hills stretched into the grey distant: a kingdom of wind turbines and forestry plantations. He was expecting something more impressive. Border control. Heavy security. Instead, there was just a snack-trailer, portaloo and a sign, covered in stickers and graffiti, saying ‘Welcome to Scotland.’  It was hardly the Tex-Mex crossing.

Eddy looked at the long road ahead – two hundred miles to go to Aberdeen. He could make it by late evening, and catch the first flight in the morning. He’d managed to reserve a seat before he left Italy. He was one of the lucky ones. But then he contemplated a night in an airport terminal, the long flight. The prospect of a real job when he got back… He’d spoken to Bill earlier and he seemed keen for him to start as soon as he got back.

Eddy chewed things over as he devoured a roll, sitting outside the roadside café in his leathers. He’d come so far… A few more hours and he’d be home. His holiday would all be over. What a fuck up it had been!

Well, not quite.

He circled the butt-burn on his palm, smiling fondly. That kiss! And there was the dream. The sigil. Her strange songs. Her dancing. Her way of making things go haywire. That woman had magic!

Then his sister’s nagging came back to him, and beyond that, the chorus of disapproval of his Mom, Sitting Cloud; his father, Magnus; and his grandfather, Running Bear – buzzing in his mind like the midges of Manitoba. All telling him to: sort himself; eat well; man up; or, follow the good Red Road.

 Eddy closed his palm, curling it into a fist.

‘Screw it.’

He got onto his bike, fired it up, and turned it back – to the South – shooting off down the road.

Overhead, the glowering skies flashed with a sigil of lightning.

***

Thunder Road – coming soon…

Extract of Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

NEXT CHAPTER

Terminal

Chaos at French port as Briton packs WW2 bombshells in his bag

PATRIOT NEWS

Climate Change is Fake News

In a press conference this morning at the White House President Koil dismissed the recent reports by ‘doom-monger’ climate scientists, who claim the extreme weather events we have been witnessing across the States and around the world in the last year are the result of so-called ‘Climate Change’. President Koil made it very clear that he sees these reports as evidence of ‘Fake News’ and renewed his campaign commitment to ‘make war on fake news’. The President said ‘the climate changes every day’ and it is ‘nothing to write home about’.  To say the extreme weather events – hurricanes, floods, wild fires – are the consequence of man’s actions, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, is, the President said, ‘a blatant lie’, and an ‘attack on democracy’. “These people want to shut down our oil industries, our coal industries, our car industries. They want us living in straw huts like Third World savages.” Afterwards, a Whitehouse spokesman said ‘Third World savages’ was just a ‘figure of speech’ and the President meant no racial slur by it. He had ‘a lot of Third World friends’. Many of them work at his chain of hotels around the globe.

Chapter 2: Terminal

‘So, what’s your story?’ Eddy asked, sipping a coffee and munching sceptically on a croissant.

They sat outside a service station café, just over the border into France on the outskirts of Strasbourg – which was overflowing with weary travellers. Some had a clearly spent at least one night there and the place had the air of a refugee camp. Folk sitting hunched exhausted, blankets over their shoulders, cradling a steaming cup or a half-eaten sandwich. Others recumbent in sleeping bags, on any spare floor. Eddy knew how he felt – four hundred and seventy seven miles since Pisa, another four hundred to go to Calais, but at least he was over the halfway point. A plasma screen blared out the latest news, watched avidly by the stranded – each latest revelation leading to more gasps, groans and curses. A spokeswoman from the Civil Aviation Authority was blathering on robotically: ‘There is no telling how long the eruption would last. The airspace above Europe will be closed for the foreseeable future, unless there was a dramatic change in wind direction.’ The studio cut to shots of airports and ferry terminals across the continent – aisles of awkwardly slumbering travellers like the dead waiting for resurrection, the ‘cancelled’ litanies of departure boards – showed the misery was shared with millions in the same plight.

‘My story?’ Fenja smiled. ‘You … people seem to like stories, don’t you?’

‘All the time.’ Eddy grinned. ‘Especially my people. My late grandfather Gunnar was always telling me stories.’ He looked wistful for a moment. ‘But … you distracted me. Answering a question with a question. Cunning! You could be a politician.’

‘Could I?’ Fenja considered the idea.

Eddy caught her eye. ‘Anyway…?’

‘Ah, yes. My story. A traveller, like you. In a place I don’t belong, like you. Trying to get … home. Like you. What more do you need to know?’

‘Your family, your job, what you love, what you hate…’

They laughed.

‘Mm, interesting. I’ll get back to you on those.’

Eddy gave her a puzzled look. ‘Ah, the mystery woman.’

‘Yes, that’s it. My story is … mystery.’

They enjoyed their breakfast in silence for a while.

‘Don’t you want to know my story?’ Eddy finally asked.

‘Why should I?’ Fenja lit up, despite the sign and the frosty stares.

Eddy considered this as he contemplated his coffee. ‘Because I’m giving you a lift. Because we’re sharing the road.  Because we’re fellow human beings, caught up in this mess.’

‘Mess?’

‘Katla. The ash-cloud and all that shit. A bit of dust and this whole continent reverts to the Dark Ages. Doesn’t take much.’

‘For what?’

‘For it all to come crashing down. You can’t even get on the travel websites to find out what’s going on. They’re all jammed. Tried to book tickets for Eurostar. Forget it. I figured my best shot was to haul my sorry ass to Calais, and take my chances at the ferry terminal. Get to Britain and ride up to Scotland – apparently a couple of their airports and still letting out flights. This trip has been a disaster – literally. I might as well head back.’

‘Why?’

‘I was meant to be touring Europe with my lady … my ex-lady… but she dumped me in Italy. Wonder how she’s fairing?’ He looked out at the grey skies. ‘If she had any sense she would have got on the last flight out of Dodge. I had to carry on regardless – bison-headed, my other grandfather would say. Look where it’s got me…’

Eddy finished his coffee. Sighed.

‘So, where are you heading?’

‘To Ellen Vanin.’

‘Ireland?’

‘The Isle of Man I think it’s called these days. There’s a big … meeting there. I’ve been … called.’ She looked into the middle distance.

‘The TT Races? Always wanted to go there. Isn’t that earlier in the year?’

‘No, not that.’

‘Oh.’

‘I’m meeting tribe.’

‘Ah, I see. Well, let’s hope we can get across. The English Channel – only twenty one miles but it might as well be the Pacific. How good at you at swimming?’

‘We’ll get across.’ She smiled that smile again. ‘Get me there. I’ll take care of it.’

Eddy looked at her as she got up to go to the bathroom. She walked past the long queue and went straight in, causing stunned silence, followed by a chorus of angry voices.

They were at some service station somewhere in Luxembourg around the six hundred mile mark. Time to fill up for the third time since he’d set off. Eddy squeezed the petrol pump, watching the euro counter whizz round alarmingly rapidly. ‘Jeez, the cost of gas over here. It’s amazing you guys drive anywhere.’

Fenja looked agitated in the forecourt, pacing up and down. The legs had a hypnotic effect on some of the drivers. A long line of vehicles stretched back onto the road, into the distance. It had taken alot of nerve to ride straight in, but ‘it was every man for himself’, as Redcrow put it. ‘Survival of the fastest.’

‘Don’t these places always look the same?’ He called over. ‘Same plastic shit the world over. Bums me out.’

When Eddy had finished, tapping the last few drops out, Fenja walked back to his pump.

‘Well, looks like we’ve hit the jackpot again.’ He groaned, nodding at the final total displayed. He started to pull out his billfold.

His passenger leant nonchalantly against the pump, as though against a tree. She inspected her nails as Eddy’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. ‘Wha—!?’ Both counters spun around until they returned to zero.

‘How– how did you do that?’

‘That?’ She shrugged. ‘Me and electronic things never get on. They always seem to go haywire when I’m around. Don’t know why.’

Eddy watched as she straddled the bike, sliding up onto the passenger seat. ‘Coming?’

The petrol pump attendant was busy with a never-ending queue of customers. Shaking his head in disbelief, Eddy got on and fired her up. He set the tachometer back to zero. ‘I have to do it manually.’

‘I’m sure.’ She blew a kiss to the motorists as they accelerated off.

As they approached Calais they found the roads increasingly congested, until they saw a sign that flashed in French, German, Italian and finally English: ‘Ferry Terminal closed until further notice.’

‘How can it be closed!’ spluttered Eddy.

A truck-driver nearby, shaking his head. ‘A bloody farce, that’s what this is! So many people have tried to get there; they’ve had to shut it down. Evacuating Europe. Like flamin’ Dunkirk – my Pap was in it. He’d turn in his grave, God bless him. Doubt they’d send a fleet of fishing boats over.’ The trucker cast an ogling eye over the Nordic woman. ‘Hear they’re sending the Navy down to Santander – fat lot of good that’ll do us, stuck here. Your best bet is Rotterdam, mate. They’re still sailing from there, far as I know. Good luck to you and your bird.’

‘Your bird?’ Fenja queried.

Eddy grinned, checked the atlas. ‘Rotterdam, jeez. This really is turning into a non-stop funaround…’ He found it, and worked out a route. ‘Come on, before everyone and their dog has the same idea!’

They rode through the night until they arrived at the port in the small hours of the morning. It was as dismal as its name suggested – a squalid neon Purgatory, where the tourist dead awaited the Ferryman. The red tail-lights blurred in the rain into a continuous smear as traffic crawled towards the terminal – but Eddy managed to filter through without any prangs, more through luck than skill as the toll of the journey made him spaced out and lacking in the usual grace he felt on two wheels.

Nearly twenty hours on the road.

Mercifully, they were finally there.

The large crowd had gathered out of the ticket office, trawling luggage, barely kept in check by anxious-looking, exhausted security guards. It was clear many of the travellers had reached the end of their tether. Babies screamed. Adults snapped. Arguments were breaking out. There was a nervous desperation in the air. The barriers seemed very flimsy.

As Eddy stretched – stiff from the long ride – Fenja slinked over to the crowd and seemed to pour through them. This caused further uproar – but when an angry Brit harangued her, she turned to look at him and he fell silent. Like a cat sauntering along arrogantly she made her way to the front of the queue.

A little while later she returned with two tickets.

‘How did you get those?’

‘Never mind. Let’s go. The ferry is leaving soon.’

Eddy rode the bike with relief onto the roll-on, roll-off ferry, parked it and killed the engine. The doors started to swing closed behind them. A manic traveller tried to leap aboard at the last minute, plunging into the widening gap.

‘God! Man in the water!’ Redcrow shouted. He started to pull off his jacket to go in, but Fenja held him back.

‘No!’

There were what sounded like gunshots and screams, muffled as the doors clanged shut and the engines throbbed into life.

‘Jeez–us. All Hell is breaking loose out there!’ He started to shake with adrenalin. ‘I could have saved him. Why did you stop me?’

‘So you could get yourself killed? I saved your hide, mister! Don’t mention it!’ She turned on her heels and headed to the stairs.

Redcrow caught up with her as she reached the passenger lounge. ‘Let’s find a couple of chairs. I need to sit down.’

As they entered, they could see all were taken – and many were sprawled on the floor. The place was stuffy with a damp smell of wet and weary travellers, coughs and sneezes, murmurs of subdued conversation and a blaring TV.

Fen kept walking. ‘Up on deck.’

‘It’ll be freezing!’

‘We can keep each other warm.’

Eyebrows raising, Eddy followed.

Fenja found a spot, next to one of the funnels. It let out some warmth. They arranged their bags into a nest, zipped up their jackets.

She offered him her arms. ‘For survival purposes only.’

They huddled together, under the stars, the sea surging around them, the lights of Rotterdam fading into the distance. Fires were breaking out, sirens flashing. Then, a small explosion – a muffled boom in the distance.

‘Looks like we got out just in time! That could have been us.’

‘Sshhh! Rest.’

Eddy inhaled the scent of her hair, found himself nodding off. After the epic ride, he was exhausted. The slow undulation of the ferry as it ploughed its way through the waves rocked him. His eyelids grew heavy. Within minutes he was fast asleep, head resting on her shoulder.

Fenja stared up at the sky, wide awake, eyes filled with stars. ‘Allfather, I am coming.’

***

Thunder Road – coming soon…

Extract from Thunder Road copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

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Meltdown

traffic jam file new delhi

BBC WORLD SERVICE

Icelandic volcano eruption causes major disruption across Europe.

A recent spectacular eruption in Iceland, predicted for sometime by experts, has closed down European air space yet again. In 2010 the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, grounding 100,000 flights in the largest commercial air-traffic shutdown since World War Two. And now Katla, a neighbour in the Katla Geopark, has erupted – causing an earthquake 6.4 on the Richter scale, which created shockwaves that reached the north of England. Since late on Saturday night vast amounts of toxic material have been thrown up into the jet-stream, where it is causing a major hazard to aircraft. Aeronautical engineer, Helen Macdonald said: ‘When ash is sucked into a jet engine, it is heated to such a high temperature it turns into molten glass. When it reaches the back of the engine, it cools, solidifies on the turbine blades, jamming the engine and causing the plane to plunge out of the sky.’ Vulcanologist, Sten Olafsson, said: ‘This has been a long time coming. The last time Katla erupted was in 1918. It threw up five times as much ash as Eyjafjallajökull and extended Iceland’s south-coast by three miles. The glacial melt released was similar in volume to the Amazon river. There was major destruction, although amazingly no one was killed that time. Unlike when Laki went up in 1783. That explosion killed a fifth of Iceland’s population, and created an ash cloud that covered the northern hemisphere for months, reducing temperatures to three degrees. Winds brought tonnes of lethal sulphur dioxide and sulphuric acid to your Britain, where an estimated 23,000 people died from poisoning and extreme cold. The poisonous ash created a fog that closed ports. The sun turned the colour of blood. Crops and farmworkers died in the fields. Some believe it triggered the French revolution.’ Europe’s travel systems are in meltdown as millions of travellers attempt to get to their destinations by other means. Train stations are experiencing chaos and major roads are gridlocked. Jeremiad Hopkins, controversial social media ‘influencer’ tweeted: “We are finally paying the price for the cholesterol of capitalism. The blood clots of a corrupt system. Europe’s infrastructure is having deep vein thrombosis.” Leader of the GB-Homefront party, Roger Fandango, said: ‘This is exactly why we need to get out of Europe. If we go down, we go down with them.’

Chapter 1: Meltdown

The young man on the Ducati motorcycle filtered through the gridlocked traffic. Eddy Redcrow had been riding all night. From Italy, through Switzerland, and now, at first light, into Germany. He’d travelled further down any of these poor souls would for some time, but with the endless jams he hadn’t been able to get up to speed and had barely covered three hundred and sixty miles in twelve hours. Yet, slowly, he was making progress. Up ahead, the traffic message boards weren’t boding well. Serious delays ahead. What, worse than this? Time to find another route.

Looking down, he checked updates on his satnav. His phone was playing up; the signal fracturing. He gave it a frustrated tap. No good. On a whim he turned off the autobahn as soon as he could – a junction to somewhere obscure – and pulled over on the slip road. He flipped up his tinted visor – showing fierce blue eyes, an angry brow, red skin. A ponytail of long black hair poked out from the base of his lid like dark tail-feathers. His appearance seemed apt for his name, so his friends joked. He pulled out the atlas from his tankbag and followed his intended route with his finger, from Pisa to Calais: fourteen hours, fourteen hundred clicks. He spotted a straight-ish country road, going north-by-north west, and nodded. Looked promising. He was tired and rubbed his eyes. He would need some coffee soon. The new day was about to start, though you would barely tell it.

The sky was dark again. Traffic jams stretched into the smoggy distance of the autobahn – an endless stream of red and white lights. Nothing was moving. As dawn broke over the land to a chorus of car-horns and road-rage, it could have been a scene from an apocalyptic movie.

Tired of the babble of rolling news, which seemed to be stuck on a Moebius loop of clueless politicians, failing to quell the rising panic, vox pops and punditry – Eddy Redcrow changed from radio tuner to music – selecting shuffle and revved the bike into action as a blistering rock track kicked in. He felt the tension of the autobahn melt away as he accelerated to a hundred along a blissfully empty country road. He would use his own navigational skills (‘your blood’s sat-nav’, Grandpa Running Bear called it) to cross this benighted land.

As he lost himself in the rhythm of the ride and the hard chords of the rock music, his mind flipped back to Pisa.

‘What do you mean, it’s over?’

Eddy held his arms out in disbelief. He wore a faded AC-DC t-shirt, Levis and shades. His girlfriend, a light summer dress which revealed more than it concealed. They had parked up in a view of the famous leaning tower. Tourists snapped away around them, the digital cameras making artificial shutter sounds. Despite the early summer crowds, it should have been perfect. The Italian sun caressed them, made everything stand out like a Surrealist painting. Their body language was a tableau, classic ‘arguing couple’.

‘I can’t go on, Edward.’

She always used the formal version of his name when she was upset. He hated it. He wanted to correct, but gritted his teeth.

‘We’ve only just started the tour! You wait until we’re all the way out here to tell me … this! You know how long it took to save for this trip. How many crummy shifts!’ He let his hands drop, shook his head. ‘I just don’t believe it!’

‘It’s hard to stop you, once you get started. It’s like when you ride that damned bike. I swear you have a death wish.’

‘Ah, that’s the real problem here. You hate the wheels. But you knew the deal. You chose to go out with a biker, for crissakes! When I suggested a bike tour of Europe, you leapt at the idea.’

‘I know. It sounded totally wild. But I didn’t realise it would … take so long to get around. And we’d have to wear all that gear. Uh. And hardly take any luggage. My butt aches after being on that thing all day.’

‘You seemed to like it at first – enjoying the views. It was a buzz, you said.’

‘Yes, we saw Naples; nearly died. But the thrill has … worn off. I want to travel in style and … comfort.’

‘Listen to you – you sound like someone whose retired! I thought you wanted some rock ‘n’ roll?’

‘Sure. But I like to change the station as well. That rock is deafening – after a while, it all sounds the same. Planet Rock, pluh– lease. Give me a break!’

Eddy looked over the glittering waters, scanning it for some meaning in all of this. ‘I thought you were different. Not just another Lake girl. You were so spontaneous. Now I see you just wanted a bit of excitement – to liven up your life.’

‘Oh, because it was so dull before you came along! Get real! Some of us grow up, get real jobs, want a real life. Not to keep riding…’

‘What are you getting at?’

A group of Japanese tourists stood watching them, filming it all. Eddy gave them the finger.

‘You can’t keep running forever, Edward.’

He gripped the rail, knuckles whitening.

‘A girl can’t pin her hopes on some … tumbleweed, blowing through life. Maybe one day you’ll realise that.’ She turned on heels and walked off.

Eddy watched her go.

Numb, he walked absentmindedly until he ended up by the bay. The black holes of his shades mirrored the beautiful vista. The seagulls harsh call seemed to mock him. Letting out a roar, he kicked the spare helmet onto the beach, to the alarm of Italian sunbathers who gesticulated their annoyance with verve. Sighing, he went to collect it. He picked it up, dusted it down, and walked along the beach, scanning the breakers. Their boom and hiss said it all.

The Ducati roared along the straight country road – an old Roman road, surely, Eddy pondered –  the needle pushing a ton. The rock track reached its feedback crescendo as he shot over some train tracks just before the barriers came down. A train rumbled past as he sped ahead. Suddenly, beneath a line of poplars he spotted a figure. A woman, with her thumb out.  As he approached he slowed down a little. She had a good figure. A very good figure accentuated by tight jeans, high boots and a leather jacket unzipped to reveal a figure hugging top. Designer shades. Spiky ash-blonde hair.

Eddy dropped gears and tugged on his front brake, sending the bike into a semi-circular skid, leaving a crescent of burning rubber. He rumbled to a stop, just a few yards passed the crossroads. He turned to look back, as she flicked away a cigarette, picking up a small bag, which she slung over her shoulder and walked towards him. ‘Walked’ doesn’t do it justice – the movement her lower body seemed to make, independent of the upper half. He took off his helmet and found himself beaming. ‘Want a lift?’

‘Sure,’ she said, with a faint Nordic accent, lifting up her shades, revealing eyes the colour of glacier melt. ‘Nice bike.’

‘Wish it were mine.’

The woman looked at him steadily.

‘Not that. Hired, for the grand tour that never was.’ He shrugged. ‘Where you heading?’ He was mesmerised by her face – and the rest of her he tried not to think about.

‘To the coast. I need to get to Britain.’

‘You’re in luck. So do I. I hear they’re still letting flights out of Aberdeen. Hop on.’

She appraised him and the bike coolly. ‘Can I trust you – on this?’

‘Lady, I’ve been riding bikes since I was a boy. Have a hog, but I wanted to check out a European bike. Belong to a gang back home.’ He anticipated her response. ‘No patches –  just for kicks. But you’re safer with me than some of the clowns on the road.’

‘I have your word of honour?’

Eddy laughed. ‘Not a word you hear very often these days, but, of course.’ He placed his hand on his heart. ‘By the code of the Runestone Cowboys – share the road, but not your woman!’

She took his hand and held it very firmly, nails white as teeth. ‘A man who does not live with honour is no man at all.’

‘Phew, I bet you’re one helluva ball-breaker when you wanna be, huh?’ He got off and unlocked the tail box. ‘Here, you’ll need this.’ He handed her the spare helmet, shaking out the remains of the sand.

She laughed, showing bright teeth.

‘Eddy Redcrow.’

‘Pleasure. I’m Fenja … Bergrisar.’

‘Pardon, mam?’

‘It’s an old name. Fenja with a ‘j’ but you pronounce it with a ‘y’.’ Eddy looked confused. ‘You can call me Fen if you like.’

‘Whereabouts you from, Fen?’ asked Eddy.

‘Guess.’

‘Somewhere Scandinavian, clearly..?’

She shook her head.

‘Mm, Icelandic?’

She smiled inscrutably. Nodded. ‘That’ll do.’

‘Icelandic? Cool. Can you go tell your freakin’ volcano – enough already!’

Fenja looked puzzled at this.

‘Never mind.’ There was an awkward pause. ‘Now you’re meant to say: And you?’

‘And you?’

‘Gee, thanks for asking. Well, a butt-hole called Gimli, Manitoba. New Iceland, they call it – lot of puffin-eaters. Sorry, that’s what we call your fellow countrymen – you might feel at home there!’

He watched the woman struggle with the helmet. ‘Here, let me show you…’ The strap clicked into place. He adjusted it so it sat true. Fenja said something, muffled. Laughing, he flipped the visor up. She gasped.

‘Is it meant to feel like you can’t breath?’

‘You’ll get used to it.’

‘It smells of … another woman.’

‘A long story. Listen, I don’t know about you but I’m dying for a coffee. Shall we find somewhere for breakfast? We can talk more then?’

Fenja scried him with piercing pale grey eyes. ‘Okay.’

‘Ridden a bike before?’

She smiled innocently.

‘Sit still, don’t lean. No funny hand signals. Hold on.’

Eddy mounted the bike, sitting between her thighs, which felt hot – even through his leathers.

Fenja placed her arms around him.

Smiling, he flicked his visor down and fired the 1200 into life.

It growled down the lane, leaving a tail of dust.

A new track kicked in.

***

Thunder Road – coming soon

Extract from Thunder Road copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

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Lightning Strikes and Knee Pain

An attempt to review a book is to put into words what one thinks about it. One perhaps starts off by not having a firm opinion but by the end of the review, if all goes well, one has been formulated. This does not really change the nature of the book, but it may change the person writing the review, or possibly the person reading it. It may persuade or dissuade this hypothetical reader to buy (borrow or steal) the book, or it may affirm or conflict with their existing opinion about it, if they’ve already read it – or simply read lots of reviews. It is a chain of ghosts, drawing us further and further away from the book itself, itself an articulation of an experience (either direct, vicariously, or imagined), encoded into black marks, which we translate in our minds into thoughts, feelings, images, and sounds. A homeopathic dilution of real life – that could be a working definition of fiction, creative non-fiction and especially literary criticism. Dyer’s book is, in some senses, a critique and deconstruction of this hall of mirrors. It is an anti-biography, an apparently ‘failed’ attempt at a ‘book about DH Lawrence’ (that we all end up writing, sooner or later, in the Dyerverse of ever decreasing circles – the singularity of futility which is his MO), which, in its gonzo approach of endless digression, indulgences, annoyances, paranoia, and transgressions, actually ‘succeeds’ in channelling something Lawrentian. Dyer makes endless comic capital at of the vainglorious absurdity of ‘experiential research’, while actually undertaking it – globetrotting in pursuit of Lawrence in a form of protracted displacement activity, an endless deferment of gratification – by gratifying every deferment. By the pathological deconstruction of such an approach Dyer actually reifies it, as he finally admits: ‘Had we not seen and done all these things we would not be the people we are.’ (p231). Dyer’s antics is a form of invocation – though he protest too much (ad nauseam) his aches, pains, mishaps, moments of weaknesses, fury, frustration and many failings, all help to conjure Lawrence, to embody Lawrence, to live Lawrence: ‘ hoping by this Lawrentian touch to persuade my audience of the all-consuming bond between the subject and the speaker of the talk’ as he quips about a botched talk on Lawrence he gives (p206). He argues forcibly against the aridity of dusty academic studies, far removed from Lorenzo’s full-blooded approach to life – mocking the ivory towers even as he moves to ‘Dullford’ as he calls Oxford, his very own alma mater. His restlessness and neurosis are very much first world problems from the perspective of male, white privilege, at that (the modest lower middle class roots long since abandoned), and as such, his self-ironic posturing would be facile if it wasn’t so frequently funny. And despite his disingenuity – Dyer wears his erudition very lightly – this is only a performance of philistinism within the context of … a book about DH Lawrence. Yet there is method to Dyer’s madness and there are moments of genius, or at least, great wit: ‘Spare me the drudgery of systematic examinations and give me the lightning flashes of those wild books in which there is no attempt to cover the ground thoroughly or reasonably.’ (p105) And yes, Out of Sheer Rage is full of mini-lightning flashes as we observe the synaptic pyrotechnics of Dyer’s overheated brain. It is amusing, almost transgressive, like listening in to the ‘mad’ person at the party who says all the things everyone is thinking. This is writing as Tourette’s Syndrome. Dyer plays the court jester with gusto and perhaps makes some valid points amid his buffoonery. He is entertaining, but exasperating. To spend too long in his company would be grating, but for a while his Lawrentian ‘playback theatre’ is a gloriously irreverent read. And as an approach to ‘life-writing’ it has some originality and literary merit: it has a pulse. But that is perhaps only a reviewer seeking an ending to his review and wanting something positive to end on.

Kevan Manwaring 2018

Deep Time, Deep Love

Saturday 9th May: Deep Time launch, Stroud

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Saturday saw the culmination of a lifetime’s obsession – the publication of my friend Anthony Nanson’s first novel, Deep Time. This 300 thousand plus word magnum opus Nanson has been plotting and planning consciously since the mid-Eighties, but as a charming childhood booklet, The Lost World, revealed read out by Anthony’s father, the author had been haunted by dinosaurs and the depths of time for a long time (in human terms). Many friends and family gathered at the ‘British School’, behind the popular Star Anise Café at the bottom of town, to celebrate Anthony’s 50th birthday on – and what a way to celebrate: with the launch of the handsome trade paperback edition of Deep Time by innovative Stroud-based publisher, Hawthorn Press. The dress code was ‘tropical’ and some guests had made a real effort with the costumes. We were invited from 7pm although things didn’t really kick off officially until nearly 9pm – Anthony wanted people to have plenty of time to mingle and browse the book, or rather books, as it was a double book launch – the other title, Ecozoa, published by Permanent Publications, is the new collection by radical Frome-based eco-poet, Helen Moore (another dear friend from my Bath days). Anthony, in his typically gracious way, shared the limelight with Helen – their work was thematically simpatico, and she also celebrated her birthday – as well as with other bardic friends. David Metcalfe, long-time host of the Bath Storytelling Circle MC ed the evening with his usual gravitas, starting with the crowd-pleasing Big Yellow Taxi (setting the ecobardic tone of the evening). Local poet singer Jehanne Mehta – another birthday girl (on the actual day itself – Helen and Anthony’s straddle either side of it) recited a couple of stirring poems about Albion (another Blakean nod) and Wales. Poet and psychotherapist Jay Ramsay introduced Helen most eloquently and passionately. Helen performed 4 poems from the collection, one from each ‘zoa’ (the collection is structured on the 4 Zoas of Blake) with her trademark sincerity and clarity.

Some of the glamorous inhabitants of the Ecozoic - poet Helen Moore (centre) with friends. By Kevan Manwaring

Join the Party! Some of the glamorous inhabitants of the Ecozoic – poet Helen Moore (centre) with friends. By Kevan Manwaring

Then fellow Bath Spa lecturer Mimi Thebo introduced Anthony, singing his praises, before Anthony introduced the book and the long journey of its evolution. Jay was invited back up to recite his epigraphic poem, before Anthony regaled us with an extract recited, impressively, from memory. Holding the book like some peripatetic preacher wielding his bible for authority (as John Wesley probably did, preaching from a butcher’s block in the Shambles, when he used to pass through Stroud), Anthony conjured up his vision of deep time with conviction and storytelling brio. He held the audience spell-bound. Some earlier drumming by Jay and local artist Herewood Gabriel evoke some kind of tribal aesthetic, and Anthony’s word-sparks now conjured up the story fire of the rainforest, the textual simulacrum of such now brought to life with his living breath. Afterwards, glasses were charged for some heartfelt toasts – to his publishers and to his parents, most poignantly his mother, whose ill health prevented her from attending. Anthony’s father took to the stage to share the embryo text from Anthony’s childhood palaeome. Finally, David finished off with his stirring version of ‘She Moves Through the Fair’. And then the revels continued for a little while longer – dinosaur cupcakes were to be imbibed (raising money for a children’s’ cancer charity) and hearty Adnams ale from Southwold, courtesy of Kirsty’s generous stepfather, Dave. There was much clearing up but many hands made light work. The babies’ respective heads had been wetted, and guests departed heart-warmed by this double-birth spectacle, but more from the quality of love that poured towards the man at the heart of it all, enjoying the harvest of half a century.

Deep Time is available from Hawthorn Press: http://www.hawthornpress.com/books/art-and-science/deep-time/

Read Anthony’s blog (with guest poet from Helen) here: https://nansondeeptime.wordpress.com/

Ecozoa Cover

Ecozoa is available from Permanent Publications: http://permanentpublications.co.uk/port/ecozoa-by-helen-moore/