Northern Frights #2
The Haunting of Drang Island
"One of you will not return."
This is a young adult horror novel that was just released. It's scary. It's fun. And it's full of Icelandic folklore.
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If you're gonna die, die with your boots on. That's what my Grandpa Thursten used to say. It was the Viking code. "Remember, Michael," he'd whisper in his harsh, gravely voice, "face whatever life has to throw at you with gritted teeth and grim determination. Never surrender." I wished he'd given me a few more details. Like what to do if you and your father were stuffed into lifejackets and trapped on the wild ocean in a tiny ferry piloted by a man who was three times as old as God. And let's say all the forces of nature were trying their best to send you to the bottom of that ocean, while lightning tore holes in the sky. Wind ripped the breath from your lungs. Waves pummeled you. What would you suggest we do then, Gramps? I gripped the side of the boat. Dad was right next to me, one hand clamped on the bench. A little more than thirty hours ago I was tapping my pen against my desk, waiting for the school bell to ring and finally announce the end of grade nine and the start of summer. At the time I was looking forward to getting away from a year of bad marks and failed friendships. If someone said I could beam myself back to that same desk right now and live my last year over again, I'd almost do it. Almost. Harbard, the ferryman, faced Dad and I. "One of you will not return," he announced. "What?" Dad yelled, struggling to be heard above the noise of the engine and the crashing waves. He had his baseball hat on backwards to prevent the gale from ripping it off. His round rimmed glasses dripped with water. "What did you say?" Harbard turned his head and glared, his deep set eyes burning with anger, almost like he was mad that he'd allowed us on his ferry, that the storm was our fault. He looked as if he hadn't slept, shaved, or had a haircut since the sixties. Who would give this guy a license to run a boat? He stared right at me. Could he read my mind? I leaned even harder against the back of the ferry, squirming away from his gaze. "One of you will not return. I will take you both to Drang Island tonight, but only one will come back with me. It is örlög: fate." A wave hurled itself against the bow, spraying us with water. Dad shielded his face. "You can stop kidding around, now," he said, half joking. Harbard was staring forward again, fighting to keep the boat steady. He shook his head, making his yellow seaman's cap move back and forth. "No jest, not tonight. The Norns decree the shape of our lives, regardless of our wishes." "You're scaring the heck out of me and Michael," Dad shouted into the gale. He sounded serious. I don't think Harbard heard him this time, at least he didn't make any reply to show he had. "I'm not frightened," I said, quietly, "really, I'm not." Dad glanced down at me. People always commented on how similar we were; we both had blue eyes and the same long, thin boned features passed down to us by our Icelandic ancestors. The only difference was my father had sandy-blonde hair and mine was almost black. But I hoped I wasn't looking at all like Dad right now. There was an expression on his face I'd never seen before. Not fear, but something close to fear. He clenched his teeth; his jaw muscles bulged. He seemed like he was about to speak, then he turned away and stared across the ocean. I followed Dad's gaze. By squinting my eyes I could pick out glowing spheres in the distance, zig-zagging all around like restless fireflies and occasionally blinking out. They were the lights of the park, our destination. At least there was electricity on the island. We already had a spot reserved in the campground. But would we ever get there? I was sure we'd been lurching through the water for more than an hour since leaving Port Hardy. And every second seemed to be bringing us closer to the ends of the earth. Another huge wave struck like a battering ram, forcing the boat to lean. It knocked Dad and I to the edge of the bench. The ferry kept tipping in the same direction. It felt like a huge hand was pushing one side upwards. The motor sputtered and several moments passed where I couldn't hear anything. Just silence. The boat leaned farther, so far that water began lapping over its edge. And I had the sudden feeling this was more than a wave; something bigger, underneath, lifting us higher. And higher. Then, just when I thought we were about to be tossed overboard, a clap of thunder crackled through the sky. The boat fell back the other way, crashed down into the water and leveled out again. Harbard gunned the throttle. "Jormungand just turned over," Harbard said. The first word sounded like yourmungond. He rubbed at something hanging on his neck. A good luck charm? "The god of the deeps spared us. This time. Many a ship has gone down in this very spot. Last year twelve sailors drowned. They found part of the hull. Nothing more." "What's he talking about?" I whispered to Dad, trying my best to be tactful. "Is he nuts?" My father put his finger to his lips, motioning me to be silent. "They told me back at port that this can be a bad stretch of water. But there was no sign of a storm when we left." He paused, glanced at Harbard "And despite his looks, our ferryman came highly recommended. He's even part Icelandic." Well, I should have seen that from the beginning. The crazy eyes, the need to talk about doom and gloom. Being Icelandic myself, I knew we were a race of people stuffed full of long stories and weird ideas. And it got worse as we got older. My Grandpa Thursten is the perfect example of that. He's eighty or so and all he talks about now is people coming back from the dead or trolls chewing on the bones of sheep or Norsemen yelling insults at each other from their boats. Don't get me wrong. Grandpa's a fun guy. You just have to get used to his dark sense of humour. Of course, after everything that happened while I was staying with him last summer, I took anything any Icelandic person said a lot more seriously. "Which ... which one's Jormungand, Dad? Is he the giant wolf the Viking gods have to bind?" Dad shook his head. "I don't want to get into all that stuff now." "Well ... just give me the short version." Dad smiled. Maybe he wasn't as nervous as I thought. "Jormungand is the big snake who lives under the ocean and wraps himself around the whole world. He spends his time biting his own tail and swallowing whales that are unlucky enough to pass near him." "Is he friendly?" "No. Loki, the most evil and trickiest of the gods, and the giantess Angrboda had three monstrous children, each with enough power to destroy the gods. Jormungand was one of them. He started out as just a little snake, but Odin knew how dangerous this monster would become. He threw him in the ocean and Jormungand grew gigantic. He waits down there, until the end of the world -- Ragnarok. The final, vicious battle between the gods and the giants. Jormungand is killed by Thor, the god with the hammer. Then Thor stumbles back nine steps and falls down dead, poisoned by Jormungand's venom." "Oh. I see." Well, that was enough about that. Why weren't there any happy Norse stories? Ones where the good guys win in the end and everyone lives to a ripe old age. Or how about one where three travelers on a ferry don't sink in the ocean and become fish food? Dad was staring into the distance again, lost in thought. We carried on without speaking, the boat's engine alternating between roaring and gasping as it struggled through the watery turmoil. The lights gradually came closer, turning into a sparse set of street lamps set far inside a cove. A few small buildings were visible, huddled close together. They looked tiny compared to what surrounded them -- tall spires and walls of jagged rock standing high in the air. We passed so close to a finger of stone that I could have reached out and run my hand along its chipped surface. How many boats had it claimed? For a split second a bolt of lightning illuminated the cliffs. Every corner seemed sharp and unassailable, every crag dangerous. So this was Drang Island. Who would want to call this place home? It looked about as friendly as Harbard's face. We came out of the open water and into the bay. The waves were calmer here and for the first time I relaxed my grip on the side of the ferry. I got a good look at the buildings on the beach. They were cabins, old and unkempt, facing the water. Only one had light coming from the window. Behind them was a thick collection of trees, their branches reaching down toward the rooftops. A path had been cut through the trees, lit by two dim street lamps. I assumed that would be the way to the campground. We pulled up to a deserted wooden wharf and Harbard tossed a rope around a post and secured the boat. Dad and I gathered our gear and bikes and stepped onto solid wood. My legs felt all wobbly. My balance was off centre. It was as if some part of me was still on the water, rocking back and forth. I planted my feet firmly and sucked in some air then let out a long sigh. It was hard to believe that most of my ancestors had spent their lives on the wide open ocean. Tonight, I just wanted to be a landlubber. We handed back our lifejackets, then Dad started digging in his wallet for our fare. When we'd first boarded the ferry, Harbard had explained that he only accepted payment for his services after he reached the other side, just in case something happened on the way there. He'd said this with a slight smile at the time. But now there was no smile. Harbard shook his head and motioned for Dad to put his money away. He stared silently, his gaze going back and forth between us. I had no idea what he was searching for. Behind all that hair and sunken face, he looked sad. A small version of Thor's hammer hung from a metal chain around his neck -- it was a good luck charm. "Your futures are not entirely clear," he whispered, hoarsely, "but I know one thing; it would be ill luck to take money from the doomed." Then he undid the mooring and limped to the front of the boat. Did he have a peg leg? I wondered. Harbard backed the ferry out of the dock, gunned the motor and steered toward the open water, leaving us staring at his retreating figure. I looked at Dad. "What did all that mean?" "I have no idea." He patted my shoulder. "It's probably nothing. We all get a little stranger as we get older." He scrunched up his shoulders, did his best Hunchback of Notre Dame impression. "See, it's happening to me already." I laughed and clapped politely. Dad bowed, then lifted his backpack and used his right hand to guide his bike. "Pick up your stuff and don't forget anything, okay?" "I won't." You'd think I had Alzheimer's the way Dad was talking. I grabbed my own back pack and bike. Dad pulled up the collar on his coat and motioned me ahead with a nod. "I'd guess we're not too far from the campground. On the way we can stop at the Park Office, call home, and tell your mom and your sister we made it safe and sound. But we better hurry. It feels like it might rain."