I feel the shadows closing in from every side, but there is no time to determine how close they are. All that matters is keeping the pace up, sprinting as hard as possible without securing breath for the next moment.
Only from the corner of my eye am I aware of the wolves. A tall figure running bent to the right, a pointy weapon sticking out from the hollow of his body. A powerful figure to the left, stronger and somewhat slower, armed with a club. And someone’s directly behind me. If they catch up, I must prepare to turn instantly and lunge with my spear.
The dead grass gives way to hard specks of ice. The straight line I ran across the open fields turns into rapid leaps and changes of direction as I try to keep on the soft ground giving the most traction. I can hear the thumps and thuds every time my feet hit the chilled earth, and now and then the cracking of ice. I’m not the one making all the sounds. The wolves are traversing this holed landscape just as rapidly as I am.
A final leap, and then I’m standing on bare ice.
Grey, blank and hard as steel, from this point of the trail onward covering the ground entirely. I adjust my stance. Nobody taught me this, but one day I discovered I could run on ice, even if it’s polished like a mirror. The wolves may be my equals in speed, but I’m more nimble. I stretch my foot forward in the manner I learned, heel hitting the ground first, then letting the rest follow in a rolling motion. The key is to ensure some part of you always is in contact with the ground. Soon I’m running again, and they can’t follow. Behind me I hear the cries of frustration, coming from the denial of their intense bloodlust.
I can’t turn and look, however. I must concentrate to use my gift. The open plane of ice continues and I run steadily, planting my feet firmly even as I cross. Ice turns into snow, and at a distance ahead the ground disappears in a steep decline. I try the snow suspiciously. It crackles, gives in a little and then holds underneath me. It’s a special type of snow, and my favorite. Hard and sharp plates on top, powdered snow underneath, the dry powder making it impossible to cram snow balls and the cover cutting your hand if you try. It’s the kind of snow that favors me, because unlike almost any other, I can run on top of certain types of snow too. And so, I continue.
I arrive at the incline, and turn to see the three figures, two going ankle deep through the snow with every step, lifting their feet slowly out of the cracks lest they cut themselves, and one still struggling on the ice on both hands and feet. Soon I will have made my escape. I start crawling down the long, snow-covered side of an extremely steep hillside. From there I plan to either continue running until they lose me, or simply slip into the forest which looms darkly at each side some distance away.
Something happens. My foot slips somewhere in the snow and I impact the ground on my face. Flattened like this I start sliding helplessly, with a veil of snow crystals rising above. The treacherous snow was just a thin layer! Underneath is the same ice I ran upon. Even I can’t attach myself to slippery ice at an almost vertical angle. And so, I find myself falling down the hill at an increasing speed.
I try clawing myself to a halt with my fingers, but just end up ripping my nails badly. I have to see what’s coming, so I turn to make sure I glide on my back. Right after that there is an impact, and I find myself upside down, still sledding and skidding mercilessly. Then the back of my head hits something hard, and I feel a jarring pain crunch through my neck. Dazed and confused I flail with my arms, and manage to find a hold in a tree stub, which both saves me and almost broke my neck. The humiliation and pain make tears spring up in my eyes.
Through the watery mist I can see a figure appear above me. The gaze of wonder turns into a broad and self-satisfied smile.
“Would you look at this. You. Trapped in a pathetic state. And why do you think this always happens? Well, this is the fate of those who try to run from justice.”
It’s my best friend talking. The words are followed by the moronic laugh of his two companions, now standing at his side. There’s Halvard, a tall, thin and good-hearted fellow. albeit a little meek. And Jonar, a big headed and powerful guy who is prone to being depressed. Their leader and my constant rival is Kyrre, always in some sort of power game with me. Brown haired and with his hands kept in formal posture behind his back, like some of those Nazi-leaders he tries to imitate.
“Tell you what. I feel like being merciful. If you get on your knees and beg, really beg for mercy, I might consider it.” His eyebrows rise and go up and down like two absurd rubber bands.
I struggle to my feet and plant my heel in the tree stub. Luckily my stick has followed me on my unfortunate journey, and I lift the weapon in a clear and open challenge.
Their laughter stops.
It had all began when my mother told me I had a phone call. I walked to the counter and picked up the receiver.
“It’s me. I wonder if you want to come for a visit.”
“Like right now.”
“Sure, I’ll come.”
“So, you’re coming right now, right?”
We don’t live far apart, but the first part of the walk I have to pass through a farm. There I have to watch out for girls who want to trample me with horses, and dogs who would attack me, if only their chain was a little longer. After that it’s peaceful, and I had been caught up in my own thoughts.
The ambush had been well thought out and elaborate, as fitting for someone like him. Just as I passed underneath the balcony of their house, a shovel was used as a catapult, hurling icy boulders in my direction. At the same moment, kids had appeared from every corner, throwing snow balls. For the most part little ones, but also the “pleasant“ fellows now above me, who I know very well.
The fight had been hard and brutal. First with snow balls, then with weapons. I had climbed a heap of snow and been king of the hill for a while, keeping the hordes at bay. Using the small kids as projectiles to throw into the big ones, making them both tumble down the long slopes. Lifting giant snow boulders over my head and smashing them over someone’s head. The greater the splash, the greater the spectacle and the more we laugh.
But then they’d done a frontal charge. As I tried to make my escape, Jonar had blocked my favorite escape route, a forest path leading further down the neighborhood. We’d shaken the smaller kids following that, and now we’re here.
This is the sheep pen lower down from his house, a large, fenced enclosure first made out of open fields, and then this near vertical hill. The ground is littered by tree stubs, remaining from when they cleared the place. It must have been many years ago, because I have no memory of it. Maybe it even happened before I was born. Usually, we’re easily able to traverse the area, both summer and winter. On our hands and feet, we will climb up, and likewise crawl down backwards on all fours. But now something has happened. The place has changed. Much of the ground is covered by brutally hard ice, as if the earth itself want to show its hardness now that the thaw of spring has set in. It’s winter trying to retain itself by clenching its fist.
“It appears you must be disciplined. Very well. Lads, you know what you have to do.”
From both sides, Halvard and Jonar start climbing to find a path down to me, bringing their weapons. Halvard with his stick, Jonar with his club, the entire root of a tree. Halvard is careful, he doesn’t make the same mistake as I did, and systematically discerns the few places where it’s possible to move, and soon he’s on his way towards me, following the vague contours of a ledge. Jonar is unlucky, as usual. Suddenly his face gets a funny look, he throws his hands in the air, and he falls and starts sliding. Somewhere down there he gets hold of the trunk of a tree, while his club rushes by him and disappears.
“You moron, Jonar.”
“You don’t deserve immediate help when you don’t do your duty and fight,” says Kyrre and begins his descent. I turn my attention to Halvard, who now is very near. He laughs and taunts me relentlessly, making sure to remind me of this trap I can’t get out of. Then our sticks start flying through the air, swung with both hands, and we exchange blows.
He has much longer reach than me, but I’m more intense. Compared to him, it’s like more energy is trapped in my body, and I often give myself to fury and rages. He also has no mobility and must make sure to not slip on his invisible ledge, while I have a firm foothold on the stub. But neither can I advance, and so our sticks continue to meet. Thwack! Thwack! C-chrack!
At one point his stick hits me over the fingers.
We go on. But I know Kyrre is making his approach, and it’s silent. I can’t defend myself from them both. No matter where I turn, I’ll have my back turned to one of them. Then they can poke me in the ribs. Usually when that happens, the victim falls over, and the fight is settled with a clear winner and loser. Such is the Holy Law.
It’s strange, but I don’t need eyes to feel the bad intent that is nearing. Just when I can almost feel the pain of a wooden stick jab into my body, I jump backwards and find myself on naked ice. The sliding starts immediately, but this time I’m prepared, and I manage to remain standing. By a huge stroke of luck, because I hadn’t prepared for this, the sliding journey ends when my heel digs into a new tree stub.
I had been right. It had been very close. Kyrre now stands next to Halvard, supporting himself with one hand. His eyes are dark, looking sharply down at me.
“A small respite only, I can assure you.”
For a moment, time alters its course for me. My friends and enemies take the form of frost giants, their faces hard and their eyes blue and icy as they climb towards me, constantly considering me in some inhuman glare, snow crystals crackling and sparkling around them. Somewhere in the distance, Jonar is still kicking his feet in thin air and shouting for help, but for no purpose, because I know he soon will have made it up. I shake my head and the world comes swishing back.
I must continue to move. So, I too try to find invisible footholds and balance onwards.
Somewhere along the way, it finally goes wrong. The ground seems to rise and bulge, but it’s all treacherous, all steel hard ice, so I lose my foothold. I slide past the bulge, manage to kick my feet enough to make a stop, and open my eyes to something that makes my heart stop for a moment.
Underneath me, even the ground I’m sitting on, is a vast sea of transparent ice rushing silently downwards the entire extent of the hill, many hundred meters. The ice is so thick that it in many places has grown over the tree stubs in uneven bumps and gorges.
Quickly I turn my head towards the others.
“Don’t come closer!”
“Too late for that now … I … Oh …”
My pair of pursuers has already entered the bulge, and now they’re slipping, and now they’re falling. Both on their way towards me, even as they struggle.
I have to think fast. They’re fighting, at least, for they’ve seen the same as I’ve seen. Halvard kicks his feet much as I did, and I stretch out and reach for him with my stick. The extra help finally makes him stop. Kyrre is not so lucky. Struggling and screaming he is on his way past me. Quickly I grab his collar and feel how my feet are slipping.
“Grab the stick! NOW!” I scream to Halvard. He reacts quickly, lets go of his own stick, which slides away, and pulls at the one I’m holding. Doing so, we gain enough force, friction, and momentum to hold still. Slowly, very slowly, I drag Kyrre up by the collar. Only when I see my friend’s face turn blue do I loosen the grip, somewhat. Halvard carefully lets himself slip down to us, because the ground he had been sitting on had not at all been stable.
We make our exclamations and curses together. Look at the horror laid out beneath us. Falling down there would mean an incredible speed and incredibly hard impacts. Enough to crack our skulls if unlucky, probably.
“This is your fault.”
“You followed me.”
“We’re all to blame,” says Kyrre and coughs, holding his throat.
No use arguing. Now we must be realistic and get out of this mess.
“Jonar! Jonar! God damn it! Jonaaar!” we shout in unison.
Typically for him, he takes his good time, especially when it’s urgent. Especially when it’s very urgent. Finally, we hear a voice call back to us.
“What is it?”
What’s probably a chorus of voices rise up to him. It’s the voice of prudence, passion and cold, hard logic all put together as one. We’re stuck down here, at a tiny ledge. The perversely large bulge of ice that prevents us from seeing our would-be rescuer prevents us from scaling up, and we can’t climb down, because the entire hill has turned into ice, seemingly overnight.
“You didn’t try to help me.”
“You were not in danger!”
It is unfortunate we cannot see him, because it’s hard to use authority and issue threats to someone who isn’t really present. But he agrees to help us, eventually.
“Maybe we can use a rope?”
But we don’t know anyone with a rope within a reasonable distance.
“What would you store a rope for anyways?”
“It’s in case someone wants to hang themselves.”
The distance isn’t so far. We’re quite close to our helper. So, we figure we can use a branch, if only Jonar can find one that is big enough. With this order and some encouragement, he leaves us. Now we’re waiting.
“My ass is wet,” I say as we sit tightly packed together.
“What do you think my ass is?”
I get an idea. I use my stick to hack the surface we’re sitting on. If I can make enough holes, it would be like some of the steel platforms I’ve seen, ensuring you’ll always have firm footing. The others realize what I’m doing and watch me silently. It’s hard going. I barely make a dent most of the time, but we need every advantage we can get. When I get too tired, someone else takes over. The stick constantly changes hands between us, with a quiet “Go.” The ice we poke in turns white under the constant impacts, and now and then loosens into tiny flakes.
Our helper turns out less than satisfactory. Two times he returns. The first time because he can’t find anything. The second time because he is unable to break off a large branch he found in the forest. We can’t yell at him too hard, because then he’ll probably start pacing around in sad circles, or even wander off entirely.
“Twist it one way and then another. It’ll break.”
He disappears again. If we’re unlucky we’ll be stuck at this place indefinitely, without anyone even knowing we’re here.
“Ivar would say we could lick our way up.”
“He never ends up in these sorts of trouble.”
“That is because he’s calm.”
Finally, the moment of truth. Jonar has returned, telling us he is hauling a large branch from a spruce tree nearby.
“Do you think it’s big enough?”
What a question when we can’t see it.
“Only one of us will be able to get up.”
We agree it must be Kyrre. He is light enough for us to be able to push him, and he will be able to organize a rescue, whatever it takes. Maybe even find a rope in a garage somewhere.
“I’ll get you out from this place, no matter what it costs me.”
We see the branch appear over the bulge, waving green from side to side. Too far away. Jonar is instructed to hang upside down and dig his feet firmly into the snow. The branch inches closer. Halvard and I kneel, and Kyrre steps unto our shoulders. We stand up and lift. The many holes we poked help us in keeping our footing. When Kyrre is flat on his belly on the ice, we grab his feet and push him further. Like a sort of human fish, he slides upwards, arms and legs outstretched. He probably gets very wet, but it’s for our sake. At the point where we cannot push him further, he starts kicking his feet and almost hits me in the face.
Halvard and I can only watch. Jonar does not have a good enough attachment to the ground to simply pull him up, so they have to cooperate. The branch is held still, and Kyrre kicks, climbs and struggles upwards, his hands digging into the spruce needles on the way. Closer now. He is almost there.
I’ll never know what went wrong. Maybe the footing of Jonar failed, or maybe Kyrre got up too quickly in eagerness. Suddenly Jonar appears over the ledge coming towards us, his eyes open in utter surprise. Kyrre stills holds on to the branch, taking it with him as he passes us by. Then Jonar impacts us, his big hands held protectively in front of his face. All of us are spread out across the ice like curling stones. For a helpless moment I get a glimpse of my friends. Halvard with a formal look in his face, sliding on his back. Jonar still plunging downwards headfirst. Kyrre looking horrified up at me. I look away. I can only concentrate on my own doom.
The speed is increasing. I must make sure I am on my back, because otherwise I have no control, or might even crash into something head first, like the last time. I know a trick or two about sledding, exploiting the turns of the landscape. Once I hurt my groin when my sled made a leap and hit the ground underneath hard. The most immediate problem is that I have no sled and no protection against the impacts.
My butt and my tail bone take the worst of it. The alternative is the groin or the head, and I can’t have that. Shattering pain goes through my body as the landscape tosses me into the free air and slam me back to the ground. No more of this! Each moment becomes a struggle to lessen the damage and pain. I’m not looking towards the end of the journey, only what’s right in front of me. If fear makes me turn around, I am finished and know it, likely getting skewered or being split in two.
Provided I follow the landscape like I was sledding, the speed will increase to unacceptable levels for whatever will be the final impact, and I might shatter my tail bone each time I lose contact with the steely ice. So, I must try to collide as much as possible, with tree stubs, crevices, anything, as long as it can lessen the speed. When the ice makes a natural turn in the terrain, I make sure to hit the curve head on, enough to break through instead of following. I am lifted vertically, land on my knees and continue onward, much slower now. I can’t shatter my knees, so I lean down on my back again.
A tree stub appears, and another. This one I hit with my feet, but I’m only cast to one side. I try to turn over and grab another stub, but am simply not strong enough to resist the sudden yank. A new dip and more speed. There’s another stub in front of me. Should I try to hit it? Before I’m able to decide, I slam into it with both feet. I’m raised to a standing position into the blindness of the open air, topple over and land headfirst on my chest. No! This was not supposed to happen! Headfirst and with my arms in front of me the landscape sends me into terminal velocity. Something appears in front of me. There are some crazy sounds around my ears, and I find myself hanging upside down in wired mesh. The fence that marks the end of the enclosure has stopped me. The wire lets go of me, and I land on my head. As I struggle to make sense of the world, there are the impacts of bodies all around me as the others come to halt to the groaning of metal. Finally, a huge crack as plank is broken. It’s Jonar who has hit the gate.
I get up.
“Is everyone al …”
But I can’t get up. Least of all stand. I find myself struggling on the ground. Only after several attempts am I able to crawl, and then be walking around like a lunatic.
The others are limping around and walking in confused circles. Everyone seems to be alive. After some recounting and examinations, we find out nobody are seriously hurt. Nobody is bleeding and none have broken bones. We take to cursing, and then laughing. The euphoria and madness carry us on a wave of pure joy.
“I saw you all hit the f …”
“Tried to grab something.”
It’s Jonar who hit the wooden plank with his head. Maybe his head is very strong or the plank was rotten, because it broke in half. Now he tells the story he always tells. He’s had a brain concussion eleven times. This might count as the twelfth. He just has to check if he is brain concussed first.
It all makes sense in this situation. We keep wandering around aimlessly along the fence, babbling, laughing and joking.
“I feel bad. Should we tell the farmer we broke his fence?” I say.
“Nah. It probably was rotten anyway. If he feels he must change it, he will,” says Jonar and puts the plank back in place along the fracture points.
I’m not sure what I think about that. But I’m not allowed to reach any conclusion. When a whim makes me turn, I’m confronted by two long arms from the other side of the fence, which grab me and lift me clean off my feet. Hard eyes stare at me.
“W-what is the meaning of this …?”
“You’re making me so angry!” says a voice between clenched teeth. My assailant squeezes harder and makes me unable to breathe.
“Get over here. Now!”
“Best to do what he says,” says Kyrre. My friends open the gate, and one by one they walk to the other side. Only then am I let go.
“Come over, or else I’ll beat your friends to death.”
Hesitantly I join the others. They have the same bewildered looks as I probably have. All of us are looking down.
“Get in line, damn you.”
Hurriedly we get in line.
I finally lift my gaze towards the person confronting us. I didn’t recognize him at first. It is Sindre, a boy from my school. But he seems to have changed entirely. He seems to be in a state of madness, like he is about to kill us at any moment.
“You’re slaves now, all of you. You will do as I say, or face the consequences. Now, walk!”
We walk in a perfect line in the direction he wants us to. Now and then he kicks us violently. It’s one of the lesser hills at the foot of the monumental hill which leads to my home, and also the place dedicated to be the ski jump avenue. And the place is teeming with children. Hundreds of them. They all seem to be busy with something.
“I want a ski ramp built. You’re to clear the ground above and below, and raise it as large as possible.
The children see us now. “New workers! New workers!” they sing.
And so we join them, and go to work, even as rebellion is growing in my heart.