Read The Extremely Epic Viking Tale of Yondersaay Online

Authors: Aoife Lennon-Ritchie

Tags: #Vikings, #fantasy, #Denmark, #siblings, #action-adventure, #holidays, #Christmas, #grandparents, #fairy tale, #winter

The Extremely Epic Viking Tale of Yondersaay (10 page)

BOOK: The Extremely Epic Viking Tale of Yondersaay
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On this particular day before Christmas Eve, Eoin Lerwick was nowhere in sight. His birds were distinctly absent, and the shop was, quite frankly, a dump. It was dark and dirty. As they walked in and looked around, they noticed all the lights were off, and there was no produce in the front window or in crates on the street like usual. There was hardly any stock on the shelves, and what was there was covered in dust. It was like the shop had closed down years ago.

Dani and Ruairi wandered about, trying not to touch anything; it was all so rank. Ruairi flipped over the part of the counter that swung on its hinges and went to have a look at the jars of sweets. Dani vaulted over, getting a layer of filth on her hands. The jars were either empty or full of a putrid, oozing mess. Dani made retching noises, which made Ruairi smile. Ruairi pulled down the jar of grape gobstoppers and opened it. There was one sweet in there. It looked bigger than he remembered them being. Rougher but shinier. And more purplish, somehow. He reached in and pulled it out. Ruairi was turning the gobstopper over in his hand when there was a surge in the putrid smell of rancid flesh and rotting vegetation. A slow movement at the corner of his eye made him turn around.

Silently, as if he’d slithered out of nowhere, a lanky sliver of a man with greasy hair, a pointy nose, and a pointy chin appeared in the center aisle before Granny. Ruairi tapped Dani on the shin with his foot, and she looked too.

“With your permission,” the man said as he bent down to move a crate out of Granny’s way.

“Hello, Mr. Scathe. Is Eoin here, please?” Granny asked stiffly.

“You have
literally
just missed him,” Mr. Scathe said to Granny in a voice that was at once high-pitched and quiet.

As soon as he spoke, Ruairi and Dani gasped. Ruairi instinctively stepped out from behind the counter, and putting the gobstopper in his pocket so he could close the counter flap, came and stood shoulder to shoulder with Dani. As quickly as they could, they moved backward toward the door and away from the man. Dani and Ruairi stood safely behind their mum and granny and stuck their elbows into each other’s ribs, but they didn’t make eye contact. They didn’t need to.

“I will leave a message for him. See I’m writing it down now, and I’ll give it to him just as soon as he comes back,” Mr. Scathe continued, his gaze briefly landing on Ruairi. Granny started to speak again, but he cut her off. “No, I’m afraid I don’t know how long he’ll be. He didn’t say. I’ll
literally
get him to call you as soon as he gets back.” His mouth turned into a greasy smile. His eyes didn’t change at all.

Ruairi wanted to leave. The shop smelled like everything had gone off. He had no doubt that this was the stooped man from the River Gargle the night before.

 

 

 

 

On their way back from the distillery, Mum suggested they finish up now and go home—it was very dark by this time of course, and it was icy cold. It was starting to snow. Nighttime snowfall on Yondersaay is a very beautiful thing. Ruairi looked into the sky and saw emptiness all the way up into the black. The snow fell from just there, it seemed, tumbling softly down as though someone were standing on a ladder and sprinkling it from that height and no higher.

Mum herded everyone back toward the High Street and shouted over the sound of the wind that it was the perfect night for hot chocolate with roasted marshmallows and Granny’s story in front of the fire. “And if you’re up to it, if you’re not too tired—”

“We’re not tired, Mum,” Ruairi said as brightly as he could.

“Well if you want to, we can decorate the Christmas tree tonight while we listen to the story instead of waiting until tomorrow.”

Dani and Ruairi said they would like to stay up to decorate the Christmas tree and hear the rest of the story and roast marshmallows. So they all hurried toward home.

“My dear,” Granny said to Mum, “do you remember the last time we saw Eoin Lerwick? It’s so very odd. I can pick out the time when he and I were no more than Ruairi’s age, and we had gotten lost exploring the caves on Mount Violaceous. One of Eoin’s birds, tiny then, found us and led us out. And I can remember this trip to the beach and that trip out on the boat to the mainland and picnics in the Crimson Forest when we were Dani’s age and even your age, Mum, but not for the life of me can I remember anything more recent than that. It is very puzzling.”

“Very puzzling, Granny!” Mum said. “Let’s give him a ring when we get home.”

“That’s an extremely smart idea, Mum!”

The wind picked up and blew hard against them and the family of Millers thrust forward into the wind and made for home.

The Night before Christmas Eve

 

 

Back at Gargle View Cottage, Mum put some logs on the fire while Granny, after a quick snack of a roast leg of lamb, a barmbrack, and a cantaloupe melon, unearthed the box of Christmas tree decorations in the attic. Dani and Ruairi put on their pajamas and helped Granny down the stairs with the box.

“I don’t want you to get upset now, you two, but, I have something to tell you,” Mum said as they prepared to start. “Dad may not be coming.”

“What do you mean he may not be coming?” Ruairi said. “Why not? He said he’d be right behind us. He said he just had to go to a meeting.”

“Yes,” Dani asserted. “He said, ‘It’s unavoidable, kids. The blah blah blah has to be signed off before Christmas. But,’ he said, ‘
but
—I’ll get parachute-dropped between Greenland and Norway and paddle from there.’ He promised!”

“Darling, you
made
him promise. You wouldn’t leave until he promised. It’s out of my hands, guys. You’ve got to be grown-up about it. There’s nothing we can do,” Mum said.

“But there’s plenty of time,” Dani said. “It’s the day before Christmas Eve … plenty of time.”

“He promised,” said Ruairi, determined to refuse the marshmallows once they were toasted.

“Come on now, you two. If he doesn’t make it here for Christmas, it isn’t because he willingly broke his promise to you. It’s because … It’s because …”

“Yes?” Dani and Ruairi said. Granny gave Mum a look now; her eyebrows went up, and her mouth puffed a little.

“It’s because of … the tarantulafish! The waters to the south of the island are tarantulafish-infested waters, you know.”

“Rubbish!” snorted Dani as Ruairi turned pale.

“Nonsense!” said Ruairi, getting paler.

“It’s true. Granny, isn’t it true?”

“What, dear? Tarantulafish. Oh, yes. Once, when I was a little girl, it was rumoured that Dougal MacLaggan went for a swim on the wrong side of the island and got caught in their web. He never came back. Of course, some people say he was actually sent to boarding school on the mainland, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Because if he really just went to boarding school on the mainland, why did he never come back? Answer me that! Everyone always comes back to Yondersaay.” Then Granny wandered into the kitchen to see if she could fashion a sandwich out of some leftovers.

“Anyway,” Ruairi said, “say we did believe in tarantulafish—”

“Which we don’t,” said Dani.

“Right, which we don’t, but say we did … What do they have to do with Dad coming for Christmas?”

“Good question,” Mum said. “As you know, there’s only one harbor on the island, and it’s right here at the bottom of the hill. Usually, lots of boats come to and fro, in and out of the harbor, but today all you could see were the little sailboats and fishing boats bobbing in the water, anchored to the spot. Nothing’s come in. And nothing’s gone out.”

“Let me guess—the tarantulafish are eating all the boats that try to go in or out.” Dani was not convinced.

“Close. They’re not eating the boats—they only eat meat—they’re blocking them. The tarantulafish have a gigantic web under the waves inside a massive burrow that stretches for miles, and they live there for most of the year. Some people think the burrow starts at the mouth of the River Gargle, where the river runs into the sea. Others think it’s just off the Beach of Bewilderment.

“The strands of the web seem to be dangerously high in the water at the moment. A few were spotted by the lobster fishermen early this morning when they were coming home after a night in the boats. They narrowly missed being trapped. I spoke to them personally early this morning when I went to the bakery for the croissants. They radioed out a warning and all ferries to and from the island have been suspended until further notice. Dad’s rubber dinghy would never make it through,” Mum said, folding her arms.

“That won’t stop Dad,” Ruairi said to Dani. “He’ll find a way.”

“Dad’ll be here. I know he will, there’s always the airport or the helipad. He can get the department to loan him a helicopter.”

“‘Lend,’ Dani!” Mum said. “If only there wasn’t a storm on its way in from Shetland … Unfortunately, all flights, in all aircrafts, have also been suspended until further notice.”

“Hmm … Funny how we’ve never heard about these tarantulafish before now. You make us watch the news headlines every night, and never once has the newscaster said anything about tarantulafish,” Dani said.

“Yeah!” said Ruairi. “Not once.”

“That’s not the least bit odd,” said Granny, affronted. She was back now with seven sandwiches on a plate. “They are
Yondersaanian
tarantulafish. They belong on the
Yondersaanian
evening news. What would we be doing telling the international news community about our tarantulafish? The idea of it!”

“Turn on the local news then, Granny,” Dani said slyly. “Let’s see what they have to say about them.”

“Well, wouldn’t you know? We’ve just missed the evening news,” said Granny.

“Pity,” said Mum.

“Convenient,” said Dani.

“We’ll catch the morning news tomorrow,” Granny said. “In the meantime, the mayor has tried to call the fire brigade onto the case because they’re trained for such eventualities, being firemen and all.”

“Trained to fight imaginary sea creatures?” Dani asked.

“Exactly! Um, no, not quite. They’re trained in underwater firefighting,” Mum explained.

“Oh! Now I
know
you’re talking pants,” Dani said “There’s no such thing as an underwater fire. That’s just impossible.”

“Improbable, certainly. Impossible, not at all,” Mum said.

“Look out the window,” said Granny. “Do you see that mountain?”

“Yes,” Dani and Ruairi groaned together.

“You would have to be positively blind not to notice the mountain,” Dani said.

“It’s Fenrir’s Seat,” said Ruairi.

“Well, it wasn’t always Fenrir’s Seat,” Granny said. “Good gracious. Do they teach you history at all in that school of yours? A fair while back, when I was a tiny little girl, so not a year or two ago—”

“I’ll say,” Ruairi whispered to Dani.

Granny shot them a side-eye glance and continued, “Fenrir’s Seat was not Fenrir’s Seat, but a furiously angry volcano called Volcano Mount Violaceous. Very temperamental, it was. It would erupt at a moment’s notice and spew filthy ash all over the island.

“Then, all of a sudden, things changed. One Christmas morning, the island woke up, and there were no rumblings or spewing noises coming down the peaks into the village. All the ash that was already in the air was settling finally, and it wasn’t being replaced with new ash. It was like someone had taken a duster to the sky and cleaned away a layer of dirt.” Granny walked around the room swiping her napkin backward and forward through the air. “The days were brighter. The sun glistened overhead; some people took to wearing sunglasses. Or
reflectacles
as they were known then. Sunglasses hadn’t been invented yet. The sounds of rumbling had stopped too, like someone had turned off a radio in a far away room.

“The mayor put together an expedition squad to scale the peaks of Volcano Mount Violaceous and have a look inside to see what was up. The squad set out shortly after breakfast. I won’t bore you with the details of that particular breakfast, but oh, I can still smell the bacon sizzling on the pan, sausages, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, and black pudding rounds as thick as your wrist … ah.” Granny sighed and looked wistfully into the middle distance.

BOOK: The Extremely Epic Viking Tale of Yondersaay
8.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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