Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chapter One: Of Landslides and Islands

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. This chapter has been sponsored by Emily Prusso:

“Not to make those of you who live in colder climes feel bad, but here is an honest representation of the happiness this time of year in California makes me feel. Like John Steinbeck said, it feels like spring six months of the year and we are in the thick of our six-month spring. The blossoms are blooming, the oranges are sweet and cold, the chickens are laying, and the hills—despite the dry year—are finally shading green.

We spend as much time outside as possible. Riding bikes, working in the yard, soaking the sun.

*sigh* California…it’s like a magic word.

Sponsor had no editorial control over the chapter content, for which the author alone is responsible.

©2012 by Marty Reeder

Chapter 1: Of Landslides and Islands

“So I told the fellow,” the woman forced on her listener, “‘Sonny! I’ve wrastled grizzly bears in Wyomin’, I’ve shot at miners in Colarada, and I’ve headlocked Mormons in Utah. I don’t think you oughta be tryin’ to steal this here satchel o’ mine!’ And you know what that Denmarkian said to me?”

Daniel Rudiger struggled to believe so loud a voice could come from such a petite woman’s body, albeit one layered with deerskin clothes dangling with fringe. Do all Americans speak like that? he thought to himself. Did I speak like that when I first came to Europe three years back? The old woman’s falcon-like eyes waited impatiently for a response from Daniel.

“I think you mean, ‘Danish,’ not ‘Denmarkian,’” his journalistic side couldn’t resist the correction.

“Don’t go all ignorant on me,” the woman croaked, her voice echoing over the hissing of raindrops pelting against the ship’s steam engine behind them. “I had hope for you, bein’ an American an’ all. There ain’t no country named ‘Dane.’ The man was bone-i-fied Denmarkian,” she nodded firmly, ending further discussion on that particular matter.

“But that gets away from the point,” she continued, “which is what he said to me after I caught ‘im trying to lift ma satchel…” At this point, her wrinkled, yet still calloused hands, found a spot where they looked comfortable, the hips. Her lips pursed.

Daniel almost laughed. He set out following a tip about a smuggling Russian ship in the vicinity, but all of the sudden this seemed much more interesting—though he figured he would have a difficult time explaining to his editor in Baltimore how a belligerent, septuagenarian in a ridiculous outfit merited more attention than a clandestine, Russian smuggling ring.

“Well, what do you think that Denmarkian said?”

Maybe the fellow mistook her century-out-of-style coonskin cap with an oversized rat, Daniel thought but wisely held in. “I don’t know.”

“He didn’t say nothin’, ‘cause the poor fool didn’t speak a lick of English!”

Grammatically, Daniel censored, neither do you.

The old lady continued, “So I took out my translator and that cleared things up right quick an’ proper.”

Knowing she had a pending punch line, but not knowing what it was, Daniel stepped into it, wincing, “What do you mean, you took out your translator?”

“Well,” the satisfaction oozed through her wrinkles, “it was my six-shooter, of course. It speaks a language that everybody understands!” The woman patted a leather holster hanging lithely to her side, her laughter ricocheting off the steep walls of coast near where they now navigated.

Daniel dropped some courtesy chuckles before adding, nervously, “That’s not a real revolver, is it?”

Perhaps sensing his unease, she smiled. “I’ll tell you this much: it sure ain’t knitting needles!” Then in a moment, with disconcerting ease, she flipped back the flap of the holster and her revolver gleamed between the two of them.

Daniel had certainly seen his fair share of revolvers, but not usually in the hands of old ladies, and certainly not in hands as unpredictable as these. He flinched every time the barrel whisked past his chest, mortally afraid that trembling fingers might set it off at a moment’s notice.

The woman must have sensed his discomfort. “You don’t have no need a worryin’. Why, I’m more at ease with one o’ these than I am with a Bowie knife.” Such a statement could only cause more, not less worry. “In fact,” she continued, “I could shoot a pipe right outta yer mouth from the opposite end of this ship! I’ll prove it to ya. Got a pipe?”

“What?” Daniel asked, exasperated. At this point he was willing to do pretty much anything to get that revolver back in its holster. “Pipe? No, no pipe. We don’t have to—”

“Ferget it!” she exclaimed, giving Daniel momentary relief, “I got my pipe right here.” Her wizened hands buried into a pocket somewhere on her jerkin.

Of course she would have a pipe, Daniel thought. She probably has it sitting in a pocket next to a canister of chewing tobacco and a crossbow. About to throw in his final objections, Daniel was suddenly interrupted by the sharp whistle of the boat, a whistle that chased back and forth from cliff wall to cliff wall in a powerful chorus that emphasized the grandeur of the landscape around them along with their own seeming insignificance.

The occurrence briefly took Daniel away from his precarious situation. When he first arrived in Norway as the Baltimore Daily’s Scandinavian foreign correspondent, the sheer size and magnitude of the cliff walls that formed the coastline oppressed him, not to mention the name for them that sounded as alien as the surface of the moon—“fjords.” For months, using his Norwegian dictionary, he tried to pronounce the word “fajord.” But it wasn’t until he started to get truly comfortable with the Norwegian language that he slipped into the more natural pronunciation of “feeyords.”

Daniel’s feet adjusted to a particularly large swell, amazed that now, to him, this woman was foreign, and these deep fissures of labyrinthine coastlines carved by monster glaciers spilling into the sea years and years ago—these fjords … these were familiar. Instead of oppressive, they felt close and familiar, almost like a loved one’s embrace.

Thinking of loved ones caused Daniel a pang of regret. Returning him to the indecision and second-guessing of that one moment only a few months back that forced him to rethink his whole trajectory in life. The moment was so distinct that Daniel felt like an outsider … again. This time he did not feel like a foreigner among fjords, but a foreigner to the gaping walls of his own expectations of what his life was to be, a stranger to the abyss of his practical self.

Of course, rethinking life was also inevitable when a gun-wielding foreigner stands before you, reaching a pipe up to your face. She was old, she spoke funny, she was strangely garbed. Yet, to her, everyone else was strangely dressed and speaking with a weird accent. I guess we’re both foreigners in one way or another. And she’s right … I am American, even if I’ve been gone for a few years. We Americans need to help each other out.

Daniel laughed. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t think I ever asked you your name.”

The woman’s reach with the pipe faltered. “Me? Why most people call me Grandma Grizzly. What’s yourn?”

“Daniel Rudiger,” he said, extending his hand. This gesture forced her to holster the gun, an unintended but welcome byproduct of his action. “Good to meet you, Grandma Grizzly.”

The next half hour of conversation told Daniel that “Grandma Grizzly” was the woman’s performer name. He also learned that she had been touring Europe with the American West Rendezvous Show, that she left over a dispute on salary and that she was now heading back West again, where she would land a job as a deputy, or at the very least as a bounty hunter. Daniel’s journalist instincts told him that the majority of what she said had no bearing on truth, but he discerned at least that Grandma Grizzly was good company … especially with the revolver hanging by her side instead of from her hands.

Before Daniel knew it, the ship slipped into a fjord that appeared out of what seemed to be a simple sliver in the cliff walls before them, and their conversation became muffled by the majesty of nature’s sentinels standing above them. Grandma Grizzly mumbled something about how it reminded her of the Grand Canyon back home, just a bit skinnier and charcoal colored rather than red. Then the two fell silent, and for a moment the only thing they heard was the wake of the seawater periodically slapping into the ship’s hull and the constant humming of the steam engine.

By the time they had rounded their first corner, Daniel heard a commotion from the bridge of the ship. Grandma Grizzly must have heard it too because they both looked back at the same time, then at each other. Without thinking, the old woman dropped a hand towards her holster. Daniel couldn’t help but grin as he chided. “Save it for the pipe, Grandma Grizzly. It’s probably just a loud conversation.”

“’Bout to get louder,” Grandma Grizzly said, all gruff. Still, though, her hand retreated and the two worked their way along the side of the ship, then up the steep companionway to the covered bridge, where a helm, levers, and gauges allowed for navigation of the ship. A tall roof covered all of these and protected three people crowded near the wheel: a coxswain, a captain, and a tall, elegantly dressed man with a tightly trimmed mustache and a fashionable cane dangling from the crook of his arm. The origin of the commotion came from the latter, who seemed to be doing all he could to maintain a sophisticated composure while at the same time voicing frustration.

The captain stood baffled before his lecturer, but expressed as much patience as the situation mustered. The coxswain kept to his duty on the wheel, with an occasional awkward glance back at the two.

With the entrance of Daniel and Grandma Grizzly, the elegant man immediately seemed relieved, and spouted something at them. All Daniel caught was the word “français,”—the extent of his French vocabulary, but it at least told him the man was French.

Daniel, in the midst of a shrug and catching Grandma Grizzly from allowing her hand approach her holster again, stood aback when the man spoke in admirable English, “What about English, then?”

“Yes,” Daniel answered.

“And would either of you happen to speak Norwegian?”

Grandma Grizzly jumped in, “Nope, but I got somethin’ that’s a universal language!”

The Frenchman took a side glance to Grandma Grizzly, noticing for the first time her age, gender, and dress—enough to make anyone reassess their situation. Daniel, however, convinced him to focus back on him.

“I speak Norwegian. What seems to be the problem?”

“I secured passage on this vessel under the impression that it would be taking me to the United States of America. Yet now they inexplicably veered into one of these accursed fjords. I demand that the captain honor the passage ticket and return to the open sea in due course.”

For a native Frenchman, his English had all the markings of good education, Daniel noted. “And you would like me to ask Captain Isak why he deviates?”

“It does not concern me in the slightest why he deviates, only that he returns to course.”

“Then, without needing to consult with the captain, I can tell you that in order for the captain to honor the ticket of another of his passengers, he must enter this fjord.”

The Frenchman immediately furrowed his eyebrows with suspicion. “Qu'est-ce que c'est?”

Daniel used context to surmise the question. “You see, one of the tickets requires a stop at the Mangekilder Fjord. As the ship will continue across the Atlantic immediately following the stop, you will find your own ticket has not been ignored. It will only take you some four or five hours off the several day voyage to America.”

The eyes of the Frenchman narrowed. “That is absurd. Why should a whole ship be inconvenienced by one passenger?”

Grandma Grizzly couldn’t help but jump in. “Mister, I don’t know how it is in Spain, or wherever yer from, but if you cain’t handle a few hours delay, then ya shouldn’t be goin’ to America.” Her arms settled comfortably across her body as if she had just delved out Solomon’s best wisdom. She slipped a side comment to Daniel, “The trains ain’t ever on time. Sometimes days late in the West.”

Daniel hoped to avoid an ugly confrontation, so he tried, unsuccessfully, to usher Grandma Grizzly to the exit.

“You make an excellent point,” the man said, looking Grandma Grizzly markedly up and down. He then turned up his nose and said with disdain, “And you also give, in person, another convincing reason to not be going to America.” Daniel did not miss the slight intended for his new friend, though it was lost on her. It annoyed Daniel that the Frenchman would pass such a judgment on her, and it irritated him further to see the Frenchman’s smirk of satisfaction upon seeing that she did not even recognize the insult.

The man then reasserted his gaze to Daniel “And I would ask you, sir, to kindly inform this captain that if he will not immediately readjust his course, regardless of the ticket of some provincial Norwegian, or savage American ancient—like this buffoon here—then I will demand my money back.”

Now the man was not only being irrational and offensive, Daniel thought, but he is relishing it. Time for it to come to an end. “The ticket to Mangekilder Fjord is not for some provincial Norwegian, nor is it for my friend here, who is no more buffoon than you are a gentleman. The ticket is for me.”

The Frenchman puffed out his cheeks and Daniel thrust again: “Furthermore, Monsieur LeRoi, I doubt it will improve your reputation among potential investors to know that you haggled on a passenger ship for a miniscule, but not unwarranted delay.”

This blow, the fact that Daniel knew the Frenchman’s name and something of his business, remarkably left both the Frenchman and Grandma Grizzly speechless for a moment. Captain Isak, a spectator up until this point, sensed the situation under control and turned towards the bow.

The pattering of rain on the roof filled the silence until a puffing LeRoi finally spat: “How, how do you know …?”

Not to be out-befuddled, Grandma Grizzly interjected, “Yeah, how do you know who he is?”

“I’m a journalist,” Daniel replied, “It’s my job to know who comes making calls on the Norwegian parliament. Even if that person is hardly of note, since he is more a scam artist than businessman, trying to find naïve investors to throw away money on paying off earlier financiers rather than paying for the funding of a defunct company for building a canal across the Panama isthmus.”

LeRoi did not respond with anything more than a hard stare.

“I’m guessing that the Norwegians found you out rather quickly. Simple background research would tell anyone as much. Now, at the edge of the European continent, you hope to find some rich Americans, if not the American government, anyone not aware of your reputation, to give you some security from your defaulting loans.”

The silence rested heavy on the bridge after Daniel’s accusation. LeRoi glared, and Daniel received it. Finally, Grandma Grizzly exhaled, “Whoo-ee! I don’t know about you, Spainyerd, but I’d say that’s a point fer America!”

LeRoi finally moved, nodding his head for a moment of acceptance before turning on his heel and remarking, “I believe the phrase is, ‘no comment.’” He paused for a moment and then added, “But I shall have one for you someday.” A moment later, he cleared the bridge. And before Daniel could relax, he got pelted on his back by a sturdy, 70-plus year old hand.

“Next time we’ll give you both a pair of six shooters and play it out western style! Old Spainyerd’d be digestin’ lead ‘fore he hit the ground.”

“I’ll stick to my journalism pen, and you stick to your …” Daniel gave a nervous glance towards Grandma Grizzly’s holster. “Actually, maybe you should stick to those knitting needles you mentioned earlier.”

The two exited the bridge, though not before Captain Isak gave a noticeable nod back to Daniel. LeRoi had made his way somewhere in the passenger berth amidships, while Grandma Grizzly accompanied Daniel back towards the bow. “So, Mr. Mysterious,” Grandma Grizzly said en route, “What’s yer business in the Mawjkilldeer Feeyerd?”

Daniel grinned at Grandma Grizzly’s butchering of the pronunciation. “I’m investigating a Russian smuggling operation. Supposedly there is a contact in the small town here where a Russian ship has been avoiding Oslo’s and Stockholm’s customs for the past year or so, transferring goods to Norwegian ships for some bribes and making a good profit.”

Grandma Grizzly’s falcon eyes squinted. “Shoot, that sort a thing must happen all the time. You not get very many good stories of late? Why, a washed up Panama Canal prospector seems like it would be more worth yer time.”

“Well, I do believe that canal will be built sooner or later, but not by LeRoi’s company. He’s never even been to the isthmus, and he’s already used up most of his investors’ money before even getting there. But this smuggling tip, I believe, is actually a part of a bigger operation throughout the North and Baltic Seas. If that’s true, then it has been undermining the American trade in the region, since they pay full custom price.”

Grandma Grizzly sighed. “Well, I guess it sounds like you know what’cher talkin’ ‘bout. An’ you tellin’ me there are people interested in that sort a thing?”

Daniel smiled. A huge portion of American commerce, government, and business would find it crucial information, with half of Europe in an uproar. But to Grandma Grizzly? “Naw,” he shrugged, “but it pays for living.”

Grandma Grizzly, about to reply, instead swung her head towards the new scenery as the ship curved past a mouth in the fjord. Daniel followed her gaze and saw, for the first time, the majesty of the interior of the Mangekilder Fjord.

Jagged cliffs towered all around them, creating a rugged bowl ranging in size from three to five miles wide, with small exits scattered throughout. Creating a sense of motion to this otherwise static monument, waterfalls tumbled from cliff face to cliff face in glorious free falls until sliding home to the sea like steal knives embedding into deep blue sheaths. Vegetation, trees, and wisps of clouds clung to the cliff faces in various elevations, hopelessly isolated by the sheer scope of the scene they belonged to. It seemed to Daniel that even the atmosphere adopted the beauty of the scene, mixing the mist from the waterfalls with the crisp freshness of air cascading down the cliff faces from regions so high up they held distinct temperate zones.

Across the open space within the fjord, Daniel noticed a small island, resting in front of the giant base of the cliff walls, dotted with trees and jutting upwards with a small set of infant cliffs itself before leveling out into plains that dipped softly into the sea. A thread of smoke rising out from behind a clump of trees on the island indicated some sort of dwelling, and Daniel wondered if there lay the town of his destination. But the boat hugged the cliffs to their left, and so his vision panned that direction, and he soon saw that the town must be hidden behind a jut of rock just in front of them.

Veering around that point of rock, Daniel and Grandma Grizzly finally saw the small town nestled up into a crook of cliff, houses climbing the sides of the sheer wall with tiny, intersecting trails and small roads joining them to the main buildings down by the water’s edge. These larger, commercial buildings pointed in the direction of the town’s main pier, which should have been crawling out into the fjord waters on the coastline immediately to their left.

But there was no pier.

Daniel and Grandma Grizzly both started as they saw, instead, at what looked to be a small mount of ash-black, heaping chunks of rock and solidified mud spilling out into the fjord waters. Confirming their suspicions of something amiss, the small ship’s crew buzzed with a sudden display of confusion.

In a moment, Captain Isak and a few other sailors joined Daniel and Grandma Grizzly, since the bow afforded the best vantage point. The captain, hands on the railing, as if using it to support more than just his body weight, breathed out heavily. Daniel caught some of the captain’s mumblings to himself in Norwegian, then Isak turned to Daniel and gave him pointed, emotional instructions before turning back to the bridge, finding a place to anchor the ship while the crew loosened the small side boats and prepared them to enter the water.

Daniel stood for a moment, staring at the cliff face above the heaping mount. There he clearly saw the gaping recess where once rock and cliff must have stood out prominently. A spring of water trickled down the now open space, already forming a new path in the jumbled pile of rocks and mud below. The spring water and the weeks of non-remittent rain filled in the rest of the missing details for the journalist.

“Hey, Cowboy,” Grandma Grizzlie said, playful in words, but with subdued volume and tone, “What’s goin’ on?”

“Landslide. Took out the pier and most of the village’s business district,” Daniel said, his voice as hollow as the hole in the cliff face in front of them.

Grandma Grizzly adopted a gritty demeanor. “And what’da captain tell ya?”

“He said to get ready. Said the town would need any supplies the ship had, and that they would take the next couple of hours giving what aid they could.”

Pushing up her sleeves, Grandma Grizzly replied, “Sounds good. Let’s go help!”

Not wavering, Daniel said, “I was given specific instructions. Captain Isak told me that in these next couple of hours, I was to get as much information about the disaster as I could from the people. He’s postponing the trip across the Atlantic and returning to Oslo so we can make a complete report of the tragedy back at Oslo and send more help.”

Grandma Grizzly nodded, gazed at Daniel for a moment, curiously, then said, “Well, you stick to your journalism pen and I’ll stick to my … well, my Western toughness and help unload.”

Daniel couldn’t help but smile at the thought of this frail old woman mingling with hardy sailors and unloading food and supplies. Even if she doesn’t have the body for it, he thought, she at least has the resolve.

Grandma Grizzly started making her way towards the ship’s cargo area when she turned and quipped, “Seems to me this won’t make that Spainyerd any happier to find out he’s gonna head back to Oslo instead of the States. Guess it’s nice to find some silver linin’ to this tragic mess.”

After two hours in the local tavern, which had become the base of operations for those trying to dig out remains from the landslide, Daniel started to feel exhausted just from interviewing the somber individuals whose faces were smeared from days of both tears and mud.

Four days before, with evening just settling in, the landslide occurred. There had been no warning and many people were at the pier since the day’s hauls in fish were being unloaded and sold. They had not found, and now no longer expected to find, any survivors. Now the men and women toiled at best for proper burials for their family members.

Most of the ships sank or were pulverized by the landslide while at or near the pier. The surviving boats located a passing Icelandic ship, a couple days before. That ship came and dropped off meager supplies before promising to inform Oslo. Daniel calculated that the Icelandic ship would still be a day away from Oslo at this time, and because it was an old sailing ship, contrary winds might keep it from arriving for a day or two more, where their steamship would be able to complete the trip in about the same time. In Oslo, some crews and digging machines could be gathered to clean up the disaster, preparing the town to rebuild the lost pier.

All of this information, Daniel gathered as a faithful journalist, jotting down particulars in a fresh notebook now filled with scribblings, but inside his heart cried out for these people—people who could hardly contemplate a new pier when they were still mourning the loss of family and friends.

Daniel had come to love the stoic Norwegian people, strong descendants of Vikings, and his mind filled with images of the Norwegian friends he had made already, comparing them with these brave folks trading off with each other while excavating for confirmation of their devastating losses.

And while these images marched through his mind, one image came to the forefront and remained there, stuck in his memory. The emotions the memory evoked overwhelmed him with a strange, still unrecognizable, feeling. He struggled to focus anymore in the stuffy, dimly-lit tavern.

Daniel stepped outside into the brisk fjord air, with the sun beginning its descent behind the northwestern cliff walls. The silhouette of his ship showed still another round of boats loading up goods from the cargo, probably with lots of meaningless words of supervision from Grandma Grizzly. This meant that Daniel had at least another half an hour before leaving time. He wiped his mind clear and his professional self decided to use this extra time for searching out any snippet of information concerning his original purpose for coming.

Another foray into the tavern rendered him nothing for twenty minutes. Though one sullen man, who seemed relatively clean compared to the others, did give him a strange look before quickly denying any knowledge of Russian ships. Finally, as Daniel’s half an hour ran out, he found a burly man just coming in from a turn of digging.

“Russian ships?” he gazed at Daniel curiously, “Why do you ask?”

“I am following some of their trade patterns for an article I’m writing. I’m a newsman,” Daniel responded.

“Actually, I have seen one coming by here for the past year off and on.”

Daniel cocked his head. “How have you known about this and others here have not.”

“I spent some time on a Russian icebreaker and I recognize the make of the ship as Russian, though they never flew a flag. They also never used the pier. They would enter at night, anchor a distance from town, and then leave in the morning. I assumed they were fishing and didn’t want others to know they weren’t Norwegian.”

Daniel’s heart fluttered as he jotted furiously in his notebook. “Could you possibly describe the boat?”

“No,” he shook his head. Daniel deflated before the man continued, “I can do better. I can show you the name of the ship.”

Daniel’s eyes lit while the sailor explained, “Late one evening I returned to sea to search for a missing net. As I passed the promontory here, I noticed the ship close to shore. There was enough light left to catch the name on the stern. It was Russian, which I don’t know well, but it was short and I remember enough. I could probably draw the characters pretty close to what they were.”

Daniel quickly offered his notepad, and the sailor, who clearly had little experience with a pen, scrawled characters Daniel recognized as Russian across a blank page. Once back in Oslo, he had a friend who could help him translate it, giving him a lead into what could be his biggest story to date.

The steamship’s whistle sounded, and Daniel thanked the sailor while grabbing his materials, tossing them in his satchel, and rushing out to where the ship’s boat awaited him. Upon returning to the ship, Daniel went forward while the final preparations were made to get the ship ready for sea and the return to Oslo.

Grandma Grizzly joined him and the two discussed the events of the past couple hours. A second whistle sounded, indicating readiness to head under way. The two companions grabbed the railing in front of them to brace for the surge of the engine, when someone shuffled up behind them.

“Spare a sailor a smoke,” someone coughed in Norwegian. Daniel turned, seeing a man with a sailor’s cap and heavy coat bowing his head.

“What’s he askin’ fer?” Grandma Grizzly barked.

“A smoke,” Daniel said, ready to refuse since he had none.

Grandma Grizzly intervened, “Well, shoot! He can take a swig outta my pipe!” Her hand drew out the ever-ready pipe from unknown pockets and thrust it toward the crouching man.

The man’s hand reached for the pipe, but it clattered to the ship’s deck. Daniel kneeled to the ground at the same time as the sailor to help him recover it. There, in that vulnerable position, he saw, too late, the flashing knife escape the man’s overcoat and fly towards him.

In a surreal moment, Daniel waited for the knife to enter his body and end his life, but instead it came short, slashing at the strap of his satchel. Before Daniel could even process what happened, he was shoved backward, knocking over Grandma Grizzly in the process, and hearing footsteps race across the deck towards the stern.

Daniel stood up and watched as his satchel bounced on the back of the retreating thief. “Stop him!” Daniel yelled desperately, “He stole my bag!”

But he knew that the thief had made his getaway. Arriving at the back railing, Daniel noticed a small fishing boat attached below, and with the steamship already puttering forward, the man would be long gone by the time they could put any effort into catching him, even if Captain Isak had been willing to delay his mission to catch a petty thief.

The man must have realized his success at the same time as Daniel, because he glanced back, smiled, and with the hand not holding the satchel, took the pipe and placed it between his lips. He gave a mocking salute before lifting his leg up to scale the railing, just preparing himself to hop to his boat below.

Daniel watched helpless before jumping at an ear-splitting cracking sound emanating just to the side and behind him. Simultaneously, he saw the pipe in the thief’s mouth disintegrate into nothing but a puff of splinters. The thief recoiled in horror, hands to his face, falling to the deck of the ship.

Daniel swiveled his head to the side and saw the smoking barrel of Grandma Grizzly’s gun. Daniel stared at her in awe before barely managing to mutter, “That was an impossible shot …”

Grandma Grizzly grinned. “Well, it was a shame to waste such a good pipe, but I didn’t think he oughta’ve been killed for a bit o’ harmless swipin’.”

Back at the stern, the thief had regained some sense, though he still covered his face with one hand while groping out with the other. In a moment, the hand grasped the satchel, which it had momentarily dropped. While bereft of the strength or orientation to stand up, he did heft it off the deck, hoping to toss it past the railing and into the ocean.

Daniel gasped at the thief’s audacity, which almost paid off. The satchel left the deck, arcing past the railing, but at the last second, a form jumped out from the passenger berth and with an outstretched cane handle, snagged the satchel’s open pocket, rescuing it from a watery end.

Daniel and Grandma Grizzly ran down to the stern, where Daniel, in astonishment, accepted the satchel from the hands of no other than LeRoi. “Being told I am not a gentleman strikes deeper than impending bankruptcy. I hope this alters your opinion, if only slightly.”

“Well, now, Monsieur LeRoi, I am the one in your debt,” Daniel said, humbled.

LeRoi nodded, all sophistication, then reached down and grabbed the groveling thief, escorting him, with the help of some approaching sailors, into the cargo hold to be shackled. The crew cut loose the fishing boat just as the ship headed for the fjord’s exit with the waning sunlight giving way to dusk.

Daniel clasped the satchel in relief, while Grandma Grizzly remarked, “Of all the things on this ship to snag, seems a silly thing to try stealin’ my pipe. Or yer satchel fer that matter. Wouldn’t surprise me if the feller was Denmarkian … they tend to do that.”

Daniel shook his head and silently chuckled, while looking out over the mystical fjord they were about to leave.

And then he froze.

Across the open water, in the exact same space where he had seen it so clearly only hours earlier, Daniel gasped at what he couldn’t see. Where the disappearing sunlight should reveal the silhouette of that picturesque island, there now lay nothing but glassy, near black sea. For a few moments he wondered if he was mistaken, but the more he considered it, the more he came to the same impossible conclusion.

The island had disappeared.

©2012 by Marty Reeder

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. This chapter has been sponsored by Emily Prusso:

“Not to make those of you who live in colder climes feel bad, but here is an honest representation of the happiness this time of year in California makes me feel. Like John Steinbeck said, it feels like spring six months of the year and we are in the thick of our six-month spring. The blossoms are blooming, the oranges are sweet and cold, the chickens are laying, and the hills—despite the dry year—are finally shading green.

We spend as much time outside as possible. Riding bikes, working in the yard, soaking the sun.

*sigh* California…it’s like a magic word.

Sponsor had no editorial control over the chapter content, for which the author alone is responsible.